Letting Go of the Victim Label: The Past Will Not Define Me

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an account of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and may be triggering to some people.

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” ~Unknown

It wasn’t long ago that I lived my life as a professional victim.

It wasn’t intentional, but somewhere along the way I had internalized the fact that my victimhood gave me an excuse to remain stuck. As long as I was a victim, I had a reason to wallow in sadness and self-pity, a reason to not move forward, and sympathy that was poured upon me like praise—because no one wants to shame the victim, right? So I put on my victim’s Badge of Honor and remained firmly planted in the past.

The thing about being a victim is that it doesn’t end there. Resentment is not far behind, and I soon found myself immersed in resentment. After all, I never asked to be born into a household filled with domestic violence, nor did I ask be molested by someone I shared the same bloodline with, but it happened, and I resented it.

In my mind, no one could understand what it was like to live in constant fear of the day that your mother would be murdered. No one could understand the hopelessness that comes with feeling unsafe day after day. But I did.

I knew what it felt like to be awakened in the middle of the night by screaming voices, dishes crashing against walls, or the volume on the TV up as high as it could go, because if he was angry, no one was getting a good night’s sleep.

I knew what it was like to wish for death, because death was better than terror.

I knew what it felt like to live in a household where everyone walked on eggshells because the alternative was an encounter with rage.

I knew what it felt like to have a dysfunctional childhood while others had what I thought to be a fairytale life, and I resented it.

I could not reconcile why some children were born into wealth and privilege and I was not. I did not understand why my family, which should have been a safe haven, was the exact opposite. Why were some children loved and adored, and I molested and used? It wasn’t fair, and I wasn’t going to let life, or anyone who would listen, forget it.

I didn’t ask for that life, I was a victim, and had earned the right to complain about it as much as I saw fit. I did not realize that I had the power to overcome everything I had experienced, and maybe there was a part of me that didn’t really want to. I knew who I was with my experiences, but what was my identity without those stories? It was time that I found out.

It took a while for me to even realize that I needed to let go of the victim label, but thankfully the day came. It became too much effort to be sad and depressed about something that happened, and was not changing.

I began to read every self-help book I could find in hopes that one of them held the key to my emotional relief. I began attending counseling sessions and put forth the necessary effort to get the most out of each session. Then, one day it happened. I woke up knowing enough was enough.

No, life wasn’t fair, but this was the only life I had, and I had better make the most of it. I knew that in order for me to move forward, I had to accept this fact. My experience was my experience, and nothing was going to change what happened to me, but I could surely change how I responded to it.

The first thing I did was remove toxic people from my life. I understood that as a child I had little control over the people I was exposed to, but as an adult, it was my responsibility to set strong boundaries, even if that meant removing some people.

This was no easy task, and I immediately felt waves of fear and guilt. I was so used to not having boundaries, and being expected to accept bad behavior just because it came from family. Still, I followed through with my plan to set boundaries or to sever ties completely.

Next, I began to follow the advice I had received from literally hundreds of self-help books. I began to retrain my mind from the mentality of a victim, to one of strength, poise, and success.

Almost immediately, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to feel empowered and capable. Yes, I had bad experiences growing up, and yes, those experiences affected my life, but I did not have to let them define me.

I worked diligently to change my self-talk and I was very intentional about ensuring that I would make the most of my life. I had wasted enough years existing, and I knew that it was time to start living.

Retraining my mind became my full-time focus, as I knew that all success starts in the mind. I continued with counseling and was told that I had a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, which was evident from my having nightmares about the abuse in my home, even though I was an adult and in a safe place.

I learned how witnessing domestic abuse and being molested affected my self-esteem, the way I viewed relationships, and the way I viewed the world.

I learned that none of it was my fault, and that I did not have to continue to tell myself those stories. I had new stories to tell. We all do. You too, can move past the pain and hurt you have endured in this lifetime. You can forgive, even if you never forget, and you can move forward. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

My transformation didn’t happen overnight, and neither will yours. I spent years studying the power of the mind, and being intentional in my desire to turn my life around.

