4 Types of Survival Patterns

Okay, I am cheating a bit with this post, but because it hits home on so many levels for many of us, I thought it was important to post.  Read the content that follows and see if you can identify your survival pattern, your go to safe strategy.  Except, there is a trick to it – these patterns don’t actually work long-term and may make your anxiety worse.

In case your wondering, I am the AVOIDER.  I have used the others on occasion too.

The following content is a direct quote from Dr. Friedemann Schaub, M.D. author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution a book I highly recommend.  I have spoken before to Dr. Schaub and he is a very kind and humble man.  His work is worth checking out at http://www.cellularwisdom.com

“When was the last time that fear and anxiety made you feel vulnerable, unsafe and out of control? Being anxious can feel so intense and overwhelming, that all you want is to suppress or get rid of it. But how do you that? Chances are that neither your parents nor your teachers in school showed you how to deal with anxiety. And like most of us, you had to figure out on your own, how to respond to being anxious or insecure. The problem is that you may have become so good in managing your anxiety, that you don’t even realize that you’re just surviving every day, rather than finding joy and purpose in your life.

There are 4 major survival patterns, through which most people try to consciously and subconsciously control their fears and anxieties. If you are finding yourself using one or several of these survival patterns on a daily basis, you know you have an anxiety problem.

 The Avoider

If you are an avoider, you are probably very sensitive to criticism, rejection and failure. You try to escape potential hurt through making yourself smaller or even invisible. You hide in a small and controllable comfort zone and preemptively loath and criticize yourself, before anyone else can do this to you. Outside of your refuge, you vigilantly scan your surroundings for any signs of judgment or danger. As an avoider you deny yourself any sense of empowerment, because in your mind feeling confident and positive only increases the risk of getting hurt.

The Pleaser

As a pleaser you believe that your best chances to avoid painful rejection or abandonment, is to make sure that everyone is “ok” with you. You may be the care-taker, who feels overly responsible for others; the chameleon, who is able to fit in everywhere; or the jokester, who tries to win people over through being the life of the party. In pleasing mode you try to manage your anxiety by not being alone, which is why your sense of safety and worthiness depends on the approval of others.

The Controller

If you have the constant need to control every aspect

of your life, you may not realize that all you are doing is to manage your fear of being powerlessness. You may even take on the role of being the authority and strictly enforce your ideas and rules through anger, threats and punishment, just to avoid feeling exposed and unsafe. By controlling others through instilling a sense of insecurity and powerlessness, you feel more empowered and secure. However, underneath this dominating behavior often reside profound feelings of inferiority, vulnerability and pain, which stem from traumas and confusion from your childhood.

 The Achiever

Are you known as a go-getter, who always exceeds everyone’s expectations? Do you continue to strive for the next achievement, never taking the time to enjoy the one you just reached? Or maybe you call yourself a perfectionist, who can’t accept mediocrity. As an (“over-“) achiever, failure and second-place aren’t an option, because your identity and worthiness are defined by your successes. However, although this form of drive and competitiveness may have got you far, deep inside it is still the deep-seated fear of not being good enough, which keeps you running and striving.

All of these survival patterns have one thing in common: they don’t lead to a true sense of inner peace and happiness. As you become more and more dependent on these strategies to cope with your anxiety and insecurity, you drain your energy and power, which only increases the likelihood of feeling stressed and anxious. Because no matter how many people you have avoided or kept successfully at arm’s length; and no matter how many you have “wowed,” made happy or controlled – in the end you may still end up feeling powerless, because you have been defining yourself through circumstances and people around you, and thus making them more important than yourself.”

See yourself here?  What style do you lean on to manage your fears?  Come on, it can’t only be me 🙂


Sweet Spring Dreams.


As the weather here in New England prepares to shift seasons, it reminds us that change is a constant in life.  Even beneath the deepest blankets of snow and a frigid February – the coldest and snowiest on record with cruel winds and thick ice – spring was quietly preparing its return.  In late January, the sun took on a warm glow, hinting at its return to the northern hemisphere.  It is now early March and spring is shouting from the rooftops, melting the heavy snow winter deposited there.  As we leave behind our hibernation and begin shedding layers of clothing, our bodies began to shift and we move with joy in our step, our souls reach outward and we seek connection, visibility and sunshine again.

