In “Love” with a Narcissist/Sociopath: Althea’s Story

When I put word out that I was planning a series on dating a sociopath, starting with my own story, I heard from numerous people who had done so. They’d moved on with their lives, learned a great deal and wished to weigh in.

Then I heard from a friend who I haven’t seen in a few years, whose story is quite different.

I’m currently in a relationship with sociopath/narcissist, she wrote. I’d love to help!

Wow. I asked if she could speak publicly and openly about her experience. Not all sociopaths are abusive, after all. I’d recently read about a neuroscientist who discovered, rather by accident, that he is a psychopath—and an overall good person. He’s what some call a pro-social psychopath; he’s chosen to lead by intellectual empathy.

So maybe, I thought, my friend and her guy were making it work! Maybe they’ve both embraced his diagnosis and she’d like to show us all another side of things.

But that isn’t the case at all.

My friend, who I will call Althea, is a perfect example of someone who is bright, accomplished and well aware of the toxicity of her relationship. And like so many, she’s felt unable to escape it.

She agreed to a Q&A, which I’d planned to simply learn from and quote on the air. Her answers were so honest and poignant, I asked if she would feel comfortable if I shared them on my blog.

Without hesitation, she said, Please do!

As you read the highlights of our chat below, please do so with the utmost compassion, knowing that Althea is one of the bravest women around for speaking openly about this. Then click the links below to listen to other women’s true stories, and a sex and marriage therapist’s message for Althea.

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August: Tell me a bit about you.

Althea: I’ve been married for 5 years, currently separated. I’ve also been involved in an affair with a narcissist/sociopath for 2.5 years. I’m college-educated, a mom and have been successfully self-employed for13 years.

August: How did you meet the sociopath?

Althea:

I met my narc (let’s just call him this for simplicity) at a bar we both frequent. He originally had eyes for my friend. She lost interest in him, because he’s married, and she wasn’t interested in getting involved as a mistress. He and I began flirting and after a few conversations things picked up.

We were both unhappy in our marriages and shared many of the same qualms. Looking back I see that he told me what I wanted to hear. If I said, ‘I miss doing things as a family’… He’d mirror me with, ‘I wish my wife would like to do things together—even if it is just walking around the mall.’ Whatever I lacked in my marriage, he lacked in his.

It’s like he could smell how vulnerable I was. I had never been involved outside my marriage. Getting involved with him emotionally and physically was a HUGE decision for me. — Althea

August: How did it shift from flirting to more?

Althea:

Our first venture outside of bar-life was an arranged meeting at a local restaurant parking lot. I hopped in his car and we drove to a quiet place. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but I thought our first time would be more than a twenty minute rendezvous. That’s merely what it was.

I remember leaving him on a complete high, feeling super important—like this was a new experience for him, too, like he understood me…as if this was something special for both of us.

August: Do you consider the two of you a couple?

Althea:

As I said, this affair has been going on for 2.5 years. It has been a romantic/sexual relationship, sans commitment labels for most of it. I guess I felt like I was with him because he is incredibly jealous and possessive. I learned the hard way that should not be mistaken for loyalty. When the relationship amped up, we agreed to exclusivity, then I found out he was still schmoozing other women.

This schmoozing I speak of is important, because it is a key part of what makes him the narc that he is. He managed to maintain having another girlfriend while seeing me for the majority of our relationship. In the meantime, he had other women he was getting something from sexually and emotionally on the side. It’s like a revolving door with him.

August: Wow. So he really relies on superficial charm sociopaths are known for.

Althea:

He is very personable and outgoing and a fun person to be with. High energy, charismatic and yes, charming. He makes you feel important. Everyone loves him because he gets to know you and says hello the next time you see him. He really is everyone’s buddy.

He’s also successful, and literally a millionaire. He’s very generous with his money when we’re out together. He lives in a beautiful community with his trophy wife and lives up to ‘suburban standards’ of life. He doesn’t rob banks or start brawls. He’s very well put together. No big rap sheet for him.

August: When did you realize that he’s on the sociopath spectrum? 

Althea:

When I became aware of his girlfriend and side chick and his audacity to juggle all three of us in the same bar. He literally has no conscience. He lied to every one of us, told us all a different story. Different tall tales. But at the end of the day, he chose the girlfriend.

She became aware of me and the other side chick… He (being found out) within a matter of minutes turned from nice guy to crazy and deranged. Telling me to tell the girlfriend I’m no one…that he’d kill me, my husband and my son. Screaming obscenities and calling me names. That would be the turning point for me.

August: Do you think he’s capable of love?

Althea:

I think there are degrees of narcissism and sociopathy. I don’t see my narc as being full blown loony but he certainly relates to people differently. I think he feels love for his daughter and maybe his mother and father, but with women… I think it doesn’t go past a general care for another human. If he’s too busy to be bothered then he brushes you aside. If it’s good for him, then he’s there. It’s all about the control for him. I learned the hard way to not mistake his possessiveness and control for love. It’s easy to do.

August: Now that you’ve seen his true colors, what are the biggest challenges?

