I grew up with toxic relationships. The demeaning, competitive, manipulative and dishonest way of relating eventually destroyed the connection between the members of our family. Until her stroke, mum had kept the family together in a fragmented sort of way. But after her stroke when she lost the ability to grasp what was going on around her, the competition between my siblings and myself tore at the fabric of our connection and destroyed any bonds we had developed.

Visiting my family meant walking on eggshells. I feared saying, or doing something which could bring on a destructive reaction toward me. Initially, I held on in the hope that things would change for the better. But, with a lack of support, my mental health deteriorated, and I found it necessary to make my own way in life, leaving them behind. Despite the pain, it was a necessary thing to do for my own sanity.

So, what are the signs of a toxic relationship and what do we do about it?

Toxic relationships are those where you find yourself feeling (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/blog/8-signs-of-a-toxic-relationship):

  • Demeaned — being ridiculed while alone or with others and criticised for how you look, your decisions, your opinions and your intelligence.
  • Disrespected – not accepted for who you are, disregarding your boundaries, and your opinion.
  • Ignored – what matters to you is treated as trivial and your needs are overlooked.
  • Controlled – you are not able to make decisions for yourself, and your moves are monitored. Your association with family and friends may be limited.
  • You experience physical, emotional or psychological harm.

Toxic relationships are also characterised by jealousy of you or what you have, dishonesty, holding onto grudges and sarcasm.

Because of my early years, I have lived with guilt and shame. Guilt because my decisions, boundaries and relationships were not accepted. And shame because I thought there was nothing good about me. Over time my health, life decisions and posture were affected by my lack of self-care. Despite my efforts, I still live with the physical consequences of this.

My advice is that unless both parties involved are willing to accept their part in the toxicity, and stop blaming each other, then it is best to leave the relationship. In my case, I realised that the other members of my family were getting something they were unwilling to sacrifice for me, so I had no choice but to leave.

Remember, you are worth the effort.

In love, Jenny

Body image is a combination of the thoughts and feelings we have about our body. Our body image is influenced by factors such as our personality or our social environment. There are four aspects of body image – the way we see our body, the way we feel about it, the way we think about it and the way we behave because of these aspects. (https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/body-image)

I have struggled with a negative body image for as long as I can remember. As a child, I felt ashamed of my body, saw it as ugly and thought negatively of it. Because of my beliefs I punished it and developed an eating disorder by my early teens. My hatred of my body and what I thought it represented led to my weight ballooning to around 250 kg.

Looking back, I can see that my negative body image developed because of family messages about my appearance, gender and dislike of who I was as a child. From a child’s perspective, I assumed it was my fault. I figured I must be ugly, and it must be the way I looked. I saw no point in taking care of myself and sought comfort in the only way I knew, through food.

As an adult my body image was influenced negatively by how people reacted to my appearance. I learned that we all struggle at any age with this issue and there are those who will reinforce our own negative beliefs.

In my mid-thirties, I was fortunate to develop a strong bond with someone who managed to convince me that I was worth it, and I mattered. This was the beginning of the change in my body image. My friend could see beyond how I looked and saw me as a valuable.

Over the years, I have slowly developed a healthier relationship with my body. Although I am not satisfied with it, I can accept it. After all, it has brought me this far, and I am in awe of its ability to heal from the damage created by my behaviour. I learned that punishing myself for my looks and eating behaviours did not change me. But the slow change in my attitude towards my body led me to choose a healthy lifestyle, seek higher education and do what I could to help myself live my best life.

A healthy body image is an important part of self-acceptance, it influences how we feel about ourselves and every aspect of our life. For me, it has led to better life choices and behaviours relating to food and exercise.

What is your body image like?

In love, Jenny

As the child in my family who was much younger than my siblings, I have lived with the feeling that I am less than others. Always too young, too immature, and too late, I was left out of family decisions. Sadly, it has taken me many years to work out that while it may have been true in my younger years, it is no longer true now that I am lagging behind everyone else.

Through my journey out of these core beliefs I learned that we all have a facade which we present to others. I have pressured myself to live up to the image we all want the world to see rather than what lurks behind it. Each of us hides our true self in some way from others, some live entrenched in deep fear, presenting only a well refined image to those surrounding them. Many of these are the more successful, having used this technique to influence their way to the top of their careers, rather than developing the skills needed to perform in their position. I have envied these individuals, as I could never be as good as their façade, nor could I present myself in this way.