As in nature, many of us experience our personal winters, turned inward and shut away from the outside, cold, frozen and seemingly dead.  We trudge through these bitter days consumed by the misunderstanding that this is a permanent state; we lose faith.  Winter brings withdrawal and a turn inward; it can also bring scarcity and loss.   During the darkness of the winter season, it can seem as if everything we loved and dreamed of has slipped away.  In some cases, our career sputters, we lose loved ones and jobs, our focus and perspective shift to a focus of loss and depression.  The juicy goals we had no longer tug at our heart or seem hopelessly out of reach.  We may also sense our values are shifting.   We find ourselves in a survival fight caught up in the maelstrom of our lives.   Winter always requires surrender; storms can lock you inside for days, in darkness, reminding you of what you take for granted.

Your personal winter is a difficult time, but it does not last either – it cannot last.  During this time, change is already underway.  At the darkest hour, in the frozen land of loss, the shift occurs and although it remains unseen for a while, the movement is toward rebirth – the sun is coming and your spring is on its way.

Nature provides us with clues everywhere that everything cycles and spring always comes again.  Spring will come even when it appears that all is dead and gone.  Rejuvenation, rebirth and resurrection are all clues that no matter how bitter, barren and frozen winter looks. Once again, glorious, sexy, fertile spring is on its way, faithfully. – Diane


camera dump 119

Dreams can come true – at the dentist.

Today, while I was at the dentist for my coronation – a grand way of saying that I was getting a permanent crown cemented – a wonderful conversation took place between me, the dental hygienist and the dentist. The hygienist, who I will refer to as “Shakira” for reasons that will follow, was feeling a little down this morning as we began to chat.

Shakira was suffering from some mid-winter blues and a bit of homesickness for the warmer climate of her native Columbia. One of the things she misses the most, Shakira told me was dancing – specifically Salsa dancing with a little merengue and belly-dancing thrown in for good measure.  She was, she said, thinking of teaching it. In spite of not having professional training, she considered herself quite good at it and loved the fun of the lively dance and the warm colorful memories it provided for her.

I noticed how excited she got sharing her desire to teach Salsa dancing pointing out that she had support from her boyfriend.  Capitalizing on her excitement, I made a few suggestions about how she could accomplish this in her spare time.  She could have fun, I said, teaching Gringos how to Salsa and free up their trapped energies, stiff hips, and aching bodies that often held puritanical notions about suggestive movement – even when just in fun.  Dancing is a great way to change your mood and elevate your spirits. However great dancing is, most of us have forgotten anything approaching good dance moves.  Long gone are the childhood ballet lessons that blossomed into tap then jazz only to be left behind by the 6th grade when shame and self-consciousness delivered the death knell.

Dancing forces coordination between the mind and the body in a way that allows for expression while strengthening seldom used neural pathways.  Dancing inevitably leads to happiness when one frees oneself to tap into a natural rhythm long repressed.   It is the joy of a child running while trailing a ribbon, the translation of a steady beat into matching movements, it is the feel of music flowing into the body and back out again.  It is alignment with something that tugs at our spiritual nature. It is the gestalt of a thousand disconnected notes creating a blissful harmony while igniting the cells in our body in a matching harmony. I supported Shakira’s vision and we played with suggestions of how to accomplish her goal.

In between fitting iterations of my crown, I pushed the conversation along enrolling Dr. K into the conversation.  Dr. K is my South Korean born dentist and I decided to find out what his secret dream was. Dr. K who told us of his early desire to be in sports – he wanted to be a runner.  However, his parents quashed the notion as absurd.  Running, they told him, would not put food on the table.  Instead like many parents who had faced wars and direct threats to survival, they saw a profession, or as he put it a “license”, to be the holy grail for future success.  Thus sometime after that conversation he came the US and pursued dentistry, became a husband and a father or 3 young sons.  Dr. K confessed that his secret dream – if he didn’t have to work – was to travel the world.

After the fitting of my crown was complete and we headed to the front desk, Shakira asked for my business card – she was very excited and happy that she could talk about her dream today.  I assured her that her dream could become reality with a little work.  As I drove home, I imagined ways Dr. K could achieve his dream while holding down his dental business.  I wondered if I should send him a note with the many ideas that popped up on the drive home. Helping others imagine possibilities and supporting them through the process, is a big part of what I do.

So how about you? What dreams would you like to bring to life?

Je Suis Charlie.

