How to Be An Adult; Assholes: A theory; and Laws of Power
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How to Be An Adult; Assholes: A theory; and Laws of Power

Three books: David Richo’s, Aaron James’, and Robert Greene’s.

I’ve been played by a few people over the last year and a half. One was someone with whom I’d had a peripheral acquaintance in grad school, who turned out to be a deranged psycho; one was a writer who wanted free editing and solicitous hand-holding so he could shop his novel to big publishers; and one was someone in the helping professions, who indulged himself at my expense. The last one should have known better.

After the fiasco with the writer–I spent Parvati Press funds on editing his manuscript–I woke up.

I realized that I have to be more careful. I have to be more discerning. Even if I intend to be a trustworthy person of integrity, I must accept that not everyone holds that same intention. There are people out there who just want to get what they can, and they don’t care how they do it or who they take advantage of in the process; people who indulge their own neediness and look for gratification without considering the impact on other people; and people who are just plain bat-crap crazy. Those latter folk can never be trusted.

Then there are people like me who do their best and still sometimes screw up, because everyone screws up, that’s human life. I need to know which group individuals belong to.

Given the vengefulness and malice my mother and former husband subjected me to over the years, I should have learned this lesson long, long, long ago. But that’s part of the problem with having the kind of early life I did, with unkind, untrustworthy parents. I have a giant blind spot when it comes to ferreting out the assholes.

So I did what I usually do, when confronted with a subject I want to learn: I turned to books. Hence the titles above.

Richo is a Jungian psychotherapist and prolific author. I own several of his books, including How to be an adult and The Five Things We Can Not Change. His work would have found its way into my hands sooner or later. He writes for people on the growth path, people who care about their evolution as human beings and who understand that psychological work necessarily carries a spiritual dimension. His work is about becoming a mature individual of integrity. It is about the practice of mindful loving-kindness as a way both to heal the past with its wounds and to identify your own transference. It is about the self-responsibility that leads to transformation and, ultimately, to waking up.

I’m glad I started with Richo. His work affirms my desire for, and intention toward, integrity, wholeness, and mindful loving-kindness. There’s a balance between Richo’s mindful higher self and the self-absorbed lower self of which James and Greene write; I now accept that I have to understand the lower self so that I can spot it when it acts out. Especially when it acts out in my direction.

James’ book Assholes: A Theory holds a neutrality I find fascinating. He describes a species of narcissist, examining their behavior, cultural origins, and impact with the same dispassion with which he’d treat a marsupial. It’s good, useful information–despite the title. I mean, I get why he uses that specific title, Assholes, despite how provocative that word is.

For anyone who has to deal with these entitled people, this book is worth reading.

Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power is an outright appeal to the greedy, amoral, solely self-interested lower self, to the id, and basically to everything slimy within us that wants to control and manipulate other people. He’s saying boldly, “Here’s how to do it skillfully.”

I’m reading this book so I can suss it out when these tactics are being used on me. To be sure, I’m reading the book with as much disgust as interest. Greene foists some specious reasoning as to why it’s okay and even laudable to use his techniques, but it’s easy to see through the lame rhetoric of his justification.

In some ways, Greene has done me a service, by putting it down in black-and-white. His book will help me guard myself with more wisdom. Plenty of people use his tactics. Hopefully I can steer clear of them in the future. If I have to deal with those sorts, I will know their story. Forewarned is forearmed.

The contrast between Greene’s work and Richo’s work is shocking. Greene writes about power and greed and achieving the selfish ends of those; his work aggrandizes the ego. It goes toward materialism and consumerism–in healerspeak, the lower three chakras.

Richo’s work stands in startling contrast. It’s about the heart and spirit, integrating the shadow, opening the heart, and the personal responsibility and accountability inherent in spiritual and psychological integration.

The lower self vs. the higher self.