What I have discovered is that the pressure I have been putting on myself has been unnecessary because I have competed with an illusion, a projected image of who the person wanted to be rather than who they truly were. Enter the authentic self where we present what we really are underneath. Here there is no room for bluffing, manipulating, or lying. It is in this place that we are the person the world sees and there is no other self.

The point of this post is to say that if you are pressuring yourself to keep up with the Joneses, be aware that they are not revealing all the information behind their image. Instead of improving themselves, they choose to cover up their inadequacies.

Scratch beneath the surface and you will discover that we all have the same fears and insecurities.

With whom are you competing?

In love, Jenny

When I was 22, I lost mother I had always known. She was nearly 58 years old at the time and suffered a stroke which was the result of complications related to diabetes. Overnight her personality changed, her memory was lost and her ability to be a mother gone. Although she recognised me, our relationship was different. At the time, I was emotionally immature and dependent on her. My own identity was not yet fully developed, and it was as if I had lost myself. Not only had her stroke changed her life, but mine as well and everyone close to her.

She was now a shell which looked like my mother, but her behaviour was like someone I did not know: an imposter in my mother’s body. Something had changed within her, and no amount of effort could bring her back. She could no longer remember significant events from the previous 20 or so years, but she could remember the day of her marriage and what had happened earlier in her life. A section of her life was lost to her, and she never fully recovered it.

Her personality changed, too. Mum had rarely cried, but afterwards I sat many nights with her at hospital as she wept openly. Then, she changed again to become a giggly, immature person who took no responsibility for her actions. She was less interested in other’s emotions and focussed mostly on herself. She lost the ability to withhold her feelings and thoughts, often behaving inappropriately. Instead of considering the impact of her actions on others, she spoke without thought. In one instance, she gave a book about sex to a good church-going woman. This was given back to me in a brown paper bag!

This is the tragedy of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the loss of someone you love without losing them physically. It is strange to recognise someone, but not know the person they have become. For me, the hardest thing to deal with is the misunderstanding of others. Experience is the only way to grasp dementia’s life-changing impact on the lives of those who are close.

It is the grief of life as it was, and the loss of the person you love although they are still with you bodily. For many people it also means responsibility for someone to whom they no longer feel close and no longer know.

For anyone who is going through this, your grief is real, and I know it is hard.

In love, Jenny

Over my life I have endured much personal pain. Many times, I have felt sorry for myself. Despite this, I have learned that pain gives me the chance to experience great love. What do I mean by this?

True love is an interesting thing. What I know about it is that the deeper we love, the greater the pain. Take the example of death, the deeper we have loved a person, the greater the pain we experience when we lose them. I also know that I do not want to live my life without loving deeply. For to love deeply is to truly live.

It is my belief that our life’s purpose is to face our barriers to love. These barriers hold us back from experiencing love as best we can. If you have lived, you will have experienced pain. Perhaps you are too afraid to face it. We all have our places where our secrets are hidden, where we hide memories about us or others for which we carry guilt and shame. The more willing we are to face these places, and the part we had to play in creating our own trauma, the greater our experience of will be. Love does not shame, nor does it burden us. Instead, it provides a cushion from which we can look at ourselves so that the pain of reality can be endured more easily.

The flip side of this is that as we become more aware of love, we are also more keenly attuned to our pain and the pain of others. Every journey has its peaks and valleys, but if our intention is to know love then these will not define our life. Our negative experiences give us a chance to grow and change for our good, and eventually the good of others with whom we interact.  

I have made a choice to face my secret places, experience the pain and see love permeating my life. The power of love is such that when we live in it, we no longer remember the how much hurt we have felt but only the joy of experiencing love as we have lived.

Do you have hidden places? What are your barriers to love?

In love, Jenny

Once again, I have been pondering on what it means to conform. According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, to conform is to “behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards.”  Every social setting has a different set of standards.

Because of my obesity, I found it difficult to conform to most sets of standards. At school, in the workplace, church and the world in general I simply could never fit in because of my weight. My hope was that if I lost the weight, I would fit in and finally be acceptable.

To my disappointment, my weight loss did not bring the acceptance I sought. There are three main reasons for this. The impact of morbid obesity in childhood cannot always be reversed, so I will always walk and stand differently. My lifelong food addiction and changes to my lifestyle mean that I eat differently from most others. In a social setting my dietary requirements make me stand out. Perhaps these seems trivial to some, but I have discovered that it does make a difference socially.  

But what I had not factored in was that in overcoming obesity, my main motivation for losing weight would be lost. The inner changes to me as a person mean that I no longer need to conform, and I no longer need to seek outward acceptance because I have it within. I have found peace and happiness without the acceptance of others. My experience is that acceptance in our society does not create mental well-being, it may well create ill health.