The madness erupting in Europe this week serves as a reminder that we are always at risk when we express ourselves.  Freedom of the press often ensures some highly unsavory activities are permissible.  Granted, there are times when I am sure our forefathers did not intend for the freedom to mean some of the things it does today.  Nevertheless, it is an absolute in a free society.  Some people push the envelop just to provoke a response.  However, the response should never include murder – this is not justifiable.  We will either be a civilized world or we will be a world of lunatics and, frankly, I choose the former.  I hope you do too.

What are cartoons?  They are symbolic scribbling on paper that tell stories or serve as satire or to vent our political angst.  Satirists have long pushed the dialogue in ways that make some people laugh and other people wince or squirm.  Targets are social issues, politics, religion, the economy and the government.

Around the first century B.C. Roman satirist Juvenal took aim at people and institutions mocking them in parodies that made them look incompetent and absurd.  Juvenalian satire is, by its nature, pessimistic and ironic.  It conveys a sense of moral outrage and deemphasizes humor.   It can be, due to it’s nature, extremely polarizing and may be funny, annoying and at times maddening.  Yes, it can make you mad – actually it is suppose to at times.  You may even consider it blasphemy.  But provoke you to murder?  Never.

Let us all mark these tragic deaths in France this week with sorrow and condolences followed by a renewed commitment to free speech lest our way of life be overtaken by extremists.

The Age of Greed and Grievance


In Sunday’s issue of The Boston Globe, writer Steve Almond discusses the lack of gratitude felt by Americans, especially the young. You can read the full text here:


My guess is this is not limited to Americans.
When did we become so spoiled and narcissistic? How sad is it to watch people resort to ever escalating stupidity to get attention in our ME, ME, ME world? Is the most exciting thing happening really Kim Kardashian’s big, naked butt? Butts are for pooping – when did they get to be so fascinating?

I write about this today as it is impossible to understand human psychology without understanding the social influences that surround us all. What is going on in your world, are you tired of the endless noise to be noticed? Are you a part of it? What part of you is crying out to be heard? How does all of this influence you and how you feel each day? Are we headed to becoming and idiocracy with more people participating in the feeding frenzy of Black Friday than bothered to vote in last month’s elections?

You can join the conversation on Facebook by searching for our Psych-hacker page. I still haven’t figured out how to add it here 🙂

The mind, the body and the spirit – the Holy Trinity

Perhaps there are not so many well kept secrets as this one – that all is linked between the mind, the body and the spirit – they are in fact, your holy trinity. Misalignment in any one of these results in problems, traumas, excessive fears and outright failure or underperformance.

Did you know that trauma can creating lasting changes in the brain? Trauma is often described as a failed overwhelming survival attempt. Trauma keeps our nervous system on constant watch or hypervigilence. Those changes in the brain have an odd way of pushing you to recreate the trauma scenario, perhaps as a way of hoping for a successful completion of our initial survival attempt. However, this is rarely successful. Too often, it reaffirms over and over again your sense of powerlessness.

Trauma freezes us in time – perhaps we still see the world though the eyes of a frightened child, or we relive an accident, the war, the terrifying emotional or physical instability at the hands of cruel, oblivious or otherwise traumatized parents. Trauma carries a generational legacy – one that can make identifiable changes to DNA and be passed on. This isn’t fiction, this is science. Are you in need of more psycho-education and/or coaching on trauma and its aftermath and legacy? Trauma can be completely or partially forgotten by the mind, but not the body resulting in fear, depression, anxiety, failed relationships and illness are but a few of the manifestations of unresolved trauma. Join in the conversation to learn and discuss more.

Psychology versus Coaching? Which is best for you?

Here in New England, the leaves are turning.  Some trees are early changers and have already jazzed up the landscape with reds and gold.  Those trees have begun shedding their leaves while the oaks and birches are just beginning to change.  In about six weeks, the trees will be bare as winter settles in here in the Northern Hemisphere for a few months.  Winter is the season of introspection and reflection; it is also the season of celebration, growth and planning.

Summer was busy this year, with studying, learning and growing. I have been thinking about what I was hoping to accomplish with this blog and why.  We have visitors who stop by often, but I wonder.  What do my readers want to read about?  What is it they care about that we can discuss?

I often have to censor myself because my interests in psychology are quite diverse.  I go back and forth between psychology and analysis and coaching – which is better?   Psychology is endlessly fascinating to me as a matter of understanding the question “why?”  Why people behave the way they do is endlessly interesting to me.