Today I am free of toxic relationships and toxic thoughts. I’ve replaced my victim badge with a crown of success, love, self-confidence, and peace. And I replaced self-pity and sadness with a fierce determination to live my best life, free of resentment.

I recently met a man who told me he has found happiness all his life by learning to “play the hand he was dealt.” I smiled, because I had come into the wisdom that this is truly the only way to live, because “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” The choice is ours to make.

About Eboni Kelly

Eboni Kelly is a Fort Worth, TX based youth educator, domestic violence advocate, and self-published author of fiction novel, Everyone Has A story to Tell, and self-help book, Love is an Inside Job. She is also the founder and blogger of inspirational brand, Good Enerji. She seeks to empower people all over the world to move past their pain. Check out her blog at

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Why I’ve Upgraded to a Drama-Free Relationship

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“Love is not what you say. Love is what you do.” ~Unknown

I used to think that true love should be passionate and intense. When someone broke up with me or treated me poorly, I’d imagine that he really didn’t mean it. Surely he was really a good person and truly loved me, but was just “going through something” or “needed space.” Eventually he’d be back with tears, apologies, and flowers.

I’d like to say I outgrew this tendency by the age of, well, maybe forty, but the fact is I didn’t.

Instead, I carried a torch for a recently divorced man, who couldn’t stick around for more than eight weeks at a time, for more than a year. Each time he returned, he’d tell me how much he missed me and how much I meant to him, and I loved to hear it.

Before him, I took well over a year off from dating anyone seriously because my ex-boyfriend might decide he wanted me back, and he called every month or so to check in. When he did this, I’d get thrown straight back into the drama of it all and second-guess my decision to end our relationship. After all, he said he loved me.

And the man before that, well, you get the idea.

This was all very exciting compared to my life at the office. It was very distracting as well. I’d spend hours googling self-help blogs and texting my girlfriends with the latest updates on “the guy” instead of doing my work.

Let’s face it, relationship drama can pull you right in. It demands your attention immediately. It’s so intense to get a text in the middle of the night or to navigate the ups and downs of a stormy relationship. On again, off again, always waiting for a call or text. Will he or won’t he? Will you or won’t you?

We modern humans no longer live in caves or have life and death struggles on a regular basis. Most of us live fairly routine lives in comfortable homes and have our physical needs met. Sometimes, you can get addicted to drama because it gives you a buzz of excitement that a regular old nine-to-five lifestyle just can’t.

A shot of adrenaline can help us wake up to life and get motivated. Things like climbing a mountain, signing up for a triathlon, or a tight deadline help us get fired up.

Taking on a new challenge from time to time can help us feel like we’re going somewhere in life. If we don’t do this, regular doses of relationship drama can provide a distraction. An unstable relationship may be exciting at first, but it can eventually become draining.

A turbulent relationship can sap your energy and your confidence. You never quite know where you stand with this person, and it wears down your sense of stability and security. It can bleed into the rest of your life and damage your other relationships, your career, or even your health.

If you’re involved in a troubled relationship, it can be all-encompassing. It’s also very tempting to adopt the role of the savior because you get to be the “together” person, the responsible one.

If you’ve been living on a steady diet of relationship drama, it’s time for a reality check. Ask yourself how this situation is serving you. Blaming the other person and hoping that they will change isn’t helpful, because you’re the one who’s tolerating these circumstances in your life.

Being willing to accept responsibility for the situation you’re in is the first step to a more fulfilling love life.

Ask yourself what kind of relationship you want to have. Take some time and journal about it. How do you want to feel? What is your day-to-day experience like? Is that kind of relationship possible with the person you’re with (or considering) now? Not when or if they finally change. Now.

When I asked myself these questions, I saw that I wanted to be loved and to feel safe. I wanted to know that my significant other was “all in” with me, not halfway out the door. I came to recognize that I wasn’t choosing men who were willing to have this kind of relationship with me.

I also realized that once I discovered that this was the case with a particular person, I was very reluctant to let him go. Instead, I’d hang on for far too long in the hopes that things would get better, which they never did.

Once you’ve considered these questions for yourself, consider what changes you’ll need to make in order to have the kind of relationship you want.

