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If You Have (Or Have Had) Toxic Relationships of Any Kind, Read This Now. By Karen Salmansohn.

March 21, 2014

By Karen Salmanshohn.


Warning! This story includes a naughty word – however –  this word is necessary  – because its shock-value is what catapulted me to change my life. I share this naughty word now with only the most loving intentions – hoping it might be an empowering caffeinated jolt to any sleeping spirits out there!

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before  (here in an article about good compromise vs. bad compromise) . I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.


Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and paranoically jealous behaviors.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a week long vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter. He specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code. I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy. I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

“Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”

“Bruce told me he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”

“Bruce told me he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”

“Bruce told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?” I repeated this word out loud –  a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wake up call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my well being  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said,  “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something very wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.”

Although this story happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often. I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship –be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

I believe we need to stop asking questions like:

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Are they a sociopath?”

“Are they a narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions we should be asking instead are:

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson: Don’t be an a**hole to yourself. Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people. Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around  people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

TWEET THIS NOW:  If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this essay now –  via @notsalmon

Want to enjoy a happy, safe-feeling, committed love relationship? Check out the tools in my recommended Prince Harming Syndrome. I offer free excerpts too! Click here now! For a limited time Prince Harming Syndrome is discounted – to only $9.99 – as a convenient ebook – you can download onto your computer or ipad, Kindle, Nook – anywhere you can read a PDF– and you can start reading it right away! Grab it now – while it’s still discounted! More info, an FAQ and praise can be found by clicking here now!

I’d love to hear your insights on the comment section below! What’s something which comes to your mind and heart when you read this list Share your personal story or a personal happiness tool! I LOVE it when you share – because I love to find out about my community! Plus, many thousands of peeps read these essays – so, what you share could be a helpful inspiration for someone else! xo Karen

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Dallas followed by Seattle and London. 


Dear Life.

Dear Life. Jealous of Friends Relationships. Answered by James Claffey.

March 15, 2014

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column With a Spin. Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. Today’s question is answered by author James Claffey. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Please address it as if you are speaking to a person rather than life or the universe. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!


Dear Life,

How can I be happy for my close friend’s relationships when I am in such a crappy place in my own relationship? All I can feel is jealous of them and that in turn makes me feel so guilty. My first friend just got engaged. It’s going to be her 2nd marriage and I’ve met her fiancé. He’s a very nice guy from what I could tell in our short meeting and she speaks highly of him. How compassionate, supportive and sensitive he is. They are very much in the “lust” stage of their relationship so the sex, of course, is great and copious. She received a gorgeous blue sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds for an engagement ring. They are very happy. My second friend, is also in a very romantic, dedicated relationship. She is closing on a house and in a very good place in her life. On the surface, I’m so incredibly happy for them. I’m happy that things are going so well for them after having to go through divorces that involved young children over the past couple years. Divorces are never pretty or easy. Below this thin veneer I am green with jealousy and blue with sadness. Sad for myself because I’ve been married almost 23 years and I’ve never had it as good as they do. In the beginning of my marriage (which was when I was 18 and didn’t know any better) things were as good as I could expect. We were two very young children really, working hard to pay mounting bills. My son came along, we worked harder, bills mounted higher – stress grew over jobs and life in general. During all this time, we never worked on “our” life together. After many, many years, it finally occurred to me that I was not a priority on my husband’s life list. His list generally goes like this 1. Son 2. Work 3. School 4. Me. I’ve read many articles on marriage and it’s a reoccurring topic where in a marriage, the spouse should be just under a person’s relationship with God. I’ve tried to speak with him about this but I never find the right words to express just how much he’s hurt me over the years. Sex happens just enough times to count on one hand during the course of a year. He’s emotionally numb, emotionally distant and intimacy has always been an issue for us. Now I’m not innocent. I’ve pulled away over the years and I don’t open up anymore. There’s no feeling of security, of being understood. There’s never been any permanent change from previous conversations, so I’ve stopped communicating. I haven’t really helped the situation. I want out because I deserve to be loved and romanced and sexed! I’m still young enough that this is important to me. I crave intimacy and deep conversations. Shared life goals and Sunday breakfasts in bed. Unfortunately, we’re fairly deep in debt and my job is a seasonal job that doesn’t pay much. I’m scared of leaving and living below the poverty line for the rest of my life. Much as my mother has had to do since she left her marriage over 20 years ago. I have no savings, as it had to be used when I left my good paying job (that was making me sick) to follow my passion. It’s a passion that historically, doesn’t pay much. Especially when you’re a beginner. Not having enough money is my main fear and my second fear is being alone for the rest of my life, coming in a close third, is having to give up my dream job. To make things even more interesting is the face that I still love him very much. If he opened up to me, I would crumble. He is just so familiar to me, has been my safety net for so long. He’s a kind and good person. He’s my son’s #1 person, they have a super relationship. He works hard, is working on his Master’s degree and will keep “climbing the ladder” so to speak. On the surface, I have it all – a smart husband who loves his job, a wonderful son, a big house, and my dream job. I still yearn for more. For more closeness, love, and intimacy. I ask myself – If nothing changes, can I stand this one more year? (It’s been over 5 years that I’ve felt like this) Can I stand to live this way 5 more years? No, I can’t. If I leave, there’s a 95% chance that I would have to leave my dream job to find another position that pays enough for me to live on my own. I’m only good at one other thing, which is what I left due to sickness. Not looking forward to ever having to go down that road again. I get mad at myself that I am only “good” at a couple things. That I never got good enough to make decent money to live on my own. We tried marriage counseling years ago but it didn’t “click.” I’m hesitant now because I want someone who is basically a miracle worker. I don’t want to dig up the past, rehash everything and then go from there. I want to start with today and move forward. I’m tired. So, so tired that the search for a miracle counselor seems impossible. To go back to my friends – I genuinely want to be in their happiness with them. To share this wonderful time in their lives I don’t think I can as all I can see is myself crying for myself. They are aware of what is going on in my life, we’ve had many talks about it. So many that I shy away from participating in further conversations about me. I refuse to perpetuate this story of me. It never changes anyway, there’s never anything new to report. When they ask how things are going my response now is “Same ‘ol, same ‘ol.” Then I change the subject. I’m tired, scared, and so confused as to which way I should point my intentions. My energy is so low. Most days I feel I’m in a hopeless situation, that I’m literally stuck. Some days, courage pokes it’s beautiful head up and I think I can do this. Either work on this marriage more or leave. I pray for more courage and bravery and insight. Writing this all out is a relief in a way. Maybe this will stop the recording in my head from running over and over for a little while. It’s amazing just how much room it takes up in my head, how much weight it places on my shoulders. I am dreading Valentine’s Day too. Ugh, it hasn’t been a good holiday for a long time. It hurts to hear about all my friends’ dates, presents, etc. Thank you for creating this space where anyone can write about anything and possibly get a response. I was very hesitant to write this. There are a lot of people in a much worse off situation. I’m working on making myself a priority and believing that my feelings count. By writing this, it’s another small step to confirming that I count. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Warmly, ~G

