The Correct Way to Interview Donald Trump or Argue with Any Difficult Person

Watching a journalist interview Donald Trump is a lesson in psychology, regardless of your political viewpoint. Trump exhibits a complete lack of accountability for his behaviors, the key attribute of what I call “Other-Blamers” in my new “Self-Acceptance Psychology.” Because he is filled with self-shame and feelings of inadequacy, he has learned to develop some successful ways of managing (avoiding) additional shame.

One tactic of Other-Blamers is what I like to call “zigzag” arguing — a visual description that helps people recognize it when it shows up.

Other-Blamers like Trump have great difficulty admitting they are wrong or acquiescing to any fault. So when challenged with an irrefutable fact, they change the subject. They zig-zag to Topic 2 with such speed, ease and poise that the questioner is often pulled unwittingly right along in this scheme. Suddenly the argument is about Topic 2, rather than Topic 1. Success for the Other-Blamer! He gets to distract from his real misbehavior and escapes from the shaming experience of being held accountable. Sometimes this zigzagging can go on for dozens of topics.

I am amazed at the number of national journalists who do not recognize this behavior and do not immediately stop the zig and address it:  “No, we’re not going to talk about Topic 2. I asked you about Topic 1. Why did you do Topic 1?” And when Trump or any Other-Blamer inevitably changes the topic again, the questioner should doggedly but calmly return to Topic 1 and point out the zigzag behavior directly: “I notice you changed the subject — again. It seems you are uncomfortable addressing Topic 1. We need to address Topic 1, so that’s what you’re going to do.”

Many submissive, placating people come into therapy feeling they are “crazy” and taking on all the fault for relationship problems. These “Self-Blamers” are clearly in relationship with an “Other-Blamer” who blames, makes excuses for his behavior, deflects, denies, and zigzags, to the point where the partner loses a sense of reality and starts to assume she is the one who is incorrect, at fault, and even a bit nuts.

I personally experienced this deflect and distract style of arguing hundreds of times with my second husband, so I know it can be quite confusing. I was left emotionally exhausted and bewildered after many arguments, and my Self-Blaming patterns became more entrenched. My father and sister also have excellent skills at Other-Blaming and zigzag arguing, so I experienced this behavior throughout my childhood and early adulthood.

As I have experienced, the lack of any factual basis to their arguments does not stop Other-Blamers. This can be disturbing to many people who do like to base their arguments on some sort of reality! Don’t be unhinged by the lies.  Recognize that this lack of factual basis is exactly the problem — and then address it.

In therapy, I educate the Self-Blamers on the behavior of the Other-Blamer, especially the tactic of zigzag arguing. It takes mindfulness, calm and self-discipline not to get pulled down the rabbit hole of zigzag arguing. But it can be very productive — although the Other-Blamer will not like it one bit. That strategy has served him very well throughout his life and he will not enjoy being called out on his behavior.

As is proven on TV news on a daily basis, Trump behaves this way very, very frequently. But I suspect he also behaves this way in personal and business relationships. His extreme feelings of inadequacy mean that he is unable and unwilling to be humble, accountable, and admit fault, even when the facts all say he is wrong.

The key to fixing this behavior is to develop self-acceptance, so that you can tolerate shame in a healthy manner without Other-Blaming tactics.

Are Gadgets Killing Self-Awareness?


I heard a snippet of an interview on NPR tonight with a man who believes that the extensive use of gadgets is leading to a lack of creativity. He thinks that creativity requires quiet time to think and that the constant distraction by electronic media may lead to fewer moments of inspiration.

Of course, many commentators have noted that kids growing up today, with their faces interacting with screens and not with other people, will likely lack interpersonal skills and fail to develop essential emotional connections with others. It is shocking to me to watch a line full of people at a coffee shop who cannot spend 60 seconds waiting for their latte without letting go of their phone. God forbid they actually make small talk with the person in front of them.

image0093968Studies have shown that just having a short conversation with others can help a person feel connected and can improve mood. Even prosaic comments about the weather or the long line can make us feel we are part of a shared experience, and can affirm our sense of belonging, even if it is just to the tribe that waits in long lines at coffee shops on snowy days. We are not so different, you and me.

But if we never share vents about the snow storm or pleasantries about the excellent espresso, how do we remind ourselves that we are similar? How do we feel attached and experience the universality of experience that is human existence? Without reminders of our human alikeness, we may start to believe we are different. And different equals alone. And alone can equal depressed or anxious or insecure based on thoughts of self-judgment and shame.

But the big problem that I would like to address with this over-focus on cell phones is that it may lead to a lack of self-awareness or mindfulness.

Being able to observe and gain control over thoughts and feelings is mindfulness. In mindfulness, we learn that just because we feel an emotion or have a thought does not mean we have to react to it or believe it.

However, it seems that repeatedly and automatically reaching for a gadget in response to a ping will teach us the opposite: I am a automaton to this device and to my emotionally needy search for social affirmation through it.