Althea:

I always question his sincerity. I always wonder what he’s lying about, what he’s manipulating. I live waiting for his next blow up when I don’t appease him. He’s incredibly emotionally and verbally abusive. He has called me crazywhack jobpsychowhore… He shuts me down when I’m hurting. He tries to intimidate me—i.e., texting ‘I’m driving by your place to see who u have over.’ Accuses me of being with other men when I’m sleeping. Literally makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. Saying he saw me with someone when really I was at home or saying he saw texts that don’t exist. It’s crazy-making.

August: Does his personality/disorder affect your sexual relationship?

Althea:

100%. I never feel safe. I worry about my sexual health because he is sleeping around, which in turn makes me think about the other women I have to share him with. It creates an immense emotional block for me.

Also, he is incredibly selfish in bed. This may be TMI, but he often treats me like his sex toy. I’m there to give head or he just tells me to play with myself. He doesn’t want to do any work. He wants his women to serve him. I don’t enjoy the sex very often and rarely orgasm. One would think with his grandiose ego that he’d be a giver—a show off of his sexual prowess. Hardly.

August: What do you think he’d say if he knew you were discussing this? 

Althea:

He would not be happy. He doesn’t see himself as a narc or sociopath, when he is 100% full blown, certified. In fact, he calls me a narc! He wouldn’t like me tarnishing his image or pulling his mask away. He still has the wool pulled over many others’ eyes.

If he knew, I would get a lot of backlash. I’m sure my phone would be blown up and I would be called names and threatened. That’s his MO. Intimidate.

August: Then why are you sharing? Thank you, by the way. You’re very brave.

Althea: I felt very compelled to share my story because he has literally changed my life. Drastically. I’ve almost lost my life over him. Yet, here I am… Still allowing this man in my life and controlling my emotions. I know I will survive and make it out. In fact writing this I was thinking, What am I doing? He’s damaged so much of me and many of my relationships with others.

Thank YOU for putting this out there for people to learn about. Most people wouldn’t know they were getting involved with a narc until it’s too late. I think awareness is an amazing tool.

August: I know some people will hear your story and wonder, ‘Why the heck is she with him? Just leave!’ I know it’s not that simple.

Althea:

This is by far has been the biggest mind f*ck of a relationship, and the hardest to end. He has me feeling dependent upon his approval. I’ve lost my sense of self. I’ve heard of trauma-bonding and I believe in it. I think I go back to that comfort of the familiar abuse. It’s a rush. A drug. He’s literally my drug.

How in the world do you move on and recover? How do you heal? No contact seems obvious, but he doesn’t go away. He’s so persistent. He calls from unknowns. I fear he will show up at my home. I worry about what he will do if I cut him off. Even worse, I’m so weak. I give in and go back to this head spinning cycle of being lied to and me feeling insecure and unbalanced. I literally have lost my strength. I’ve always prided myself in being strong, outspoken, and feisty but now I’m weak and broken and a little scared.

To hear Dr. Megan’s answers Althea’s questions, and two bold women’s stories of healing after narcissist/sociopath abuse,  listen to the latest on Girl Boner Radio. To listen on iTunes, click here.

On Wednesday, I’ll continue this series on my show with an interview with marriage and family therapist Dr. Wendy O’Connor.

What encouraging words would you like to offer Althea? If you’ve gotten out of a similar relationship, what most helped you? As always, I welcome your respectful thoughts in the comments below. 

Althea, we’re cheering for you. ♥

From “Soul Mate” to Soul Sucker: My Relationship with a Sociopath

T swept me off my feet, years before l learned that great partners don’t sweep you anywhere. Rather, they want you to stand strong on your own.

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We met in an acting class, of which he was the star. While other women in the class pined over him, I only had eyes for acting. I was there to study—not flirt. And I certainly didn’t need to leap into another relationship so soon after my last.

The entire class knew about my goals and the breakup, just as I knew about their lives and dreams; it was that kind of class, and hello: we were actors. Open, sensitive and overflowing. It didn’t strike me until later that T was an exception. He shared very little about himself. He performed, charmed us with his wit and charisma and drove students in need of rides home in his luxury car. I, being one of the car-less, was content taking the bus home.

One night the teacher prompted us to sit face-to-face with a partner, look them straight in the eyes and say whatever came to mind. When I turned to seek a partner, T was right there.

Peering in his magnetic eyes, I felt naked and vulnerable.

“You don’t know how beautiful you are,” he said. “Or that you’re the most talented actor in this class, probably in this city. You could be a star.”

My cheeks flushed burgundy. My ex never said such things; on the contrary, he’d felt threatened by my modeling and acting. The wounds echoed.

That night, I accepted T’s offer to drive me home. I sat in the car with other students, including a single mom, an elderly woman and a man who’d fled his homeland in seek of the American Dream.

T opened the sun roof, asked if we’d like to watch TV and told us we could turn our seat heaters or personal ACs on or off as we wished. It all seemed pretentious, until I observed my fellow passengers beaming. T was treating people who never received such treatment like superstars.

After dropping the others off, he stopped for gas.

“Thirsty?”

“I’d love a water.”

“I got it,” he said, declining my $5 bill.

He returned with  20-plus bottles, one of each available brand, some chilled, some room temperature.

“I wasn’t sure which you liked,” he said, half-winking.

I couldn’t stop smiling as he drove on, chatting. He seemed fascinated by me and my life—my upbringing, family and goals. We seemed to share much in common, from world views to favorite past-times.