Dear G.,

You count. However difficult the landscape of your marriage and circumstance, you count. How hard it must be to watch your friends’ parade of happy events pass in front of you as your own life bears witness. You are a bit like what my father used call “a ghost at the feast.” You have to shake off the “weltschmertz” burdening you and come into your own space and claim your better self back.

Certainly your friends lives sound marvelous. Who wouldn’t want the joys you describe, yet, as with most relationships we see, the perfect ones and the problematic ones, we are only ever granted the vision of what those relationships look like from the outside. There are plenty of miserable couples in this world, holding it all together—the marriage, the house, the cars, the fancy vacations, the kids—but behind the curtain, when they’re alone and exposed to each other, they are as flawed, troubled and fucked-up as the rest of us. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I have been on both sides of Tolstoy’s family seesaw, and let me tell you, there is life on the other side of divorce, no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful the split. I could be you. I was married to a woman for some years, fell out of love, lost our bearings, and in a last ditch attempt to reconcile I agreed to a vacation in the desert before the school year began. Too much wine, too little self-worth, too little strength and I swam in an infinity pool of red wine and forgotten anger. She became pregnant; I met my present wife/partner, and left my marriage behind. Had I stayed who knows where I’d be now? Back in San Diego, married, for the child’s sake, my creativity unfulfilled.

I left. Divorced. Moved away. Went to grad school. Became a writer. Figured out how to forge a relationship with my son, despite my ex’s deep, abiding anger. The truth is, you’ve got to take care of yourself, selfish as that may sound, and your husband is not doing that for you. From what you write you are the one doing all the emotional work in the marriage, and that’s not sustainable. You are low on the priority list. Elevate yourself, leap, and allow the universe to catch you as you fall into the great emptiness of possibility. Sure, you have the dream job, but clearly that’s not cutting it for you. That miracle counselor doesn’t exist, and if your husband isn’t prepared to dig deep and fix the ancient ironworks of your marriage, then you have to save yourself.

I’m a writer. I tell stories. We all tell stories about ourselves. You need to change the narrative of the story you are telling about yourself. Tell the truth. When someone asks you how things are, tell them straight, “My life is shit. I’m married to a man who doesn’t value me the way I need to be valued.” Testify your own truth. Stop hiding behind the drapes and pretending all’s perfect in that big house of yours. Claim your space in the world, even if it takes telling your husband the marriage is over unless he redefines how he treats you. I know, the safety net, the fact that he is kind and familiar to you, is all well and good, but do you want to die with a fat bank account and a bankrupt soul?

What you have in your life right now is an illusion of the real world, it’s like one of those fake pies in the restaurant case, looks great, but you don’t want to bite into it! Listen, this life is yours to claim. Stop being cowed by the expectations of your friends and family, they don’t live in your skin. You need to take your courage and invest in your own future, and if he wants to join you for the journey, great. If not, no matter, you can make it on your own. Good luck!



James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at


Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.


Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.