How to Deal with Narcissists, Guilt-Trippers and Manipulators

Have you ever had someone say something so upsetting to you that you found yourself quickly ticking off a list of counterarguments to dispute their assertions? You fuss aloud as though they are there, practicing what you are going to say – or what you should have said. You get sucked into rehashing the conversation, ruminating about similar, past incidents, and chatting up a storm about it with your BFF. The person pushed your buttons and you must figure out just the right thing to say or do to deal with them. Problem is, when dealing with narcissists, bullies, guilt-trippers, and manipulators, your “counterarguments” and explanations do nothing but feed their thirst for strife and turmoil. What they really want is control. And you give them control when you react heatedly when they push your buttons.

I have a simple message for you: Deactivate the buttons they like to push.

Stop letting that difficult person get a rise out of you whenever they want simply by spewing negativity and nonsense your way. Take a breath. Walk away. Don’t engage them in more conversation. They’ve lost the privilege. Set boundaries. Focus on what you need to do to move forward and do it. Actions speak louder than words. Emotionally unhealthy people will attempt to pull you into arguments by saying things they know will make you want to defend yourself. Don’t bother. Some criticisms don’t deserve a response. Save your energy, keep your peace and let them argue by themselves.

 

My challenge to you: Deactivate the buttons others like to push.

 

Journal about it: Who pushes your buttons? Next time they attempt to do so, what would it look like to simply react in a way opposite to the way you normally react? What boundary could you set that would give you peace of mind?

The One Time When “Settling” Will Make You Happier

“Don’t settle.” It is advice I’ve shared often. I believe that when it comes to your biggest dreams, when you stop hoping, you start settling.  But that standard doesn’t apply to every area of your life.  It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes, you need to settle. In fact, global research on happiness shows that the very happiest people have lower expectations about what they believe their lives should look like.  It isn’t that they have low expectations. It isn’t that they are unambitious.  It is that their expectations do not constantly outpace their reality, whether they are trying to get the housework done or land the big client.  When continuing to strive for something more or better steals energy that would be better used for a higher priority, it’s time to settle. It’s strategic. You only have so many personal resources and energy.

When it comes to what you want and need for the most meaningful parts of your life – a career, a spouse, what part of the country (or world!) you want to live in – set high standards and go for it.  But perfectionism and endless ambition come at a price, and the reward is rarely as sweet as you had imagined.  The ideal approach is called “satisficing” – set a minimum standard for accomplishing the task at hand and when you reach it, move on. Don’t worry about whether it could be better/cheaper/faster.  Consider it “good enough.”

Be willing to relax a little when it comes to your expectations about things that don’t impact your main priorities. Will you have to turn over your “good housekeeping card” if everything doesn’t get straightened up before bedtime? Will the project come to a halt if you don’t revise that report for the fifteenth time before sending it off?  Probably not. You’ve only got so much energy. Conserve it for the goals that matter most. Choose happiness over perfection.

My challenge to you this week:
Identify one area where you may be spending energy that could be better conserved for higher priorities.

Journaling assignment:
In what way(s) is perfection or endless ambition stealing your joy?  Did you grow up learning that you should “never settle”? In what area(s) of your life is important to never settle? In what area(s) of your life will settling give you more time and energy for what matters most?

Relax Your Self-Imposed Deadlines

As our family has recently expanded, so have our to-do lists.  And with the added activities with the baby, there’s less time available to do the to-do’s on our list.  One day this week, while hashing out the to-do’s for the next day, we started to feel overwhelmed at the sheer length of the list.  But as I looked a little closer at the list, I realized half of it was stuff we want to do, but it really wasn’t all that urgent.  Our “deadlines” for getting it done were self-imposed, which means we could either get it done or choose to simply move it to another date.  It wasn’t the tasks that caused us stress, but the self-imposed deadlines that gave us the feeling that we should be stressed.  I don’t think we are alone in this.  Stress is real even when the threat isn’t. The consequences of stress – illness, poor communication, irritability – are real, even when the source of the stress can be eliminated by putting it into perspective.

