Ducks in a Row Syndrome

You have this great idea. You have a beautiful vision of how things could be and how you could accomplish it. In fact, you have lots of things you want to do. But somehow they never seem to work out. Instead you have half-finished projects, plans start in your head and never get realized, and the virtual or physical mess is still around you. It’s not that you are lazy or unmotivated. Most likely you are suffering from ducks-in-a-row syndrome (DS).

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So ducks-in-a-row syndrome is not an actual diagnosis in the DSM-V. But it’s a real thing that a lot of people have, and could be classified as a subset of perfectionistic thinking. Many people grow up with the idea that in order to do something, you need to have everything prepared ahead of time. Before you start cooking, read the recipe, have all the ingredients laid out tidily in cute little bowls. Before you travel, read as much as you can about the place, and have a whole itinerary laid out ahead of time. Before you go to college, know exactly what you want to be doing in five years and map it out and how to get there.

Now, I don’t want to diss planning. I believe that planning is a sign of great emotional maturity and healing. However, we also live busy lives and being able to have everything done and prepared ahead of time is not always possible. Also, a lot of people feel like they need to mentally feel better before they can take on a difficult task. And that is really where the DS comes in strong and wreaks havoc. The truth is that those positive feelings happen after you take on something difficult and develop confidence, bravery, and a sense of achievement. Waiting until you feel well enough to take on a task, means well, you may never take it on. You might as well be waiting for Godot.

The truth is that ducks never walk or swim in a straight line. Neither should we place impossible standards on ourselves. Don’t let those phantom ducks get in the way of progress. Instead, take little steps to take back your life and accomplish your goals. Set small goals each day or week, and enjoy the renewed sense of motivation and accomplishment as you move on to bigger goals. And if your ducks are not perfectly in a row, just remember that’s natural.

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Finding the Feminine after Narcissistic Abuse

Many female victims of narcissistic abuse share stories of how the abuse left them feeling shame around their gender. Some women blame their femininity for the abuse, believing that if they were stronger, tougher, somehow they would be more accepted by the abuser or the abuse wouldn’t hurt so much. Often, narcissists will see very feminine traits in their victims and attack them for what comes so naturally to their victims, that the victims will end up hating their bodies and anything associated with being a woman.

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Here is the truth. Women are by nature, very powerful. However, female power is diffferent from masculine power, and that is totally acceptable. Narcisstic abuse is a lie meant to confuse women and distract female victims from seeing their true power and using it. A woman’s power lies in being who she specifically is and in her friendships with others who are good and willing to allow her to be who she is without trying to destroy her soul. When a woman is able to be truly herself and in positive relationship with others, she changes the world for the better and nothing can stand against her.

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Femininity can come in a variety of different shades. For the recovering victim of narcissism, exploring the feminine side can be an act of rebellion and a way to recover your personal freedom. Some victims were not allowed to clean their homes, wear makeup, or even cry without enduring shame, mental abuse, or emotional outbursts from their partners or family members. Others were not allowed to handle financial matters, plan events, or give directions. The narcissist craves chaos, misdirection, and submission.

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There is no one way to be feminine, but it can be a lot of fun for the recovering victim of narcissism to try out new ways of exploring their feminine side, whether it be riding horses for the first time, wearing an outfit that the partner never would have approved of, investing their money, posting on social media, enjoying an organized home or life, or trying out a new hobby or starting a business. If you have had to hold back for a narcissist that never allowed you to be yourself, don’t wait to explore your feminine side and don’t be surprised at the mixed emotions you might feel as you break free from your chains and discover joy in your life again.

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Why Are We So Critical Of Ourselves?

One thing I have noticed over the years as a counselor is the large amount of self-criticism coming from a younger generation (millenial and below) that is constant. These same people are incredibly kind, generous, and unjudgemental of others, but when it comes to themselves not only are they the harshest critics but their own worst friend.

What I see is that we have grown up in a world where are constantly exposed to how we are probably doing something wrong, even if we don’t know it. We might be eating the wrong foods (orthorexia anyone?), doing too much isolating, hanging out with the wrong people, not working hard enough, working too hard, not speaking up for ourselves, saying the wrong thing, obsessing, etc. The list goes on and on.

