Your Dirty Secrets

I was discussing sex with a colleague. I know, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Punctuation is important. Put your mind on pause, we were speaking in an entirely clinical-ish manner.

I have been a therapist for some time now. Without exaggerating, people in my field, with the requisite amount of full-time experience, have literally counseled thousands of strangers… and usually most of their friends. People know what I do for a living and sometimes, because my family and friends are all cheap bastards, they make me give them advice for free. Some of my buds, and you know who you are, casually refer to me as “Dr. Death” because I have a habit of showing up every time someone gets in an accident or a close relative passes away. If you are a counselor or a physiotherapist, a social worker or a kinesiologist or a medical professional, you totally know what I am talking about. Therapy is expensive and Scott is free to friends and relatives. Yay.

So back to the sex. I know I said that wrong.

People have secrets. There are stories from our past, and ofttimes our present, that we don’t talk about while watching hockey. Habits we have struggled to break, decisions made and regretted, dirty little secrets of which we are ashamed. If I have learned one thing in all my years as a counselor, it’s that quite a few people have things tucked away in the closet they would choose to forget. I get that.

I remember many days, many confessions. The point is, I have forgotten many more. Life goes on and at some point the only person carrying that baggage is probably you. As the comedian said, “You know who cares as much about your problems as you do? No one.”

Counseling, for reasons I understand and several I do not, actually works for many people. Even stripping away all the psychology and philosophy and relationship-building, there is something powerful, something cathartic, about telling someone else the truth, without worrying judgment or your partner finding out. Counselees regularly report feeling better, though I am often dumbfounded as to what I have actually done for that person. There is a power in the process, not just the result.

This is the obvious reason why change happens slowly, over extended periods of time. You cannot really change your attitude, much less your philosophy of life, in 8 sessions; the idea is usually ludicrous. It took you decades to get this way, and I’m not a televangelist or a medium. The process itself, that long and arduous journey of infinitesimal change, you can’t fake that. Wisdom takes time.

But I digress, as usual.

You have a dirty little secret, perhaps more than two. It may not be perverted or gross or abuse, but most of us carry a regret, or ten; something that has scarred us, a wound which has never completely healed.

People tell me stuff. Any illusions you may have about counselors knowing a whack of gossip is unequivocally correct. Unfortunately, the sheer volume and weight of thousands of horror stories bleeds any of the guilty pleasure out of knowing someone’s secrets. At some point in the journey, it became clinical. Therapists who can’t take the misery get a different job.

So when you told me that dirty little secret, chances are I didn’t flinch. As you have surmised by now, this isn’t bragging, it’s just math.

Where is this headed? Shame is a powerful thing. People carry embarrassment and that dirt, and we all have that story where we came clean with someone and they hurt us. It may sound pedantic but there is often that old voice in our head reminding us we are such a loser that no one could really accept or love us if they knew how messed up we really were. If they knew the things we’ve done or the places we’ve been…

I’m not a catholic but I get why people go to confession. People in my profession often surrogate as a secular priest for clients, that cathartic thing again. My friends who have done a 12-Step Program remember Step 5 – I’ve heard a few myself. Step 5 is my day job.

One more thing. I have heard stories that involve really sick crap that would blow most minds, and perhaps your masturbation problem or weird fantasy, or history of abuse, or… whatever, could benefit from an outside, possibly more objective, perspective. And that’s why I get paid the money. This is, in no way, an attempt to belittle issues you have struggled with for years; I hope you can see my heart in this. Many words with one singular purpose – maybe it’s time to demystify your dirty little secret and get a clean perspective from someone who won’t judge you or make light of your journey. Catharsis can be a powerful tool for healing.

It will only sting a little, I promise.

Desperate For Approval

Anyone who works in the mental health industry can tell you that almost everyone struggles with crippling self-esteem for some of their life.

It is an epidemic.

We are a generation that cannot love ourselves and are intimately aware of our shortcomings. You don’t really need to tell me my faults; I have spent much more time fixated on them than you have. I know my personality quirks, some of you have pointed them out time and again. I know that I have issues, I really do. Chances are that you are keenly aware of your foibles as well.

I’m losing my hair. Actually I have been losing my hair for most of my adult life but for some reason the process has been ridiculously slow, for which I am somewhat grateful. Every now and then someone will delight in pointing out this fact to me – like I haven’t spent hours squinting in the mirror bemoaning my fate. I like to turn to them and exclaim, “I am? I did not know that!”. I turn around, pretending to try to look at the back of my head and mumble, “Are you sure?” This usually shuts them up, at least until the next time. Some of you know what I am talking about – you have weight issues, or a mole, or some physical issue you aren’t proud of. SInce you were young people have commented on your mole. Kids made fun of you. Someone has called you ‘fatty’ or ‘four-eyes’, or ugly or short or whatever. Apparently you did not know you were fat – it was awful nice of them to let you know.

I used to have a female acquaintance who seemed to derive great joy from pointing out my physical shortcomings; she thought it was hilarious. I, however, found it less than amusing. At the time I was struggling with how I looked and her cruel attempts at humour only entrenched the insecurities I already had. To this day if someone compliments me on my looks I am prone to be dismissive and blow them off. My wife, who understands me better than most, is apt to say, “shut up and take the compliment”. She’s good for me… and a redhead. I have a few other friends who know me enough to see beneath my overt confidence and realize that, like most of us, I am prone to feel bad about myself.

Growing up I was taught by an unforgiving society that any attempt at self-promotion was called “arrogance”. Telling others you were awesome was an unforgivable sin and punishable by derision and scorn. Adults told me, told you, not to brag because bragging about yourself was very, very wrong. Be humble, I was taught. People who talk about themselves are egomaniacs.

I have learned a little about ego and narcissism since those days.

“Liking yourself” is usually not a sign of an insecure and arrogant person. People who are ok with who they are do not need the approval of others and are usually not fixated with gleaning the approval of others. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when authentic. Appreciating your skills and personality, even loving yourself, is a very good thing. It’s time for someone to say it – it’s important to like who you are.

It’s time to make peace with you.

I am keenly aware that I will probably never be perfect. I am fairly certain that I am not going to be an underwear model anytime soon (hold on to that visual image…). Chances are I am never going to be famous. I might even turn out to be a bald old man some day. I’m trying to be good with that.

As I have often said on this blog, the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of poor self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning to like and appreciate who you are is perhaps the meaning of life or at least the beginning of wisdom. There is nothing you can do about your shape, beyond cosmetic changes. Most of you are going to gradually lose the fight with gravity, the older you get. You may never be rich or famous or popular.

Are you ever going to be ok with that?

There is no magic formula for poor self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are awesome when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins with putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant. It has everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to let yourself fixate on what is missing. Like most things in life it’s about changing how you think, not how you look.


Why Do I Care What You Think?

We are a people who struggle with self-worth. I meet few people who are happy with who they are. We are the chronically under-valued and the terminally insecure. We have a tendency to look to other people for approval and live our lives in order to be loved. We tell our children to love themselves, but battle with self-loathing.

