Boy, it's been a while since I have blogged on my own blog -- I've been keeping busy writing for Psych Central, doing my podcast, and also, of course, seeing clients! It's been busy. In any case, I am going to share a link to my most recent article for Psych Central on Psychological Spring Cleaning...enjoy! Here it is. Happy Spring!
**Author's note: If you are not inclined to read about breasts, fibrocystic breasts, and those of this author, then you are forewarned to read no further. Selective self-disclosure was chosen by the author to help those in similar situations.**
This blog entry is dedicated to women everywhere, women who are battling breast cancer, both those who have won and lost the battle, and most especially for my colleague, Anise Ojeda Smith, who is battling fiercely as a metastatic breast cancer suvivor, or metavivor.
I wasn't expecting to start breast cancer screening in my 30s, but due to fibrocystic breasts, it was recommended by my physician to start mammography earlier than the generally recommended age 40. Fibrocystic breasts are normal. They are just really dense breasts with lots of tissue in them (ducts, lymph nodes, and lobes). And when a woman goes through pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding and then perimenopause, the breasts go through changes. 60% of women have fibrocystic breasts, and with that comes tissue changes as hormones, aging, and reproductive life events impact the density of the breast tissue (webmd.com, 2018). Women with fibrocystic breasts are not at greater risk of breast cancer, but they do have a higher rate of false positive mammograms and call-back mammograms.
Medical guidelines these days encourage women to begin mammography at age 40 ( komen.org, 2018). For those with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors, mammography can begin earlier. For women with fibrocystic (or dense) breasts, often times it is recommended to begin screenings before age 40 (mayoclinic.org, 2018).
So when I had my routine mammogram, I was not expecting to get a call-back on my voicemail. The strained voice on the message stated, "The doctor would like to get some additional pictures with a diagnostic mammogram. Please call our office right away to schedule that appointment..." My first thought was this is the third call-back mammogram I have had in the last two decades, and both times before, there was no malignancy. I am sure this is just a precaution, and because they are being thorough, if there is anything there, they will catch it before it gets any more problematic and then blast it into oblivion. I was pleased I could do some cognitive restructuring voodoo on myself, like I help my clients. Then distraction and a walk with the dog.
Then, my mind went into "what if "scenarios. And suddenly, I went from 0 to 10, sky-rocketing in anxiety. What if I was one of those small percentages of women whose cancer is not detected in a mammogram and it's more like inflammatory breast cancer that's already metastasized? What if I leave my children motherless before they are able to launch to independence? What if my husband is widowed unexpectedly and left to raise our sons alone? Suddenly, my brain catastrophized, and I was not doing well containing my anxiety.
Fast forward a week and a half later (and what seemed like a light-years time), I went in for my diagnostic mammogram, and by divine intervention, many warm wishes and prayers, I had a benign reading. There was just a folded tissue on the original mammogram that looked like "asymmetrical density" on one side. The diagnostic mammogram found nothing abnormal. The word "benign" was music to my ears.
So why do I write about something so personal? Because half of the people on this planet have breasts. It's not "just" a personal story about breasts. It's about self-care, managing anxiety, and supporting women who live with the unknowns of health outcomes on a daily basis.
I realize I am fortunate for many reasons. I am fortunate to have health care, and good health care where screenings are taken seriously even if a false positive happens. I know the doctors work very hard for preventative medicine in all possible scenarios. I also do not have a family history of aggressive breast cancer. I have a very strong support network of compassionate family and friends. And I do have internal resources to manage anxiety, even when it's through the roof. Above all, I am fortunate to be cancer free. I know not all are so lucky. And I know and love some of them.
Without a shadow of a doubt, this adverse experience was speaking with me to look at things differently, if only to remind me of what's important. Here's what I got:
1) Don't sweat the small stuff. How many times have I told this to clients and now to myself? Too many to count. And it's true. If you have your health, you have everything.
2) Continue to build and lean into your social support network, near and far. These individuals get it, will listen, pray for you, send you well wishes when you need it, and help you through life's ups and downs. When we have strong social supports, we are less likely to get long term depression or anxiety, and we are more likely to live longer.
3) Place your self-care as number one. Always. Good nutrition, good sleep, exercise (preferable in nature). Say no to things that don't serve you well and yes to experiences and people who are health-enhancing.
4) Be grateful for what is going well in your life. There is always something to be grateful for, and often we don't realize how very lucky we really are until the threat of losing what's importance smacks us in the face.
5) Connect with your spirituality. It could be prayer, meditation, a Higher Power, nature, whatever connects you with a divine source and meaning for being on the planet. Allow those who share your spirituality to embrace you in comfort.
6) Take care of your ta-tas. Get them screened as often as your doctor recommends (most are yearly after age 40).
7) For medical professionals: Consider a diagnostic mammogram yearly for women with fibrocystic breasts so that false positive mammograms don't send women into anxiety unnecessarily.
8) Manage anxiety. Life will always present unknowns. When faced with an exam result that is ambiguous, anxiety inevitably skyrockets. Practice cognitive restructuring, mindfulness meditation, distraction, deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, positive social supports, yoga, and exercise in nature.