Within days, we were dating. Make that dating on steroids. Every moment was intensely romantic and adventure-filled. People routinely gushed over how “perfect” we were together, some guessing we were newlyweds, versus newly paired.

While his over-the-top adoration felt foreign (in anything but cheesy movies), I began to rely his perpetual loves notes, bold exclamations and gifts. It was as though he filled voids I hadn’t known I had.

Sociopath

By the time T’s true colors emerged, I felt trapped.

We’d been dating two months when T told me that Kyle, a mutual friend, desperately needed a place to rent for a month—but was too embarrassed to discuss it.

“You should offer to sublet your place,” T said. “Stay with me for a while.”

I later learned that he told Kyle a similar story, only flip-turned—claiming I was in dire financial straits, but too ashamed to mention it. (“So could you please rent her place? I know you hate your roommate anyway.”) Kyle and I fell for his plot, and that month sublet became permanent.

Looking back, it’s obvious that while I had been studying acting, T had been studying me. Each bit of knowledge became a tool in his toolbox of seduction, ways to lure and keep me.

He knew I cherished my place and independence, so rather than ask me to move in with him, he had strategized. And probably relished the game, especially when he won. And won. And…won.

He wooed everyone I cared about and dropped out of class to give me creative space (“It’s just my hobby, but it’s your dream, baby. I believe in you.”) After I’d saved up enough to buy a clunky car, he gave me his. (“You deserve better. I treasure your safety.”) I sobbed, as I drove it for the first time, wondering if I should feel guilty or just grateful, whether I deserved it.

The truth was, I didn’t deserve it—but my understanding of “it” wasn’t reality, not by a long shot.

One day, everything changed.

I received the career news I’d been longing for: I’d booked a lead role in an indie film, and couldn’t wait to tell T; surely we’d celebrate.

Instead, his face morphed from human to animal. He trembled, his face pale, nostrils flared, teeth gritted. Saying nothing, he began pacing and heaving while I stood there, paralyzed and perplexed.

“T, talk to me. What’s wrong?”

He shot me a steely glare, then raced to the kitchen. With both hands, he grabbed the heavy, chrome paper towel holster that was bolted to the counter top and pulled, shaking maniacally, until it snapped off.

I dropped to the ground, sobbing and cradling myself. Please don’t hit me!

He didn’t. But he did use the heavy bar to bash a hole in the wall, mumbling something about the “hot actor guy” who’d play opposite me.

That was the first of countless outbursts, which surfaced any time T thought he might lose me or my attention, the shiny prizes he’d worked hard to win.

After he chased a man around a parking lot with a knife for “looking at me the wrong way,” I packed my bags and left. But we didn’t stay broken up.

He came crawling, pleading for forgiveness: “It’s just that I love you so much! Help me be a better man. I will do anything to make this work.” 

He provided endless excuses for his behaviors—his troubled childhood being the biggie—promising he would work through it all. He started therapy, said he found God, sent a letter of apology to my parents. I was his reason to go on, he said. Without me, what was the point?

I wanted to help T. I loved him. But I also wanted to be happy, to live free of terror and tumult and to move forward in my life. Finally, I realized that the latter was only possible without him. The blissful times we’d shared early on were a farce, and his sociopathic nature, reality.

For any chance at happiness, I had to leave him for good.

Doing so was one of the most difficult and important decisions of my life. I sobbed until I vomited post-breakup, stayed in bed for days. But as healing crept in, my acting career began to flourish (and that later led to writing and Girl Boner). I began feeling strong and whole on my own. A few years later, I met a man who loves me sincerely, with whom I feel more like myself than ever. In the right relationship, we only grow.

If you relate to this story, you’ve probably dated someone on the sociopath spectrum: people who lack empathy and remorse, who thrive on power and control. 

There’s so much to say about all of this, which is why I’m launching a series here and on Girl Boner Radio. I’ll be chatting with two inspiring women who’ve found healing after their own relationships with sociopathic men, a bold woman who is in a such a relationship now and two psychologists. We’ll cover the basics, such as sociopaths defined, common traits and related myths, and ways to move on and heal once you’ve fallen prey to one, and more. I really hope you’ll tune in!

And if you’re feeling lost within and controlled by a relationship, I hope you’ll start believing in the healthier, happier future you deserve. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is recognize that the little voice deep within whispering this isn’t right is brilliant, and worth listening to—even if our hearts can’t catch up with it just yet.

Do you relate to my story? How have you healed from a hurtful relationship? Any questions you’d like to ask my guests? I love hearing from you. ♥

“I’m blunt? Oh, yeah…” What Has Your Blogging Mirror Taught You?

It’s tough to recall exactly when I started blurting, but I suspect it coincided with another milestone: the day I started speaking. According to my parents, one of my earliest emerged when I wasn’t yet two. My mom had just broken the news that I could no longer sip from the Bosom Bar because she was pregnant with another, which would turn our family of five into six.

“So you’re going to be four mommies?” I asked, pondering the upcoming NKOTB. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what that means.)

“Yes.”

“Well, there’s only one daddy, and he’s all mine.” I swear I’m not a sociopath. A bit envious back then, sure, but not conscience-less. (Thank goodness. I’ve been researching the heck out of sociopathology for an upcoming radio episode.)