Advertisers have been using pop psychology for a long time to sell their products. I see a lot of image-based or fear-based advertising appealing to our inner critic that wants to be perfect, to be seen, to be acceptable. If we only do this one thing, then we will be alright, we will be alright, we will be just FINE.

However, in the real world, it never works that way. We are beautiful, sloppy, crazy, wonderful, imperfect, tearful, hormonal, aggressive, sensitive, insert-any-other-adjective human beings full of change, wonder, and unpredictability. We are VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). So what should we do with our VUCA selves amidst our own desire for perfection, stability, certainty, and simplicity?

Stop the pathologizing

What is it that you find yourself worrying or criticizing yourself for the most? Think about that quality or behavior from all angles. Is there something truly wrong with it, or is what you are doing pretty normal, understandable, and loveable? Most likely yes. We all break our diets sometimes, we all sometimes need to stepback, sometimes we say the wrong thing, sometimes we don’t say enough, etc. Find a way to look at your problem as a strength, rather than a possible diagnosis.

Practice self-compassion

Sometimes this is easier said than done (speaking from experience), but when you find yourself being anxious or harsh or judgmental about yourself, think about you and that place you are coming from. Is it a place of hurt, of feeling small, of wanting to be pleasing to others? This part of you deserves love, not shame and blame. Be kind to this part of you and do something nice for yourself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to mess up, to not be perfect, and to want things that everyone else wants.

Get creative with your thinking

We all have an inner critic. The inner critic is one of the most boring, predictable, and negative part of ourselves. When the inner critic starts speaking, it’s time to change the message. Find a way to be creative, beautiful, and positive about that thing that seems so negative. Here is an example. Let’s say that you beat yourself up for being too sensitive. Instead, how about you think about all the great things about being sensitive – like how attractive it can make you to others, how it makes others feel understood, how it helps you to be in tune with others and want to connect with them, etc. Paint a different picture and enjoy admiring the results.

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How to Spot a “Helpless Babe” and Not Lose Yourself in the Process

I have worked with a lot of highly competent, good, sweet, intelligent, and generous women who are all very unhappy because of one thing – they currently or in the past have had their efforts and good qualities wasted on a “helpless babe.”

“What Is a Helpless Babe?”

I coined the term “helpless babe” when I saw some very similar patterns among the men in the lives of these women. These men were often emotionally immature, would act helpless when it was convenient, and would otherwise appear sophisticated when it worked well in their favor, namely wooing the woman or avoiding responsibility or blame.

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These men wreak a lot of havoc in the lives of the people around them while often appearing to be doe-eyed bastions of innocence and goodness to others. They are all too content to let the women do all the work, and they have plenty of excuses why they can’t help out. They often have very few male friends, tend to prefer the company of women because it feels more safe and they can control the women. They will often take on characteristics of little boys, such as being more effeminate, acting helpless and scared, putting on a pouty face when confronted, and having a softer voice. They will avoid being around other male friends out of fear of being confronted, challenged, and called out for their true motivation – to life a life of passive mediocrity that revolves around getting only their needs met.

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Men who are emotionally mature will easily spot the helpless babes and try to warn the women away from them, often too late. By that time, women’s strong natural desire to heal and soothe others takes over and they are on a high of both charm and being needed that blinds them to the reality that these helpless babes don’t care about them at all, but are content to sit back and take on the role of a wounded, impotent child for as long as they can get away with it, until someone stands up to them.

When their victim finally stands up to the helpless babe, it can be truly tragic. The helpless babe then becomes a snake that charms everyone who could possibly help the victim and bites with venomous poison anyone who might reveal his true identity.

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If you struggle with having a helpless babe in your life, I encourage you to find a trusted person to tell your story to. Find a counselor with expertise in narcisstic abuse to help you unravel the twisted narrative so that you can break free of the lies, manipulation, and destruction left in the path of a helpless babe.

