Archive | relationship

ego + delusion + learning

He wrote other things in his text that felt the way a superficial cut across my forearm might feel. They hurt and stung, fast slices that surprised me. But they were easy to accept.

Then he wrote these  words:
“I appreciate your concern for what you think I might be…”

And those were the ones that sunk the knife into my gut and turned the blade. Those words cut me and killed me. Because they were the absolute truth and hit the wound of an old habit I have for seeing the potential, and not the reality, of people I care for.

In that moment, it was my ego that was cut down. I that moment, I realized how much I had deluded myself about what was going on, what was really going on, in my head. And what was going on in my head was not the truth. What was going on in my head was all desire and ego. And it was a delusion.

And his words brought the delusion to a quick and painful end.

::: ::: ::: :::

It was almost always mixed messages between us.

He said one thing but his actions were the exact opposite. [I can’t tell you what he was thinking, but the two things were never in sync.] Even as he said goodbye he asked me look at something from his life- to go, but also stay and listen one last time.

I asked him for coffee on my twentieth wedding anniversary. [To be truthful, I had gotten a new tattoo that day, and my dress was fabulous, and the heels made me feel super confident. I tried to tell myself it was just companionship I was after, but really…the daydream of tracing his collar bones with my fingers while we were wrapped in a tumble of white sheets in the afternoon sun (and a 1000 permutations of that*) was regularly on my mind. My actions weren’t 100% innocent, either.]

And we were from two different universes. Mine well over a decade older than his.*

We barely spoke the same language. I am long letters. [I will always be long letters.] I’m not sure that was his style.

Which is all to say: there was a lot of potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. And that left plenty of room for me to fill in the blanks with whatever I dreamed. However much I hoped those things might be the truth, they were not.

And the reconciliation of truth and reality was that night and that text.


Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash


The thing about having your ego slain is that it hurts. It hurts psychologically. Because the view we generally have of a situation is tied to our identity, it is tied to our ability to perceive things correctly. And when we realize we’ve perceived them so incorrectly, it makes our ego very uncomfortable.

Most people run from this discomfort. They hide or deny or try to ‘fix’ it.
“It didn’t happen like that.”
“I always thought it was that way, anyway.”
“You don’t understand what I meant.”
Accusations. Defensiveness. Passionate retorts and explanations.

There is a difference between ‘fixing’ and ‘learning,’ though. When we rush to ‘fix’ a bad situation, to explain away a delusion or poor behavior, we are not learning from it. We are simply trying to make the pain go away by moving on as quickly as possible, by apologizing without true remorse, by painting over the mistake and pretending it’s new. Learning from a bad situation takes time.

You can understand a lot if you watch people and what they do when they make huge mistakes or are forced out of delusion. I once watched an ‘up and coming’ feminist marketer make a big fucking mistake with her foundational cohort. This woman claimed to be ‘woke’ in terms of racism, but actually did some really racist, sexist, immoral shit to other women, and especially other women of color. And when her delusion came to an end, I watched her try to ‘fix’ it. And how do I know she was fixing instead of learning? Because it took her 36 hours to start her comeback. You don’t learn shit in 36 hours. Learning takes at least three days. You gotta sit with it like Lazarus. Three days in the cave is the only way you’re going to even begin to learn. If you’re back at it in 36 hours, you’re just cleaning up a mess so you can keep your ego intact.

The pain of having our ego slain is a call to learning, though. It is a good thing. It is worth investigating and sitting with. The pain will point us towards the truth if we let it.

::: ::: ::: :::

It’s been a day and a month since he sent that text. And for the first five days I couldn’t even read it again, it hurt my psyche and my ego that much. (Which is a lot, because I can put up with a shit ton of pain, psychological and otherwise.) It hurt because I had fucked up so very much. I fucked up my perception of him, my perception of myself and my actions, and my perception of the situation. Many levels of fucked up.

So, first I sat with the pain it caused me. And that’s helpful but the next step is to go sit with the pain of what happened- to purposefully look at it and drink the pain like medicine. Because if we can do that we’re on our way to learning.

