Emotional Toughness—How Haters & Hurt Feelings Can Be GOOD for Us

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Yesterday I reposted an old blog addressing how I feel PC and EC (Emotional Correctness) has gone more than a little crazy and often has done more to alienate people than to bind them. The thread had some really wonderful and thoughtful commentary. Not everyone wholly agreed on everything but everyone seemed to strive to be thoughtful and kind. THANK YOU, btw.

But some of the commentary about aggression and hurt feelings got me thinking about how we have become as a culture. Are we becoming too sheltered? Is it doing more harm than good?

Bear with me a moment.

I LOVE air conditioning. I live in Texas, so in the summer, I probably love AC more than my husband. I also love Costco, because….

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I really like being able to drive everywhere instead of walking or saddling up a horse. Indoor plumbing? Huge fan. But often I wonder how soft these conveniences have made me (since I think about a possible zombie apocalypse more than is probably healthy).

If life as I knew it imploded tomorrow, how would I fare? With no power, no Internet, no running water? With no AC and it is 110 degrees and 90% humidity? Since I don’t have to swing an ax daily for fuel if I want to eat? I have writer hands. How will those fare?

Not well.

The hard truth is we don’t grow without being uncomfortable. We don’t get tough without friction. And I wonder if this being comfortable has permeated too much of our lives, down to our “feelings.” I have to say after working well over a decade with other writers, the single biggest hurdle we have to overcome is our feelings.

We must get rhino skin.

Let Me Illustrate

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There was once an interesting experiment. In the middle of the desert, scientists constructed a bio-dome. Inside, life would be a “perfect” world where it was always an ambient 76 degrees.

The trees would get all the sun they needed, all the water, all the nutrients. There were no storms, no pests, no diseases, and no overcrowding, and no weeds. Surely, with these perfect conditions the trees would thrive, right?


Eventually the scientists noticed that the trees in the bio-dome grew slower and were smaller than trees in the “real” world. They also never grew above a certain height. They had very shallow root systems. Overall, they looked…unhealthy.

How could this be?

Since they were scientists they did what scientists do. They went back over the data. What had gone wrong? They’d given the trees all they needed to thrive…or had they?

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Eventually, they realized that in the hard cruel world, trees weren’t all evenly spaced for enough room, so they had to grow taller to compete for sun. Since water wasn’t delivered daily and there were even periods of drought, the trees were forced to grow deeper roots. Deeper roots could reach the water table. Deeper roots clung on when winds were high.

Speaking of high winds. Storms broke off weaker branches, forced the trees to get tougher bark, to increase the diameter of branches. Pests and diseases? The unprotected trees survived them and became resistant to them. Weeds? They had to learn to successfully compete or coexist.

What does this say about us?

We NEED Push-Back to Grow

I do weight training and sadly, the pink one-pound dumbbells are pretty much useless for anything that doesn’t involve me breaking a pinky toe. In order to get stronger, I need resistance. Resistance causes pain.

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Yesterday was leg day, which means I am likely going to have a pronounced hobble that will pass…just in time for the next leg day. But I do this because it makes me lean and strong and healthy 🙂 .

I know that my body must endure resistance to become stronger and faster, but truthfully? So do my feelings.

Now, please understand. I believe we should always be respectful and as a species it is just good for everyone if we are not acting like a bunch of insensitive asshats. Manners are what separates us from animals.

And proper grammar 😛 .

But at the same time? Not everyone got the “nice” memo and if we go around creating a holodeck where no one ever disagrees or makes us feel uncomfortable or criticizes, we are ill-prepared for reality.

Getting our feelings hurt can actually be quite useful if channeled properly. I loved how the children’s movie Inside Out addressed how our culture has gone cray-cray about never feeling sad. Sadness has a very useful purpose. It is human and necessary.

Same with hurt feelings.

Believe it or not? Dealing with obnoxious people is GREAT training in mental toughness. 

But, there are some added benefits, which we will explore.