By sharing my experience, I hope this blog is helpful to others in similar situations. You are absolutely not alone. Healing wishes to all. Namaste.
Retrieved from the web, February 9, 2018:
I send you Happy New Year greetings as we enter the year 2018! It's a great time to construct a vision board! Do you know what a vision board is? Check out my article on Psych Central for instructions. It's a new year, full of possibilities. In my next post, I will share with you some self-care strategies to incorporate into this new chapter you are creating in your life. In the meantime, consider creating a vision board to help guide you in the direction of manifesting your goals and dreams for the coming year! Best wishes to you.... Andrea :)
Hello readers. I have been pretty swamped writing for Psych Central and working with clients, thus my delayed posting. I wanted to share some articles that are relevant for this time of year:
Don't Be A Grinch: Managing Holiday Stress (Psych Central)
Beware of the Hook: Narcissists Tend to Hoover Around the Holidays (The Minds Journal)
Also, I've been busy podcasting on a range of topics that are related to healing in the aftermath of trauma...Trauma is a very broad category...I work with clients who are healing from toxic relationships as well as those who have experienced traumatic losses. Listen in at my podcast site The Savvy Shrink to hear some episodes. More are coming up in the new year!
Have a good week, and watch for more posts soon!
Happy Halloween....I wanted to point your attention to my most recent blog, as I discuss cognitive dissonance, trauma bonds and healing, while sharing excerpts from my ebook, Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your LIfeBlood After Narcissistic Abuse....here's the podcast: enjoy!
Hello, and Happy Autumn...just an update for those of you following me on Andrea's Couch blog....I have been busy writing for Psych Central on a number of topics (weekly) ranging from trauma-informed interventions to narcissistic abuse recovery, maternal mental health, special needs parenting, and other topics. Please follow my Psych Central blog, entitled The Savvy Shrink here.
In addition, I have written many articles for The Minds Journal and goodtherapy.org Please go ahead and click those online journal titles to locate the articles for those publications.
I also have a new podcast, also entitled The Savvy Shrink, which you can find here.
Thanks for following me, and stay tuned for more practice updates. I continue to provide trauma-informed and strengths-focused services for my clients in my private practice and in telehealth consultation/life coaching. Still working on ebook updates and other projects. Just recently completed a comprehensive EMDR training.
Namaste, Andrea :)
Hello there -- greetings from blazing hot Southern California...Just wanted to point your attention to some new articles I have written for Psych Central on Narcissism and Psychopathy in the Game of Thrones here. I am now a weekly blogger for Psych Central, and I will be writing on all things trauma-informed, including recovering from toxic relationships, maternal wellness, special needs parenting, trauma/loss, and more.... The blog for Psych Central is called The Savvy Shrink, which you can also follow me on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and Instagram. In addition, I got started with my podcast, also entitled The Savvy Shrink. You can listen to my first interview with Kristin Sunata Walker, CEO of everythingehr.com and Mental Health News Radio, as we discuss corporate narcissism here. My next guest, just interviewed, is Christine Louis de Canonville, therapist in Ireland and writer of The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse (2015). Stay tuned when that episode is up and ready for listening as we discuss the difference between co-dependency and co-narcissism. Stay cool in the heat, folks! And as always, Namaste.
Hello there -- Summer greetings to you. Just an update for those who are following me on my blog here From Andrea's Couch.....I have a few new and exciting offerings to mention. Firstly, I am honored to be podcasting with Mental Health News Radio on my own podcast entitled The Savvy Shrink. I interviewed my first guest, Kristin Sunata Walker, CEO of everythingehr.com and Mental Health News Radio, on the subject of female entrepreneurship and workplace narcissism. Please listen and follow the blog here. It will shortly be up on iTunes and other online platforms.
Also, I am excited and honored to announce that I am now providing a weekly blog article for Psych Central! You can follow my blog at Psych Central, also called The Savvy Shrink, right here. As with articles I have posted here on my own blog, for goodtherapy.org and The Minds Journal, I will be sharing knowledge and information on topics including (but not limited to) narcissistic abuse recovery (healing from toxic relationships in love/work/family, maternal wellness, special needs parenting, and trauma and loss. My podcasts will also address those themes and interview experts in the field who share my passion for trauma-informed and evidence-based interventions for our fellow human beings who are healing in the aftermath of trauma/loss.
My website is due for an update, so please be patient with me while I work on that and add some additional tabs. My ebook Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your LIfeBlood After Narcissistic Abuse (2015) is gestating a second edition with companion workbook, due date not clear just yet, but stay tuned for details :)
Thanks for following me and journeying with me as we uncover and discover all sorts of news, findings, interventions, and healing practices in the field of trauma and recovery.