For years I considered myself a rebel, a person who lived outside the box, who didn’t give a damn about what others thought of him. Looking back it is easy to see how this was a coping mechanism, a way of finding acceptance, if only with myself, as a marginal personality who did not easily “play well with others”. If I couldn’t win at fitting in I would give the finger to the establishment and act as if their opinions did not matter. I gave the impression that I was vain, when in fact I was insecure.

I can see, now that I am getting older, the temptation within myself to act like a performance monkey. Seeking to fit in does not end after high school.  We have been programmed since birth to base our feelings of self-worth on what others think of us and what we do. For some reason we are extremely conscious of the opinions of those around us. Those people who choose to criticize us may, in point of fact, be idiots and subjective to the highest degree but this seems to matter very little. Jumping through the hoops of people who don’t even respect is what we do.

There was a time in my life when it seemed important that people liked me. I was running a non-profit and had shareholders who were strongly opinionated and often very negative. I was always available to help salve their broken lives and marriages, and they were always available to critique my performance. I remember vividly one meeting with a couple at a local coffee shop wherein they decided that I needed to be “fixed”. It was to be the last of several meetings, all designed to help me come to grips with my glowering flaws (in their opinion). Late in the conversation it finally dawned on me, I didn’t even really like or respect this couple. I knew their dirty little secrets, their insecurities, their propensity to be condescending and arrogant. I realized that if we did not have a shared vested interest I would never want to be their friend or hang out with them… ever. I had been emotionally prostituting myself in order to appease them – something that now seemed impossible to do. My fear of their disapproval and perhaps disengagement from the non-profit had created a sick codependence.

It is one thing to seek to be kind and a person of integrity. It is another thing altogether to base your self-worth on the opinions of fallible and fickle people whose opinions should not matter. Wholeness is found in the realization that I cannot jump through enough hoops, suck up to enough people, to fill that hole in my heart that wants to be loved. Chasing that dragon is like chasing any other addiction, it just leaves us broken.

Accepting who and what I am, right now, is a daunting and difficult task. Letting go of our need to make everyone happy feels completely wrong. If people had to accept us for who we are would anyone still like us?

In counseling I admonish single clients, often fresh out of dysfunctional relationships, not to date until they don’t need to. They usually look at me funny and I find it necessary to explain – don’t bring your garbage to your next relationship. Don’t use that next person to fill that hole in your heart. Don’t depend on someone else to make you whole or happy. Don’t date… until you don’t need that person to fix anything. Become emotionally self-contained. Work on becoming whole.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

The Cost Of Criticism

tumblr_mei9y4IsYJ1r90iovMost of us are acutely aware of the effect of criticism. I ask people all the time, “If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which do you remember?” We all know the answer.

Why is that? Is it because, on some level, we are more apt to believe a criticism than we are a compliment? Does that criticism subconsciously confirm something about ourselves that we already know? Does it simply reinforce our negative self-image?

There is also another side to that coin. I don’t know about you but I was raised by a culture that strongly asserted that self-promotion was vanity. Being ‘humble’ meant never complimenting ourselves. People who bragged were assumed to be arrogant. Then one day I stepped into a Christian church and heard the saying, “God gets all the glory”. I learned that anything good about myself was God, anything bad is me. Once again I learned that I suck, that in and of myself I had little to brag about… not that I was allowed to anyway.

I have written before about the legacy my grandmother gave me. She was a firm believer in the axiom, “children should be seen and not heard”. I cannot remember one compliment from her mouth given to anyone, especially me. Then I grew up and had a relationship with someone who used contempt and disappointment as a means of control and discipline. You probably know people like this.

It is no real surprise when people come to counseling and admit to me that they struggle with self-esteem issues. Poor self-image is such a common mental health issue that I don’t know if I know anyone who doesn’t struggle with it. We are a culture plagued by emotional pain, largely as a result of criticism, contempt, and condemnation.

Enough with the criticism already. Most of us struggle everyday with feeling like we are losers, that we don’t measure up and we never will. I really don’t need you to point out my faults, I am intimately familiar with them. We know we have failed. We are cognizant of our glaring ugliness.

Many people feel that they are trying to help when they are critical. After all, how will you ever learn if I don’t help you? Granted, there are times when I have appreciated the cutting honesty of a friend, but this is only effective when I trust that person and believe they have my best interests at heart. Tearing people a new one simply because you are righteously indignant usually only scars and forces that person into a defensive posture. Real friends love you in spite of how you are, not because of who you are. Real friends love you enough to shut up.

They say you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar. You can also get more flies with shit than with honey. It’s a great deal more helpful to love someone back to health than it is to shoot the wounded.

It’s time for a love revolution.

I’m Disappointed In You

Have you ever had someone in your life who seemed constantly disappointed in you? It didn’t seem to matter how hard you tried, it was never enough. Sometimes they didn’t have to even say much, you just knew – you are a loser, you will never be worthy.

I know what it is like to live with disappointment. It was a glib smile and a few words, a gentle sigh. I failed again. In my particular case it made me needy, so very needy. Dedicating every waking minute to impress, to please, to do, didn’t seem to matter. Disappointed again.

Maybe it was your dad, or your mom, a relative or a friend. For many of us it was our spouse – a wife or a boyfriend whose expectations and selfishness bruised and ultimately scarred your heart.

Poor self-esteem. Bad self-image. Feelings of inadequacy. Second-guessing yourself. Minimizing your accomplishments. Squinting in the mirror. Fear. Doubt. Self-loathing. Pain. Never good enough. Loser. Pathetic. Bitch.

On some level we all know that it is our own responsibility to feel good about ourselves. In theory. In practice, when someone whose opinion is supposed to matter denigrates and often subtly destroys our wholeness, it is very difficult to feel worthwhile. We know we are not supposed to base our self-esteem on others but how do you do that?

Quick quiz – If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which one will you remember?

I wonder if the reason we believe the insult is because somewhere, down deep perhaps, we believe them. Many of us have been told we are ugly or fat or stupid or bald or pathetic or worthless all our lives. How can we possibly have good self-esteem now?

The truth: The opposite of bad self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of bad self-esteem is self-acceptance.

The truth is, you may always be fat. You may always be bald. Joan Rivers is scary proof that plastic surgery can only take you so far. You may be considered ugly by the beautiful. You may never go to college. You probably will never be famous. Or rich. Or even successful. And you get cry all you want and rail against the system, get angry and frustrated and die in a flaming manure-ball of bitterness. I see people every day who absolutely refuse to accept their illness, or their spouse, or their saggy boobs. I know how they feel. There are seemingly countless things I don’t like about myself. Nobody needs to point our my flaws, I see them in glaring technicolor. You don’t need to be disappointed in me, I can do quite fine on my own, thanks.

One day I woke up and realized in retrospect that I was living my life to impress someone who was incapable of accepting me or loving me for who I really was. I understood that I had been running myself sick trying to earn her love, only to hear her sigh with disapproval. I still care about this person, actually very much, but no longer feel compelled to sacrifice my soul for a smile and a nod.