For example, Greene says, “Never put too much trust in friends” and Richo writes that everyone fails at times, so work on becoming a trustworthy person yourself. Greene writes, “Crush your enemy totally” and Richo writes “our psychological work…challenges us not to retaliate against those who have hurt us…The challenge is to meet our losses with lovingkindness.” 

The question is, what kind of person do I want to be?

And even with a clear intention to be the absolute best Traci I can be, how do I achieve that intention?

Richo has an answer, I think. He suggests a few questions, when we’re facing troublesome situations with other people: 1, What in this is my own shadow? 2, What is my ego’s investment? and 3, How does this remind me of the past, that is, what is my transference?

So a shrink who holds sexual energy toward me is reflecting my own unacknowledged seductiveness. My ego wants to be special, to the shrink and to everyone. The transference is twofold: I try to please him by reciprocating his energy in order to elicit the “good daddy” I always longed for, and his refusal to validate me about the sexual energy he held toward me reflects my parents’ constant refusal to validate me ever about anything.

This experience disappointed me in myself. I should have known better. For one, every shrink I know socially is a complete nutter. For two, several of my friends grew alarmed at some of the shrink’s statements to me. One friend, a counseling MD with a degree in psychology, sat me down and explained how some of his comments contained hooks that were designed to lure me in. Another friend who is a PhD and a trained lay analyst looked at his texts and said, “Traci, this is seductive. Stop going to therapy.”

So why, with that kind of validation from my friends, did I still want this shrink to validate my experience, when he was clearly never going to own his own psychosexual countertransference?–Well, that’s the thing. Transference is a bitch. And it has us in its talons until we shake ourselves free.

This is just one example. It’s imperative that I see the tactics being used on me.

Richo insists that we must never give up hope in other people. He claims that everyone can have a change of heart and redeem themselves. And I like this aspect of his work, too, because even in bad experiences with other people, I’ve gained something positive and worthwhile. My mother gave me life. My ex-husband taught me about the person I don’t want to be and how essential respect is to me. The shrink helped enormously in several areas of my life. The arrogant writer showed me that I like helping other people on their journey to becoming authors.

The psycho, well, that’s harder to find the good. I wrote a Huffington Post article about it and received many warm accolades from people for sharing information on how to deal with harassment.

Gratitude is part of it, too.

How to be an adult

Brené Brown on Love, Respect, Kindness, and Vulnerability
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Brené Brown on Love, Respect, Kindness, and Vulnerability

A post contemplating Brené Brown on Love.

Of late I have been thinking deeply about these issues of the human heart. It’s partly because of a dark and difficult book I’m writing, and partly because someone to whom I’d turned for help, someone I trusted and respected and liked, has let me down.

This person is powerfully and deeply defended, and isn’t the kind of person who can own their own stuff. Rather, it would be a situation of lack of truthfulness and unacknowledged projection—as it has been for a long while.

So there will be no resolution for me with this person. There will never be a moment when that person can look me in the eyes and own having taken advantage of my trust and vulnerability. It’s not going to happen. And that’s life, so often unresolved.

It happens, right? I sometimes think that we’ve all been subtly trained by sappy television shows and trite movies to believe that there’s always a neat ending that fits our preconceived notions of right and wrong. I also see in our culture a growing entitlement and refusal to take personal responsibility. It dismays me.

Then this morning I encountered this quote:

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.

Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

I took from this passage that I can continue to nurture and grow love, trust, and respect within myself. I can soften and I can open my heart, even when the other person doesn’t. I can own that in myself: my willingness to be vulnerable, respectful, and kind.

It doesn’t mean I have to be vulnerable to everyone I meet.

There’s a myth that’s prevalent in our society that blames both parties for the behavior of one party, as if two parties equally participate in one person’s treatment of another. All you have to do to understand the falsity of that notion is read history. Categorically, the Jews had nothing to do with the way Nazis treated them. It works in the microcosm, too, in dyad. One person can behave well and the other not so much.