Personal transformation does not lead to conformity, nor does it help us to fit in. Instead, it leads to authenticity, and authenticity means we do not conform because we become true to ourselves. This is not an easy way to live, as it can bring unexpected conflict. The very act of authenticity is an act of rebellion in our society. By default, authenticity means letting go of the expectations of others.

True transformation brings its own challenges. Remember this as you embark on your own journey.

In love, Jenny

I rarely speak about my faith, but this Easter I have chosen to share my heart. The way I see it, whatever you believe, you are loved, because your beliefs do not change this fact. This is what I base my life upon.

The Christian message is that Jesus was crucified and died, giving up his soul for us and was resurrected on the 3rd day. Christians celebrate this on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. To me, the love shown in this act is sacrificial and wholehearted and the resurrection shows that true love never fails, it is eternal.

Perhaps you have a different story of love, or perhaps you celebrate love in a different faith. This does not matter to me because the way I see it, the message of Jesus was love and if your faith has at its core, love, it’s good. If we share love, we are all one in love. If our faith is without love, then it has no purpose, and the true intention of the Easter story is lost.

I have experienced my fair share of trauma in the church, so I know the difference between a lived experience and mere talk of faith, the difference between sympathy and empathy, and love and Christian manipulation. Because of my experience I normally choose not to share my beliefs as I fear it will turn people away from what really matters, LOVE. 

The hope that I want to share with the world is that the real message behind Easter is one of love. To live without love is not what Jesus taught. His message, and I hope the message of all faiths is that true love is willing to suffer deeply, as this is profound love. To grasp a love like this is truly freeing.

I hope you experience a love so great that your life is a joy to live. 

In love, Jenny

What is money, and why do we need it? The way I see it, money is the lubricant which enables our commercial world. We need it to pay for services, and businesses need it to keep afloat and to pay their staff, who in turn need it to live their lives and pay for essential items. As an accountant I am acutely aware of how it can be used and abused to manipulate us into becoming what the world wants.

I have had my own share of trauma when it comes to money, or lack thereof. Given my weight earlier in my career, it was hard to earn. After all, how can an obese woman be fast enough to earn it efficiently, and how can she be trusted with it if she cannot control her eating habits? My parents were survivors of poverty, so it was the glue which held our family together. As the third girl, and morbidly obese, I was seen as unfit for the purpose of creating wealth, and my presence was a burden to my family.

Money is a great agent in its place: as a means to an end. It is a problem when it becomes the end purpose of life. We all know someone who lives to increase their assets, and the more they have, the better. We have witnessed those who thrive on increasing their wealth. But are these people happy and have they found their most fulfilling purpose in life? Sadly, it has come to represent success and acceptance to many.

I believe that love is the greater motivation, and that money should be used for this purpose. When we give to others without thought of return, we are successful. When money is in its place, we can truly live a fulfilling life. For me, this means that it is used to maintain my happy place. This gives me the energy to love and reach out to others, which in turn makes me happier. My motivation for the good of others has improved my life greatly. When I learned to replace it with compassion, understanding and acceptance, life became bearable and hope crept in. After all, money cannot be taken with me when I die, but love always remains.

In love, Jenny

Close connection was not something I experienced as a child. Looking back, I can see that we never got to know each other, or at least I felt no one knew me. We related through our roles. My role was the youngest child, the one with the least understanding and maturity, the last to be told and the least significant. Nothing much was asked of me, and my opinion was not sought. I’m not the only youngest child to experience this. My other siblings were given different roles, and this was how we related, everything we said to each other reflected these roles and formed the basis of the strong pecking order in the family.

As a child, it formed my identity as a person. It was the way I fit into my family; it was how I belonged. It wasn’t until I left home and began my journey of self-discovery, that I realised there was much more to me. For the sake of my own integrity, I could no longer maintain what was required to fit in. Breaking out of this was difficult as it affected the relationships within my family.

We are not what we do, nor are we how others define us. Our job, role in our family and friendships are only part of who we are. In life we play many roles, but these can only ever reflect a portion of our whole being. I became an accountant because I enjoy maths. After being employed in the field I discovered that there was more to the role than just playing with numbers. Often those in my profession have a passion for money and the making of it. Sadly, this was not me. I just wanted to play with numbers and use it for the good of others. Hence, I worked for charitable organisations, using my skill in the hope it would help others.

I believe our mission on earth is to discover who we really are and use this to benefit ourselves and world in which we live.

What are your roles? Do you think they are the totality of who you are?

In love, Jenny.