Hurt Feelings Signal Areas of Weakness

Years ago, if someone said something that hurt or angered me, I got super defensive. I had a million reasons to justify or excuse whatever I’d done or written and….

Drama, drama, drama.

Now? Not as much. If something really stings? Really angers me? I am old enough to have learned that often that is because there might be some truth to what the other person is saying. Not always, but I do at least now stop to explore WHY it made me feel the way I did.

This is especially important for being a writer. I have met a number of folks who were excellent writers, but who came absolutely unhinged if I didn’t tell them their writing was the best thing since kitten videos. Since they couldn’t ever get over the hurt feelings, they couldn’t learn.

What might at first be perceived as a “hater” could be my next greatest teacher.

Hurt Feelings Build Discernment

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People have a right to their opinion, but guess what?

People have a right to be wrong.

When we exercise we can tell the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain. Some folks don’t want to work out at all because they don’t want ANY pain. That isn’t healthy. But working out and ignoring ALL pain is just dumb and a good way to end up injured.

Same with emotions.

When we put ourselves out there in a book or a blog or a conversation? The world often will answer back. Over time we have to learn not to take every single opinion to heart. Some people are just plain wrong.

If we brood too much over one thoughtless review? That is a formula to OD on brownie batter and quit.

Hurt Feelings Can Propel Greatness

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I imagine most of you didn’t get a parade from friends and family when you decided to become a writer. For years I was an approval addict. If I mentioned wanting to be a writer, the second someone made a face, I changed my mind.

That was…DUMB. And a huge reason I didn’t become a writer far sooner.

I had to learn to harness those hurt feelings to propel me forward. What once made me quit, now makes me work harder and longer.

Action speaks louder than words, and those naysayers often can be the very fuel that keeps us pressing.

The guy from church who laughed at me wanting to become a writer? Who told me I had a better chance of being hit by lightning than making a living as an author? Let’s just say proving him wrong has been most satisfying :D. Also, I think his nasty comments did more to fuel me through the dark nights of my soul than all my cheerleaders.

I no longer let people like him dictate my choices. Instead, I was grateful because he finally showed me the sickness of my approval addiction. I learned that I didn’t need 100% consensus to do something great.

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In the end, storms SUCK. None of us like pain or drought or suffering or struggle, but it is part of life and the more we embrace it for what it can give us? The better off we are. Sheltering ourselves all the time, while comfortable for the moment, might not be the best long-term plan.

Though I am not giving up my AC.

Or Costco.

Or driving.

Oh stop judging me. I’ll worry about it after the apocalypse :P.

What are your thoughts? We talked about think skin yesterday. Have you ever been guilty? I know I have. My writing would have improved far earlier had I been doing far less defending and a lot more listening.  Have your haters fueled you more than your cheerleaders? Yeah, terrible to admit but it is human nature.

Have you ever tried to work with someone but dancing around their feelings just made them too exhausting to be around? Have you gotten better about listening to your feelings in regards to weeding out toxic people? Have toxic people taught you some priceless lessons?

Do you think social media has become dangerous especially for younger generations? That people are creating an imaginary reality that leaves them ill-prepared for the outside world?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

May’s winner is Alex Schuler. Please send your 5000 word Word document double spaced to kristen at wana intl.com. And CONGRATULATIONS!

Upcoming Classes

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Again, I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?

Battle of the First Pages

June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25

This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook



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  1. I am terribly guilty of this. I’ve got that rose vs dandelion thing going in the worst way.

  2. I quit Facebook and Twitter yesterday as they were too distracting and volatile. You made several good points on the other discussion and again in this article. So long as we can keep a nice gulf between the blunt truth and prejudice, I’m cool. Being a former approval addict was, in retrospect, worthless to me. I was more concerned about review counts rather than review quality and by review count I mean nice ones. It was a pointless course and meant my writing lacked authenticity. Much more refreshing to accept the hard truth: not everyone will like it, some will hate it, but I will keep doing it anyway.