When I learned the other morning that Girl Boner is a finalist for Best Blunt Blog in The Indie Chicks’ Badass Blog Awards, I was crazy-honored, but also surprised. Sure, I’m prone to blurting, but… I’m blunt?

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Our blog-mirrors sure tell us a lot! #bluntandproudofit

For some reason, I correlated “blunt” with rude comments, like my toddler-remark had it been said by a mature adult. Back then, I had that cute-cuz-I’m-a-kid thing going on. Then I thought about it.Blunt can mean harsh, but it can also mean uncompromisingly forthright, direct and to the point. (Thank you, Webster!)

Hmm…

I have talked a lot about clitorises, my brain-gasm MRI, bralessness and ex-partners. And if there’s one thing #GirlBoner isn’t, it’s subtle. (Call me crazy, but I don’t think #ExcitedDownThere has the same ring to it.) Subtlety wouldn’t get me anywhere in a culture in which innumerable obstacles stand in the way of female sexual embracement, keeping way too many women from living full, authentic lives—often with little, if any, knowledge that it’s happening. Not because they aren’t brilliant, but because of the world we live in.

See? There I go again. #NotSorry Partly because maintaining this blog helped me embrace myself further. It’s also shed light on who I actually am—which is rather key to the whole living authentically thing.

That’s one of the most beautiful things about blogging: the mirror it provides us. When I first started, I worried that readers would deem me a perplexing ping-pong ball. “I’m all over the place!” But you know what? None of us are as bouncy as we may think. Common threads appear when we let the words flow—or, in my case, dart. If we don’t stand in their way, we never know where they’ll lead.

That doesn’t mean everyone should write about clits and brain-gasms, of course, or anything controversial. What’s important is being who we are, out loud, without crippling fear over what others will think. Blogging unapologetically has literally changed my life, leading to everything from incredible friendships to my radio show and speaking gigs. This week, it led to this groovy award nomination.

I’m so, so grateful.

When I told my mom about the nomination, she started giggling and singing, “Everybody blurts (hurts), sometimes….” LOL Surely, I got my blurt-gene from her. Anyhow, if you’d like to vote for me—or anyone!—use this link:

Blog Awards: Vote for the Finalists! #ICBBAwards

I also highly recommend subscribing to the publication while you’re there, and liking/following them on Facebook and Twitter (@TheIndieChicks). While you’re there, wish them a happy birthday! They’re celebrating three years of empowering awesomeness. Huge congrats to my pals Jess Witkins and Aussa Lorens for being nominated as well! So well-deserved. ♥

What has blogging taught you about yourself? What’s the biggest blurt that’s ever escaped your lips? Are you blunt? Your comments and support give me a #GirlBoner. Seriously.

5 Myths About Pursuing Your Passion and Purpose

What are you passionate about? Do you go after it with gusto? Or are you still searching for that which rocks your world?

To me, passion and purpose are inseparable. In many ways, I believe pursuing our passion is our life’s purpose. Cultivating these powerful Ps makes our lives more gratifying and meaningful, and makes us better folks to be around. We’re more likely to uplift and help others, and even better the world.

It’s one thing to say you’re following your passion. It’s a fun, happy word—who wouldn’t? But it’s another thing entirely to follow through consistently, without letting common myths obstruct your way. Here are five common ones to disbelieve pronto.

1. True passions are reserved for the “lucky ones.”

I’ve heard many people say, “You’re so lucky to have a passion,” or, “I wish I had one!” Trust me, I understand those feelings. It took me years of self-work and exploration to begin finding and cultivating mine. I truly believe that we all have passions within us, just waiting to be discovered and sprung forth. But we’ll never get there if we don’t belief in their existence.

2. If you wait around long enough, one will appear.

I’m sure there are folks out there who work a job they dislike, never explore new interests and settle for lackluster relationships and one day, SHABAM! Passion appears at their door. But I’m guessing 99% of us have to work our way toward them—whether we’ve sensed what they are yet or not. While there’s something to be said for leaping smartly, finding and fulfilling a passion almost always requires leaps of faith. Don’t waste your time and energy in a deadend-anything. We only have so much to utilize.

3. Yours will mirror someone else’s. 

Last year at Oprah’s Live Your Best Life Tour, she made it clear that others’ life purpose shouldn’t replicate hers: “You don’t need to be another Oprah.” That’s when I removed my Oprah wig. (KIDDING! I’ve never wanted to be her. She’s got that gig handled. ;)) We’re all inspired by others, but our passions are unique. Rather than emulate someone you admire or copycat their every move, strive to shine as your authentic self. Never stop exploring who that beauty is.

4. You can choose the specifics.

Big ol’ NOPE. Not only can we not choose the specifics of our passions, they may shoot us off in an unexpected direction—and that’s OK! Such diversions can be the most important happenings we can hope for. Here’s an example: For years, I thought acting was “IT” for me. Then writing cropped its gorgeous head up and lightbulbs I hadn’t known existed flashed on. Novel-writing led to my blog, which led to Girl Boner, which led to my radio show. None of this would’ve evolved had I not pursued acting—or let stubbornness keep me from staying open to possibilities. As as the wonderful Patricia Sands would say, be a “possibilitarian.”