I came to understand that I’d have to give up the idea that drama was an indicator of true love. The kinds of relationships that I previously would have considered “boring” were, in fact, desirable. I found more healthy ways of adding excitement to my life.

The man I married is dependable and reliable. I can always count on him to keep his promises and I know he adores me. I couldn’t be happier.

From our very first conversation on, I never had any doubts or had to wait for him to change or “come around”. He made his feelings for me very clear from the get-go and I always knew where I stood with him.

I always feel safe with him and we go hiking and mountain climbing instead of breaking up every few weeks.

If you really want to have a fulfilling relationship, then it’s time to make choices that are consistent with your desire. This can be difficult, because people often consider drama an indicator of love or passion, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can choose to see drama for what it is, an indicator of an unstable relationship. Once you do this, commit to dating people who are capable of having a healthy relationship.

Doing these things will drastically increase your chances of having a fulfilling relationship.

About Renée Suzanne

Relationship coach Renée Suzanne helps people all over the world find love. She is the author of “Beloved – How to go from relationship-challenged to relationship-ready” and “Ten things you can do to upgrade your love life”. Sign up for her blog at and receive a free course, “Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life.”

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Why Trying to Feel Good Can Make You Feel Bad

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“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” ~Paulo Coelho

We’re bombarded by images of people living apparently perfect lives. They suffer no bereavements or breakups or losses or failures. They look perfect, make perfect choices, and act perfect.

Everyone seems to love them as they sail from success to success, with zero misfortunes, mistakes, or regrets.

So, it’s easy to believe that we, too, need to be perfect.

I had a simple definition of success when I was younger. It was whatever made others admire, or at least accept me.

So, I aimed for better jobs. This was defined in terms of salary.

As a young doctor, I started out in a poorly paid job. I made it through a PhD, then an MBA. The research was impactful, but what excited me as much was that doors opened to me.

Instead of me chasing jobs, they started chasing me. I sought to double my salary. When that happened, I sought to double it again.

This game kept going, and to the world I was a success. My mother took pride in telling people what I did.

My life at home told a different story.

I had to travel a lot at a time when our children were young. Even though I tried to confine that to a week at a time, I was becoming a stranger to them.

A simple incident proved to be a turning point.

I was in our sitting room going through some notes before setting out for work. Our young son was playing. He became noisier and noisier.

My mind was on my notes, and his was on his play.

Then he started running up and down the sitting room. It was going well for him until I reacted.

He was probably imitating some noisy vehicle or airplane. At least that’s what it sounded like to me, as I tried to concentrate on my notes.

As he ran past me, I put my arm out to stop him.

Unfortunately, my adult arm was like a wall to him. Our little boy hit my arm and fell to the floor.

This remains one of the incidents I’m deeply ashamed of.

He burst into tears, and my partner rushed to pick him up and comfort him.

My job continued to be center stage, but the scales were starting to fall from my eyes.

I tried to make it up to him, visiting a motor show together. He loved the shiny cars, including the one Michael Schumacher had driven in the Formula One championship.

As he held my hand throughout our motor show visit, I began to experience more deeply the meaning of the saying “Love makes the world go round.”

The piles of responsibilities in my job began to weigh on me more heavily. I was walking a tightrope of stress, irritability, and worry.

A routine medical exam confirmed what I had suspected: I was an unfit, overweight wreck, in need of medication to keep my heart and circulation in working order. Our family life was far from the ideal picture that our beautiful home must have presented to the world. I was a well-paid but emotionally exhausted wreck.

We talked it over and my partner was very clear. Our family life too was beginning to resemble a wreck. The money was simply not worth it.

We should uproot ourselves and make a new life, whatever that brought.

Since then, I’ve been through many years of life experiences.

I went from being an absentee parent to making time to play with our children nearly every day. That remains one of the greatest sources of satisfaction to me.

I went from measuring success in purely financial terms to a wider definition of success. The spark that had gone out of our marriage was rekindled and the embers grew steadily into a new romance.

My passion for music making had been put on the back burner for years, but I’ve since nurtured it. I try to make some time each day to create music, and have had the good fortune to perform and record with some great musicians.

I started converting all my medical and scientific knowledge into practical actions. I lost inches from my waist and no longer needed any medication.