Emotional wholeness rarely comes by accident.

Working Out

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
― Leo Tolstoy

I have written in the past about my attempts to become a body-builder when I was in my early twenties. To make a long and boring story short I worked out like a bomb for almost two years and looked virtually the same as when I started. It didn’t help that every wall was a floor to ceiling mirror. I tried everything – eating emasculated chicken, dieting, water pills, and supplements guaranteed to pump me up like a helium balloon. Apparently the patented molecules had never encountered anything like my bird-like metabolism before, for after two months of drinking that vial sludge after every meal, all I could show for my efforts was that I had apparently lost the ability to have a bowel movement. That made me gain weight but not the kind of weight that I was going for.

There is no end to what some of us will go to in order to look good on the outside. And I’m not here to do a social commentary on makeup and Lululemons and Helly Hansen. Don’t really care about slamming you for how you dress or how much you spend on lipstick and stuff. I may never truly understand how that eyelash medieval torture device works but I support your right to attempt to use it without pinching your eyeball.

But here’s the deal. There is no end to what some of us will go to in order to look good on the outside. It’s no big deal when you’re talking about what kind of boxers you buy to wear outside your shorts. It’s a big deal when it leads to pride and elitism. It’s problematic when it defines how we feel about ourself. It’s horrific when it leads us to do anything in an attempt to fit in.

Defining ourselves by what we see in the mirror has been rammed into us by the stick-figured girls in the media who still manage to pull off a six-pack with their Botox and fake breasts. Men photoshopped into perfect thousand dollar suits and new cars with a brainless bimbo on each arm. Culture tells us that this is success, that this is beauty. Those of us with stretch marks or bellies, with poor cheek bones and weak chins will never measure up. If you don’t believe me take a look at Travolta or Shatner or Elton John or Joan Rivers. They have mutilated their hair lines and faces just to pretend to not be aging. They are paying thousands of dollars to fight a fight they cannot win.

We are all getting old. Deal with it.

Apparently a man’s nose grows his whole life. So do his ears. At some point I’m going to look like Dumbo. Not much I can do about it.

I am listening to the audiobook, “The Game”. It’s a textbook for pickup artists teaching them how to get any woman – the things to say, the ways to act. I have no intention of using this material, I use it to warn women that they are targets. The book is replete with tactics including how to make the desired mark feel worse about herself, how to separate her from her friends, how to ignore her until she begs for your attention. I wrote about some of this in the article, “How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women In Their Twenties”. At the time I used my oldest son as a consultant and now I’m a little freaked out how much he knew without ever knowing this book exists.

The point I am trying to make is that the system for belonging, for finding love, for feeling valued, is largely screwed up. We lie when we date, seeking to put our best foot forward. We look for love in all the wrong places. We think love can be found at a bar. We judge each other by what we look like. It’s all a game, a psychologically damaging contest that dismisses the best of us, the brightest, the kindest, the most worthwhile… the unbeautiful.

I am conscious that for many of us, we have struggled our entire life to fit in and feel good about how we look and who we are. We have never been satisfied by the look of our shell. Here’s the bad news.

You probably never will be.


The opposite of bad self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of bad self-esteem is self-acceptance. Esteem follows acceptance, not the other way around.

These are your cards. You can diet, eat right, work out, take bowel-clenching supplements, but that won’t change how you feel about you on the deepest levels. If you don’t believe me ask a skinny person. We are a generation with low self-esteem and insecurity. It is a plague that is propagated every day, every time we turn on a computer or a television.

You will never be able to compete with Photoshop. Maybe it’s time to stop that treadmill, take your toys and go home.

Imagine if we tried our best then didn’t care about the rest.
Imagine if we could care less about our love-handles and flaws.
Imagine accepting ourselves exactly how we are, in spite of what we look like.
Imagine the freedom.


“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Capture the Flag

PaintballSplatHave you ever played paintball? It’s this disgusting sport where you attempt to mow other people down in the name of recreation. It promotes values like picking on the weak, killing, and violence on many levels. It’s really cool.

One of the most popular games you play at paintball is “Capture the Flag”. It’s the same as normal capture the flag except with guns, which adds a certain edge to the whole experience. In paint ball capture the flag, the idea is to hide or die. Only morons with a desire for pain make those lightning attempts to outrun the opposition in full daylight. The goal is stealth – see but not be seen. Kill and not be killed. If you are shot you have to go to the jail and hope to be liberated. It is the ultimate humiliation. Some would allege that it is far better to hide and play it safe. Good things come to those who hide and sneak and take cheap shots.

We are good at hiding. Many of us hide behind excuses; our life is not our fault. Others jump from relationship to relationship, blaming our ex’s for everything bad that happened. It is far easier to rationalize our behaviours than have to hold them up to the mirror of reality. We can hide for a variety of reasons because it is an uncomfortable thing to face the truth. This is one of the reasons that so many people never really grow up, never really understand life.

Self awareness, real self-awareness, usually comes at a terrible price.

Taking a hard look at our issues is not something we are prone to do until things get messy. Most people merrily go about their lives blaming the government, their parents, and their ex-lovers for the problems in their life. Real personal change takes an enormous amount of painful work. Frankly, most of us will pretend to address our issues while only scratching the surface.

In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin, is forced to confront his own dysfunction and begins to realize that the very foundations of his existence and the beliefs he holds most dear are in fact bigoted, narrow, sick and twisted. As the movie progresses you watch this shell of a man come to terms with his life, a life that has been destroyed by his own attitudes. As the final act unfolds Melvin is humbled and enlightened, and his reality begins to change. In the real world things do not change in 120 minutes, but they can change.

There are a million reasons to hide and only one reason to get up and run. It is impossible to capture the flag, or any flag for that matter, without exposing yourself to risk and potential pain. On D-Day the officers knew, as they were urging frightened men to get out of their hole and storm the machine gun nests, that to stay on the ground was to invite certain death. It felt safe there, but it wasn’t. Victory only came through a hailstorm of bullets.

The willingness to be brutally honest with yourself will change your life. Real growth comes through pain and humility and failure. You may have to confront your darkest secrets and worst nightmares but it will be worth it.

Many of us, myself included, have struggled with the fear that people will not love us if they saw our ugliness, our sick thoughts, our petty dreams. We are afraid that we are unloveable so we hide behind masks, hoping to fool the world and fool ourselves. The result is a life of frustration, depression, anxiety and pain.

In counseling we call this a “cognitive distortion”. We have convinced ourselves that no one would care for us if we came clean.

We are wrong.

We have believed the lies about our own ugliness for so long that it is hard to imagine being free. We begin to think that we are unlike other people, we are freaks incapable of change.

We are wrong.

I have been there. Many of us have. The pit of self-loathing and recrimination is a deep one with few hand holds. It is better to hide, or so we think.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fallHumpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

But did you know that there’s more to the story?