There’s another liberal culture myth that I call the Great Narcissism, which goes like this: If we are tolerant of them, they will be tolerant of us. People want to believe that. They want to think that the world is a mirror that will reflect back their own kindness and tolerance. It’s just not so. It’s a very dangerous myth, in fact.

Plenty of extremist groups will use tolerance to hurt the more tolerant groups.

But Brown has a point: we can each nurture love within ourselves, not demanding and expecting that it will be universally reflected back. But sometimes it is, sometimes the other person can and will nurture their own inner love, kindness, respect, and trust, with mutuality and reciprocity.

Then there is transformation and healing.


Writing Well is the Best Revenge
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Writing Well is the Best Revenge

Almost two decades ago, when I worked as a healer, I had my hands on a male client when my husband called.

New York city apartments being constrained for space, my healing table stood in the living room, not far from the answering machine.

My husband’s voice rang out as he left a message. He had a deep, resonant voice; it was one of his best features, a pleasure to hear.

But the client didn’t think so. “Just listen to him,” my client growled, “so sure of his own prerogative!”

Those words, and my client’s scathing tone, branded themselves irrevocably on my mind. It was early in my career as an energy healer, and this was my first palpable experience of psychosexual transference.

I remember freezing and thinking, “Uh oh. This can’t be good.”

Sure enough, a few months later my client erupted into blind rage. He spewed verbal venom at me, at length, haughtily assuring me that I was in delusion about myself as a writer, he had the proof, and therefore he couldn’t trust me anymore as a healer.

In fact, I had made a grievous mistake some days earlier: I had broken a boundary. My client was a well-known journalist; he offered to read a manuscript I had just finished, and I accepted his offer. The manuscript was a first draft hot off my printer, and it wasn’t even spellchecked. Remember those ancient days, when Word Perfect didn’t automatically spellcheck a document?

I told him it was a first draft. I said it hadn’t been spellchecked. Then I made the mistake. I handed the manuscript over to him.

Right around the same time, I had informed him that I had to start charging him for sessions. Mutual friends had introduced us when he told them he was writing a book about healing. At their urging, he came for one session. Then he came for many more, all free.

I had gotten sucked into this arrangement because he was writing a book, but healing was my business. I couldn’t afford to keep giving away sessions. It was time to set a boundary with him.

When he started working with me, he was a charming, brilliant, and carefully guarded playboy. He was locked into an unconscious certainty that no woman was good enough–beautiful enough, rich enough, wonderful enough–for him.

Most of the work I did with him focused on his heart. Not to be too technical about it, but I restructured his heart chakra and wove the energy of love into his being during every single session I gave him. There was other work too, but for him, it always came back to opening his heart.

By our last session, when he attacked me so vociferously, he was monogamously dating a woman to whom he would soon be engaged. He later married her. This particular woman was that beautiful, rich, and wonderful–she was exquisite, in fact, and talented and accomplished. But I also believe that the work I did on his heart and soul helped him reach a place where he could love someone deeply enough, and with enough maturity, to commit.

Over the decades, in order to deal with certain people in my life and to continue working on myself, I’ve read a lot about borderlines and narcissists. Borderlines are empty and have only rudimentary self-soothing skills. It gives them that astonishingly quick, unpredictable trigger: one minute you’re a saint, and the next you’re evil incarnate. They’re vicious.

And narcissists, well, they’re on the spectrum of sociopathy. Since the world must reflect their perfection back to them at every moment–and let’s face it, the world ain’t that pretty–narcissists are steeped in their own victimization. So steeped, in fact, that they can justify all manner of criminally unkind behavior. Narcissists are cruel.

I never figured out which category my client fit, if he fit into one at all. I only know that two years after he ceased working with me, his book about healing and healers was published.

He had written an entire chapter about me and our work together, employing a pseudonym that did not disguise my identity to others in the healing world. Using terribly clever and expressive language to skewer my writing ability, he went on for a few pages about what a terrible writer I was. I read it with astonishment. There was no mention of the warning I had given him: that it had been an unspellchecked first draft.