  3. So I take it we’re not likely to see you on the show N@ked and Afraid anytime soon?

    1. The whole “naked” part would count me RIGHT OUT, LOL.

  4. The hardest part, I think, is discerning between those critiquers (haters) who have a point and those who are just wrong. Most of them (at least the ones who aren’t just being trolls) sound reasonable. And in their world, they all feel like they are offering helpful advice. It takes a lot of practice to find balance between confidence in your work and self-loathing so that you can objectively decide what “helpful advice” to apply and what to toss in the circular file.

    1. Which is WHY it is important not to shelter ourselves from criticism. The more we experience the easier it is to discern who is dead on and who is bran dead. 😛

      1. Absolutely!

  5. Reblogged this on Hilarity is and commented:
    It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but at least I can remember to turn on the light

  6. I’m thankful for the Internet. When I first pursued “this writing thing” in the early 90s (when my kids were little and I must have been insane, but people DO this successfully these days and I’m in awe), the only way to get constructive feedback was to take a class in-person. And MAYBE you’d get paired with people who weren’t there to stroke their own ego and make you look bad OR those who wouldn’t say a negative thing about your writing hoping you’d return the favor with theirs. In short – worthless and expensive and time-sucking.
    Now, I can find anything I need on the web. And COMPETENT teachers who want to help others improve their writing. I wouldn’t trade the critique group I have on Scribophile for ANY other group I’ve been part of in my nearly *clears throat* years of life.
    Have I always been tough? Nope. And sometimes I’ll still cry over harsh comments, but I know now to look beyond my FEELINGS. Feelings are liars, folks. Don’t believe everything they tell you. And if MORE than one person (I trust as knowledgable and honest) says the same thing about my writing? It’s time to get over myself and get to work.
    Thanks for being such an awesome mentor to all of us. Appreciate it SO much!

    • Abbie Sweany on June 10, 2016 at 10:17 am
    • Reply

    Yesterday, I deleted one of my posts(in a writer FB group) due to a commenter’s rude remarks. Went back later and reposted my work with an explanation of why I deleted the first. I had a right to be offended but felt he had a right to be himself as well. Thank you for the humor and truth.

    • Vivian on June 10, 2016 at 10:29 am
    • Reply

    Wow! Just wow! Great post, as most of yours are :D.
    In all levels of writing, and life, we must learn to handle our hurt feelings from criticism. I love the tree metaphor since I work in natural sciences. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, receiving harsh criticism and having someone fall apart because of my honest critique of their writing. Some things we just can’t sugar coat and some times we have to swallow a bitter pill to make us better.
    Thanks again! I’m sharing this blog post with friends – writers or not!

  7. I happen to be at a two week writing workshop right now. As someone who has a hard time interacting with more than about two people at a time without having a panic attack, the afternoon critique sessions make me kind of wish I drank… but it’s the best experience I’ve ever had anyway. We each submitted three stories – one of mine was critiqued Wednesday, and the second is today. I have a huge revision to do on the first and will probably need a huge revision on the second, as well. I am SO glad I got in to this!

  8. good one!!

  9. Taking this to the ultimate – the fastest way to extinction is the survival of the weakest – while I agree we should care for all, we should find a balance, and yes, we are helpless when it comes for fending for ourselves and treading on eggshells.

    • Emily on June 10, 2016 at 10:58 am
    • Reply

    It’s taken me many long years to get over believing that I must please EVERYONE. Well, almost. Sometimes I worry over a negative comment for a short time, then shrug it off, congratulate myself on growing, and move on. My read and critique group has been a tremendous help.

  10. I agree with everything you say here, if you remove the context of yesterday’s previous article. There’s a difference between haters and plain racists, or a oppressive system that keeps people of color down while maintaining a status quo for white people and those being blindingly ignorant to its existence.