5. Once you’ve found one, life’ll be a breeze!

Excuse me while I ROFL giggle a little. ;) Remember when you were a kid and thought that once you met Mr./Ms. Right, everything would fall perfectly into place and your days would consist of stargazing and hot fudge sundaes? Yeah, passions don’t work like that either. They take work, vulnerability, major challenges and risk. Embracing them doesn’t suddenly make life easy, but it does make our existence significantly more worthwhile. Seek fulfillment, not ease.

August McLaughlin blog

Arouse your whole darn life. You’re worth it.

What’s your biggest passion? What helps you pursue it? Have you bought into any of these myths? I’d love to cheer you on, so share, share away!

Eating Disorders and Sexuality: My Interview on Real, Raw and Related

You know what I love? Besides Girl Boners, Oprah and dogs?

How did I know you’d guess those…? ;)

Spectacular people who are passionate about making a positive difference in the world—even those I semi-terrify at first encounter. Kidding (mostly!) about that last bit.

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Before asking me to get a bit vulnerable for her viewers, Kendra, the host of Real, Raw and Related, had to allow the same for herself. (You’ll see what I mean when you watch the video below.) Her willingness to do so is just one of her attributes. Since overcoming bulimia, Kendra left a promising corporate career, setting out on a journey to discover, she says, what really turns her on. She now coaches other women on living more authentically.

Awesomeness, all over the place.

In our chat, she asked insightful questions about my food and body image battles, how sexual embracement helped me heal and how we can all better embrace our bodies, sexuality and selves. I shared parts of my story I’ve never shared publicly before, including the time I was nearly arrested (whoops…), and factors other than control that contribute to disordered eating. As daunting as these issues can be, we managed to have a lot of fun.

I hope you enjoy the episode as much as we did gabbing!

What did you think of our chat? How has sexual embracement, or a lack thereof, affected your body image or vice versa? I love hearing from you. 

**After prepping this, I learned that Lynn Greffe, the long-time president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, died of cancer. This post is dedicated to her legacy, which is too beautiful for words. May she rest in peace!

Positive Body Image Quiz: 35 Signs and Rewards to Aim For

Most folks analyze, or at least consider, their appearance and lifestyle habits regularly. But what about your body image? Have you ever taken inventory?

As I explained on Rick Gabrielly’s fabulous new podcast The Marriage BOSS poor body image is seldom rooted in vanity. Women are taught in countless ways that certain physical traits pave the way for happiness and success, and if we lack them, we may as well succumb to misery. Luckily, that’s not true. We will suffer, however, if we make them our truths. Make sense? How we feel about our bodies and looks becomes self-fulfilling. A little self-awareness can go a long way in shifting your ways toward the positive.

I compiled the following list of healthy body image signs based on decades of personal and professional experience. To use it as a quiz, jot 1 – 35 on a sheet of paper. Then beside each corresponding item that applies to you, draw a star or smiley face. If you’d like, circle item numbers you plan to work toward.

Super important note:

Please don’t shun yourself if you find yourself shaking your head as you read. Very few women identify with all, or even most, of them. My hope is that you’ll notice areas in which you could improve and areas you’re ROCKING. You can also use the list as inspiration—rewards you can look forward for cultivating positive body image. (It’s so worth the effort!) It’s not an all-inclusive or universal list. Once you’ve perused it, I’d love to any important items you feel I’ve missed! Body Image QUIZ

Words and Lingo

1. You don’t speak negatively about your body shape, size or appearance.

2. You don’t comment on others’ body shape or size, even to say, “Wow, you’ve lost weight!”

3. Terms like “bikini body,” “beach body” and “dream body” aren’t in your vocabulary, unless you’re pointing out what’s sad or harmful about them.

4. You don’t share or laugh at demeaning “humor,” such as racist, blonde or fat jokes.

5. You never semi-brag about eating too little. (i.e., saying, “I haven’t eaten all day!” with a bit of pride).

6. For you, “carb” is not a cuss word—and dieting nearly is.

Food and Nutrition

7. You eat for fuel and nourishment most of the time.

8. When choosing foods, you consider the ingredients and enjoyment, versus calories, fat or carb grams.

9. While you may eat for emotional reasons, such as having cake at a party, you aren’t an emotional eater.

10. You aren’t afraid to eat potatoes, carrots, pineapple, legumes, bananas, low-nutrient treats or other diet-prohibited foods.

11. You don’t cut certain foods from your diet, unless you have an ethical or health reason for doing so.

12. You respect and respond to you body’s hungry and full signals. 13. You seldom, if ever, eat until you’re uncomfortably stuffed.

Health and Numbers

14. You prioritize medical and dental checkups, and don’t simply see either for aesthetic reasons.

15. Unless you’ve recently had a physical, you don’t know your body weight or BMI.

16. You’d rather wear sunblock or protective clothing than aim for a perpetual tan.

17. You don’t take risky, unnecessary dietary supplements or drugs with hopes of changing your body weight, appetite or muscle mass.

Sex and Sexuality

18. You have healthy, shame-free attitudes about your sexuality.

19. You prioritize a gratifying sex life, however you define it (unless you’re asexual).

20. You can make love and strip down comfortably around a partner with the lights on.

21. You prioritize sexual health checkups.

22. You practice safe, consensual sex.

Aging and Aesthetics

23. You don’t run for cover when someone pulls out a camera—but you also don’t feel the need to take, over-analyze or post photos of yourself perpetually.