I have always loved Anne Lamott’s beautiful book on the craft of writing, Bird by Bird, with its outright approbation for ‘shitty first drafts,’ a term which she has immortalized, and claims is practically obligatory:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor, 1995.

In fact, I had entrusted my manuscript to that long-ago client hoping he would give me feedback that would help me take my shitty first draft to the next level, to being a good second draft.

My bad. I shouldn’t have given him the manuscript. He was my client, and I knew he was in the grips of deep and unconscious projections onto me. I learned a hard lesson about not breaking boundaries with a client.

After reading my client’s printed criticism, the gist of which was even picked up in a Publisher’s Weekly review, I cried for a few days. Then I moved on. He wasn’t the first, or the last, person to blast me with his negative projections.

Transference is a bitch.

In 2005 my novel Immortal sold to BantamDell, and it was published in 2008. It was published on four continents; it was a bestseller in a few countries. Since then I’ve published eight more books, of which five are novels.

My novels get good reviews and they’ve been socked with bad ones. Then there are the splendid reviews. After all these decades of working on my craft as a writer, I get some spine-tinglingly excellent reviews. I’ve worked hard for them, and I’ve earned them.

When drafting this post, I considered which great reviews to quote, to “prove” that I’m a good writer–occasionally, at my best moments, an excellent one. I’d bet 50 bucks cash money that my client still has that shitty, unspellchecked first draft of mine tucked into a drawer somewhere so that he can “prove” what he said about me being a terrible writer. He was that kind of person.

So I thought of quoting twenty or fifty reviews that say my books are wonderful; there are at least that many. Or perhaps I would quote from the fan email I regularly receive. My readers are vocal and appreciative and they reach out. I’m lucky that way. I could mention the awards my books have won or the “Best of” lists to which they’ve been appointed by enthusiastic book review bloggers.

But in the end, overkill is unnecessary. That old client is inconsequential, a distant and unpleasant memory from my past. What matters is that readers buy and enjoy my books.

I offer one quote, from a review of Far Shore (Book 3 of the After Series) by a book review blogger who had conflicting feelings about the novel. I could have chosen a rave review, there are plenty of those. I am grateful for every one of them, too. People have busy, complex lives and I appreciate it when they take the time to read one of my novels and write about it.

This particular review, on The Lost Entwife blog, reflects the reader’s ambivalence about the book. There were two sentences that have stayed with me and give me deep personal satisfaction. They prove something to me about my merit as a writer:

 If nothing else, Slatton writes in such an addictive way that I could swear there was some sort of addictive substance between the pages.  I know when I pick up one of her books I am not going to want to put it down until I finish it, and Far Shore was no different.  

Writing well is the best revenge.

Listen to this blogpost as a podcast on iTunes here.


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Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on

