People are unique and strangely similar all at the same time. By this, I mean that although no two people are identical, the way that individuals handle certain aspects of life are very similar to other people. There seem to be patterns and clusters of ways people respond to life. I especially see this with personal growth.
Having been working with individuals and families since 2000 and in private practice since 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to observe how people respond to and live through life events. I’ve noticed that people are either givers or takers and that people either get better or bitter from significant stress.
It always fascinates me as to why someone can go through horrendous things yet come out of the experience as a vastly improved version of themselves. They shine from having walked through the desert. On the flip side, someone else goes through what would be perceived as less traumatic and they seem to have gained little to no personal growth from the experience. Why do some people pull themselves up by their boot straps and others lay down on the ground in defeat next to their boots? I think it has to do with the four levels of willingness to change that I’ve noticed in all people.
First Level: “Nothing is wrong with me.”
It’s exceptionally hard to change what we don’t see as an issue. People at this first level might come into counseling for just a few sessions because a loved one externally motivated them to or it was court ordered. These types of folks are a counseling nightmare. They have no true interest in changing much, if anything, about themselves. They might throw out a few things they could see that they need to work on but quickly rationalize away any need for personal growth. The extreme end of this level are the psycho/sociopaths and narcissists. They can’t change because they don’t authentically see anything in themselves to change. In their own minds, they are the personification of perfection. I know, it’s startling to think that people actually roam the earth with this much arrogance. But trust me, they are out there. A few have landed in my office, and heads up, I’m kindly blunt. At least with me, first level folks never stay in counseling long. They might stay slightly longer with a counselor who is willing to do their perfection dance with them, but eventually all counselors need to see actual growth. That’s when these first level folks tap out of counseling.
Second Level: “I know I have some issues, but I won’t actually do anything to fix them. Ever.”
These people are not necessarily narcissists, but rather see and talk about areas of change yet won’t actually do any work to change. You’ll hear them say things like, “I need therapy” and “I want to master my thoughts and actions better” but then also say, “I’m exceptionally lazy.” In their laziness or lack of motivation to improve their lives, second level individuals live the same way today as they did 10 years ago. The seasons change, the calendar changes, but second level folks do not. The saddest part is they know they need to improve their lot in life. They’re keenly aware, and at times painfully aware, that healthy steps are needed, but make no physical advancement towards doing anything about it. My heart goes out to the second level folks the most because it’s a lot like being in a cell with the door open. They just won’t stand up and start to walk out.
Third Level: “I’m going to see change in my life and I’m excited! Until it gets hard.”
Third level people are willing to invest their time and resources into counseling and will see aspects of growth, which can be very exciting. Unfortunately, this level is where some people retreat and return to the second level. No one said change was easy. Third level people often get hung up on fears, inconveniences and social pressures that tell them that change will cost them greatly in some area of life. For instance, I see clients who really want to improve their physical health and lose significant amounts of weight, but as they start walking towards their personal goal, people close to them start sabotaging their growth. The client has a dilemma to face and must decide to keep walking towards health or succumb and slip back into old habits. I also see this with those who want healthier relationships. They might be willing to make radical changes if the people around them don’t treat them better or engage in the relationship. Third level people see glimmers of personal growth but it doesn’t last. Weight may be lost but it’s put back on, and relationships don’t improve so they settle for the present or another version of throwing in the towel on reaching their hopes and dreams.
However, don’t lose hope yet. Some third level people do fluctuate from second to third and back to second but sometimes, they jump up to the fourth level!
Fourth Level: Lasting Change!!!
Now, this the level that as a therapist I see as the most rewarding. It’s where people go from the second level to the third, and then ultimately reach the fourth. If we look back on our own personal growth, we can see that we were probably at all the levels at some point, including the dreaded level one. We’ve all been in denial about ourselves and the need for change (first level), we’ve wanted change but didn’t make the effort to make it happen (second level), we’ve tried a few things to change but didn’t see it happen quick enough or gave up at some point (third level), but then we miraculously started over and eventually made it to the fourth level of seeing real, significant personal growth in ourselves. It’s so exciting when that happens! But believe me, it doesn’t come without a cost. All change requires us to give up things. It’s just a fact. Hopefully what we are gaining with reaching level four will be far more valuable than anything we’ve stuck out in the past.