Not only did all the King’s horses and all the King’s men try to help Humpty out, “soon the King himself heard of Humpty’s fate. News about him had reached all the way to the palace, and the King was deeply disturbed. So setting aside his royal finery, disguised as a common peasant, the King slipped unnoticed through the majestic palace gates and into the rough-and-tumble street life of his kingdom.

“The King meandered through the back streets and alleys in search of Humpty. After several days and nights the persistent monarch found him. Humpty’s shattered body was scattered over a ten-foot circle amidst the broken glass and flattened beer cans of the back alley.

“Though weak from his searching, the King was overjoyed at the sight of Humpty. He ran to his side and cried, ‘Humpty! It is I – your King! I have powers greater than those of my horses and men who failed to put you together again. Be at peace. I am here to help!’

“‘Leave me alone,’ Humpty’s mouth retorted. ‘I’ve gotten used to this new way of life. I kind of like it now.’

“‘But – ’ was all the King could get out before Humpty continued.

“‘I tell you, I’m fine. I like it here. That trash can over there… the way the sun sparkles on the broken glass. This must be the garden spot of the world!’

“The King tried again. ‘I assure you my kingdom has much more to offer than this back alley – there are green mountains, rolling surfs, exciting cities….’

“But Humpty would hear none of it. And the saddened King returned to the palace.

“A week later one of Humpty’s eyes rolled skyward only to see once again the concerned face of the King standing over his fractured pieces.

“‘I’ve come to help,’ firmly stated the King.

“‘Look, leave me alone, will you?’ said Humpty. ‘I’ve just seen my psychiatrist, and he assures me that I’m doing a fine job of coping with my environment as it is. You’re a cop-out. A man has to deal with life as it comes. I’m a realist.’

“‘But wouldn’t you rather walk?’ asked the King.

“‘Look,’ Humpty’s mouth replied, ‘once I get up and start walking I’ll have to stay up and keep walking. At this point in my life I’m not ready to make a commitment like that. So, if you’ll excuse me – you’re blocking my sun.’

“Reluctantly the King turned once again and walked through the streets of his kingdom back to the palace.

“It was over a year before the King ventured to return to Humpty’s side.

“But, sure enough, one bright morning one of Humpty’s ears perked up at the sure, steady strides of the King. This time he was ready. Humpty’s eye turned toward the tall figure just as his mouth managed the words, ‘My King!’

“Immediately the King fell to his knees on the glass-covered pavement. His strong, knowing hands gently began to piece together Humpty’s fragments. After some time, his work completed, the King rose to full height, pulling up with him the figure of a strong young man.

“The two walked hand in hand throughout the kingdom. Together they stood atop lush green mountains. They ran together along deserted beaches. They laughed and joked together as they strolled down the streets of the gleaming cities of the King’s domain. This went on forever. And to the depth, breadth, and height of their friendship there was no end.

“Once while walking together down the sidewalk in one of the King’s cities, Humpty overheard a remark that made his heart leap with both the joy of his new life and the bitter memory of the back alley. Someone said, ‘Say, who are those two men?’

“Another replied, ‘Why the one on the left is old Humpty Dumpty. I don’t know the one on the right – but they sure look like brothers’”.

How To Pick Up Women In Their Twenties

dating-tips-for-guys-how-to-pick-up-womenI am not in my twenties and do not make a habit of hitting on any women, especially not women that young. I do, however, have a very attractive and intelligent son who was more than willing to provide a few insights for this Part 2 of “How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women”.

In my first instalment I wrote about manipulating a group of women who were in their late thirties and forties. You may want to familiarize yourself with that article before going on. It has been, and remains, my most hated and revered article to date. I have received private letters, several in fact, accusing me of being abusive and misogynistic, even cruel. Read it for yourselves and ask yourself why I would do such a thing and then freely tell everyone I did so…

In this instalment I begin by recognizing that everything I am about to say may not apply to you. Like many of my articles what follows is based on generalities. Please understand I’m not talking about anyone in specific, only trends and observations which may not even be objective. If nothing else it should be interesting.

You are sitting with friends at the local bar and I can tell, because you wear it like a beacon, that you are looking for a guy. I intend to be that guy. You are not in your forties so I am not going to gush, not going to give too much away. In fact, just the opposite. Your divorced mom is looking for someone who is emotionally sensitive, someone who is going to make it all about her. That isn’t my tactic, though some of the techniques are transferable. When I first meet you I’m very interested, very charming. Initially, at least, it’s all about you. But only initially. If we have been introduced I will be nice to you for a minute or two, then move on. If we are not introduced I will make a point of ignoring you and talk to the person directly beside you. I’m not going to hit on you, I’m not needy. And that is really the point.

1. I’m not needy. I act aloof but not rude. Okay, occasionally I can even be a bit rude. I will make the obligatory conversation, but little more. While I am talking to you I may check out other women. I will talk, engage, but we are not exclusive. That is the point. Heartiste writes, “That aloofness is catnip to women. You may as well prop a neon sign over your head that says “Preselected by women who have come before you, and who are standing right next to you.” Aloofness is one of those male characteristics that women are finely tuned to discover, isolate, and hone in on, because it tells them, subconsciously of course, that THIS MAN, this one right here, has a lot of choice in women. ERGO, this man, this one right here, must be high value.” I know this because the internet is polluted with websites that teach this very thing. Confidence and self-assurance is an aphrodisiac to some females.

I don’t need you. I may or may not be interested, but I’m keeping my options open. I like myself and I don’t need anyone. I’m mysterious. It’s hard not to want what you cannot have. My strength and even dominance is very attractive. If you don’t believe me than why are so many women attracted to the bad boy? Yummy.

The social context has changed  in the past few years. Women in their thirties and forties want to invite a man into their emotional world. In your twenties he invites you into his social world. As one twenty-five year old player told me today, “If you can get the girl to leave her social grouping and come over to yours you are 80% of the way into her pants.” That’s important to remember because…

2. It’s all about social context. Meet my entourage. We are not at the bar to take pictures of ourselves for Facebook. We are interesting. Come hang out with us. Let me separate you from your friends and take you out of your comfort zone. Let me introduce insecurity. After all…

3. I’m here to exploit your insecurity. I may compliment you but it is often tinged with irony or sarcasm. The unspoken point is the exploitation of your negative self-image. The trick is to not let you know I’m interested and get you wondering whether or not you are worth my time. Watch me dominate the social setting, see how I handle myself. Am I or am I not interested in you? Later, when I am very direct with you, and tell you I want to be with you, you are surprised, intrigued, complimented, and affirmed. But make no mistake, the underlying tactic is dominance (and not in a good way…). There is an interesting dichotomy at play. You want to be thought of as a strong woman but you also have insecurities. Doesn’t a part of you wish you could be taken?

Even a plain guy can confuse a beautiful woman if he acts like he doesn’t need her.