However, the biggest changes occurred in my inner life.

Stress, irritability, and worry used to bother me. I don’t mean just in terms of experiencing them. I mean being annoyed and angry with myself for not feeling good at all times.

Aren’t we all meant to try and feel good all the time? Isn’t that what makes a good life? Isn’t constant happiness our highest ideal?

We look online or in glossy magazines and see celebrities smiling and laughing on the red carpet. We see sages and gurus glowing. We see so many apparently perfect people living perfect lives.

Why can’t we feel good all the time?

I’ve come to understand that there’s something beyond happiness, something more substantial than a passing emotion.

It’s the joy of doing what you consider to be important and good. It involves recognizing what really matters to you. It involves gladly losing what is less important.

It’s living in better alignment with what you value, deep in your heart.

Does this bring good feelings all the time? No.

Sometimes it brings stress, as when you have to speak out for what you believe is right even when that’s against the tide. Or when you have to keep going when you’d rather give up. Or when you have to give up when you’d rather keep going.

Sometimes it brings low moods, as when everything seems to be going wrong. The stock market crashes, you lose a valued assignment, your friend has a misunderstanding with you, you have a raging argument with your partner, your treasured outcomes simply don’t happen, people don’t keep their word to you, or are spiteful to you, and so on.

Sometimes it brings fear, as when you have to try something you’re not entirely comfortable with or take risks that seem too big. Even the prospect of failure can bring fear.

Sometimes it brings guilt and shame, as when you do something you deeply regret or fail to keep your word.

Sometimes it brings self-doubt, as when everyone else is going left and you’re going right in life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the more you struggle to avoid difficult feelings, the worse life can get.

Imagine a great runner. On the track, the runner is invincible. They want to be invincible everywhere.

Put that same runner in quicksand and they’re in trouble.

The more they try to run their way out of the quicksand, the deeper they sink.

The way to cope with quicksand is to stop struggling and lie back. Eventually you’ll be rescued.

It can be the same with difficult feelings. After a point, they become like quicksand. Struggling with them beyond that point just sucks you in deeper.

It’s good to reach for pleasant feelings when they’re within easy reach.

However, when you start beating yourself up for feeling bad, then it’s time to remember quicksand.

Sometimes it’s better to lie back and float than to try and swim. This means allowing yourself to feel the full range of human emotions.

This doesn’t mean wallowing in your feelings. It means just letting them be. Not struggling with them.

You can still do what you consider to be good and important, within your capabilities. That helps take the sting out of difficult feelings.

That helps bring a profound joy that is beyond fleeting emotions.

It’s a kinder, gentler, and more fulfilling way of living. It’s great for your wellbeing, especially when life gets difficult.

Recently our grown-up children joined us for a short family break. We were on a deserted beach. Our son picked up a flat pebble and made it skim the water.

Soon, we were all competing to see who could get the most bounces.

I stood back for a moment, watching the scene, and thought to myself: life doesn’t get much better than this.

I wish I’d known as an unfit and emotionally exhausted forty-year-old what I know as a fit and joyful sixty-year-old. But they say sixty is the new forty. So it’s never too late, or too early, to start living better.

About Joel Almeida

Joel Almeida PhD mentors busy doctors and other professionals to protect the one thing that makes all of life better: their brain. His science-based Brain Care guide reveals 10 one-minute practices for better brain health at any age, with more peace and joy now and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s. Now you, too, can get the guide (free today).

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78 Inspiring Love Quotes

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Today is Valentine’s Day.

So I would like to share thoughts about love from the people who have walked this earth before us (and from a few who are still here).

Timeless thoughts written down and spread throughout the decades, centuries and, yes, even millenniums.

Thoughts not only about happy, romantic love but also the love between friends and family. And about the love that is often neglected or pushed to the side: the love you have for yourself.

This is 78 of the most inspiring, touching, thought-provoking and helpful quotes on love.

