Narcissism: Identifying Key Traits, Symptoms and Risk Factors

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Arctic Ice Chandelier - The ICEHOTEL nate2b via Compfight

In contrast to codependency tendencies, described in a previous article as a rigid pattern of relating to key others (and self) with little or no sense of own wants and needs as valuable, significant or even viable, those with indicators for narcissism have a rigid pattern of relating to others as extension of themselves, wants, drives, desires, and so on. When it comes to feeling others’ feelings, those with narcissistic personality disorder seem to relate from a place that is as lifeless and cold as an ice sculpture.

It is perhaps no surprise that the codependent and narcissist often find themselves in an irresistible yet toxic dance together in life. Whereas the codependent enters a relationship with little or no sense of self, the narcissist enters with little or no ability to empathize, “see” or treat others as separate persons with feelings and vantage points of their own. Perhaps even more significantly, they have no desire to do so. If you consider their key traits, why would they?

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The Power of Words: 20 Phrases to Heal (or Grow From) Relationship Conflicts

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Wild Dolphin PlayCreative Commons License Steve Jurvetson via Compfight

Thoughts are much more than airy pieces of information that enter our minds and then disappear. The words and ideas we think, and the accompanying feelings they spark, subconsciously shape our lives.

They can literally activate chemical processes that affect us at every level, emotional, physical, mental, and thus can drive us in the direction of overall success and happiness — or failure and distress.

Thoughts are energy. Emotions are energy. Physical feelings are energy. Together, they energize us to action accordingly, and even have the power to immobilize us. How you think (and thus feel) can have a profound effect on your ability to recognize an opportunity, perform to the best of your ability, or achieve the outcome of the goals that you’ve set for yourself.

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A Conscious Re-Writing of Your Life Story: Three Optimal Practices, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

The authentic wise-self and the wounded ego-self are often at odds with each other.