As a counselor I find this topic sickening. There are people out there, regardless of age, who use psychological and emotional manipulation to exploit the vulnerable and hurting. It usually isn’t until it’s too late that it becomes apparent that a damaged and delicate person has been exploited and often degraded. It is also unfortunate that so many women get taken in more than once. Some of us are attracted to personalities that lend themselves to narcissism and depravity. It is a sad thought that the confidence and maturity you think you are attracted to may only be a tool to tear your heart out.

Ladies, we lie to you. We believe that we understand the score far more than you think we do. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who has gotten into a relationship with a narcissist. Everything was amazing… at first. We told you what we thought you needed to hear. We held the door open, we talked about our feelings, we shared our hearts. We know you get off on that stuff. Some of us actually read about how to pick up women. We are smarter than you think.

I am often asked why I write about this topic. Sadly, it has become apparent that many vulnerable and emotionally damaged people are being treated as prey by morally bankrupt individuals who think nothing of ruining lives as long as they can get what they want. I would invite you to read some of the heartbreaking comments on the first installment of this topic here. That alone is incentive enough.

I have this crazy idea that if you know what is going on you might know a predator when he buys you a drink.

Imagine Me Naked

Some time ago I was cleaning up at the little club I used to run, in preparation for the evening’s events. I had been sweating, washing floors and hauling furniture. I usually bring a change of clothing. But not that day.

No one had come in for over an hour. I figured I was safe. With this in mind, behind the bar I proceeded to drop my pants in order to change into clean clothes. At that precise moment a lady walked in and asked for a latte.

Never before have I felt so close to the bar. In fact, we became one as I sought to prepare the latte without letting on that I was wearing no pants. Socks, shoes, shirt, but no pockets.

It reminds me of this bit by Seinfeld:
“Why is it so difficult and uncomfortable to be naked? It’s because when you have clothes on, you can always make those little adjustments that people love to do. Hitching, straightening, adjusting. You know, you feel like you’re getting it together. But when you’re naked, it’s so final. You’re just, ‘well this is it, there’s nothing else I can do.”
That’s why I like to wear a belt when I’m naked. It gives me something. I’d like to get pockets to hang off the belt. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate? To be naked and still be able to put your hands in your pockets. I think that would really help a lot…”

It may shock you to know that I have been in counselling. Maybe not. I once had a counsellor tell me I needed to stand in front of the mirror naked for one minute each day in order to get more comfortable with ‘me’. I told this to someone and they went “eeeew”… which did not help much.

So with all this rolling around in my noodle I continued to grind the beans, praying all the while that I would not have to move. So of course the lady blandly asked where the sugar was, it being at right angles to where I was hiding. I reluctantly told her and proceeded to push my torso inside the small floor fridge as she walked to the condiments.

As she left the club I followed her behind the bar, keeping my beautiful barrier between us until she naively walked out.

Imagine me naked. Ok, don’t. No one should have to see that. Most of us, myself included, are not in love with our naked selves. I tease my wife that she “secretly dresses me with her eyes”. One of my best friends, Jordon Cooper, says I have a “face for radio”. I am no longer as insecure about my looks as I once was, but can still testify that for most of us, physical appearance has a significant role in determining our self-esteem. My wife once pointed out to me that I was squinting while looking in the mirror at our bedroom sinks. I had no idea I was doing this but apparently was squinting in such a pronounced fashion that Annette thought my eyes were closed – a subconscious reaction to a psychological malady. Body image is a life-long issue for most of us.

A few years ago, again while naked, I had an epiphany. I realized in the shower one day that I had been berating myself all my life and was unwilling to move forward, heal, and stop the body dysmorphia. Like so many of us I wasn’t thinking about my body because I was overly proud or seeking to show it off, I was in fact transfixed on the negatives and unwilling to let the embarrassment go.

It has taken me far to long to realize that this is just a shell and no matter how hard I try or how much I whine I am only going to get older, saggier, less flexible, and probably balder. There is little, short of surgery, that I can do to arrest the passing of time.

A shell. Maybe  a fat shell or a ridiculously thin shell, a hairy or bald shell, a saggy shell or a beautiful one, does it really matter? Isn’t it time that we stop letting plastic, Photoshopped, insecure skeletons or fake vampires with no nipples dictate how we feel about ourselves? It doesn’t really matter what you look like if you are healthy and can learn to like yourself. For some reason my wife thinks I am good-looking and that needs to be enough for me.

Even if she didn’t, I’m tired of jumping through hoops for a shell.


Listening To Your Critics

I met Al in college. He was awkward, clumsy, ugly and small. His mannerisms labelled him – loser. He had a sharp wit but that didn’t seem to matter. Al was an outcast.

I’m not sure of the reasons but a few of us decided to use Al for an experiment. We had heard a speaker talk about loving the unlovely so we decided, with somewhat dubious motivation, to use Al as our guinea pig. A sows ear to a silk purse…

So in typical Pygmalion fashion we began to convince Al, and everyone around him, that he was a winner. We told him he was good looking. we had pretty girls flirt with him. At the college sporting event we started a cheer – “Al, Al, Al”. It wasn’t long before the entire stadium was yelling his name. He ate it up. He became our team mascot, then our school mascot; our own personal Gurgi (from The Chronicles of Prydain, if you haven’t read it to your kids, why not?).

Something started to happen.

It wasn’t long before Al began to look different to us. I wasn’t sure if it was his dress or his manner but he had changed, and continued to change. It wasn’t that he became more like the rest of us, more like society. Al became more “Al” like. He realized that in spite of the media, in spite of all his previous experience, he was obviously good-looking – everyone was telling him so. Apparently he had a good body as well. He was popular, though he probably didn’t understand why.

And Al started to blossom.

It wasn’t long before Al really was cool, very cool in fact. He was hilarious, witty, engaging, even gregarious. He started to approach girls. A few didn’t turn him down. At sporting events he ran the crowd. It wasn’t long before our little Pygmalion was indeed the most popular guy at the college.

Mental health professionals tell us that our self-image is largely determined by the attitudes of those closest to us. If our friends think we are ugly we soon believe them. If they think we are amazing then this too will define us. It is for this reason that I have always insisted that my boys are winners, beautiful, talented, and incredibly humble. just like their dad.

So many of us have been belittled by spouses or friends so long that we have come to believe we are ugly, or stupid, or unlovable. Some of us have been in abusive relationships with someone who reminded us, often in subtle ways, that we are losers. For some reason our self-esteem has been ruined. We no longer think of ourselves as winners, as valuable. We have lost our “Al-ness”. We have succumbed to the inner and outer voices that demean and negate. There are probably people in your life who find their self-esteem from making you feel like less. They need to hurt you to feel good about themselves.

And some of them are closer than we realize.

I have that inner voice that reminds me of my failures and has a list of the ways I fail to measure up. You probably don’t need to tell me my faults, I have a complete index of my mistakes, most of us do. It is easy, the older we grow, to forget that we once loved ourselves, were once allowed to share our “Al-ness” without ridicule. Most of us have become so fearful of sounding arrogant that we can barely remember how special we are, or at least were.

A little Al can go a long way. You just need someone to believe in you.