24. While unflattering photos of you may not thrill you, they don’t horrify you either.

25. Whether you enjoy expressing your personal style through wardrobe and makeup or not, but you don’t fixate on any of it.

26. You prioritize wearing comfortable clothes that fit.

27. You aren’t ashamed of your age.

28. You see inner and outer beauty in aging.

29. Most of your close friends have positive body image.

Exercise and Fitness

30. You exercise namely for health and because it feels good, not to look a certain way.

31. You don’t feel guilty for skipping a workout.

32. You seek out activity you enjoy, and avoid those you hate or push your body too far.

33. You don’t exercise at a high-intensity for more than an hour a day, unless you’re a training athlete.

34. You never exercise as a form of self-punishment.

35. To you, getting enough rest is at least as important as getting enough exercise.

What areas are you strong in? In which could you improve? Any items you’d add to my list? I LOVE hearing from you! I’ll also happily answer any questions you have about items on the list. ♥

To hear more about cultivating positive body image, and other means of empowerment, you can also hear my chat with Rick Gabrielly (aka, The Marriage BOSS) on iTunes.

#NotSorry: 5 Things I No Longer Apologize For

You may have noticed that women apologize a lot. A whole lot. While it’s appropriate to say, “Sorry!” when we’ve, say, stepped on another’s toe, apologizing for being ourselves hurts us and, by way of example, others.

A few years ago, the ever-sparkly Natalie Hartford published a blog post called 5 Things I’ll Never Apologize For, which basically says, “This is who I am. Deal with it!” (Woot!)

I’ve thought of her post many times since, particularly upon realizing I’m no longer apologetic for aspects of myself that once left me guilt-ridden.

Here are five of those things:

1. For not being a night owl.

I think I’m genetically predisposed to turn into a mushy-headed pumpkin by 9pm. (I don’t even know what that is. Anyway…) I used to feel dorky for wanting to eat dinner at 5pm or donning PJs when “hipper” friends were taking pre-going out naps. Not anymore.

Proof that turning in early can be sweeter.

Proof that turning in early can be sweeter.

If I stay out late, I know I’ll pay the price the next day; feeling groggy and not on top of my game. My work and relationships are too important to do so regularly.

Nurturing what makes us feel healthiest and most alive—especially when it isn’t the norm—shows strength and self-respect.

2. For being passionate and outspoken.

I sometimes think I was born an activist. As a kid, I campaigned for endangered animals, protested for planet-friendlier school lunch dishes and co-organized events to raise awareness about child abuse. Then there was my first walk-out. (How dare my piano teacher deny me M&Ms for neglecting my homework expressing my artistry through improvisation?)

By my early 20s, I’d lost some of that confidence and occasionally felt I was on an annoying “high horse.” Does everything have to be a world-altering mission? No. But it’s important to me to feel that I’m contributing to positive change, or at least trying.

Writing and speaking have helped me see that using my voice and passion for greater good is my happy place, and washed away concerns over what others might think. (And, wouldn’t you know? Most folks don’t shun me anyway.) Now, rather than feel crushed by injustices I see, I find peace in knowing I can do something. And I’m not afraid to speak up.

You know you're in your happy place when someone walks in on you taking blog-prep-selfies and you keep on shooting. ;)

You know you’re in your happy place when someone walks in on you taking blog-prep-selfies and you keep on shooting. ;)

Meeting my awesome husband also helped. Early on in our relationship, he caught me apologizing for babbling on and on enthusiastically sharing. “It’s the best part of my day,” he said. *swoon* (Yep, I married right.)

We all deserve to nurture our passions, and what makes us feel obscure or alone at times could actually be what makes our lives extraordinary. People who truly care about us will embrace them.

3. For not having perfectly groomed appendages.

Does anyone else fight the urge to yelp, “Hurry up! I’m bored!” when having your nails done? Ugh. Now that I meditate, I could probably handle it. Regardless, nail treatments feel like a waste of precious time and money I could be investing elsewhere.

When I first moved to LA, I often had gels added to my nails, fearing that others would judge my “imperfections.” Now, I embrace my imperfect, guitar-playing, typing-fanatical hands.

photo-165

Dear Nails: Thank you for showing the world how much I value typing and strumming over aesthetics, and for putting up with my bashing. I promise not to have you ground down and covered up again. Sincerely, Me

What we see as “flaws” are often quirks that reflect who we are. Not sweating over them is a huge relief.

4. For not caring much about fashion —at least not enough to appear totally put together very often.

Looking back on my life, I see a direct correlation between how much time and energy I put into my appearance and insecurity. That’s not to say these are linked for all women, of course.

One sign you're not putting much thought into your wardrobe… #whoops

One sign you’re not putting much thought into your wardrobe… #whoops

I admire women who consistently look like they’ve just stepped out of a style mag, but I’m so not one of them. While I enjoy dressing up for special occasions, I prefer spending my time and energy elsewhere. As long as I’m clean and comfy, I’m a-okay.

When we fixate on our looks, what we need to change almost surely lies deeper than our hairstyle or wardrobe.