This week, I want to challenge you to ease up on your self-imposed deadlines.  You may argue that you must complete a project by a set date or time, but to know whether you have a real deadline or self-imposed one, answer these three questions. It may just take the pressure off and allow you to put your to-do list into perspective:

  1. What’s the consequence of missing the deadline?
  2. “I may lose my job.” “It’ll cost me $ X.” “My integrity will come into question.” “Someone could get hurt.” “It’ll require more time later if I don’t take care of this now.” These are real deadlines. But often, giving yourself some leeway will create no real consequence at all. When that is the case, and meeting your self-imposed deadline will leave you drained or stressed, ease your expectations.
  3. Does missing the deadline negatively impact others?
  4. It isn’t always about us and our needs. There are many times when our commitments impact someone else’s ability to get what they need. Keep your promises. But when circumstances are extraordinary, reach out, explain the circumstances and find out if there is any flexibility.
  5. Does meeting the deadline mean neglecting a higher priority?
  6. The danger of having too much on your to-do list is that you can begin to lose sight of what actually matters most. With everything lumped into one list, it is tempting to make all things equal. They are not. If you spend too much time on low priorities, there will be little left for the people and things that matter most.

My challenge to you:
Look at your to-do list and make sure your self-imposed deadlines give you the time and space to be peacefully productive. If the stress is overwhelming, be flexible and make adjustments.

Journal about it:
Ask these questions of the stress-inducing items on your to-do list:  What is the consequence of missing the deadline? Does the deadline impact others? Does meeting the deadline mean neglecting higher priorities? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

My Lifelong Dream Has Come True

My lifelong dream has come true. Our lives have changed dramatically and beautifully in the last month. Since marrying my husband in 2013, I’ve been a “bonus” mom to two sweet, energetic, loving little girls. And now, God has seen fit to expand our family with a beautiful baby boy we’ve been privileged to adopt! That’s right. I’ve become a mommy.

If you’ve read my books or followed me for a while, you know this has been a dream deferred, but I have never given up on the vision I’ve sensed deep in my spirit for marriage and family. At times, I have felt frustrated, helpless, and discouraged, but I refused to give up hope. I could not. To give up hope would be to give up on God. As I stand in the midst of this vision of love that has unfolded, I feel led to share my lessons learned so I can encourage you to persevere towards your own vision – whatever that vision might be:

1. Keep hoping.
Without hope, there is no vision. When you stop hoping, you start settling. Be relentless and focused. At times, it may even appear you are delusional to keep hoping. So what! Keep believing in your vision and make decisions, whether about relationships, finances, career, that honor your ultimate goal.

2. Don’t let disappointments become your destination.
Separation and divorce. Navigating the tumultuous dating landscape of Atlanta. Trying to conceive over 40. Miscarrying twins. All have been my reality in the last seven years. Each could have become a bitter destination, except for this: I refused to see my disappointments as a permanent destination. Some were devastating detours. I had to stop journeying for a while and recover. But I made a decision to be better and not bitter after each one. I made a decision not to get stuck staring at the obstacles before me, but to look up and remember the vision in my heart. That vision compelled me to keep hoping and keep moving forward.

3. Be open to a path that looks different than you expected.
It is easy to be rigid about how your dream must come together. Don’t. Be open to divine orchestration. Let go of your need to control the “how” of your vision so you can stay focused on the “why” – which leads me to this last point …

4. Stay focused on the PURPOSE of your vision more than the excitement of it.
At points, I began to doubt whether I would ever become a mother, and before that, whether I would ever find the kind of love I believe in. A transformational message emerged from my doubt, though. I asked myself, “What if you never marry?” “What if you never have a child?” And I answered my “What if” questions. Here’s what I realized: The world would not come to an end, so I better learn to be happy regardless of the outcome! If I didn’t get married or have children, I would live my life single without children and I would choose to have an incredible life. There are many women I greatly admire who are single without children – and happy, purposeful, loved and loving. So then, what would be the purpose of marriage and family in my life? That is the question I needed to answer for myself. I don’t believe that having a child is about me becoming a mom. I believe it is about having the blessed opportunity to nurture and grow a child I have been entrusted to raise. What an honor. It is about him, not me. And perhaps that is the shift in thinking that shifted my life and brought us this amazing, perfect little boy for us.

My challenge to you this week:
Persevere! Stay focused on your vision. Don’t give up.