Learning comes when we look at our part in the situation. Learning comes when we examine our desires and wishes and hopes and falsities in the context of the situation. Learning comes when we see what we did wrong, in thought + action + intention, and decide we won’t do that again. Learning comes when we heal whatever it was that made deluding ourselves a reasonable choice and begin to act differently.

::: ::: ::: :::

That is what I’ve been doing the last two weeks. Having sat with the pain, over and over until it was tolerable, I am now beginning to behave differently. I question myself and my actions and intentions more. I do not immediately default to my intuition for insight about a situation. I admit to my dreams and fantasies if that is what the situation entails (it doesn’t always). I do not abandon myself in the search for connection. I think more critically about what data I’m using to guide my actions and to gain insight into others’ actions as well. I validate before I act more than I used to. I try not to have too much pride about my intuition or how ‘right’ it is (yes, it’s true: pride goeth before the fall). I am learning.

I am grateful for the fact that I haven’t heard a peep from this guy since our interaction. Nothing to see or read or deal with as I find my way forward. That’s a gift when you’re in the dark, knowing you’ve made a big mistake and likely hurt other people in the process.

I wish things had ended more smoothly between us, but I would not have learned as much as I did if it had been that way. I needed to be clearly and cleanly broken so I could heal and learn more deeply. Clean out the wound; reset the bone. I’ll never be ‘like new’ again. Instead I will be stronger at the broken place.

The pain of having our ego killed is actually one of the greatest gifts we can get because, if we let it, we can find truth inside the broken delusion. And if we can truly learn from our mistakes, we can become better people. That’s how it’s been in the past, I’m hoping it’s the same now.

I’ll be sitting here at Broken Delusions Ranch for a while yet. Come and join me if you need a friend on your journey.

Big love from the mistakes on the trail,
Joanna :: xoxo



* He was too young to be a great lover (in five years, though? mmmm…yeah), which is why daydreams are awesome. God, I love my imagination.


Badass :: Defined

Hey loves. How are you doing? I’ve been thinking of you for the past week. For whatever reason, Cyndi Lauper’s song, “Time After Time” plays every time I think of sitting down to write. I think you all needed that song. If you’re lost and you look, you will find me…time after time, my friends.



Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash


Today I was thinking about the people in my life who I wold consider ‘badass’ and it really came down to one thing: I define badass but how much you’re willing to work on your life. Yeah, badass can mean all kinds of things- daredevil, fearless (or stupid), carefree. But I think those all come down to breaking boundaries- that’s what makes them badass. In my realm, breaking boundaries for emotional healing and growth makes you a badass.

I think of people who:

  • say ‘this doesn’t work for me anymore’ to their spouse, job, or family
  • decide to work on the ‘shit’ they created in their own lives
  • decide to work on the ‘shit’ someone else left inside of them when they were too small to understand (which can happen even when you’re 33)
  • step outside a self-imposed box
  • decide to tell the truth :: about anything
  • cry for no apparent reason and decide to investigate that
  • reach beyond their usual relational habits to make something new :: or better
  • who open their heart when it still hurts and let someone else look inside
  • wonder why they do what they do and step bravely into the answer :: no matter how much it hurts
  • leave their family’s expectations of them and their life
  • dare to take one step towards a dream
  • leave behind even one script society has given them
  • believe in and protect their own hearts
  • who dance :: wherever
  • notice when the shadow shows herself and turn towards her
  • risk their heart + their love + their life to be true to their feelings
  • feel all the way down
  • dare to shine their light for someone new to see
  • make themselves small and then grow into their true self again
  • sit with their pain and let it flow
  • stay alive even though they don’t always want to
  • reach out
  • cry :: joy fear love pain
  • acknowledge the wound and heal it

I believe that everyone is doing the best they can- no matter how that looks to people outside the situation (cuz we’re all judgin’ someone!). But the badasses are taking it one step further and doing the work. They are breaking the boundaries of what their family told them, of what society told them, of the ways their heart has been broken, of the ways they feel broken. They are walking to the other side.

God bless the badasses. You’re making the world a better place.