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
— James Baldwin
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
—  Lucille Ball
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
— Morrie Schwartz
“Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.”
— Lord Byron
“If I know what love is, it is because of you.”
— Herman Hesse
“I love you not because of who you are, but because of who I am when I am with you.”
— Roy Croft
“Love is a friendship set to music.”
—  Joseph Campbell
“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“When we are in love we seem to ourselves quite different from what we were before.”
— Blaise Pascal
“Love in its essence is spiritual fire.”
— Seneca
“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”
— Gilbert K. Chesterton
“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
“Don’t brood. Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.”
— Leo Buscaglia
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
— Maya Angelou
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”
— George Sand
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
— Rumi
“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.”
— Lao Tzu
“You know it’s love when all you want is that person to be happy, even if you’re not part of their happiness.”
— Julia Roberts
“At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”
— Plato
“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.”
— Alfred Tennyson
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
— Marcus Aurelius
“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” 
— Helen Keller
“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”
— Oscar Wilde
“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”
— Henry Miller
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
— Oprah Winfrey
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
– Buddha
“You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
— Dr. Seuss
“Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.”
— Khalil Gibran
“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson
“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
— Vincent Van Gogh
“The art of love is largely the art of persistence.”
— Albert Ellis
“If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.”
— Benjamin Franklin
“When you adopt the viewpoint that there is nothing that exists that is not part of you, that there is no one who exists who is not part of you, that any judgment you make is self-judgment, that any criticism you level is self-criticism, you will wisely extend to yourself an unconditional love that will be the light of the world.”
– Harry Palmer
“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”
— Euripides
“Love does not dominate; it cultivates.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.”
— Paulo Coelho
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A healthy self-love means we have no compulsion to justify to ourselves or others why we take vacations, why we sleep late, why we buy new shoes, why we spoil ourselves from time to time. We feel comfortable doing things which add quality and beauty to life.”
– Andrew Matthews
“We are most alive when we’re in love.”
— John Updike
“The love we give away is the only love we keep.”
— Elbert Hubbard
“The giving of love is an education in itself.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
“The more one judges, the less one loves.”
— Honore de Balzac
“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”
— Pablo Neruda
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”
— Ingrid Bergman
“You’re always with yourself, so you might as well enjoy the company.”  — Diane Von Furstenberg
“Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’”
— Erich Fromm
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
— Lao Tzu
“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”
— Sophocles
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
— Kahlil Gibran
“Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself.”
— Andre Breton
“Better to have lost and loved than never to have loved at all.”
— Ernest Hemingway
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
— Elbert Hubbard
“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
— Kristen Neff
“Love is a better teacher than duty.”
— Albert Einstein
“True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked.”
— Erich Segal
“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.”
– Barbara De Angelis
“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.”
— Hubert H. Humphrey
“Every person has to love at least one bad partner in their lives to be truly thankful for the right one.”
— Unknown
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
– Anaïs Nin
“Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.”
— James Thurber
“The best proof of love is trust.”
— Joyce Brothers
“A woman knows the face of the man she loves as a sailor knows the open sea.”
— Honore de Balzac
“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small.  My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”
– Kim McMillen
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.”
— Josh Billings
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
— Carl Sagan
“Fortune and love favor the brave.”
— Ovid
“To love is nothing. To be loved is something. But to love and be loved, that’s everything.”
— T. Tolis
“Love is not only something you feel, it is something you do.”
— David Wilkerson
“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”
— Wayne Dyer
“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
— Anaïs Nin
“Where there is love there is life.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
— Robert A. Heinlein
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”
— Paul McCartney
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”
— A. A. Milne
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
— Charles Schulz

What is your favorite quote on love? Feel free to share the best one(s) you have found in this article or in your own life in the comments section below.


How to Stop the War in Your Head and Find Peace

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“A mind at peace does not engender wars.” ~Sophocles

There’s a classic Buddhist story about two monks who come upon a woman at the edge of a river. One of the monks carries her across and they continue on their way. Several miles on, the other monk turns to the first and says, “How could you do that? We have made vows never to touch a woman!” The first looks serenely at him. “Are you still carrying her? I set her down at the edge of the river.”

This is exactly what our minds do, if we aren’t careful: We carry our upsets with us long after the original cause is over. (We also pick up imaginary burdens from a future that may never come.) It’s what I call “the war in your head.”