 

Journaling questions:
What is the vision that you’ve yet to realize, but still hope to see unfold? What is the PURPOSE behind your vision? In what way(s) do you need to open yourself to a path that looks different than you expected? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Just for Laughs!

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

If you were ever a Seinfeld fan, perhaps you remember the episode in which Jerry dates a woman and his friends point out to him that she never laughs. Instead, when Jerry says something funny, she just says in a deadpan tone, “That’s funny.” It’s quite ironic since she’s dating a comedian. And it brings me to this point: Laughter is not meant to be held in, controlled, or watered down.

Lol is so overused today that no one really means lol when they say lol! Lol. Literally. Every day, something ought to make you laugh out loud. So open your mouth. Smile big. Laugh out loud – from your belly. No clothed-mouthed laughing allowed – besides, it sounds ridiculous and makes you look constipated. I once knew a woman who always laughed with her mouth closed, like she was going to get into trouble if she really let it out. She pressed her lips together and made a little giggle noise from her throat – and sometimes when it became way too hard for her to keep it in, the laughter would push its way out through her nose, like bad snoring on the exhale.

One day, I said, “How come you laugh quiet?”

She laughed (with her mouth closed) at my question, and then said, “I hadn’t thought about it. Is that what I do?”

“Yes! And I just want you to let it out!” I replied.

“You know, when I was a kid, I got in trouble for laughing and a relative told me it wasn’t ladylike for girls to laugh loud, so I came up with a cute laugh that wasn’t so loud” she reflected.

“Do you still believe that?” I asked.

“Well, actually, no,” she said.

Laughing is healthy. And as adults, we don’t do enough of it. If you have trouble laughing, get around babies. The average baby laughs 300 times a day. The average adult? Just 20 times a day. Like smiling, laughter is a universal human language. Neurophysiologists explain that laughter activates the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain the produces endorphins. Laughter has been shown to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It can actually boost your immune system – and your brain power. The resulting positive emotions expand your ability to learn and absorb new information. This is why speakers often start with a joke, and do well to incorporate humor into their presentations, no matter how serious the subject matter. So just how can you incorporate more laughter into your day.

Consider these ideas:

  • Lighten up and laugh at yourself!
  • Spend time around people who laugh.
  • Watch something funny.
  • Play with a baby or young children.
  • Tell and listen to humorous stories and memories.

So laugh this week! Even in those moments when you may be stressed, think back to a time when you had an uncontrollable laugh, or tell yourself a joke and see how it increases your mood for the day. What do you have to laugh or smile about this week? What happy thoughts can you reflect on that can give you a genuine laugh? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

 

You Are What You Say You Are!

You’ve heard it many times: You are what you think. But thoughts often become words before they become actions. So it’s safe to say this: You are also what you say. In fact, neuroscientists have now proven that just saying powerful words can make you more powerful. For example, when you lift a weight, saying a word such as “strong” increases the force with which you lift that weight. Amazing, isn’t it? Proverbs 18:21 is literally true, scientifically proven: Life and death are in the power of the tongue.

I tested it out while doing a crazy workout video in which the guy leading the exercises keeps looking into the camera and telling me to, “dig deeper.” Panting, sweating and out of breath, I want to tell him to shut up. I’m trying to focus! But he keeps saying it, keeps encouraging me – and so I keep digging deeper for more energy and strength. And you know what? It works. Whether it is a word of encouragement from someone else or the words you speak to encourage yourself, words are powerful.

In fact, positive language is a happiness trigger. I like to call this language, “winning words.” They are words that trigger positive emotions and chemicals in the brain that cause you to feel happier and stronger. There are several ways to use your words to boost your happiness. See a few of them here:

  1. Speak in the affirmative.
  2. Surround yourself with positive words.
  3. Shorten your sob story.
  4. Write about your best possible future self – in the present tense.
  5. Receive positive words.
  6. Use words to bounce back

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things.” – Proverbs 12:14.

Speak in the Affirmative

Say these statements aloud – slowly and intentionally.

–          I can do it.

–          My dream is possible.

–          I am happy about_________________.

–          God loves me.

–          I am loved and loveable.

–          I am blessed.

–          I am grateful for __________________.

–          I have gifts and talents that make the world a better place.

–          I like who I am becoming.