Stop listening to your critics, especially if that voice sounds an awful lot like yours…

Weekend Musings – There Are Victims And Then There Are Victims

“A benchmark of emotional management and responsibility is the realization that our past can no longer be blamed for our actions in the present.“
Doc Childe and Howard Martin

Every day I work with people who are victims, real or imagined. They grew up in a bad home, someone has rejected them, the white man has dragged them down, people have taken advantage of them, they have been abused, raped, abandoned, the list is endless. There is no shortage of people to blame.

Usually the client or person I am talking to has legitimate issues. They are dealing with things that most people can barely imagine. They are trying, the best they know how, to find some anchor in a life that has been beyond their control. Many patients I have spoken with have gone through horror stories and are endeavouring to move forward. They are the reason I get up in the morning and go to work excited. They are my heroes.

Others are looking for something to pin their pain on. They cannot see any personal responsibility, they will not own their own complicity. They sit and we talk and it is always someone else’s fault. Often they have legitimate complaints but they wear their victimization like a crown and filter everything through with a pre-disposed diagnosis. This week I met with a young man who told me that the reason he could not pass in school was because generations ago people oppressed him. I reminded him that he was not in fact alive a couple hundred years ago and though he has had to suffer historic abuse and that has undoubtedly profoundly affected his life, perhaps the reasons he is failing in school have more to do with the fact that he is skipping and spending his considerable income on crack. He called me a bigot.

I come from generations of alcoholics and the pragmatically poor. My dad was an orphan whose father fell from a skyscraper during his last week of work before going to a new job. His mother died when he was 12. He completed grade 9 in school. He had no social safety net, no social worker looking out for him, no strong family to provide for him, no one to blame. So he didn’t.

Years later my father would stand before the Governor General of Canada and receive the military equivalent of the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honor. He had, in fact, finally finished his high school equivalency in his forties. He had worked his butt off to make something of a shunted life. He is my son’s hero. Wednesday he will be our guest blogger.

Every now and again I will have occasion to feel sorry for myself. Maybe things aren’t going smoothly or my friends have nicer houses or boats. Sometimes I wish I had a family with money and a house on a lake. But then I remember how fortunate I am to come from a heritage that simply would not give up.

As i sit here writing this it just hit me, I have never heard my dad complain about his lot in life. Ever.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”
J. Michael Straczynski


Casual Friday: Does Anybody Out There Know Who I Am?

English: Cover of Undead Fishtank album, for u...

Tony Campolo tells a story in one of his books about something that happened after World War II. There were more than 200 Frenchmen who returned to Paris suffering from amnesia. They had been in prison camps and were so psychologically devastated by their ordeal that they had lost the conscious awareness of who they were.

In most cases, their identities were quickly established, but after all that was done, there were still 32 men whose identities couldn’t be verified. The doctors who were treating them were convinced that their chances for recovery were slim unless they were connected with former friends and relatives and restored to their once-familiar settings.

Someone had an idea to help. They published photographs of the men on the front page of newspapers throughout the country, and gave a date and time when anyone having information about any of these amnesia victims could come to the Paris Opera House. Well, on the appointed day, a crowd gathered to view these war veterans who didn’t know who they were. In a dramatic moment, the first of the amnesia victims walked onto the stage of the darkened opera house, stood alone in the spotlight, and slowly turned completely around. Before the hushed audience, in a halting voice, he said to the crowd, “Does anybody out there know who I am?”

It is a profound question.

I mentioned on this blog that recently I had a Grand Mal seizure at work. Fortunately I work at a doctor’s office and two of the best doctors I have ever met were on the scene within seconds. At least that is what I was told. I don’t remember any of it. Apparently I also became physically violent at one point as well, although I wasn’t there to see it.

It is a scary thing to wake up on a gurney and not know what is happening. It is very similar to waking up from an operation with that foggy pseudo-understanding that something has happened and you should know what that is. You understand, on some level, that you shouldn’t be in an ambulance – it’s a work day. It gradually dawns on you that you don’t know where you are or for that matter, who you are.

I could not remember where I lived.

It is a bizarre thing to realize you do not know who you are.

Many of us spend our entire lives trying to find out who we are. We jump through hoops and do things hoping to be loved, only to find out that we have lost a sense of ourselves. We grew up believing we were going to be rock stars and multi-millionaires, at the very least healthy, wealthy and wise, but we aren’t, and we may not get there anytime soon. It is easy to build your identity on the wrong things, trying to impress the wrong people for the wrong reasons. It is no wonder than that so many of us have come to the conclusion that the real world is boring and life has little meaning unless we find it from within.

The older I get the more I realize that life does not hand you meaning, you have to grab it for yourself. The paltry drive to acquire more money and status is so entirely meaningless yet enticing. How many rock stars and celebrities have to kill themselves or end up in rehab before we as a people stop spending our lives wishing for something that does not heal our souls?

So who are you? As Billy Crystal says in the immortal Princess Bride, “Hey! Hello in there! Hey! What’s so important? Whatcha got here, that’s worth living for?”


Why Most Radical Change Is Bogus

Have you ever promised yourself that you would get in shape? Ever made a new Year’s Resolution that you couldn’t keep? Have you ever tried to make a radical change in your life? Ever been on a crash diet?

Don’t even bother. The likelihood that radical change will last is so low that if I showed you the statistics on dieting you would order a pizza. Real change rarely happens all at once, and when it does it is almost always because you have been trying and fretting and hoping and failing at it for so long that you are ready. You hurt so much and for so long that you have to change.

With few exceptions the majority of us wildly overestimate our ability to make significant change over a short period of time. Real change is incredibly hard and ordinarily demands months and years of work. Most of us do not get healed over night. I am not denigrating those of you who may claim supernatural relief but for most of us God does not choose to deliver us from our ADHD, or our abuse, or our mental issues. The vast majority of us can not claim fire from heaven, or legs regrown, or our malignant tumor disappearing. For some reason we must do it for ourselves or it isn’t going to get done.

We all want monumental change and we want it yesterday. Unfortunately, however, change that dramatic is often artificial and impossible to maintain. Ask any spouse who has decided to call it quits only to be bombarded by promises from their estranged spouse that, in spite of nothing happening for decades, they have totally changed overnight.

I also believe in the tooth fairy.

As a counselor I regularly meet clients who brag that they are radically redefining themselves virtually overnight. In just a few days they have stopped smoking, started working out, become a vegetarian, stopped self-medicating, got religion, and are going to become a counselor. In my business we call this a “red flag”. Such change rarely lasts. These people have the best of intentions and are incredibly dedicated, almost too dedicated. They have not considered the cost, or the fact that real change must be long-lasting. Authentic growth requires an alteration in lifestyle and the development of new coping mechanisms. In order for growth to become permanent you need to fundamentally change the way you think.

Most of us have tried for years to ‘fix’ our lives. We have tried everything and usually failed. That’s perfectly fine. Most of us, myself included, have tried to do the best we could with the wisdom and coping skills we had. We were told by people who should know that this quick fix, that power diet, that ridiculous philosophy or flavor of the week guru would magically give us what we have so desired and sought in vain for so long. We have been so desperate that we were willing to try anything, no matter how preposterous.