Take some time and reflect on these four levels of personal growth. Be honest with yourself. Today, where are you? Are you happy with your level? If not, what are you planning to do about it? I truly believe in small, incremental steps toward reaching goals. Some of you know that my life story includes overcoming some major obstacles and I promise you that one step at a time truly does work. Today is a great day to get started towards your own hopes and dreams. I know you can do it if you want it bad enough!
It’s time for a new book!
I have decided to focus my second book on the topic of Financial Abuse/Exploitation. It is a very covert part of hidden abuse and one that is not discussed nearly enough.
The foundation of this book will be survivor stories. We learn and grown with one another. Financial abuse is a topic that must come out of the shadows and into the light so more people can know they are not alone.
Financial abuse and exploitation can occur as an entrepreneur, within families, among friends and within places of worship.
To anonymously participate in the research segment of this project, please click on the link below. Your time, honesty and generosity are appreciated more than you can know – Shannon
This last year of entrepreneur life has been a whirlwind and there are many words I could use to describe the past twelve months. Some that I have used are wonderful, fulfilling, blessed and one that kept coming out of mouth was squeezed. I have found myself saying that word because I was experiencing the feeling of being squished in from different sides. But why? I love what I have created in my professional life. I love all of it. Every last detail, so why would the word squeezed keep coming to mind?
Therapists have a tendency (at least I do) to “therapize” ourselves and probably over-analyze our own thoughts and behaviors. While I was recently trying to understand how a career that I love so much was also causing some level of discomfort, it finally dawned on me. You know those moments when the answers flood in and you hear yourself saying something like, “Of course! That makes complete sense.” What was the root of this epiphany that I had about the word squeezed?
It’s that my two main entrepreneur brands compete with one another and as they collide, I am the middle point of contact. Ouch. No wonder.
The Two Brands
What are my two brands? I am the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning counseling practice, and I wrote a best-selling book. Both my work as a therapist and the book focus on the recovery from the types of abuses people don’t usually notice happening around them. The hidden poison of psychological abuse. Heavy topic, right? But I absolutely love the work I get to do; both in private practice and in writing the book. So how would these two squeeze together with me in the middle? It centers on the concepts of micro versus macro. The small reach and the large message.
The small reach
I officially opened the counseling agency in 2009. I took my final license exam April 1, 2009 and the doors of my practice opened May 1, 2009. I am not a wait-around-and-think-about-things type of gal. I had two years of finishing my professional license to ponder and twiddle my business thumbs. I was ready for entrepreneur life and passing the exam gave me free rein to go after it. From the beginning I knew I wanted to build what is known as a “boutique” counseling practice. Keep it small, don’t take insurance and the clients get the privacy of not having to go through office staff to make an appointment. When clients call, they get me. I do all my own phone calls, scheduling and follow up. There isn’t the experience of a crowded waiting room full of people to see one of many therapists in the same office. No secretary calling back to schedule and the first point of contact with me finally happening at the appointment. I dislike that model very much.
The owner of a boutique counseling practice is intentional in keeping things from feeling like a medical office. It is created to be an experience that feels like going to chat with a close friend, but with all the healthy professional ethics and boundaries firmly in place. I purposefully started and have fought to keep my counseling agency small enough to stay quaint and full of personal attention. I have no plans to ever change from that model.
The large message.
Now enter in my second brand. My book. I launched the book almost one year ago today and it has done better in sales than I ever could have imagined. It has been a best-seller on Amazon, featured in international news and lifestyle press, audio rights acquired and released by a well-known publisher, and our first international translation is slated to be released this fall. Side note: the first language translation will be in Italian so I am unabashedly jockeying my family to book a trip to Rome and Naples next spring so we can go visit the publisher. Sounds like a great excuse to see Italy!