Why It’s Essential for Medical Providers to Provide Trauma-Informed Care

I think most medical providers enter their profession because they have a desire to help people through providing the best in medical care. However, there is a largely ignored problem that is at the basis of a large number of medical issues, but also the way that medical care is utilized and approached by patients. To ignore this mammoth issue is to address the symptoms, but not the cause.

Trauma has been strongly correlated with a number of chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue, asthma, heart disease, sleep apnea, etc. Trauma affects not just the mind, but also the body. To address trauma is also to address physical problems.

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Not only is it important to address trauma as one of the major root causes of physical issues, it’s also important to understand how trauma affects medical care. A patient’s trauma can affect their ability to feel comfortable seeking out and talking to a medical provider. Trauma can also affect a patient’s outlook on their treatment and prognosis.

Here are a few ways that trauma can interfere with patient care:

  • A patient might feel uncomfortable talking about certain symptoms or parts of the body due to trauma.
  • You might not get enough information from a patient due to body posture, words used, or inherent qualities about you as a medical provider that remind the patient of their trauma.
  • Certain medical procedures, even seemingly routine ones such as taking blood pressure or weighing a patient, might be triggering to the patient, resulting in a shutdown of communication.
  • How your office, waiting room, or examination area is set up can affect a patient on a visceral level and remind them of traumatic experiences. If they have experienced medical trauma, even just being in a medical setting can be extremely stressful. Even changing furniture can feel alarming to patients who have experienced severe trauma related to transitions.

Addressing trauma in a medical setting is not as difficult as it might seem. If you have a chance to take a course in trauma-informed care, that can be a great start to learn more about how to address a history of trauma in your patients. If you are unable to find training in trauma-informed care related to medical providers, you can seek out a consultant to help you develop ways to make your practice more trauma-informed. Seek out colleagues who have had success in making their practice more trauma-informed and consult with them about best practices.

Some of the benefits of making your medical practice more trauma-informed:

  • Better rapport with your patients.
  • Increased communication from your patients.
  • Decreased stress in your interaction with patients.
  • Better outcomes
  • More positive patient interactions with your patients
  • Growth in your practice as patients tell others about the positive benefits of working with a trauma-informed provider

How Trauma Can Get in the Way of Success

One of the assessment forms I always have my clients fill out in the beginning is a questionnaire to assess their level of Adverse Childhood Experiences. These questions will give me an insight into difficult, perhaps even traumatic events, they have experienced. Of course, the questionnaire does not cover everything and I think there are a lot of other questions that could be included, such as did you ever experience racism or discrimination as a child, did a household member including yourself end up in the foster care system, did you experience bullying outside of the home on a regular basis, etc. ? But it’s at least a good start for trying to understand how much trauma someone has gone through as a child and how much stress has built up into their system since then.

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Childhood trauma sets the stage for how we interact with the world, our beliefs about ourselves and others, and what is possible. The effects of trauma are not always visibly evident, they are invisible wounds that we carry around. Trauma does not come out until we are challenged or challenge ourselves in some way.

Success can be very triggering. One of the effects of trauma is anxiety. Anxiety tells us to avoid certain situations and play it safe. It’s a protective mechanism to help us avoid further damage. The problem with that is that anxiety keeps us from doing the things that will actually help us feel better in the long run, and reduce our sensitivity to threat.

Progress means change, and change can feel very scary to our autonomic nervous system. Many traumas are a result of some kind of transition – parents leaving a child, a robber entering a home, losing a beloved friend or family figure, being sent away, etc. It’s no wonder that even little transitions can seem huge in our minds and our bodies, even if we logically know that a transition now is normal and safe – like a change in furniture, change in plans, or a new person in our life. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” is a popular saying among somatic-based therapists. Transition, even positive ones, can feel dangerous to our minds because it has become linked with trauma.