Big love from the path,
Joanna :: xoxo




all behavior is communication

I’m writing this post partially so I can refer back to it for future writings. Because I know I’ll need it. In any case, here we go…

Whenever I think about people and how to work with them, or how to give context to politics or headlines, or how to make a decision about how to deal with someone or something, I refer to what I know about how people work, psychologically. And one thing I deeply believe is that all behavior is communication– our actions are the outcome of our psychology and emotion. It’s possible to have many feelings and thoughts about a thing, even intentions, but what it comes down to is how we act on those things. Behavior is pretty damn indicative of what we’re really about.

I tend to fall in love with behaviors. Because behavior is the truth. We only use our bodies – our behavior and actions – to do what we most want to, what we most care about, or most believe we are capable of. So, behavior indicates so much more than words.

If we back up, though, here are things I take into consideration when I look at behavior. Because behavior comes from many places, and we need to consider those things if we want to know what is being communicated, what behavior means.



We know that male and female brains have some differences. They may not be as disparate as we have been lead to believe, but as someone who had a more testosterone-based brain for five years, there is a difference in brain chemistry based on sex hormones and this difference definitely influences behavior. When I was juiced on testosterone I had more focus, ambition, sexual thoughts, and lowered inhibitions than ever in my life. Hormone-based brain function is not an excuse for shitty behaviors, we are all capable of every human emotion and choice, but it can be explanatory and help us find meaning in behavior.



Brains mature at different ages. Males tend to mature later than females, and so I take that into consideration when I look at behavior. Did a bunch of 18 year-old guys do something stupid? Their brains may not have been mature enough to make a better decision. Again, this doesn’t excuse poor behavior, but it can explain choices and help us to develop education and tools to avoid poor behavior in the future.

Also, after the age of 18, unless you have organic brain disorders, I believe you are responsible for every choice you make and the ensuing outcomes. You’re big enough to drive a car and vote, you’re big enough to be responsible for your shit. Even if you’ve had difficulties, you have the choice to get help and tackle the effect of those difficulties in your life (for instance, co-dependency, trauma, or abuse).



The ages 0-5 are the years in which ‘normal’ is set for the psyche. This means that what happens during those years is what will feel ‘normal’ or ‘right’ for us for a long time, perhaps our whole life. And if something difficult or horrible happens during these years, that can also feel ‘normal’ – and be problematic. For people who spent ages 0-5 with arguing parents or in abusive homes (or any other awful thing) this feels ‘normal’ to them, and they may seek to perpetuate it in adulthood, even if they know it’s not healthy, good, or right for them.

The impact of images and feelings upon the psyche is especially important in these years because they are the only internal guidance we have- words are almost non-existent for the first 2 years of life, even though we are having significant development experiences. I have watched friends and acquaintances work through abandonment issues, which occurred when they were 8 months old. Traumatic events in the early years have deep, lasting impact, and they have to be accounted for when we look at people’s behavior and what that behavior means.



Trauma is when an experience is so emotionally overwhelming that we shut off. The emotional point at which trauma occurs is different for each person. For some, a car accident may be unpleasant, but it can be overcome relatively easily. For others, a car accident may mean lasting physical or psychological pain- which may take years to heal.

Trauma informs behavior in so many ways I can’t possibly mention them all here. But what trauma mostly does is make people feel confused, frustrated, and doubt themselves (often because they know they want to do something, but can’t seem to do it). Of course, trauma can also lead to stress and anxiety and unhealthy coping behaviors. Traumatic behaviors can also feel like sub-conscious behaviors, a la “I don’t know why I do that, I just do.”


Highly Sensitive People

Perhaps due to trauma, but also sometimes just to physiologic factors, some people are more highly sensitive than others. Their physiologic and sensual systems get overwhelmed with small amounts of data. They can be highly attuned to the energy of places and people, and many HSPs notice lots of details as their system tries to process the environment and make sense of it. This can influence their behavior to turn inwards, ‘hate people,’ or feel anxious (and behave accordingly).