    But yes, I think there’s something that could be said for dealing with resistance. However, I feel it needs to be framed in a way for a child or a person to understand that the world can be a certain way, but it doesn’t always need to be that way. By being mindful of our reactions, we can be the change we want to see in the world.

  11. We’re writers. We write about characters with emotions. How can we expect to write about that which is so central to the human experience if we refuse to experience life? Sure, I don’t skydive, for instance, but I know what it is to fear falling. I’ve been on ladders, stood on a roof, and (believe it or not) clung to the side of a cliff. I’ve also been through a long list of terrible experiences the likes of which no one should suffer. I’d never seek out such experiences, but they’ve, ironically, made me a better writer. How could I possibly expect to put creative works out into the real world and not expect someone not to like it? I can’t. Are some of those people going to be jerks? You bet. Do hurtful people cause hurt? Absolutely. I learned that over fifty years ago. The last 100 years are littered with the deaths of successful people who went into decline because their wealth bought them the ability to avoid resistance.

  12. I posted about the whole “would I/humanity survive an apocalypse” question not long ago. Didn’t get into coddled feelings, just coddled survival skills. Rereading the post, I realized that I might spend too much time pondering these things, too. Lol.

    I agree with your take on coddled feelings. I learned that lesson with sunflowers a while back. Gardening had become much less scary now that I know that plants thrive on adversity. ‘Cause I’m good at dishing that out. 😀

    Have a great day, Kristen!

  13. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  14. This post definitely struck a cord with me, Kristen. I recently found some old, painful memories coming back to plague me, so what did I do? Wrote about the experience. I felt sick when I first wrote it all down and then I felt sick again when I shared it with others. But now? I feel better about it than I ever have. The writing was part of it, but it was also due to seeing how much my perspective of the event has changed. I’ve grown since it happened and now I can approach it from a healthier place. Part of the reason I’ve become stronger as a person was because I had to endure this problem. I survived it and I went on and I grew. I could say the same about every other hardship I’ve had to endure–I’ve survived them all and I’ve grown. In a perfect world, life might be safe and easy, but like you said, none of us would have much of an opportunity to grow or, eventually, maybe even flourish.

  15. Love this post (and the last one too). I especially enjoyed the pictures. 🙂
    I’ve been a telemarketer for nine years, so my skin, though very pale, is quite thick. In fact, I loved your critique of my pages and have been chewing on new ideas to change them since. As for haters who just hate, there’s not much we can do about them. I’m hoping not to come across one. If I do, I hope my thick skin can take it.
    Thanks (as usual) for the great post. Have a nice weekend!

  16. Constructive criticism has helped me fix the weaknesses of my stories, not cowed me into a corner. Paradise wouldn’t exist without the storms by which we see its beauty. Thanks for an illuminating and entertaining post, Kristen. I spot myself in all your posts, often unflatteringly but also with hope.

  17. Another excellent post!

  18. Thanks Kristin. I find my initial reaction to criticism of my writing is negative, but every time I suck it up and address the problem, the work improves. So I have changed the paradigm from “good/bad” to “works/doesn’t work.” All on a spectrum, of course. It helps me and other writers to look at it this way and helps us grow.

    1. “Works/doesn’t work”–I like this! must remember.

  19. Really interesting reading these two posts one right after the other. I mentioned in my comment on the past post my partner. He’s a game dev and he has said that he will never make a game that has a non-white character unless he has a PoC making the game with him, because he doesn’t want to deal with all the people who are offended by his making mistakes in portraying someone of another race.

    My attitude is, I’m going to write diverse stories because the world is fucking diverse, and that is what makes it beautiful. If I offend people, I’ll learn from that. Maybe I’ll learn that I screwed up someone how and do something different next time Maybe I’ll just learn to shrug off attacks by idiots. Either way I, and my writing, will grow.

    That said, I do think some (not all) authors could stand to listen a bit more to criticism, rather htan growing a tough skin and shrugging it off. Continuing your analogy, the trees grow strong from adapting and responding to the challenges of the world, not by ignoring them.