As with creativity, self-awareness needs stillness. To be mindful, we cannot have a mind full of distraction. Inner peace is not learned by being constantly distracted and pulled out of our centeredness and into our gadgets, especially if those gadgets bring messages of social drama, social rejection, and social shaming. If every 30 seconds an email pings up or a social media “like” pops up with its red number, when are we going to have time to just “be?” To merely be quiet in mind, perhaps also in body. To allow our thoughts to settle, our fears to recede, and our inherent peaceful calm to surface.

Seated, silent meditation can be a wonderful tool to gain mindfulness and stillness. But I am a big fan of integrating mindfulness and self-awareness into micro-moments during one’s day.

If after you meditate the remaining 23 hours plus of your day is spent in impulsive, thought-less reactivity to a machine, that seems as if it may undo what value the seated meditation brought to you. Contemplatives know that ideally we bring self-awareness and calm to our entire lives.

One of the tests of emotional maturity and emotional intelligence is the ability to be alone. Alone with our selves and our thoughts. That means alone without the interference of a gadget to distract us from that aloneness.

Put down the device. Connect with others, connect with your creativity, connect with yourself, connect with your self.

Finding Power in Our Brokenness: What a Hindu Goddess Can Teach Us About Self-Acceptance

Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari rides her crocodile.

Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari rides her crocodile.

A Hindu goddess named Akhilandeshvari offers great insight into the path of complete self-acceptance — a path that I have taken that led to transformation into a Pack Leader personality. Her name translates to “The Never-Not-Broken Goddess” — a double negative that is unsettling to grammarians and confusing to ponder. But rather than being a goddess of weakness and brokenness, her message is about the the power of imperfection, confusion and uncertainty.

Rather unexpectedly, she is happy in her brokenness. She shows us the opportunity of being broken into pieces by both disaster and great fortune. Rather than rushing to attempt to heal, she purposefully keeps herself broken wide open, creating and fragmenting and recreating herself endlessly.

Pronounced ah-ka-LAN-desh-va-ree, the deity’s name has several translations. Wikipedia (1) explains it as Supreme Goddess (“Eswari”) who rules (“Aand”) the Universe (“Akilam”). Another website (2)  states “akhila” means bridging of a gap or an unsolvable problem, or completeness.

She is often compared to a spinning, multi-faceted prism, which fractures light yet creates beauty: “She dances and spins and breaks herself into shards of light, tossing out new possibilities for herself like flower petals from a cherry tree.” (3)  She rejoices in the unknowing, the fragility, the confusion and changes her identify willingly.

I have decided she should be the goddess symbol for those of us who work in mental health care: a symbol of trauma, grief, suffering and also positive change. She feels these states and lives them, as all good therapists should do, resonating with their client’s felt experience. She is the role model for personal transformation, but does not force others to engage in change. A website describes this aspect of the goddess well: ”She uses trauma and pain as tools — joyfully, purposefully — to attain her own liberation. And she teaches us that we can do the same.” “We meet her in our grief, in the aftermath of trauma and catastrophe — and our interactions are so personal we rarely speak of them,” says one spirituality website.

When I learned of Akhilandeshvari her message had a special resonance for me. I, too, have used my trauma and pain to grow, change and reinvent myself, changing careers to become a psychologist later in life after my second divorce. Before that I reinvented myself many, many times, with careers as a journalist, freelance writer, golf instructor, screenwriter and others. Throughout these life “zig-zags” I was often harsh and judgmental toward myself:  “Why can’t you figure out what you want to be or do? Why do you move so much? Change jobs so much? Try so many new careers? Why can’t you sustain a relationship?” Now I realize perhaps I was embodying akhilandeshvari. Akhilandeshvari is about freedom from routine, from old habits and wounds. The gift of destruction is new potential for growth

Now in my later life, after significant personal growth and self-acceptance, I am actually very happily never-not-broken.  I am happy for my reinventions, failures, and stumbles, knowing that I may have been breaking and fracturing, but in that confusion was also light. And that light was guiding me to a better place where I now work with patients to embrace their fractured lives and selves and guide them toward self-acceptance and self-compassion. Therapists should not rush in to force quick change and encourage a patient to “move on.” What is most helpful is an embracing of emotion, of full experiencing of the strong thoughts and feelings that many patients avoid.

Many patients have high levels of self-judgment and spend a lot of emotional energy mentally berating themselves, as if trying to fix what they view as broken. This leads to problems we label as “anxiety” or “depression” or “OCD.” I work to help them shift toward seeing themselves as accept themselves as “never-not-broken.”

Akhilandeshvari immediately struck me as significant when I read she is usually depicted as riding a crocodile. Crocodiles represent our reptilian brain where we feel fear. She rides on her fear rather than rejecting it, which in therapy is what we should do — embrace our deepest, frightening emotions. I do quite a bit of education with therapy patients on the power of fear, how we often react with fear to emotional threats, and how to become mindful and both embrace and manage our fear.

She teaches to stay on top of our survival fears, and not be reactive. In learning to be a Pack Leader, I learned to be fearless. I learned to become mindful and to stop automatically reacting with fear to change or rejection or disapproval by others or by myself. I have no fear of the disapproval of others and this has brought me fearlessness in relationships. And this self-compassion and self-acceptance is at the core of how I now help therapy patients reduce anxiety and depression, which are caused by the fear of rejection by others.