Unfortunately your good intentions are meaningless. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do. If you are willing to spend significantly more time and effort than you first imagined, if you are willing to be humbled, challenged, and question your childhood beliefs, your coping skills, your thinking, and the bullshit you so firmly believe to be true – than authentic and lasting change is not only possible, it’s probable.

In the coming year I hope to share with my subscribers my course entitled, “Change your life 52% in one year”. It is about 1% solutions, small but lasting change – one step at a time. That is how change happens, little by little, day by day, month by month. Anything else is probably not real.

Don’t give up. Make small changes and stick with them. Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck. Challenge your cognitive distortions and when you hear about the newest fad that is guaranteed to work – set your crap detector on stun. You’ve had enough disappointment.

You’re worth it.

Living My Life To Impress A Five Year Old

Many of us were damaged emotionally when we were children. We were criticized, we were belittled, we were told how to live, how to act, what to wear and how to think… by other children. Have you been to a playground lately? Have you noticed that their opinions are fairly… stupid?

Or maybe it was a relative who criticized you and turned you into an introvert, or taught you to suppress your emotions, or hide who you are. A relative you now realize is an asshole whose opinion does not matter.

So why are you still acting like he told you to 25 years ago?

Perhaps you had a parent who told you that you were an idiot, or stupid, or worthless. Twenty years later you still battle insecurity, still feel like a loser. In counseling we find out that you feel this way predominantly because of what you were told when you were a child. You now realize that your alcoholic, abusive, degenerate father is a moron.

So why do you still hear that voice in your head?

My grandmother and other relatives told me/taught me countless times that I was a mouthy, disrespectful, immature burden that should be “seen and not heard” (and preferably not seen). I grew up to live up to some of those expectations, perhaps because I believed them on some level. I have taken the time to analyze why I spent so much of my early adulthood trying to fit in, rebelling against the status quo, saying everything on my mind without filtering, etc. In spite of great parents who loved and believed in me I now believe that those relatives taught me important and dysfunctional lessons that I have spent decades trying to come to grips with. With little effort I can still hear my grandmother’s voice. My uncle’s voice.

Mental health professionals are fond of telling us that much of our psyche was formed when we were little children. It is increasingly apparent that many of us had our dysfunctional coping skills, our poor self-image, and our self-destructive tendencies formed while we were yet little people – impressionable, ignorant, socially retarded, childish little kids who had no idea how to filter out the negative and destructive messages. We heard messages and learned lessons that continue to haunt us, regardless of what we understand intellectually. We believe, on one level, that we need to “get over” our past. Making that happen, however, is a different challenge altogether.

We have been imprinted, and those tattoos do not just wash off. It is one thing to realize that you have been molded by dysfunction, it is another thing altogether to effectively break free from that influence. Those attitudes and coping skills have become a part of who you are and how you cope. You have owned them. Really you had little choice.

Every day I talk with people who have been emotionally scarred by childhood or adult friends, or authority figures, or those who were supposed to love and protect them. In counseling they begin to recognize that several of their foundational beliefs and coping mechanisms, ways of dealing with the world that they have relied on for decades, may in fact be deeply flawed. It is a horrible and humbling thing to realize that you have been living your life believing distortions about yourself and your world.

For decades you have believed that no one can be trusted, and you have proven yourself correct countless times. You have evidence to support your cognitive distortions so they must be real. Anger is the way to deal with perceived slight. Always stick up for yourself. Never give up. If you want something done you have to do it yourself. Forget about the past. Meekness is weakness. All men are assholes. All women are bitches. I’ll never get better. I’ll never be able to cope. Never let anyone see the real you. Don’t take crap from anyone. Hurt them before they hurt you. Hitting your partner is ok if I say “I’m sorry”. I won’t measure up. Yelling works. Vulnerability leads to abuse. Nothing will ever change. I’m a failure. I can’t be honest. I’m damaged goods. No one could love me. I’m a loser. The list goes on and on.

Go back to the playground. Go back to that bedroom, that old house, that church basement. Take a hard look at that abusive parent, relative, adult, child. Healing and growth begins when we realize that the voices in my head and the attitudes and coping skills I developed to protect myself may not work anymore. They may, in fact, be keeping me sick and powerless.

You don’t have to listen to him anymore. She was wrong about you. That wasn’t your fault. The coping skills you so despise in yourself isn’t your fault either. You were doing the best you could with very little information and support in a dangerous world not of your making.

It’s not your fault. Talk to someone. Time to question everything. Time to be free.


We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Casual Friday – You’re a Williams!

365: Day 140, YOU're awesomeOne day I went on a walk with my dad. Some of you have issues with your fathers but I don’t. My father is a player, a lover, a best friend. He may be a half a foot too short, but women love my dad. He knows how to treat a lady. When you are around my father you can’t help but feel special. He has that effect on people.

Once, years ago, some friends went on a road trip and unbeknownst to me they showed up at my parents place. My parents had no idea they were coming. An hour or so after their arrival they called me… from the hot tub. At that very moment my father was bringing them a cheese platter and sparkling apple juice. That’s my pop. He loves people and it shows.

He has always been my biggest fan. If I was even indicted for killing someone my dad would probably visit my jail cell and tell me “they had it coming”. His loyalty has no limits. He was the man who taught me about loyalty. My children know the word too. Family is everything.

That walk was many years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. Through strained emotions my dad asked me, “whatever happened to your self-esteem? I always knew you to be the most confident person I have known. You believed you could do anything, and you usually did.” At the time I had no insightful answer for him. It has been years since that conversation and I am only now beginning to understand what was happening to me during those years of my life.

I started out as a winner. I believed in ‘me’. But when one or a few of the most important people in your life remind you constantly how much of a loser you are, when you know every day you don’t measure up, when you have artificial constraints placed upon you, you begin to die inside. Some of you know what I am saying. You have people in your life who are disappointed in you as well. They remind you that you don’t measure up. They judge you and reprimand you and rate your performance. And slowly and little by little you succumb to their criticisms.

I have been rereading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. He is my favorite author, this month. Gladwell contends that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Every successful person has a series of seemingly insignificant advantages – from the month they were born to the place where they happen to go to school. Gates was no accident. Neither was Einstein. Each of these individuals had something stacked in their favor, some winning edge. A significant majority of successful hockey players, for example, were born early in the year. They were more advanced, got more breaks, more ice time, better grooming. He makes a strong case.

My dad and mom instilled in me a sense of value. It is hard to under-estimate the impact that has had in my life. Both my parents were from humble beginnings and had no shortage of people reminding them that they were losers. Neither of my parents came from advantage. My father was an orphan. But somehow, for some reason, they invented the myth that I carry to this day. Though my relatives were a bunch of cattle thieves and alcoholics I grew up believing that to be a “Williams” was something special, almost magical.