It may seem a little hokey to make positive statements out loud, but what most women feel after making such statements is lighter, stronger, happier, and more optimistic. What emotions do you feel after stating those words? Are these emotions positive? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

 

What Makes Time Fly For You?

When I was a child, I would beg my mother to drop me off at the library. I didn’t really want her to go with me because for me, the world of books was an adventure. There was no telling what I might find on the next shelf! I didn’t want to be limited by time or a schedule. I wanted to get lost in the world of books – a never-ending abundance of stories and information. I didn’t realize it then, but I was in flow when I was at the library. When you’re truly in flow, you will accomplish and do things that others might find odd or simply would have no interest in doing. Case in point. During the summer between third and fourth grade, the librarians on the base where we were stationed encouraged me to enter a reading contest. I won. I still have my grand prize: a full color world encyclopedia. I thought, “More stuff to read! Yippee!” The thing is, I didn’t just win by a little. I read almost three times as many books (64 in total) as the second place winner (23). And no one pushed me to do it. I was having fun.

That summer, I joined Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad and Cassius Clay as he transformed into Muhammad Ali. I learned the answer to the question, “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” and made a bunch of barnyard friends in Charlotte’s Web. More than three decades later, I still remember how much I enjoyed the book reading challenge that summer. It made me happy. Still does. Drop me off at the local bookstore on a day when I have time. I never get bored. I just move from section to section, exploring the latest fun novels, self-help, Christian inspiration, and biographies. No wonder I’m an author. Books are my flow, whether reading them or writing them.

A friend pointed out to me one day that books grace every room in my house. They lie decoratively on tables, waiting to be picked up again, inviting new readers to flip through their pages. It happened organically. I don’t recall ever saying to myself, “Valorie, you should have books in every room.” I didn’t have to. I have a relationship with my books. Some of them helped me gain a new perspective or gave me hope when I needed it. Others made me laugh or accompanied me at the beach, keeping me entertained as I soaked up the sun and sounds of waves crashing on the shore. Still others took me on trips through history and allowed me to get up close and personal with fascinating people.

What’s your flow? What is it that you do that allows time to fly by?

What leads you into a state of flow is likely different from what does it for me. Think back to an activity you were engaged in in which time seemed to just fly by. If you can think of more than one, great! Make a list. This week, get in the flow! Choose one activity that makes time fly for you. Block out your distractions and then go for it! Let me hear from you – what’s on your list? How does it feel to be fully engaged in something you love?

Leave your comments below; I would love to hear from you!

How to Say “NO” in a Sticky Situation!

Women are some of the busiest people around, but life taming your hectic schedule could be as easy as learning to say “no” more often. If your life sometimes feels overloaded, read on. I’ll give you the script to speak up and stop taking on so much. The result? A happier, healthier you. Do you seem to find yourself saying “yes” when what you really want to say is “no”? Someone invites you to an event you really have no interest in, but you get tongue tied and agree to go – not because you want to, but because you can’t think of a gracious way to say “no.” A co-worker asks you to take on a project you really don’t have time to do. You want to be nice, so you say “yes,” only to find yourself stressing out about the deadline a week later. Manipulative people know who they can get to say “yes.” And in many instances they don’t even bother asking those of us who’ve learned to say otherwise.

So you get sucked into doing things because you won’t say one little word: NO. There’s only one reason you say “yes” when you don’t mean it: Fear. Whether the consequence is emotional blackmail, a temper tantrum or someone’s perception that you are selfish or not nice, it is your fear of the worst case scenario that causes you to say “yes.” But if you want to be authentic, you’ll need to learn to say “no.” It will feel uncomfortable at first, but it will also feel good – empowering. And it will free you up for the stuff you actually want to say “yes” to. Here are four simple ways to say “no,” even in the stickiest of situations:

1. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I say no?” Seriously. In the moment it bombards you, confront your negative thinking. Your imagination can get the best of you when fear is involved. You might tell yourself, “She’ll never talk to me again,” when the reality is she’ll get over it by tomorrow. And even if she doesn’t, you really need to question the health of any relationship in which you cannot say “no” without dire consequences.

2. Let me think about it. If you find yourself on the verge of saying “yes,” and too afraid to just say what you want to say, then say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This gives you the opportunity to get clear about your thoughts, and even write down what you want to say. Then get back to them and say “no.”