You know what it feels like. On the surface, you are going about your day—at work, driving, shopping, watching TV. But in your mind you’re going over, maybe for the hundredth time, what your boss or neighbor or ex-spouse said last week. Or what they might say or do next week.

Only a sliver of your attention is on what is happening now. The rest of you is in the future or the past, reliving an old battle or imagining a future one.

I say the war in your head, but you will inevitably feel its effects in your body as well. Maybe your throat or your chest is tight, your breathing is shallow, and your stomach feels a bit nauseous. As far as your body’s concerned, you might as well be experiencing the scene in reality: the stress hormones flow just as surely, doing their damage.

When the war is in your head, you are the loser, every time. It doesn’t matter how often you re-fight the battle (or fight it in advance)—you have ceded your peace of mind, and anything else that might be available to you in the present moment. You can wear yourself out, even boxing with shadows.

I learned this the hard way, during and after my divorce. I spent hours, days, weeks, and months with a full-scale war raging in my head. I sleepwalked through the rest of my life to the accompaniment of a continuous background rumble of outrage, pain, and anger.

Most of my energy and attention were sucked up in imaginary arguments with my ex-husband, his lawyer, and the judge. I would go over and over the same ground, inwardly reciting my grievances, telling them off, or spinning down the rabbit holes of innumerable “what if” scenarios. None of it did me any good—the war in my head only added to my suffering.

Eventually I realized what I was doing to myself and laid down my arms in sheer exhaustion. The quiet in my mind was almost eerie, like a battlefield after the ceasefire is called.

Although my divorce continued along much the same lines it had been, I refused to give up my entire life and energy to the fight. I consulted with my lawyer, did what was necessary when it was necessary, and slowly became aware of the life that had been flowing around me, unnoticed and unlived, while I fought my inner war.

The truth is, the war in our heads harms no one but ourselves, and even a small-scale war can have major consequences. How often has someone cut you off in traffic, or made a rude remark that you ruminated on for the rest of the day? How often have you spent anxious hours worrying about a possible outcome that never occurred?

Our mental real estate is too precious to give over to war and strife. Our bodies are too vulnerable to collateral damage. 

Luckily, it is possible to stop the war in your head. The first—and most important—step is to simply recognize when it’s happening and what it’s doing to you. Most of us are so used to the war that we become essentially unconscious of it. It just feels normal.

In the beginning, it will probably take a full-scale battle to get your attention, but eventually you’ll learn to recognize even a minor skirmish. When you do, the next step is to take a metaphorical “step back” from it.

Put yourself in the role of a war correspondent, who is there to simply observe, not participate. You can’t stop the war through resistance—that will only fan the flames. You stop the war by removing the fuel it runs on, which is your unconscious participation.

Imagine a dial that lets you turn down the volume on your thoughts, as if you were viewing a battle scene from a distance.

Take some deep breaths, and let yourself be gently aware of any sensations in your body. You don’t have to do anything about them—just notice them and let them be. Becoming familiar with the negative effects of your mental war will help you to recognize it faster, and also give you the motivation to end it!

If you’re a visual person, try imagining a breeze that blows through your mind, gently clearing away the thoughts… or perhaps waves crashing on a beach, leaving the sand smooth and empty. Then say to yourself: “I choose not to have a war in my head.”

It really can be as simple as that. The war thrives on our unconscious participation. Once you become conscious of it, and make the choice to reclaim your mental real estate, the episodes of war will become both less frequent and less intense.

When this happens, you actually become more effective at solving any actual problems you might have, because your thinking is not clouded by drama and noise. This kind of thinking—without the violent emotions and resistance attached—also doesn’t impact your body the way a mental war does.

If you are tired of the war that rages in your head, join me in declaring a “no-war zone” in your mind and be vigilant in keeping it that way. There will always be events and situations in life that bring up resistance, anger, worry, and upset, but we can choose to be like the first monk and simply set them down rather than carrying them endlessly along with us.

About Amaya Pryce

Amaya Pryce is a spiritual coach and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her newest book, How to Grow Your Soul, is available on Amazon. For coaching or to follow her blog, please visit

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The post How to Stop the War in Your Head and Find Peace appeared first on Tiny Buddha.