With the launch of the book, my message about healing from hidden abuse (also the title of the book) has gone literally around the world. At www.healingfromhiddenabuse.com we maintain a list of available book studies. The list currently has 118 book studies in 8 countries, including 37 U.S. states. Press coverage about the book and my work has been featured in outlets like Business Insider, Teen Vogue, Bustle, Romper, PsychReg and PsychCentral. I will be a featured speaker at the national #NoMeanGirls conference October 2017. I even had to hire a publicist and am truly blessed to have Bolt Public Relations (Dallas) join me in the quest to spread awareness about healing from hidden abuse. I couldn’t maximize the reach without the incredible Bolt women. There are many other macro aspects to the book, but you get a glimmer of what has gone on this year. It has taken my breath away at times; both in excitement and exhaustion.
Small reach versus large message. That is where my two brands collide. The look and feel of a boutique practice and the international exposure as a genre author. I am the center point in which these two meet. The word squeezed makes a little more sense. My dilemma as a entrepreneur who loves both brands is how to maintain these two competing worlds.
What is my point in sharing this with you; besides using this space as my own form of therapy to see it all in typed words? The actual main point is that I am 100% I am not alone in feeling like two aspects of life collide, even though you may love both. Where can we see this happening? Marriage, parenting, work, or any other environment where we find ourselves squeezed by different demands. What are we to do to thrive through the pressure?
After the launch of the book and the speed at which it took off, I had to quickly assess where my daily work life priorities were going to be. We all have a limited amount of capacity and must make decisions about what will get our first fruits of energy. For me, that lies with my counseling clients. That does not describe the people who email asking questions, or even calling in for an appointment. In the world of therapy, a client is someone who has filled out their necessary paperwork, come to the first appointment and we both have decided to continue in the therapeutic relationship. A client is not someone who emails asking questions. A client is not even someone making an appointment. The therapist/client relationship and professional obligations start after the first appointment.
As you assess the collision of two competing interests in your life, what will be the priority that will receive your first efforts? Write it down somewhere. Remind yourself that you have chosen to make this area your focus. We do this so when other things come creeping into the schedule, it can serve as a grounding point to get back to business.
Since my true clients are my first professional priority, I had to figure out how to set boundaries so I could meet my obligations to real life, in-office clients. One area that helped with boundary setting was to establish an auto-reply on my work email. The word “inundated” does not even begin to describe what my in-box turned into after the launch of the book. Since I had established a boutique counseling practice, I did not have the assistant infrastructure in place to help me manage the new workload. Since I love owning a small counseling agency, I have no interest in changing my business model to fit the demands of others. Some emails are really nice. Some are really mean. Some are just weird and real weird ones are reported to law enforcement. I waste no time with nonsense. The auto-reply has helped me tremendously in sorting through the emails from true clients, those that are looking for more information and those who want to be ugly to me via email. The auto-reply gives all the necessary information of what next steps people can take. This boundary has helped me beautifully.
Now that you have established your priority, what boundaries need to put in place to help you stay focused on what is most important?
Stay humble and authentically grateful
I strongly believe in the mind/body connection and the power of what we put out into the world with our attitude. Just because we might be going through a time of success, does not mean it will last indefinitely. Actually most things do not. Everything is a season and we must embrace, love, enjoy and be really present in the good moments. Even though I have felt squeezed at times this last year, I quickly felt the overwhelm but then replaced it with soul touching gratitude. I am lucky to do what I do. Sure some days are busy and I need more coffee than is probably healthy, but it is a season. I want to embrace it and feel every moment. There will be a day for retirement, but that day is not today so I will enjoy as much of the roller coaster now as I can!
What will help you remind yourself to not take your season for granted, thinking it will last forever? What can you do to fully appreciate where you are right now?
My hope is that you can enjoy being squeezed by things in your life and learn to recognize them, set limits and embrace every moment!
Keep dreaming big.
With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.
Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?
After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.
We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover. It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.
I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.
Financial abuse leads to poverty
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.
One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.
Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation
Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.
Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors
Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.
A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.
Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it.
Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.
I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.
Keep Dreaming Big!
“Welcome to The Mental Breakdown and Psychreg Podcast! Today, Dr. Berney and Dr. Marshall have the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Shannon Thomas, a licensed clinical social work supervisor, the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning private practice-counseling agency in Southlake, Texas and best-selling author of ‘Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse.'”