In addition, many years ago I had a powerful dream in which my totem animal was revealed to me — an alligator.. For me the alligator symbolized my need to honor my primal nature, trust my primal instincts, and conquer my fears. And this is what it means for Akhilandeshvari. “The very survival-fear that keeps most of us chained to the known and routine is Her flying carpet!” (3)

When I overcame my fears and embraced my primal powers of intuition and emotion I came into my own as an authentic person. I also learned great skills that I now use daily as a psychologist.

She also advises to surrender to tumult and things will work out. This ability to rejoice in the unknowing has been an ongoing journey for me, but so meaningful. Rather than worry and ruminate, I now allow the universe to take care of me and I trust completely that it will.

But as I write in “Pack Leader Psychology,” not everyone can be a pack leader. And Akhilandeshvari’s power is not for the submissive or fearful. “She doesn’t offer a comfortable solution, but an empowered one. She doesn’t give you security, but she displaces your reality so thoroughly that you discover you’ve actually been safe all along.” (4)

So many therapy patients have difficulty placing high expectations on themselves. Akhilandeshvari is about releasing expectations for yourself: You were never not broken, so why expect that you will be some image of “whole” in the future?

“That means that this feeling of confusion and brokenness that every human has felt at some time or another in our lives is a source of beauty and colour and new reflections and possibilities. We are already ‘never not broken.’ We were never a consistent, limited whole. In our brokenness, we are unlimited. And that means we are amazing.” (5)



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“Be In the Moment”: What Does It Really Mean?


IMG_1879Meditation has become extremely popular and with good reason: The benefits for body, mind and spirit are well researched and well documented. Although I have practiced meditation since 1977, I recognize that phrases used in teaching meditation, such as “be in the moment,” can be difficult to understand.

Being in the moment is described as being fully mindful of our experiences as they happen, not focusing on the past or future with our thoughts.

I became much more skilled at living in the moment when I consciously made major changes to my personality and behaviors that I write about in my book “Pack Leader Psychology.”

While meditation can be helpful in developing this skill, I believe it is also important to thoughtfully choose to become aware of and eliminate certain habitual thoughts. Specifically, when I was struggling to improve my self-worth, I learned to become less judgmental of myself and others. I told myself consciously that these self-critical thoughts were not emotionally healthy and I chose to stop thinking them. This now allows me to truly engage in what I’m doing or who I’m with without an inner commentary that distracts me from that experience.

Most mindfulness practices, such as Buddhism, involve lessons on compassion for self and others. This is key to living in the moment.

As a psychotherapist I work with people who lack self-compassion. People with low self-worth often experience a constant stream of critical internal messages about themselves. It’s hard to live in the moment with those messages wafting through one’s brain.

People who are not self-compassionate also tend to look externally for approval, making them  fearful of judgment by others. This means they do not live in their own experience, but are overly worried about the other person’s experience. I recall spending a ton of emotional energy worrying about things like: “Do they like me? What does he want me to say? Am I wearing the right outfit? She is touching her hair a lot — maybe she’s telling me my hair is out of place.”

Clearly, I wasn’t really in the moment, experiencing the full person authentically. I wasn’t just being myself, but was more concerned about the other person’s opinion of me. This meant I was not emotionally or physically attuned to other person. Research shows that people can unconsciously sense this lack of attunement. Parts of our brains are used to sense the emotions of others. This helps us get along socially in a group and allows us to sense fear in others so we can react quickly to a physical threat.

I believe that when I was so distracted during a conversation it sent two signals to the other person. The first is a signal of fear. This made the other person anxious, which isn’t exactly a relationship builder. I also unintentionally sent a signal that I did not really like the other person. Because if I was fearful, could it be that I was fearful of her? She didn’t know the cause of my fear, she only sensed the emotion, so this would make her also tense up, even if she did not consciously understand the cause of her reaction.

The irony is that as a “Submissive” or pleaser type of person, I was trying desperately to get this person to like me. But, in reality, the exact opposite occurred. My not being in the moment probably felt cold, distant, fearful and inauthentic because I wasn’t fully present emotionally.

We all have a natural need to belong. But when our lack of self-acceptance and low self-worth lead us to be overly eager for approval, we may be triggered into a fear state and go overboard to seek acceptance. We may spend too much cognitive and emotional energy thinking of what the other person wants us to be, rather that just living in the moment and being authentic.

I now have much less concern for what others think of me and I am much less judgmental of myself or others. I have turned off those messages in my brain that worry about whether I am wearing the right outfit or saying the right thing. And the interesting thing is that by being authentic and in the moment I often relax, fearless, and say and do exactly the right thing at the right time.


Self-Esteem and Self-Acceptance…for Redheads and Others

I was pleased to be quoted extensively in this fun article on www.HowToBeARedhead.comredhead_logo_tm-1-copy2.

Lesson: We all may struggle with self-acceptance at times. But basing our self-esteem on the opinions of others leaves us feeling powerless.