  20. Another brilliant post. I completely agree with you, and I do believe social media has become a detriment, especially to young people. It’s easy to hide behind a screen and forget there’s a world outside the door that holds you accountable and does not coddle. It’s competitive and demanding – challenges and the occasional pushback will make you strong and might even be the difference between survival or curling up into a ball. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  21. Love it. Another great post. The most important thing for me to receive from people who critique my writing is the truth. Only with the truth will I learn and grow. And I’m speaking of honest, constructive critique – which is hard to come by. I appreciate your straight-shooter approach. Not too many people tell it like it is these days. I may be old but my age gives me an advantage – I am a child of the depression and we learned to survive. We had no choice.

  22. I think I struggle with being an approval junkie. I’ve tried to solve the problem by decreasing the number of people whose approval I crave, but I probably need to find some better solutions…

    1. What’s helped me the most is developing the ability to objectively evaluated myself and the things I do. obviously I can’t be 100% objective, but it’s a lot easier or me to do without other people’s approval when I can stand back and say “You know, I did pretty damned good.”

  23. Ironically, I think I spend way too much time thinking about the zombie apocalypse…or any apocalypse, for that matter!! Issues, Kristen, I have issues. But what a post that spoke to my soul! Beautiful. It’s gosh darn true. If there isn’t opposition, struggle, defeat, failure, haters, what have you, there will be no growth. If I didn’t get my arse handed to me in the wee beginnings I would still, to this day, be describing nouns with with at least three or four adjectives. Critiques devastated me and threw me into wild panic attacks. Somehow I peeled myself off the ceiling, sat back down and learned. And today, I’m better. Not perfect, but always growing. So thanks for writing this blog post today. It hit home. 🙂

  24. Social media is a place where you can change your photo and have all of your friends rave about how beautiful you are. Or write cryptic messages about something someone did to you and get all kinds of people—who have no idea what you are actually writing about—to take your side and tell you everything is going to be okay. ‘There, there, pat on the back, so sorry someone was mean to you. I’m sure it’s not your fault.’ It’s a place where you can post a cat video and have a hundred people ‘like’ you for it. It’s an extension of today’s childhood where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up, and every scribble is treated like a masterpiece so that Junior’s self-esteem won’t be forever tarnished by honesty. Yes, I think you’re right Kristen, we have become a society of emotional wimps. Thanks for another great post!

    • Angela on June 10, 2016 at 10:44 pm
    • Reply

    Right on the money, Kristen. I think one more point is this: Those people who disagree with me? They’re certainly different from me, but they’re not *necessarily* in error or morally wrong. The world is a complicated place; sufficiently complicated that sometimes more than one view can be right, reasonable, defensible, moral. I think being emotionally robust and tolerant of difference is generally the way to go. Not that there isn’t sometimes a line to be drawn, but the trigger for me drawing that line has IMHO got to be something more than that my feelings got hurt.

  25. Great tips here! And a new one:
    My way of dealing with systematically obnoxious people that have treated me badly, is to observe them and their motives and use them for the ‘bad characters’ in my writing. It’s good therapy and my characters become more realistic… And when I publish, I may send them a copy… Revenge is sweet!

  26. I had my share of critics, and I will say critics force writers to sit down and evaluate “why” they write what they do. Once I stopped craving approval, I became a much better writer.

    • Paula Leigh on June 11, 2016 at 8:11 pm
    • Reply

    Yes! I’ve decided to use my reactions to teach me about WHY I react in that way. It’s been painful, fascinating, AND freeing.
    Dandelions Rock !!

    • John Keller on June 12, 2016 at 6:23 am
    • Reply

    You are wise beyond your years Grasshopper. I really enjoyed your post. Hopefully this ship will right itself and become stronger because of the pain we endure today. Our grandchildren are depending on us.