Some competition between them is natural, in vying over which lense, love or fear, will be the primary voice of your experience of life. It’s an ongoing aspect of personal growth and development. As discussed in Part 1, each tells your life story from very different perspectives. 
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Roughly speaking, these parts correspond with the two divisions of the body’s autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system (learning or balanced mode) versus the sympathetic nervous system (survival or automatic defense mode). The question is which division will take charge of your mind and body in situations that trigger you?
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Who makes this “decision”? Ultimately, the simple answer of course is y-o-u. However, most decisions we make are automatic and therefore activated subconsciously without your awareness? The outcomes are dramatically different, however, depending on whether your wise-self or wounded-ego self is in charge.
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These two parts relate to life and key questions differently in that they are each driven by different emotional states of the mind and body.
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That’s because the former involves your brain in higher-thinking processes (frontal cortex), tasking you to consciously re-think a situation in new ways (okay, your partner may be upset because you’re late, but does this mean your survival is really at stake?!). In contrast, the latter automatically accesses mostly pre-decided-thinking-strategies. Naturally, the former requires more effort, conscious awareness in the present moment, and thus is not as comfortable.
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Like it or not, conscious thinking is the road less taken because the latter “feels more comfortable,” taking automatic pre-programmed paths of least resistance. Three emotional-command pathways stand out in terms of freeing you to create an enriching life story.
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1. The practice of curiosity (rather than judgment).
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The emotion of curiosity fosters an optimal learning environment for your mind and body, and brain. Curiosity allows you to maintain a learning orientation to events and life around you. Unlike rigid thinking and judgements which activate fear, curiosity sparks optimism and positive expectations for growth and progress. It fulfills a natural seeking — and need to learn and grow our knowledge and understanding, and learn how to optimize our happiness, optimally, to treat your life and life around you as treasures that you have the honor of experiencing. Emotions of curiosity also spark possibility thinking processes.
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In contrast, the wounded ego-self is primarily focused on limiting learning to improving defenses, protection, ensuring survival, and so on, and thus keeps your mind and body hyper-vigilant, on-guard and on the look out for perceived threats that help you maintain distance and a protective level of mistrust of others. Your body also stops normal processes of growth in survival mode, such as cell regeneration, in order to conserve energy for defense.  Of course, wherever and whenever survival is really, really at stake, survival mode serves well.
2.  The practice of flexibility (instead of unyielding rigidity).
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The emotion state of flexibility is one that frees you to be grounded in your power to make choices. It allows you to access higher cortex processes, such as reflective or possibility thinking, which increase your chances of learning how to protect your happiness and fulfill your own core emotion-drives to matter, to meaningfully connect in relation to life and others, and so on — and not just depend or wait for others to “make you” feel good enough, deserving, loved, loving, and so on. Life is a series of choices, and you always have a choice.
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In contrast, rigid either-or or black-and-white thinking can lead you to make unrealistic conclusions, such as that you must “control” certain events or other persons, and this maintains the illusion that it is desirable or even possible to control others. This belief leads to much suffering. In truth, you’ve alwayes been in control of your life, and your greatest power is always your ability to choice at any moment how you respond (emotions, thoughts, beliefs, actions etc.).  No one has power over you because they cannot control your heart. No force or fear-based logic, regardless how sound, can open the human heart. Only love can do that.
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You are not your emotions and thoughts, or the events you’ve experienced; you are much more. You are the observer, the choice-maker, and your choices in how you respond are a life-shaping power that can keep you on course to realize happiness and fulfillment, and navigate away from being tossed around by the emotion-activating behaviors of persons or events around you. In truth, it is your responses to your experiences that hold the power to shape who you are and become, thus, shape the direction of your life. To make positive change, you must own the power you have to choose, and to embrace this power to create optimal and ever wiser responses to what most challenges and triggers you.
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3. The practice of presence (rather than the anxiety about the future or regrets about past). See the most important moment in your life is always now, the present.
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The most important moment in your life is always the present one. It is the only place of power to make a new an optimal choice that would perhaps positively effect the future.  An emotional state of presence allows you, at any given time and especially in triggering moments, to remain connected to the inner sources of power and wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the past, and to do so connected to your awareness. The present moment is a space in time that is pure power.
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There is no other moment in which you may actually exercise your power to choose. To forget this puts you at risk that some fear-based emotion will hold your mind hostage either in the past (i.e., regret) or the future (i.e., anxiety), or both. Safe to say, life is an eternity of present moments. Life issues can only be resolved in the now experience of them. Healing of past or future anxiety occurs in the present. Even you talk about the past or plan for the future, your subconscious mind and body experience this in the present moment. This explains why attempting to solve any problem “for all time” gets you stuck. Attempting to create plans to avoid certain emotions is counterproductive, and these emotions promote growth and healing.
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This is good news. It means if you really want to heal the past or break free of anxiety about the future, healing is always a breath away.  Life is to be lived one moment at a time – or risk not being lived at all.
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You always have a choice in how you respond to events in and around you. This helps you stay centered in your power from within as you come to realize, more and more, that events do not define or shape you.
 

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10 Essential Ways of Thinking to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-15Mindfulness makes living a happy and health life and relationship easier, and more effortless. Yet it is more than the vital practices that it is most commonly associated with, such as cultivating a sense of effortless presence, awareness, connection to mind and body, breath work, and the like.

It also requires us to become conscious and aware thinkers, and this requires effort. consistent and conscious effort to become aware and conscious thinkers.

Essentially, it is, if anything, a transformation of old thought and belief patterns that activate our fear response unnecessarily, and thus prevent us from a deeper relationship and connection to our self, mind and body, and life around us.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a learned ability to live in the present moment, an inner connection to our experience of life in and around us.

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3 Steps to Resonate (and Manifest) Your Dreams and Aspirations

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-725Thoughts are energies that are positively or negatively charged. By shifting your thoughts to what you want (instead of lack), you shift your energy from negative to positive, and thus, to an energy vibration that resonates with what you want to attract in your life.

Positive thoughts and feeling states align you to your authentic self, your higher self, a constant source of authentic power within you.

The more blissful your feelings, the more you are aligned with who you really are.

There is a distinct difference between the infinite possibilities of the inner perfection of your emotional yearnings for what you want in your life and relationships — as opposed to the limited outer physical manifestations of your desires, which are alway, always imperfect in some way. What you focus on matters. It’s great to have clarity on what you want, however, an imbalanced weight on outcomes, can put you at risk of constantly checking, getting upset or discouraged, on one hand, and making “the perfect” the enemy of the good, on the other.