**If you’re a low-maintanence gal, too, this Elite Daily article is a must-read: The Science of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear The Same Thing Every Day

5. For taking up space.

Last year my friend Sheri, I and another friend were standing and chatting in an open hotel lobby. When a group of people walked our direction, I apologized and stepped aside, giving them ample (if not necessary) room to pass.

“You don’t need to apologize for taking up space,” Sheri said without hesitation. “We have a right to be here.”

Woah. (See why I adore her?) In the following weeks, I noticed that I had a tendency to offer up my space to others in this way; it was a dangling thread of insecurity I hadn’t yet clipped.

Owning the space we stand in is empowering, and it’s never too late to grow.  

Why stay small?

Because why not?

Whether we say the words or not, feeling regretful for who we authentically are can hold us back in all sorts of ways.

As Natalie shared in her post, she dresses provocatively, cusses regularly and speaks her mind–without regret. Is she judged for these traits on occasion? Probably. But they’re also three of the reasons I, and many others, love her. It would break our hearts if she held back. We should have that same compassion for ourselves. Don’t you think?

What have you stopped apologizing for? Do you relate to any on my list? I’d love to hear from you! ♥

Help My Brilliant Friend Elle Beat Cancer

Two years ago on a sweltering April afternoon, I lugged copies of my novel to the LA Times Festival of Books, hoping I’d sell a few—okay, all of them. Little did I know then that the biggest reward would be the start of a lasting friendship.

As soon as I met my table-mate Elle, I was smitten. Her palpable warmth and ebullience made it impossible not to smile, and we seemed to have much in common, from past theatrical careers and body image wars to the valiant blonde women gracing our book covers. (We both had to have the images specially created, after observing the lack of stock photos of kickass gals with blonde tresses.) And unlike many of our fantastic introverted writer pals, we’re both, shall we say, outspoken.

We chattered away, luring passersby to our table and (let’s be honest) frightening others with our OVER-THE-TOP-ENTHUSIASM, ahem, slightly overt cheerfulness.

Elle the Author August McLaughlin SCWC

Those who dared approach seemed surprised that these chipper chicas wrote dark thrillers. I caught us both describing our books with phrases like, “…gritty and psychological…violence, yes, but no animals are harmed…eating disorders and sexual trauma…but inspiring! It could change the world!”

And here’s the thing:

We both sincerely believe that. Out of darkness derives the most powerful light, and nothing in life happens from which we can’t learn from or use as a platform to inspire or support others.

If you have any doubts about that, seeing how Elle is dealing with her latest fight, breast cancer, would erase them. Seemingly from the moment she was diagnosed, she’s been handling it with uncommon grace, will and humor—and already has plans to transform any bitterness into sweet lemonade.

Elizabeth Posten

Elle has also been brave enough to ask for necessary support:

Wish list intro

Tell me you don’t love her already. ♥

Elle and August

I hope you’ll consider supporting her however you can. Cancer doesn’t merely affect those who have the disease, but all of us—and Elle happens to be one of the most magnificent.

Visit her registry to make a donation, 10% of which goes to LetsFCancer, or gift her an item from her wish list. 

To learn more about Elle and order her poignant book, The Fall, visit ElletheAuthor.com. Listen to our Girl Boner Radio chat on overcoming dating abuse through this link or download the podcast here, via iTunes.

Much love,

August

Stopping Anorexia: An Open Letter to the President of France @fhollande

Dear President Francois Hollande,

I want to start by thanking you for caring enough about women’s wellbeing to make changes in France’s policies. Banishing pro-anorexia websites and not allowing anorexic models to walk your nation’s runways could help minimize the epidemic of body-hate and responsive self-harm that runs so rampant. I’m also grateful for the conversations your campaign to stop anorexia has spurred, and feel compelled to offer my own thoughts.

I realize I’m one voice amid countless, and it’s likely this won’t even reach you. For this reason, I’m sharing this letter publicly, with hopes its message might make a positive difference—if not for a country or industry, then for someone.

These issues are dear to my heart. I modeled for years, and nearly died of anorexia while working in Paris. I’ve since fully recovered, and spent over 8 years as a nutritionist, offering dietary therapy for people struggling with eating disorders and related issues. Now, as an experienced health writer, radio host and public speaker, I routinely interview experts in psychology and medicine, as well as women who’ve overcome severe self- and body- shame. As someone who can speak from multiple sides of the body-shaming epidemic, I thought my insight might prove helpful.

Real beauty quote

On BMI as the Determining Factor

Others have expressed concerns about your new law, prohibiting anyone from hiring a model with a below healthy BMI. I share those concerns. (For those who aren’t familiar, Body Mass Index is a tool used to determine body fat content based on weight and height.) BMI is sadly inaccurate as a measure of health for many people, and I imagine many models will find ways to falsify their results.

Secondly, I’ve known models who were tall and lanky naturally, to the point of being bullied in their youth. Modeling gave them a sense of empowerment; finally, they weren’t being ridiculed for their atypical thinness, but celebrated. These women would undoubtedly fail the “healthy” BMI test. Ostracizing naturally thin women isn’t right.

Many women with eating disorders, including models, partake in dangerous tactics to maintain a slimmer physique—yet aren’t underweight by BMI standards.