  27. I’ve had to toughen up when I lost more than half my income – part of that was getting out of a live-together relationship, part of that was my royalties dipping because I’ve not written a book in 2 years. Being responsible for everything in your life – the bills, the shopping, the cooking (or lack of it! 😀 ), shoveling snow in winter and making sure you have wood in case you lose power, repairing things in the house (or putting it off because you can’t do it yourself and adding it to the long long list), fending off bears on your porch, etc etc etc – all alone – can be frightening, but also quite empowering. So, in all of the “I need to figure out how to keep my house and survive in my little mountain cove” I have learned to ignore all the little stupid crap like my feelings being hurt over little stupid crap. And that is also empowering, and freeing.

    Now all I need to do is stop making excuses and write the next book.

    By the way – when I was an active personal trainer, I advised my clients not to keep working their muscles to pain where they couldn’t sit on the toilet – tearing down the muscle and not giving it time to repair – well, we need that repair. But that picture of the toilet made me laugh – been there done that even myself! Don’t care to repeat it! Laugh!

  28. Thanks for these great thoughts. I found them to be absolutely true, and it feels great to know that other authors go through the same experiences!

  29. I stumbled on to this post after a considerable absence from Word Press and all I can say is “WOW” you really got to the meat of the matter. I can remember when I let someone read the first (maybe 2nd or 4rd) draft of my book. Being an avid reader, I was anxious to hear his thoughts. When he finally sat down to let me know what he thought, I could see indecision on his face. He loved it…in the beginning. But the ending. He figured out the finale before the beginning of the end. At first I was disappointed but upon further examination, he was absolutely right. The ending sucked and honestly, I wasn’t happy about it as I was writing it. HIs opinion had value and fortunately, being on the down slope towards my “golden years” my skin isn’t as thin as it used to be and I was able to recognize his frank, correct observation. Love the picture of the rose vs the dandelions – brilliant.
    Looking forward to the next post and perhaps taking a few of your courses. Thanks for holding up a little gilded mirror and a place to check my ego. 😉

    1. Hey, Tiger! Great to see you here again! ((HUGS))

      1. Thanks Kristen. I love how you put, “Author Kristen Lamb” I wish I had your confidence. But then again, that’s why I like your blog so much.

        1. LOL. There was a time I had to fake it. Actually I chose it because there is/was another Kristen Lamb who was big in media and wanted to be clearly differentiated so as not to confuse her followers. Yes, we are both blonde, too 😀 .

          1. Well, I aspire to your level. When I complete this book, I want to be part of the 5% who completes a their book, part of the 5% that try to market it…you know the routine. 😉

  30. Again, as with the last post, THANK GOD for this open discussion. It’s not just people at work and in the community. Too many people are tiptoeing around family members they can’t divorce. Sad!

  31. You know this post is such a trip as I just finished listening to a podcast about how to stop feeding off of people’s compliments or acceptance to feel validated, you know to just feed off of your own badass nature. I didn’t grow up in a household that was afraid to tell you the truth about anything. No tiptoeing, which as a kid, was both good and bad. But that eventually helped develop rhino skin although some below-the-belt things managed to pierce through that skin. As a writer, this does help and the haters do fuel me as I try to prove them wrong (love the Depp &DiCaprio posters) but there are times you need boosts or small moments of victories to help you keep going, things like podcasts, your post, IWSG, and chocolate.

    • Theresa Ramseyer on July 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm
    • Reply

    Could you please talk about needing to be thick skinned with yourself? I am angry and frustrated with myself tonight; I keep creating dramas that sabotage myself when I improve. I was getting back on track, slowly, finally decently adjusted from the last round of (family) drama, actually writing again, starting to feel good and move ahead- then whomp, here comes another round. Instead of taking it in stride and writing on, I curled up and quit. It’s been two weeks + since I’ve written a word on a story. I have NO excuse. Now I have to wait until I get home tonight. I know what I need to do, why is it so darn difficult to get myself going and DO it?

    1. Babe, I have a blog coming JUST FOR YOU! Stay tuned and ((HUGS))

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