Over the last several years, I have been given a wonderful opportunity: I’ve been repeatedly attacked by someone in my life, through litigation, character assassination, poison emails, contemptuous letters, and screaming episodes that occur both in public and on the phone.
It has been unpleasant. Often sad. Certain therapists, who are infected with the false notion that “It takes two to tango,” eg, two parties necessarily participate equally in high conflict situations, refuse to see that it is happening. This is one of the problems with current psychotherapy. Fortunately, a few therapists are starting to see beyond those kinds of cheap, untrue platitudes.
So I know for a fact that, in a conflict, if one person wants to fight, the other person’s best efforts at conciliation may fail. Because despite years of my returning kindness for blame and excoriation, the persons involved in this situation are not amenable to any kind of peace. Some people are committed to their own malice, hate, and vengefulness.
The opportunity here, despite the profound discomfort, is to reaffirm my self-worth internally. It’s for me to see myself as worthy of love and connection in the face of someone desperately wanting me to feel unworthy. To do this, I have had to come to some awakenings. One is that other people’s feelings and actions have absolutely nothing to do with me. They do what they do because that’s who they are. Someone who acts with constant nastiness and negativity has that internally with which to act. It’s no reflection of me.
Another awakening is something beautifully articulated in the video above: “Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” I never articulated it to myself this way, but I had a sense of it. I came to this understanding, which correlates with the first one, by way of realizing that if even five percent of what these people say about me were true, I would be Adolph Hitler or Genghis Khan. I simply am not.
But they really, really want me to feel bad.
And that is about them, not about me.
So it has been a gift. And it is a gift that has led me deeper into my heart. Because it makes me feel vulnerable, to be so constantly attacked. And in that vulnerability, I have come to recommit to my own courage, to offer myself compassion, and to tell my story with my whole heart. I affirm my imperfections. I love with all that I am despite the lack of guarantees–though, to be sure, this is for me a daily practice, not a fixed endpoint. Another practice I cultivate is one of gratitude.
So I recommend the video posted above: it’s a shortcut to the learning that I came to via unpleasantness. And it’s great fun! May all who read this blog know their own self-worth, and find in their hearts both their frailty and their lovableness.
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Celebrity Social Contracts

Celebrity Social Contracts

Someone in my life peripherally associated with me erupted recently to spew fantasies, lies, projections and malice about me. It was done first in a private forum, and then the person sought a more public venue.

This isn’t the first time it happened, and given the nature of the person’s hatred, it probably won’t be the last.

I find it baffling that this person is so intent on attacking me. What’s the point? I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I don’t own any islands in the Pacific, and I haven’t invented either a cure for cancer or a safe and plentiful energy alternative to fossil fuel oil. I cry easily, I laugh easily, I get mad quick, I get over it quick, I don’t hold grudges, and I can’t find a great-fitting pair of blue jeans. There’s nothing that stands out about me to draw forth such venom. Musing this way led me down other pathways, wondering about the extreme examples of projection and slander that famous people experience. Remember Richard Gere and the gerbils?

Years ago, I heard those rodent jokes. I confess, I snickered. A really kinky bizarro image formed in my head. It was all so juicy and salacious that I was hooked in. Now, with what I’ve experienced from someone telling lies about me, I feel a little ashamed. Was I colluding in slanderous gossip? That’s not the person I want to be.

The person who spreads lies about me invents pretty damning stories. I always feel a little sorry for people who have to put others down to pump themselves up; I’m also secure in knowing that the people who know me, the people involved in the truth of the matter, know that it’s false and malicious nonsense, spread by a vindictive person. But still, it’s painful. Lies hurt. And it’s potentially damaging to my reputation and to the hearts of people close to me.

In a larger way, I have to wonder, is this what celebrities experience, when the most outrageous and intimate stories are published about them? When their privacy is violated with sly and cozening falsehoods? If so, I feel for them–even if they do own islands in the Pacific and have sussed out the perfect pair of Levi’s. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through.

I used to think that celebrities set themselves up for rumors and gossip by entering the limelight. That is, by seeking out fame, by accepting the adulation and positive projections we heap upon them, and the money and social status that accompany fame, then celebrities are also tacitly accepting derogation, slander, and the inevitable negative projections. Because the edge between perception and projection is a fine and tricky thing, more like the play of figure and ground than like a big iron gate between two yards, so we are all always sliding into vomiting forth what’s inside us–exactly at the moment we think we’re taking in truth with exquisite sensitivity. And a person who has sought a world stage must be prepared for this fact of human nature: to be out in the public is to invite other people’s stuff.

But now I think that simply to be alive is to invite other people’s stuff. Objectification for unconscious reasons simply occurs, all the time, like the ocean ebbs and then rushes back. So I think twice about giggling at certain jokes. I can’t always prevent myself from seeing a really funny, sicko image in my head. I’m not the Buddha. I don’t pretend to be. But I think maybe our public figures deserve the benefit of the doubt.