Hello! I just wanted to alert subscribers to my blog that shortly I will be launching a podcast entitled The Savvy Shrink! I am excited to interview top experts in the field of mental health in specialities such as narcissistic abuse recovery, maternal mental health, special needs parenting, trauma and loss, and other subjects. I am very interested in bringing attention to evidence-based and trauma-informed interventions for those who have experienced trauma and loss, and it will be very informative to interview people who bring their expertise from a wide variety of modalities and approaches to healing. Stay tuned for social media links as this podcast is in its very infancy and website updates here as well. Thanks for your patience! Namaste, Andrea :)
By Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
Summer season can be a joyous time for family reunions and treasured memories of gatherings by the beach, fireworks, camping adventures, etc. For some, unfortunately, this scenario is not the case. In families where an individual has narcissistic tendencies (or exhibits behaviors of full blown NPD or malignant narcissism), such reunions transform into a nightmare. Much literature has been written on the subject (see below for resources). This article is merely an attempt to remind survivors of narcissistic abuse in family systems that there is hope to heal and that there are things you can do to protect yourself from further exposure to the force field of toxic emotional abuse by a narcissist (or other psychological abuser) in your family:
1) If the toxic individual (whether family member/friend/boss/lover/ex-lover/colleague) will be present at the family gathering, you are under no obligation to attend. It is okay to bow out of any commitment where you feel you will be exposed to further emotional abuse. Remember that psychological abusers like to send FOG (Fear/Obligation/Guilt) -- if you are feeling immersed in the FOG haze, likely a manipulative tactic has been deployed to cause you cognitive dissonance and emotional pain. Again, protect yourself and place your emotional well-being as number one. That action is not selfish -- it is an act of self-care.
2) You can go No Contact with toxic family members, just like you would with a toxic ex. It may feel guilt-inducing, and other family members may not understand why you have chosen to proceed with No Contact. However, remind yourself that you have every right to protect yourself from psychological harm. The toxic family member may have done a very skilled acting job of convincing others that you are the crazy one (projection/blame-shifting) or that they are just perfect (false mask) and why would you treat them so unfairly (playing the victim)?... Stick to your fortitude and know you are setting a healthy boundary by protecting your emotional and physical health from further abuse by a toxic person. You don't need to justify or explain it to any one.
3) Such like an abusive ex, if a toxic family member is harassing, stalking, or generating unwanted contact, you have every right to pursue legal action and consult with an attorney or Legal Aid regarding filing a restraining order and other protections (like a Cease and Desist Order). The added layer of legal protection is an additional barrier of accountability and potentially containment of an abuser. Narcissistic people do not want to be exposed for their transgressions.
4) Seek psychological counseling to receive support for separating and extricating from toxic family systems. There are licensed therapists who specialize in helping to empower their clients from a strengths-focused (versus victim-shaming/blaming) perspective. Interview potential mental health professionals who are trauma-informed and know something about narcissistic abuse, to be sure you feel empowered, not shamed or blamed. Good psychotherapy can be invaluable in healing from any residual trauma, depression, anxiety that has stemmed from a family system perpetuating narcissistic (or other forms of) abuse.
5) If your tribe (by blood) has some toxic members, you can create your own tribe of unconditionally supportive, authentic and safe members -- these individuals don't have to be related to you by blood. They can be friends, colleagues, neighbors. Look for authenticity, integrity, reciprocity, compassion, empathy, honesty, accountability and compromise as important features in healthy relationships.
6) If a toxic person wants to get better, you can't do the work for them. They have to figure out their own pathway of healing and connect with the motivation to do so, and usually that involves a ton of therapy over a long period of time. Just because someone begs and pleads for you to stay in the relationship (whether familial or romantic), doesn't mean you are obligated to do so. If a person is capable of change, you are going to see evidence of sustained, continuous behavioral change over a lengthy period of time, with evidence of accountability and empathy and remorse for harm caused. For individuals who are further on the spectrum of narcissism, change is very limited and so is insight. A malignant narcissist/psychopath will not change...they are sadly welded to their ways and hardwired to be who they are. Someone with "traits" of narcissism may have some limited ability to shift and change if they can harness some insight and empathy.
7) It is not your job to diagnose your family member or determine "where" on the spectrum of narcissism your family member lies. What you need to focus on is : YOU. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding a skilled, strengths-focused clinician to assist with healing.
8) Read up on narcissistic abuse and family systems to understand your situation and gain some detachment and distance from the emotional pain. (see below for resources)
9) Self-care -- you've heard the word, do the action...good sleep, good nutrition, exercise, strong social supports. Yoga, meditation, stress reduction exercise, omega-3 fish oil, nature, journaling. Boom.
10) Have hope that you will move through the pain. Whether or not your family member is capable of repairing the hurt, you will move on to have healthy connections with healthy members of your tribe or those who you have vetted to become a part of your newly founded tribe. We are social creatures as human beings; humans need and deserve to be surrounded and supported by people who are trustworthy and respectful. Bottom line.
McBride, Karyl (2009) Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, Atria Publishing. (references daughters of narcissistic mothers -- however, substitute appropriate gender pronoun -- the book does a good job of explaining narcissistic family systems)
narcissisticbehavior.net -- Christine Louis de Canonville's website on narcissistic abuse recovery
selfcarehaven.org -- Shahida Arabi's website on narcissistic abuse recovery
blogtalkradio.com/mentalhealthnews -- Kristin Walker's podcast programs interviewing experts in narcissistic abuse recovery field
Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW