Tag Archives: Asphyxia journal art

Life without toxic relationships

1 Reply

Image: Artwork text of black paint saying, ‘YOU ARE ALLOWED to walk away from TOXIC PEOPLE’. The background is an urban grunge textured wall in black, dripping light brown paint and a slash of a red paint.

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

  • Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;
  • Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;
  • Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;
  • Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.
  • Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;
  • Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;
  • Expects instant forgiveness;
  • Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;
  • Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;
  • Judgemental;
  • Believes they are always right;
  • Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;
  • Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;
  • Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;
  • Indifference to the suffering of others;
  • Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

  • Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;
  • Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;
  • Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;
  • ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;
  • Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: 

  • You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate;
  • you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person;
  • you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable;
  • expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them;
  • the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is;
  • you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere;
  • you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong;
  • you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t;
  • you feel afraid of losing the relationship;
  • you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. Some examples:

  • There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am.
  • I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate.
  • A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

When making new relationships, watch carefully for signs of whether the person has empathy or not, and whether they manipulate you or others. If you spot any red flags, watch carefully to see if this is a pattern of behaviour or just a one off. If it is a one-off, you could try calling the person (gently) on their behaviour and see how they respond. If their response is problematic or the pattern is strong, I encourage you to pull the brakes on the relationship if possible, and distance yourself. If that is impossible, take care to have very strong boundaries with this person and minimise day-to-day involvement.

If you recognise established relationships in your life that are clearly toxic, proceed carefully, as a person who lacks empathy or is manipulative may be quite mild while you are on their side, but become enraged and dangerous when they realise you are not. There are two key strategies to pull the breaks on toxic relationships – one is to establish boundaries and the other is to create distance. You could attempt to establish boundaries first, and go for distance if it fails. But maybe you know the person well enough to know that their behaviour is intrinsic and won’t change, in which case, distance is the only answer.

If it is a romantic relationship, imagine the worst case scenario and make preparations before you change the status quo. Hopefully it won’t come to that. But just in case, these are the kinds of ways you might prepare:

  • Ensure you have financial security, such as your own separate bank account with plenty of funds. If you share money with your partner, you could suggest a change of strategy such as having a joint account with enough money to live on monthly, and the remainder split into personal accounts belonging to each of you.
  • Place important documents such as house titles, bank statements, legal agreements etc in a folder in a safe place where they cannot suddenly ‘disappear’.
  • Talk to a friend or family member, preferably one who does not have a relationship with your partner, and make a plan to stay with them or call them if you need help.

Tried any of the ideas in this post? How did they go? Leave your comments below.

Journal Flip Through – Revolution

Video shows flip through of Asphyxia’s journal which is rich with collage, painted textures, text and photographs.

This is the second of my soft-spine art journals I made myself. It was a vast improvement on the first one, but I was still refining my technique. I put in far too many pages – the book practically exploded from the spine. Now I’ve figured out just the right number of pages per book, and how to tape up the spine so that even if the pages do get too fat, the spine will hold fast.

I still love this journal – I made it at a time I felt I needed a revolution in my life: a long list of problems that needed solving. Early in the journal is my problem chart, along with possible solutions. Throughout the book I kept going back and back to my problems, writing updates about the things I’d tried. And by the time I got to the end, every single problem was under control. I couldn’t have done that process without a journal to keep me on track.

I thought you might enjoy this video flip-through of its pages. If you’d like to learn to make one similar (with my far refined technique), check out my e-course, Make The Book Of Your Dreams.

My journey to become an artist

Image: Artwork of a girl with blue eyes, red lips, and dark plaited hair. She wears a red blouse and has reddish pink roses tumbling over her head and chest. A black bird is perched on her left shoulder, positioned so that the girl’s left eye looks like the bird’s left eye. The girl is positioned to the right of frame, with text on the left reading ‘My journey to become an artist’.

When I’m talking about art with people, I often realise they have an assumption that I am naturally gifted at art. While I have naturally had an intense drive to be creative since I was a little girl, I certainly wasn’t born with any innate talent. My skills with visual art have come simply from years of practise.

If you want to see the progression from my very first art journals to discovering my own style and becoming a professional artist, I’ve blogged about it here.

If you know any aspiring artists, especially those who feel a bit daunted or lack confidence in their skills, this could inspire them and also provide some ideas for how to move forward in their journey. Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested.

My journey to become an artist

When I’m talking about art with people, I often realise they have an assumption that I am naturally gifted at art. While I have naturally had an intense drive to be creative since I was a little girl, I certainly wasn’t born with any innate talent. My skills with visual art have come simply from years of practise.

If you want to see the progression from my very first art journals to discovering my own style and becoming a professional artist, I’ve blogged about it here.

If you know any aspiring artists, especially those who feel a bit daunted or lack confidence in their skills, this could inspire them and also provide some ideas for how to move forward in their journey. Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested.

Journal page 1

Journal page 1

Every now and then I like to do a page in my journal which is full of symbols representing what’s happening for me in my life right now.

On this page you’ll see the lightbulb representing energy – I feel I’ve got more of it at the moment than I’ve had in ages, and it’s wonderful. Part of the reason I’ve got more energy is because that black dog has finally gone. That’s why I did the dog image.. and I made it spotty instead of black! It’s just a representation, right?

There’s two crosses above the dog – they represent health. Working on my health at the moment. To improve my health, I’m learning mindfulness based stress reduction meditation. By doing that, I’m hoping to get rid of the big tight lump of tension at the back of my neck (represented by the black X over my neck).

In the book I’m reading about it, I was struck by the comment, “Front up for your own life.” In other words, be mindful and present for your own life. I’m learning to do that, but you know, sometimes I’m not sure I even WANT to do that – the places I take myself to in my mind are pretty damn interesting, I tell you.

Anyway, I’m trying it on for size. The writing at the bottom of the page reflects that. And there you have it, a page of what’s going on in my life right now.

Want to share your journal pages? Include a link to an image in the comments.. Or just write a little recap instead, tell me and the others on this post what’s happening for you in your life just now. A bit of reflection is always a good thing.

Journal-making workshop

I had the two loveliest Sundays with the women who came to my home to make journals with me.  Preparing for the workshop was really good for me – I looked in detail at my journaling process and methods, and managed to describe it in somewhat formulaic terms.  I was trying to break it down into step-by-step instructions for my students, and now as a result, I understand myself so much better.

A big part of my journaling process is creating the book itself.  I deliberately like a book with varied-sized pages, and I have worked out a formula for what I think is the perfect number of full sized, medium sized and small sized pages.  I’ve worked out exactly how many pages fit in my ultra-journal, and how thick to make the spine so that it holds all the collage I can possibly add, without bursting at the seams.  I took my students through the process of making the book itself:

Journal-making workshop 1

Journal-making workshop 2

They assembled signatures, sewed them up on the sewing machine, and incorporated a whole mix of papers.


Journal-making workshop 3

They made hard covers with a flexible gaffer-tape spine, upcycling old children’s books.

Journal-making workshop 4

They painted artwork to cover their books with.

Journal-making workshop 5

At the end of the first day, everyone had a book, personalised, with their own mix of pages and papers, with a sturdy cover and a soft-spine that lets it open flat on any page.

The next weekend, we came together again to prepare the pages.  When I’m tired and lazy in bed at night, I want to write a bit about my day.  I want my page to look fabulous but I haven’t the energy to thing about making it so.  That’s where prepared pages come in.  I like to collage on my pages beforehands, in a strategic way, so that my pages will be interesting, varied, and still have plenty of space left for writing and images.

Journal-making workshop 6

Through the week, I made my students collage-kits.  They each received a pile of papers that I have painted and assembled from maps, vintage books and other sources.  I took them through a step-by-step process to fill their books with interesting and varied collage-pages.

Journal-making workshop 7

An important part of my process involves designing a “landing page” that you arrive at when you first open the cover of your journal.  This is a beautiful, complex spread full of interesting papers, collage, pockets, tabs and more.  It’s there to draw you in and to be your home base from which you work every day in your book.


Journal-making workshop 8 Journal-making workshop 9

On the last afternoon, we spent time going through techniques for using the book.  How to manage your privacy and personal expression while still ending up with a book that you can show people.  When my students take their books into the world, there’s no doubt, people will be curious about them.  And being able to show them springboards so many conversations and can lead to surprising opportunities…  We talked about a process for using the book as a life coach, a best friend, and still making sure the pages would be beautiful in a raw, personal way.

I gave each of my students a zine, full of journal prompts and reminders for the process I use to get the most out of my journal.  That way they’d have something to tuck into their journal-pockets to refer to, and they wouldn’t have to take notes during the workshop.  Here’s the zine:

Journal-making workshop 10

This item has sold out.

While my students worked, in between helping them, I made a pile of journals myself, as commissions and gifts:

Journal-making workshop 11 Journal-making workshop 12 Journal-making workshop 13

So, now that the students have gone home, and I’ve posted off the books I made, what’s next?  I have plans.  I’m hoping to make an online course version of this workshop.  Paula and Jesse video’d me making one of the books, and I’ve written up all my notes.

But.. I’m mired in technical problems now!  How to make an epub book with videos, how to size them all correctly, how to export it… yikes!  If anyone is in the mood to help me, is savvy with this sort of thing, please do sing out!  In the meantime, I shall battle onwards, and if I ever solve the great Technological Humps before me, I shall bring to you an online journal-making coure.  Stay tuned…