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The Power of Subconscious Learning: Transform Your Thoughts, Transform Your Life

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-823Findings show that thoughts are powerful activators of life transforming inner processes. They activate neurochemical signals that accordingly generate emotions and actions, learning and change, to include the formation of behavioral patterns or habits.

Subconscious learning in itself is a powerful and efficient built-in capacity. When what we learn is aligned by chance to our goals and highest interests for personal and relational health and well being, it can support us to grow in positive directions and to realize amazing and creative outcomes and passions. What if it doesn’t however? Limiting beliefs or toxic thinking patterns can harm our health, keep us stuck in life-draining addictive behavior patterns, and at best place limits on our happiness.

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The Relationship Building Power of Empathy: Seven Actions of Empathic Listeners, 3 of 3

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-346Empathy empowers grace and harmony in our lives and relationships.

Without empathy, we’re not connected to the otherwise amazing inner resources available to help us restore or keep our connection to built-in capacities to think and feel, and, when necessary, to shift to optimal thoughts and feelings, imagine new possibilities, transform fears, make optimal choices, and ultimately grow wiser learning from our mistakes.

It is in empathic relationships that we learn to feel safe enough to compassionately connect with what is going on inside of us — rather than run away or react aggressively — when we feel triggered or stressed.

Part 1 outlined key intentions underlying empathy, and Part 2 listed three of seven actions that naturally flow from seeking to genuinely connect with another human being at deeper levels. Here are the remaining four:

4. Seek to understand (other) before being understood. 

This allows you to focus your attention on listening to understand the other’s heart with compassion (as you’d likely wish if you were them). In this place, you are present in mind and body, and are seeking what is in the highest interest of both, ultimately, to grow your compassion for your self and the other as human beings.

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The Relationship Building Power of Empathy: Seven Conscious Actions of Empathic Listeners, 2 of 3

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.
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Empathy is a key emotion in building healthy, vibrant, mutually enriching relationships.

In Part 1, we described empathy as a form of love, a gift of our presence to actively listen, to emotionally connect, and to provide a holding place that shares the intensity of another’s experience. We also said that, consciously or subconsciously, empathy stems from certain intentions. It doesn’t stop there, however.

Actions are an essential part of expressing, giving and receiving love. Action seals the deal; and this is the topic of this post.

Without action, the best of intentions have no meaning, in other words, as if they never occurred or existed. Relationships are living entities, and they require certain actions to remain alive. 

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The Relationship Building Power of Empathy: Four Intentions of Empathic Listeners, 1 of 3

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-344Empathic listeners are relationship builders. They have a cultivated ability for being present, empathically connected. How do you cultivate empathy however? It starts with set intentions, at least four of them.

For human beings, empathy may be one of the greatest gifts to give or to receive, and perhaps one of our deepest yearnings. It is a form of love, an aspect of love that is expressed through the act of listening to understand from the eyes and heart of another (or self). This is what makes empathy an essential ability to cultivate, and thoughtfully give.

When someone we love disappoints us in some way, this can automatically trigger painful emotions inside.

And when we are in pain, for example, feeling hurt, angry, or disappointed, often one of our greatest yearnings is for empathy, that is, an understanding love from another human being that affirms, in a moment of need, that we are valued. We want to know that our feelings and life matter. And thus a common human undertaking is to look for evidence that another loves us enough to want to understand us from our own perspective, to want us to have what we want (even when not possible), to want to see us happy and fulfilled, personally as well as in our relationship, and so on.

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Three Lessons Learned From Studies of Success

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-309A lot has been learned about the brain and behavior in the last three decades. At the same time, we’ve gained understanding of success by studying successful people in various endeavors.

Here are three important lessons we’ve gained from studying success.

  • One, success does not create happiness, instead, it is the other way around: happiness creates success. That’s right. Success is an inner job.

It does not come from what is outside of you in the environment—a car, a house, a degree, a promotion, financial wealth—as desirable and wonderful as these can be. Instead, lasting and powerful success stems from what is going on inside of you. It is dependent upon your willingness to consciously produce certain thoughts inside your head, more specifically, thoughts that energy a positive physiology, an energized positive emotional state that makes you virtually unstoppable in creating the success you want.

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