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The Internal Triangle, and the Failure of Psychotherapy

My neighbor upstairs, Lucy Holmes, has written an interesting book called “The Internal Triangle: New Theories of Female Development.” Lucy’s a smart lady and the book crackles with life and intelligence. It’s well-written and absorbing. She’s also set herself an ambitious goal: to use Freud’s drive theory to explain female development. The back cover explains that she’s the first woman to attempt this in over sixty years. I haven’t read a lot of Freud, but didn’t he theorize that women long to have penises, and that’s why women are all so messed up?

This despite the archetypal message of the blind prophet Tiresias, who spent seven years as a woman. He tells the gods unequivocally that a woman experiences greater sexual pleasure.

For me, the most arresting part of the book was the exquisite attention to transference and counter-transference as Holmes relates anecdotes about women patients from her many years as an analyst. Some of her patients idealized her, some hated her, many did both, some wanted to kill her, some wanted to have sex with her. In response, Holmes worries, is tormented and feels inadequate. She wants to help them. Does she?

It threw me back into my years as a hands-on healer, and my years in therapy. When you lay hands on people’s bodies with love and the intention to heal, miracles happen. So does powerful transference. And wicked strong countertransference. A practicing healer has to be on her edge, standing with her toes touching the line every second. I made some big mistakes in my practice when I wandered off that edge.

And because we are all human, mistakes, blunders, errors, and inadequacies happen. A decade of my personal psychotherapy imploded in heartache when I divorced my first husband. My therapist was also my husband’s therapist, and our marital therapist, and it was all too fuzzy and intertwined. And when the negotiations between my ex and me grew contentious, I wrote a letter to the therapist saying it wasn’t right for me that my therapist was counseling someone with whom I might go to court. It was something I had to do to stand up for myself. She didn’t write back but she must have agreed, because she terminated her work with him. Of course, he blamed me. A lot of hurt and pain here, for everyone.

Which brings me to qualms about conventional talk psychotherapy. Does it really work? Can it? Therapists are all too frail and prone to err, even with the best of intentions. And, of course, therapists make their living through people showing up regularly, once or twice or three times a week. They have an investment, acknowledged or not, in their patients’ ongoing mental unhealth. Too many patients feed their therapists’ investment, falling into what Caroline Myss so aptly calls ‘woundology,’ cherishing their suffering. They don’t move on. They start every conversation with, “My therapist says….” Don’t we all know people like that?

And my most serious criticism of psychotherapy is that, largely, it doesn’t turn people into better human beings. Here is a the beginning of an imaginary, all too likely, session:

Therapist: “So, you’re an ax murderer, you lure innocent people into the woods where you chop them into little pieces. How do you feel about that?”

Accountability is anathema to psychotherapy. What modern psychotherapy has contributed to the zeitgeist, the way it is largely practiced, is the demolition of judgment and accountability. What psychotherapy should do is teach people how to hold their feelings without acting on them, and without shattering. If human beings can feel a range of emotions from -10 to +10, and can perform actions on a decency scale from -10 to +10, (-10 is genocide, +10 is risking or giving your own life to save someone else’s), then psychotherapy should help people feel and contain their feelings on the full scale, but limit their actions to, say, -2 to +10. But that’s not what’s happened. People who feel below -2 and over +3 are put on medications. And censoring actions is considered bad form.

We’ve become a culture, thanks partly to modern psychotherapy, that confuses prejudice with judgment. The pendulum has swung that far as we try to dismantle millennia of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation. Discrimination is a great evil that I hope to see largely dissolved in my lifetime–though I probably won’t.

And judgment is still imperative. There are reasons why so many of the great, ancient, spiritual texts say, “Thou shalt not.” We need to be able to say, “That action is not okay!” The higher octave of discrimination is discernment, the wisdom to separate the chaff from the grain. Despite the moral relativism of psychotherapy, there is still chaff, and it differs qualitatively from grain.