In some ways, focusing on “the numbers” perpetuates the damaging notion that they matter most.

It’s understandable why you and your associates have taken this route, given the fact that anorexia diagnostics are based on such numbers. (They shouldn’t be, in my opinion.) But I side with others who’ve suggested alternate means of determining models’ wellness, such as thorough health exams. While helpful, however, I don’t think such measures would suffice.

More Effective Steps Toward Positive Change

Attempting to regulate the health of models, but still allowing the standards of thinness over all to carry on, won’t solve this epidemic. The standards need to change. While this is a huge task, it’s doable, in my opinion. Here are some powerful steps that would help:

♦ Require fashion shows and magazines to depict a broad range of body shapes and sizes, as well as ages.

♦ Encourage fashion designers to create clothing for those shapes, sizes and ages.

♦ Don’t merely show women seducing cameras in editorial shoots. Show them working, creating art, raising kids, being human.

♦ Require medics and other health/safety measures at fashion shows and photo shoots. (Show models that their safety and wellness matters as much as that of Hollywood actors.)

♦ Prohibit modeling agents from making harsh comments about models’ weight.

Placing the pressure on those who hire models actually puts more pressure on the models themselves. If someone had landed in jail for hiring me when I was anorexic, I’m not sure I would have forgiven myself—and most women with anorexia are already crippled with shame.

One of the most important ways we can all contribute to a world that empowers, rather than shuns, women is by embracing ourselves.

I’ve personally boycotted fashion shows, publications and work I find de-powering. (The narrow definitions of “beauty” were a major reason I quit modeling, even though I had an ongoing career after healing.) I’ve stopped saying anything negative about my body, which has cultivated more positive thoughts. I’ve embraced my sexuality—a lack of which is another issue underlying many women’s body hate. And I’ve learned to pursue my passions, to stop living up to anyone else’s standards, knowing that in doing so, I can live a happier and more meaningful, impactful life.

Here’s hoping that no matter what efforts you and your administration prioritize moving forward, more women will start questioning whether those “extra” pounds are worth the time, tumult and energy making ourselves smaller requires—and that living largely means recognizing the existing real-beauty inherent in ourselves.

Sincerely,

August McLaughlin

A note to other readers: I’ve included President Hollande’s Twitter handle in the title, in case you’d like to use the share button to help alert him of this post. Regardless, thanks for reading!

3 Reasons to Support Female-Driven Action Films (and @Artemis_FF)

“Until we can look at women and see them as physical equals to men, we’re going to keep being seen as less.” — Melanie Wise

How different do you think the world would be if all girls grew up believing in their strength? What if each time we went to the movies, we left feeling empowered? What if there was a film fest that encouraged both?

Guess what: THERE IS! (Don’t worry – this post isn’t an advertisement, but a natural derivative of being thoroughly inspired by this fest!)

artemis-film

Last month, I had the privilege of interviewing Melanie Wise, founder of the Artemis Film Festival—the first film fest ever to celebrate female-driven action films. Man, is she groovy! I learned so much.

The groundbreaking event will take place April 24 – 25 here in Los Angeles, featuring screenings of films large and lesser known and honoring iconic leading ladies, including Linda Hamilton, Angela Meryl and Maja Aro.

FUN NEWS!

I was recently asked to emcee a Red Carpet awards ceremony at the fest on Friday, April 24—I couldn’t be more stoked or honored! I hope if you can, you’ll join us.

This opportunity makes my inner Riveter PROUD!

This opportunity makes my inner Riveter PROUD!

Regardless, here are just a few of the important reasons why supporting female-driven action films is, IMO, vital.

1. They’re freaking awesome! Aliens. Terminator 2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Kill Bill. My Super-Ex Girlfriend. Action films featuring kick-ass women characters are some of the most awesome films out there. Yet, when I looked up “top action films,” many of my favorites didn’t appear. WTH?

“For a lot of years, women in action films was considered box office poison,” Melanie told me. (Ah…) As a result, many female-led action films are marketed as romantic comedies, sci-fi or horror. Those available are making mega-bucks, however, and for good reason.

2. They empower women to embrace their strength. If the only women we saw on the big screen were women playing distressed damsels and princesses awaiting rescue dudes, we’d all be less likely to envision more for ourselves. For many years, that’s all we could see.

Here’s just one example of what happens when we celebrate empowering alternatives:

When Terminator 2 came out, Melanie explained, workout gym memberships soared, largely from women wanting to work out and increase their physical strength. (Makes sense! Uma did have me considering karate classes after watching Super-Ex.)

3. Doing so can better the world. Stories really do shape, and have the potential to change, the world.

“As the film industry, especially in the U.S., we have a very large voice that is heard the world over,” Melanie said. “We have an amazing responsibility and opportunity to make really nice messages. This is something we can easily do, if we choose.”

***

I couldn’t agree more! If you can’t attend the Artemis Film Festival in person, you can still support its mission by making a donation and/or sharing links with your friends. For tickets and specifics, visit ArtemisFilmFestival.com. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@Artemis_FF)

To learn more about women in action films, listen to my Girl Boner Radio chat with Melanie Wise on iTunes or here, on my homepage.

What’s your favorite female-driven action film? Will you be attending the fest? I love hearing from you! ♥

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