So if you start to work on a goal, and you suddenly encounter that dreaded brick wall, take some time to assess the situation. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does this situation remind you of a situation you may have faced in the past?
  • Is there some immediate change or transition that may have affected your ability to see progress or feel safe?
  • Have there been any other stressors lately that may have compounded your ability to reach your goals and feel good about yourself?
  • Does your reaction to a challenge, or even positive signs of progress, seem out of proportion, or uncharacteristic of your normal way of reacting?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be seeing the effects of hidden trauma. It is good to acknowledge what is really going on in order to be able to move past it. Even though symptoms of trauma can seem permanent, they don’t have to be. As we identify the problem and connect with others who understand, we are able to come up with our own solutions. In doing so, we strengthen our ability to feel safe, to pass through any challenges that come our way, and feel more connected to others and ourselves. And success seems a lot more possible after all.

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Why Being Tough is Not Enough

Being tough is great for survival, but it’s not great to just survive. It’s better to thrive. We live in a culture that celebrates stoicism. From a temporary standpoint, stoicism can help us to batter “the slings and arrows of misfortune”, but it does not help us to live the “abundant life” that we are all meant to live.

It’s hard to be vulnerable and there is a reason for that. Vulnerability means there is a possibility of being hurt. Even the thought of being hurt can be painful. Sometimes it can seem easier to just tough it out, not feel anything, not let other people know what is really going on inside of you. This is especially true if you have experienced previous trauma, shame, emotional abuse, etc that seems to legitimize avoiding and toughing it up.

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I get it, because I am just as guilty as the rest in being stoic. There are times when I’ve had to be tough in order to get through a difficult ordeal. I’ve also come to realize that being stoic can only take you so far in life and keep you from happiness. Stoics might win battles on a temporary basis, but they lose out on potential or current friendships, in other words, the bigger battles of life.

You see, vulnerability is also a superpower. Yes, sometimes people abuse it, but that doesn’t take away from the power of authentic vulnerability in a human relationship. When, instead of hiding and avoiding, you take up the bullfighter’s cloak and say “toro” to your fears of abandonment, rejection, being unaccepted, etc. you give yourself and other people a chance to get to know you and them for who you and they really are. You give people a chance to strengthen you, to affirm you in all of your weak points and point out your strengths.

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When you take these risks and expose yourself to all sorts of dangerous possibilities, you will naturally feel anxiety, fear, and think all sorts of negative thoughts. That’s okay, because that’s our body’s way of trying to prepare us to be brave. There are several possibilities that could happen when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

It could be that all of our worst fears could come true. Maybe we won’t be liked, we will be made fun of, no one will want to be around us, etc. However, it’s better to know the situation than pretend that everything is okay. Then we can move on, process our feelings, find better people to be around in our lives, and optimize our lives for better results in the future.

Or the results might not be great, but they might not also be so bad either. Maybe we will learn something from the outcome and make choices based on that new information we receive. Maybe we might find out that there is something we can improve on, or a new skill to learn. Maybe the great friendship we thought we had isn’t that great, but it isn’t so bad either. We can learn to adjust.

Or sometimes (as is often the case) we are surprised by how great things can really turn out when we let ourselves be vulnerable. We may form deep, lasting friendships. We could learn that we are worth loving after all, and that many people do care about us, but we didn’t know it because we were hiding in our turtle shell of avoidance and blaming others. We could find out that all of our fears are unfounded and we have been wrong all along. We could discover that we are much safer than we thought and little by little, we can slowly let our guard down and enjoy a life of not just surviving, but also living life to its fullest in the way that only you can.

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Can Emotional Abuse Cause Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)?

When most people think of PTSD, they imagine someone who has gone through a natural disaster, a war, or physical or sexual violence. Very few people understand or are aware of how severe the effects of emotional abuse are.

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Emotional abuse is systematic, intentional, and repetitive controlling of a person, using the victim’s own emotions to shame, belittle, isolate, change their understanding of reality, and wear down their defenses.

The effects of emotional abuse can be far-reaching. Emotional abuse can lead to a host of chronic health problems, poor social skills, lack of social support, financial problems, depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, concentration and memory problems, and sensory issues.