I do believe that humans have stages of development, growth hurdles they must overcome in order to be fully developed (and often, these tasks aren’t fun and produce complicated, difficult feelings). I’m not sure that Erikson has the whole picture, because every human is unique, but his theory is a good place to start.

Knowing that people may be dealing with a particular stage of growth can tell us something about their choices and ensuing behaviors. If someone is trying to know who they are as an adult, we can gain some insight into their behaviors (i.e. hanging out with different groups, trying on different clothing styles, etc). As well, if people skip a particular growth hurdle, they may need to go back and finish it, which can result in behaviors that look immature for a particular age.

I also believe there is something to the idea of personality typing such as Myers-Briggs or even astrological symbols. Maybe we shouldn’t take these too seriously, but I think they are good templates from which to learn about people and be able to make some foundational assessments as to whether we can connect or not.


Mental Health Issues

Of course any mental health issue is going to influence behavior. Whether we are talking about depression or schizophrenia, how our brain works is probably the most important factor in our behavior. And if our brain isn’t working along the continuum of ‘normal’ (which is also highly questionable label), behavior may range from confusing to outside the shared reality we currently inhabit. (Which is to say: I’m not entirely sure that people with schizophrenia aren’t just inhabiting a reality the rest of us can’t see, but a reality that also remains completely valid.) It’s always good to know if someone has a mental health issue they are dealing with when we try to figure out what their behavior is trying to communicate.

::: ::: ::: :::

Behavior falls into two categories, generally. Conscious and sub-conscious behavior. Conscious behavior is the things we do and know we are doing them, the actions we take on purpose. Sub-conscious behavior is the things we don’t notice we’re doing or the things we do ‘just because’ or ‘I don’t know why.’ Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge our conscious behaviors (‘no, I didn’t do that’) because it goes against our sense of ourselves or our greater motives or we suspect we’ll be punished for our choice. Sometimes we’re just straight up lying about what our behavior means, to ourselves and others. But, of course, that is just another form of communication through behavior, isn’t it?

All of this is to say that these are the things I am wondering about when I look at people’s behavior. But, more importantly, I am also looking at behavior as communication of many of these factors- the communication goes both ways. Behavior is also as an indicator of what you really are, what you truly believe in, and what you most want. Everything you are doing, everything I am doing, is an attempt to communicate something, even if we don’t know what we’re doing, even if we don’t know that we’re doing it. The trick in this life is know as much as we can about ourselves, heal ourselves, and be as conscious as we can – in both our words and our actions.




if you’re sad, reach out

Happy Friday, fellow travelers! I hope your week is going well.

Mine has been so/so. I had a lovely evening tea with a beloved girlfriend last night and I have another girlfriend trip and tea planned for next week. But I also lost out on my last chance for something (which I may write about later) and that has left me sad.

And this morning I am also feeling someone else’s sad. Sounds weird, I know. But as an empath, I often sense the emotions of others, sometimes actually feeling them in my body. This has also been true with people I have connected with (at various levels) who are far away- even when they’re gone, I can sometimes feel them. (It’s like those stories where a mother knows her child got hurt, even though they’re 2000 miles apart. Pretty much exactly like that.)


Photo by Jonathan Crews on Unsplash


I have learned, over time and with practice, where the feelings of others live inside my body and where my own emotions find their way through my body. Other people’s sadness tends to settle in my face and make me feel like crying. Sometimes it goes down to the outer edges of my heart, but no further. My own sadness resides in my chest and I tend to feel it like a black hole in space- intense, compact, but deep.

And today I feel someone else’s sad. And it is a particular kind of sad- the sad that they miss me, or that they missed out on hanging with me, or that they wish to be near me again. I have my suspicions about who it is, but it brings me back to this eternal truth: you can always reach out again to me, no matter what. My heart is big, it forgives much. If you’re missing me or wanting to connect, there are myriad ways. And this isn’t just true for me, it’s true for anyone you’re thinking of as I write this. If you miss them, let them know. Most people want to be connected to people who want to connect with them. <– and that’s true for me, too.