3. Tell the truth. One of the most disarming ways to say “no” is to tell the person how anxious you feel about saying “no.” It goes something like this, “I have been really wrestling with telling you this because I’d really like to help, but I just can’t. I’m not sure if you’ll even understand, but I really hope you will. With all that’s on my plate, I can’t add anything else.”

4. A Simple N-O will do. In many situations, no explanation is necessary. Start practicing today. Say it with me: “No.” Out loud this time: “No.” Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Try it today with simple requests. And build up to bigger ones. Courage is a muscle. No is a word that will help you strengthen it.

Journaling Assignment:  Think about it. What fear causes you to say “yes” when you really want to say “no”?

My Challenge to You:  Be courageous. The next time you’re presented with a sticky situation, say “no”. Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Your Haters Don’t Hate … They Fear

“I have worked hard, I’ve stayed focused and I’ve been blessed,” a woman told me recently. “But my family is jealous. They make comments about how much easier my life is because I finished college and I have a good position with a great company.  I used to feel guilty.  I didn’t want to share good news because I felt like I was bragging.”

My heart hurt for her as she shared her experience. She’s happy, but careful not to show it, always pointing out the hard parts of her life to justify the good parts.  Maybe you can relate. Unfortunately, not everyone will be happy for your success. It isn’t a reflection of you, but of them. Not everyone can celebrate others.  When you live in a place of fear and regret, another’s success or happiness can remind you of where you might be had you made a different set of choices.  It is a place of scarcity that believes that when your sister, co-worker or neighbor makes stride, it somehow sets you back.  The truth is when another succeeds, we can find hope in their wins if we choose to.  The happiness of another can be a reminder of God’s goodness and grace. And it can be contagious if you don’t inoculate yourself to the joy of genuinely wishing another well.

It hurts when those you love don’t celebrate with you. But when you work hard to improve your life and find your joy, don’t let anybody make you feel guilty about your success and happiness. You don’t have to prove your right to be happy. Be intentional about finding and nurturing relationships where you are celebrated. Rather than being angry for those in your life who don’t fit into that category, pray for them.

My challenge to you this week:
Let go of any guilt about your success or happiness.

Journal about it:
When do you find yourself downplaying your happiness or good news? Who in your life genuinely celebrates you? What could you do to further nurture that relationship? Who do you need to pray for in this area?

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Humility and the Right Place

To say my first year of college was a humbling experience is an understatement.  I went from a high school career good enough to get me into one of the toughest universities in the nation to spending an entire year on academic probation.  I don’t mean “I got a D in one class” academic probation. I mean, like, “I’m failing two classes and thank God swimming is a class because it’s my only hope for a B” academic probation.

Other stuff stressed me out that year, too. Like the average four hours of sleep a night I was getting. Like my parents’ divorce during my first semester. Like the day I was so buckled over with pain on the lower, right side of my abdomen that I had to be wheeled into the emergency room because I could not stand up. They thought maybe it was my appendix. Turned out I needed surgery for an ovarian cyst that burst that morning as I was preparing to march to breakfast with my squadron.  The rigorous physical and military schedule was tough, but that wasn’t what stressed me most. It was the fact that nothing came naturally to me in that environment. It was a true honor to be at the Air Force Academy, but it wasn’t my calling.  Truth is, if I had done well academically, I would have stayed rather than leaving after my first year.  Sometimes you have to fail miserably to be forced onto your right path.

This week, I want to remind you that sometimes an intense struggle isn’t God’s way of teaching you something, but rather God’s way of telling you that are moving in the wrong direction. Rather than forcing something that doesn’t fit or beating yourself up for “not being good enough,” why not ask this question:  Is it possible that there is a better path for me?  One that aligns with my unique gifts and strengths? And if so, what is it?

You must find the right place for you. Whether in your career or relationships, the place that looks impressive to everyone else, may not be the right place for you. A good place isn’t the same as the right place.

 

My challenge to you:
If you’re moving in the wrong direction, be humble and willing to change course.

Journaling assignment:
In what way(s) are you forcing something to happen that simply is not a good fit? In what way(s) does pride (or caring too much about what others think) keep you moving in a direction that is not meant for you?  What new direction might it be time to embrace? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!