I am thankful to my parents for their investment in my life. I have tried to follow their example and instill in my own children a sense of pride in their family and their worth. It’s easy to do, they’re awesome. My boys were raised to think being a Williams was like winning the lottery. As young kids they couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to be a Williams. My young son recently had a son of his own and every time we get together one of us will remind five month old Angus Scott that he is a Williams, that he can do anything.

In a world that reminds us on a daily basis we don’t measure up I am thankful that, from my youth, I was told I was special. It is a legacy I am proud of. And why wouldn’t I be… I’m a Williams.

Casual Friday – Taking a Shower

I was in the shower. Stop. Don’t try to visualize this or it may scar you.

I was in the shower.

For 30+ years I had been struggling with feeling like a loser. I have come to realize that many of us struggle with self-esteem issues, but as I reflect, it seems apparent now that I had a very jaded view of myself and was prone to believe I was an outsider in society. As a hyperactive child I was constantly being belittled by adults. In high school I did not develop physically like other teenage boys. Skinny, I still had fat deposits instead of pectorals. As an adult I chose to enter a career designed and maintained by pseudo-introverts, politically correct personality types. Believing I could never fit in, that my temperament was somehow ‘flawed’ it became easy to act like a rebel, an outsider. I took pride in the fact that I was different, controversial, an opinionated and unbending ass at times.

So I was in the shower…

Every now and then there is a moment of clarity not induced by Percocets or Cheetos – an epiphany that stays with a person. Some people have them in church, others at a retreat, or in nature, or at a moving play – I had my life changing event while soaping areas you don’t want to know about. While there is a certain romance in believing that I suddenly realized something, that I had an epiphany, the facts would determine otherwise. The moments of reflection in those wet moments were born out of a lifetime of insecurity and reflection.

It is easy to believe that events are born in a vacuum, that they just “happen”. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, argues that vacuums rarely happen. Bill Gates didn’t just come up with the Microsoft phenomenon by himself, overnight. He was the product of a myriad of circumstances that converged to produce a great idea. In his words, “Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.” (Gladwell, 2008)

That day in the shower I realized that I had spent my whole life feeling bad about who I was. I had ample evidence to support my feelings of inadequacy and the experiences of life only served to confirm that I did not measure up. But in that moment it came to me “all of a sudden” that I was supremely tired of being hard on myself. Yes I may be a marginal personality,  but surely this was not wholly a bad thing. What if it was ok to like myself, in spite of glaring faults and shortcomings. I had spent years feeling inadequate and seeking to change myself (with only limited success), but with what result? In spite of countless hours and attempts to change my fundamental self I still remained largely the same person – extroverted, opinionated… marginal.

That day I decided I would no longer fight to become something I could not be. No longer would I apologize for what I could not change and berate myself because I was not like other, more seemingly stable, people. I was done.

I wish I could say I have never had occasion to feel bad about who I am again, but alas some battles continue to be lost and won for some time. I do know, however, that I was fundamentally changed that day. Like all of us I have had my fair share of insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. I have many people who can and have lined up to tell me what kind of disappointment I have been. It is easy to believe them… but not today.

Casual Friday – Lessons From Life

Beck - "Loser"I really like redheads. That has little to do with this blog but I thought you should know.

Many years ago, while in grade eight, I briefly dated a redhead named Lynn. She dumped me after a three weeks, telling me that God told her to break up with me. Even God doesn’t want you to date me. That was many years ago and to this day we remain great friends.

Lynn loves to travel. She and her husband Phil have been all over the world, but they love Israel the most. Don’t ask me why; I prefer the Caribbean anytime but that’s her deal, so mazel tov. Once when they were in the holy land someone offered her husband ten camels for her. I don’t know a great deal about camels but even I understand that this must be a hefty price. If you talk to Lynn she will, from time to time, remind you that she is a ‘ten-camel woman’. And why not, she has proof.

Most of us are not ten-camel people. We watch television and see beautiful people running down beaches and kissing under the moonlight, and down deep we are convinved that we don’t measure up. We are ugly people. We are the losers. We don’t have big boats or businesses, we don’t look good in a Speedo, we aren’t great singers or dancers or poets. We are only regular people with too much cellulite and not enough collagen.

Royal Soucy was a neighbour of mine. He was like a tree trunk with teeth. Royal was a professional body builder who had won several prestigious competitions including “Mr. Saskatchewan” a few times. I would tease Royal that with a name like “Royal Soucy” he had to be tough. But I would not tease him too much. I was afraid he would eat me if I made him too mad. Royal was a cop. Royal was French. There are legends around Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan about the policeman who would break up bar brawls single-handedly. The day I moved in to the neighbourhood we were unloading and I saw our neighbor on his roof shingling. Let me describe this for you; he looked like a Muscle Magazine cover. He was massive. Huge. Totally cut and only wearing shorts, sweating like some Greek god roofing his villa. Then my wife said, “I have a great idea. Why don’t you go help that guy with his roof. You could take off your shirt and get a good tan and get to know him.” So naive… Samson and Captain Chicken Wings, doing the roof together.

Growing up I was never a person who was quick to take his shirt off. Some people are blessed with pectoral genetics, I never was. Now that I’m in my forties it’s a little easier being the slim guy in the midst of a group of men struggling with weight, but growing up I was embarrassed.

I don’t like losing my hair. It’s a stupid vanity thing, but I can’t seem to get over it. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t look like I’d like to, that at this point I probably won’t be a model. Yes, I tell myself, that’s the only reason I’m not a model.

We used to have a rat named Mr. Bigglesworth. People thought he was disgusting. We loved him. Rats are smarter than most animals and we could let him out and he would pretend to pounce me, sleep on my chest, play a rat version of catch. On the downside, he had no bowel control so that whole running around thing rarely ended well. People would comment how he was almost cute, except for his long ugly tail. I would remind them that this wasn’t Mr. B’s fault, we all have parts we are not proud of.

It is one thing to squint in the mirror. It’s another thing altogether when that shame reaches deeper into our hearts. Ruined self-esteem, poor self-image, feelings of worthlessness. Shame is a huge thing. The more I look into it the more I am coming to realize that it can be one of the most destructive issues in our lives. Most of us carry around a backpack of failures, mistakes, and missed opportunities. We wear labels that we cannot seem to shake – fat, divorced, whore, loser, stupid, bald, old, pathetic, poor, alone, ugly, fag…

Shame is the experience of feeling defective at the core of your being. We feel guilty about our mistakes. Shame is the experience of feeling that you as a person ARE A MISTAKE.

With shame there is no way of making amends or correcting the wrong. Because the wrong is you. I have been insecure about myself most of my life but like many of you I am tired of feeling inadequate. I’m done apologizing for being an extrovert, or ADHD, or opinionated. I no longer am willing to try to fit in at the expense of my self-esteem. I tell clients that the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem, it’s self acceptance. Accepting ourselves with all our warts and wrinkles and issues. Learning to love ourselves in spite of the things about ourselves we don’t like, not because of the things we do.

That’s a hell of a goal, isn’t it?