However, in the realm of growth and self-understanding analysis work can be a bottomless pit.  If you go in search of what is wrong with you, you will find more than you can imagine and it will never end, it takes a very long time and results are not always evident.   Often we come away with a great understanding of why we are the way we are and little more.

And then there are the endless labels, anxious, depressed ADD, ADHD, narcissistic, delusional, low self-esteem etc.   What is helpful about a label? For many of us it is an excuse not to grow and change or a license to not try.

In my experience, if you ask the question “What is wrong with me?”  You will continue to get an almost inexhaustible cascade of answers.   I know what I would get and it would not be pretty.

The reality is that life is a challenge and society is pretty messed up. We are imperfect humans and we are struggling to deal with it.

We bring to this struggle inherited patterns of behavior transmitted by the actions, inactions and attitudes our parents, teachers and caregivers.  We think we see truth, but in fact, we see the world as we were told to expect it.  Our lenses are soiled and distorted.  If those distortions happen to serve you and your life is wonderful, you probably are not reading this.

On the other hand, coaching is rooted in practical and human needs psychology.  It involves many techniques that can shift your world and move you on WITHOUT digging endlessly into the past.  The results are often, faster, more positive and action -oriented versus the mind-action only of analysis.

When I discovered coaching, it seemed the perfect blend of principles to help people grow and change and find more effective solutions than analysis.

What are you struggling with?

Lessons from the Field.

It’s a cool late summer day here in New England and football season has begun. Today’s lesson in psych-hacking comes to us by way of New England Patriot’s receiver, Julian Edelman. Aside from being adorable and very, very funny, Julian delivers a killer statement at the end of his video. So forget about all the trashy news that the NFL has been generating this past few weeks and focus on a positive message for a change.

Watch and tell how you proved someone wrong.

Julian Edelman Reads Harsh 2009 Scouting Report About Himself (Video)

Why we need coaches!


First let’s get this off my chest – there are too many unqualified people setting up shop as coaches. Going to a coaching school and paying for a certification really doesn’t do it. If you want to really be of assistance to people, you need to learn about people. You need to learn about human behavior and about organizational behavior. Then you need to be able to connect deeply with someone by understanding their motives, values and aspirations. It can actually come together quite quickly in skilled hands or dissolve instantaneously in incompetent ones.

I hired a coach some years back – my first one. He was terrible – even though he was “highly recommended”. Our first conversation went like this:

Coach: So what do you want to work on?

Me: Organization – (not really, but this is what I said since his opener left me cold)

Coach: Okay, what are three things you will do by our next meeting to get organized?

Me: Clean up my laundry pile, clean off my desk, pay my bills.

Coach: Great! What might get in your way of doing that?

Me: Life

Coach: So how will you prevent that?

Me: I don’t know…

Okay, I was terrible too! But, here is the thing. He took no time to get to know who I was and what made me tick. He could have been an app pre-programmed to say what he said. There was no charm…no attempt to learn about me – which at $500 an hour, you had better take that time!

I had to cancel the next meeting due to a death in the family. He was insulted and told me he could not understand why THAT threw me. $1000 bucks into the trash can and I severed the relationship. I was a weanie and made a lame excuse. But, years later, I must say, Dear Coach, YOU SUCKED!

I coach students at Harvard Business School on resume development, personal branding and interviewing skills. Every conversation begins with a power-packed download of who you are and what you want to achieve. Our sessions are intense and wonderful. Why? It’s the exponential power of the coaching relationship that is nurturing, safe and often tough. but always, always personal.

The folks at HBS already understand the value of coaching. They have it at their fingertips when they need it and they use it. I have zero doubt that this is part of the reason (they are also brilliant!) that HBS students are so successful.

I need a coach, we all need coaches! If the people at HBS and in the corporate world already get the value of coaching, that’s good enough for me! Next week, we begin working with a new cohort at HBS and I will work diligently with them to provide a meaningful experience.

Truthfully, the psych-hacking IS coaching! It is the extraction of principles of human psychology in a focused way to get results quickly.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact me @ psych-hacker@comcast.net.

14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Are you miserable?  Sure,  at some point most of us are.  You know a small failure, a minor slight and for some of us it is off the races as we indulge in a major pity party with ourselves.  Cloe Madanes has written an insightful article outlining the major psychological habits that can lead us down the road to misery if unchallenged.   Check them out and be sure to book mark this post for easy finding when you start down the road of negative thinking……