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When a person’s emotions are continually used against them to harm them, it can cause severe and complex trauma symptoms for the victim. Some of the symptoms of CPTSD in victims of emotional abuse include:

-hyperarousal of emotions

-hypoarousal of emotions

-feelings of numbness



-poor sense of self-worth

-avoidance of triggers that remind victims of their abuse or abuser

-panic attacks

-physical symptoms related to reliving the trauma

-believing the world is a dangerous place

-overwhelming crying spells

-inability to register sensory input


-extreme fatigue

If you have suffered from emotional abuse, the best way to overcome it is to get help from a trusted, emotionally mature person. Seek out a counselor trained in treating the effects of CPTSD and emotional abuse so you can start to heal and grow stronger, becoming the person you were meant to be.

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When Is It Okay To Say “I Love You”?

Although dating has changed at a rapid, break neck speed our basic human needs have not. We are all made to be loved unconditionally and to give of ourselves to another human being without reserve, completely. Anyone who says otherwise has had the tragedy of never being loved completely or has had their heart broken in a terrible way.

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Love is a great risk, and yet we try and try again until we find that person who is just right for us. As I write this in 2021, many young people are choosing not to marry, are dating numerous people in rapid succession through the use of dating apps, are experimenting with so many flavors of relationships, and yet there is still a large loneliness and a longing for love that can’t quite go away.

This longing for a deep, intimate love is built into the core of our being. Yet with each rejection, each shallow relationship, hurt builds and builds until it explodes and is taken out on either ourselves or others. Is it any wonder that the biggest fear in a relationship is saying the words, “I love you?”

When people are hurt, it’s common to look for answers to our problems. We might see solutions in rejecting all men or women, monogamous relationships, people of a certain socioeconomic group, race, etc. None of these answers really satisfies the heart, however. As much as we are made for love, we are also not made for hate (the permanent, stick-around-forever kind of hate).

With so much instability in modern relationships, people will do anything in a relationship except say “I love you.” That’s because love means something permanent and a big risk. Being in love and declaring your love makes your relationship open to the possibility of rejection and solidifies it into something more than an ethereal passing moment of two lives joined together. It speaks the truth of the heart and of the relationship and how it’s meant to be.

Speaking truth to power in a relationship is always recommended, even if not well-received. It’s important to be honest not just with others, but with ourselves. Hiding who we are and our positive feelings towards others is not good for us or the people around us, especially those we are closest with. It’s better to take a stand in our closest relationships and identify our love for what it is, something beautiful and what is meant to be.

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Why It’s Good to Let Yourself Be Disappointed

As adults, we naturally tend towards hedonism as a way of life. We tend to avoid what hurts us and seek out what feels good. Pain, whether psychological or physical, causes stress to our bodies and our minds, which, when we endure it for too long, can cause mental health problems, chronic health issues, and burnout.

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However, staying too safe isn’t good for us either. Even as adults, our brains are constantly growing, developing new neural networks. Or at least that’s how we are designed. We are meant to be constantly evolving in new ways, learning new things, and achieving new insights and success along the way.

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Part of that growth naturally involves disappointment. No one, male or female, is successful at everything we attempt for the first, second, or third time. As we try things, and as we fail, we learn what works and what doesn’t. We become more creative, stronger, and more resilient. When one path leads to a dead end, we find a wonderful new trail we didn’t know existed and end up in destinations unheard of. Trying to be competent, safe, and sure of everything ahead of time is simply trying to avoid shame and disappointment. You go down the path everyone else has already trod on a million times that leads to the same place that you already knew about ahead of time. Your mind, your body, and your life remain stagnant, not really going anywhere.

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Sometimes people have an idea that they should wait until the unpleasant feelings go away before they try something new, before going on an adventure, before charting unknown territory. What happens is that they never go anywhere as those negative feelings hold reign over their lives and become their own prison. Rather, it’s better to take risks, experience disappointment, and grow from it all first. In other words, become really good at being a beginner. Over time, the unpleasant feelings will give way to the more positive feelings that naturally come with mastery and overcoming challenges. A good struggle, whatever the outcome, can make life more interesting and a tool for growth.

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There is no better time than now to reach out and try something new, scary, and challenging. Test your limits, and see how far you can go, and what you can learn from your experience. If nothing else, you will have some great stories to tell later.