Whoever you are, I hope you’re well. And I probably miss you, too. Reach out. I promise a great cup of coffee, fantastic conversation, and a truly supportive connection (which is all I ever wanted anyway).




trauma as (unrecognized) native tongue

I grew up with an emotionally manipulative parent. It took years for me to understand that the reason I was so good in a crisis situation and so good at helping others was because I’d learned to help my parent (and, more truthfully, my family members who were also dealing with that parent) in emotionally charged situations. Emotional charge felt ‘normal’ to me, because I’d been through it so often, and therefore I could function efficiently and effectively in it when others couldn’t.

These situations also taught me to be kind and supportive and love people unconditionally, because I didn’t receive those things in a way that I felt them easily. (Which is to say, parents can give love in many ways, but kids don’t always receive it. Know your kids, their personalities, and their love languages.) From early on, I had a drive to get out of my house. I have a drawing from second grade that says, “Someday I will…get married so I can live in my own house.” (Six year-old me wasn’t a feminist yet.)

Growing up inside emotional manipulation also helped me become as straightforward and honest with people as I possibly could be. I know the pain and damage manipulators can cause, so I try not to be one. I try to be as honest with myself about what’s going on, what I feel, what I need, and what I want so that I can express that thoughtfully to others (with care and clean edges). There is no hidden meaning behind what I say or ask for- hidden agendas just cause confusion and pain.

And yet, I am sure I still emotionally manipulate people sometimes. I know I do because there are times when I revisit a conversation (which I do about 10,000 times because I’m an INFJ) and realize I did something emotionally manipulative. I read and edit my emails several times so that I’m not being emotionally manipulative (and yet, I’m sure some things still get through). I feel like an asshole when it happens and always try to do better.


Photo by Karim Ghantous on Unsplash


One of the strange things is, though, that I still don’t necessarily see or hear emotional manipulation when it’s coming from others. To this day, my partner has to say, “Don’t let this [situation or person] emotionally manipulate you.” And sometimes I still don’t know what that looks or sounds like. It’s very much as if he’s saying, “Look, that’s a foreign language that we don’t speak,” but to me it is native tongue and so easy to speak I don’t even recognize it as foreign. Unlearning this language is tough business.

I wonder if it is like this for all who suffer trauma.

Does this ‘foreign’ language get so ingrained – because of young age or simple repetition – that we see it as ‘normal?’ I think, probably, yes.

And when we find a way out, when we begin to realize that other emotional, non-traumatic languages exist, it is like moving to another country. I keenly remember the first few times I felt unconditionally loved and safe- it felt like a party in my heart, a healing, a joy. It was a language I wanted to speak and found that I could. Which was both strange and beautiful.

The thing about learning this new language (what others know as ‘normal’) – and sorry to switch metaphors- is that it’s like the fish who realizes it breathes water, and that it is evolving into something that breathes air. That is what I have felt like for years now. That ‘water’ is my native tongue- the emotional manipulation and the life that creates- and that I am evolving to breathe air. But still, water is easy to breathe and I have to be reminded of what it is, of who I am and what I want, so that I do not fall back into the water language of emotional manipulation.

Maybe it’s not trauma that is our native language, but the form of abuse (whether large or small) that causes the trauma which itself feels normal. Abuse is what is done to us, trauma is our response. And when that abuse is repeated, it begins to be habit, and habit is what constitutes ‘normal’ (at any age, pretty much).

Despite my Master’s in Social Work, I’m not sure about this theory. (Actually, I’m sure there’s piles of research and it probably has a name, I just didn’t take the time to go research it.) What I do know is that I’m watching myself and many other people wake up and figure out that something from their past is broken, broken inside them. And as they begin to deal with this wound, they learn that they have been speaking a foreign language for some part of their life. It is only with patience and awareness, forgiveness and soothing, that they begin to speak the language beyond trauma.

Do we ever lose that native tongue entirely? I’m not sure. But I think we can refuse to speak it as much as possible and continue to dig after each root as it shows itself. And perhaps, as we tend to the growth of our healed self, the old language, the trauma language, will lay quietly. Not dead, but no longer bothersome.