Who's Pulling My Strings?: How I Learned to Free the Puppet and Feel Safe to Be Me

Who's Pulling My Strings?: How I Learned to Free the Puppet and Feel Safe to Be Me

by Mardi Kirkland
Who's Pulling My Strings?: How I Learned to Free the Puppet and Feel Safe to Be Me

Who's Pulling My Strings?: How I Learned to Free the Puppet and Feel Safe to Be Me

by Mardi Kirkland


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When Mardi Kirkland resigned from a corporate management career to start her own business, she told herself she was a macho woman who could accomplish anything. Suddenly instead, she was confronted with a far stronger belief about herself that threatened to sabotage her every move. While this awareness was shocking, she realized it had been running the show most of her life.

While wanting to be an authentic person, she, instead, was consumed with thinking and saying what she thought others wanted to hear. She had no clue what being authentic looked like.

Willing to do "whatever it takes," Mardi embarked on a personal journey to discover what had gotten her to this place, to heal her wounds, and create a new life based on self-love, acceptance, and joy.

"Who's Pulling My Strings" takes the reader beyond theory and lists of things to do to change your life. It shows you what it will be like to take these life-changing steps, and what to do when obstacles seem to be blocking your path.

As you travel with Mardi on her journey, you feel like she is also your companion on the expedition to your inner universe, understanding your fears, encouraging you to touch your core and find your heart. Mardi talks with you as if the two of you are sitting in your living room having an intimate conversation.


A woman seeks to free herself from the lingering effects of a tumultuous past in this debut memoir.
When Kirkland confronted a change of career--from territory manager of a Fortune 100 company to beauty consultant with Mary Kay--she confided to a friend, "I can't fail...because then everyone will know I'm no good." It was a shocking revelation, and she began seeking answers that would help her achieve a sense of emotional wholeness. She first explored her childhood, during which she says her authoritarian parents taught her to fear a harsh God; she realized that this ultimately stifled her positive energy and convinced her she was "no good." She writes that these feelings led her into two failed marriages in which she felt "unloved and unlovable," and that they also motivated her to seek success as a way to cover up her insecurities. However, this book focuses less on her emotional trials and more on her recovery. Drawing on information from various workshops, books, and personal experiences, she details her coping strategies, such as studying her past and its consequences, reframing unhealthy thought processes, validating and exploring negative emotions, and learning to forgive others. One of the memoir's most appealing qualities is Kirkland's excitement as she shares successes in her healing process. The book could have been trimmed down, as it repeats many ideas in different chapters. Overall, though, it flows very easily, offering astute commentary and excellent imagery. Readers may find that not all the coping strategies resonate with them, particularly the unconventional ones, such as having conversations with different parts of oneself or considering how one's birth story affected one's later life. However, there are many insightful ideas that readers may find beneficial, such as using criticism to learn about oneself and finding compassion for wrongdoers by considering their upbringings. Although Kirkland's specific background is unique, the principles she shares are universal and worth a read.

An engaging collection of coping principles for soul-searching readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452592725
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 06/24/2016
Pages: 194
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Who's Pulling My Strings?

How I Learned to Free the Puppet and Feel Safe to Be Me

By Mardi Kirkland

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2016 Mardi Kirkland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-9272-5


Where Am I?

Freedom at last, I thought as I walked out of my office in Southern California for the last time. For the past ten years I'd been climbing the ladder of a Fortune 100 company, feeling financially secure and successful, and at the same time unfulfilled and inhibited by corporate regime. Being the only female Territory Manager in the company (which at that time was unusual) and a well-respected rising star, I thought I was truly a woman who could do anything. Now I was going to prove it.

Two weeks earlier I had entered the office of my boss and good friend, opened my briefcase, pulled out a bottle of champagne and two glasses, announcing "We're going to celebrate." Popping the cork, filling the glasses and exclaiming, "Congratulate me," I handed him my letter of resignation. "I'm doing what you and I have talked about for years. I am getting out of here, and I'm going into business for myself."

Some part of me had been pushing to get me out of corporate America for a long time. I believed the stress of the job that I didn't enjoy, and the hours I spent in traffic on LA freeways were killing me. I told myself I had to leave this meaningless rat race and find something fulfilling, or I would die – literally die. At this point my desperation was extreme, and I probably would have grabbed at any opportunity that looked halfway decent to me.

My decision was to return to my former business venture as a beauty consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Prior to the confidence shattering experience of my divorce ten years earlier, I had been moderately successful. But I then decided I needed the security of a real job and a regular paycheck. Now, after ten years in the corporate world, I had an enormous ego convincing me I was destined for overnight success -- for sure I'd be driving a pink Cadillac within six months. "You'll show those people who think you're crazy leaving your sure thing with a regular paycheck, bonuses and company car. Most especially, you'll show your family how great you are," my ego crowed.

Three days later, beginning the first day of my new life, I felt anything but confident, let alone powerful. My first Mary Kay presentation was scheduled for that evening, and I was paralyzed, gripped by a fear I couldn't understand. I felt petrified.

A phone conversation that afternoon irrevocably altered the course of my life. "Hey, I just called to congratulate you on your bold move," my friend in New Jersey said as I answered the phone. Thanking her, I then admitted how I was feeling.

"Do you remember Frank, my client/friend we had dinner with a few times when I was still living in Southern California?" she replied.

"Yeah, I remember Frank -- a nice guy we called a friendly cynic," I said.

"Yes, well I just talked to him today for the first time in six months," she answered, "and it was like talking to a different person. He told me about some kind of personal growth training he was involved with that changed his life. Why don't you give him a call? I don't know what it is, but I have this feeling that maybe he could help you."

I hadn't seen or talked to Frank in three years. I didn't know if he would recall our past meetings, but in that moment's despair, I probably would have called anybody. I did feel a little silly calling a guy who I wasn't sure would remember me, let alone want to listen to me talk about feeling scared to death.

"Remember me?" I asked hesitantly when he answered my call. He did, and I told him our mutual friend suggested I call him after telling her I was feeling terrified because of the life change I'd just made.

"I just quit my job, and I'm in business for myself selling Mary Kay Cosmetics. I thought that after all my accomplishments in the corporate world, this would be the easiest thing I've ever done -- that I would immediately be a huge success. Instead, I feel like I can't move." The words tumbled out rapidly, and I felt embarrassed.

When I paused, Frank asked, "Well, what's the worst that can happen?"

I thought for a moment, my terror escalating. "I-I could fail," I stammered.

"So you fail, and then you sell your house, move to Hawaii and wait tables in a cool restaurant on the beach. It's not a big deal."

"You just don't understand, I CAN'T FAIL." Clearly he doesn't see this is a life and death matter. After going back and forth a few times, me repeating I can't fail, and Frank trying to convince me it didn't matter, Frank dropped his voice to a very soft pitch.

He gently asked, "You can't fail because?"

I sat on the floor in the living room of the home I loved and was so proud to own -- a material symbol of my success I'd worked so hard to achieve. Leaning against the sofa, tears streamed from my eyes, rolling down my cheeks. "I can't fail," I almost whispered, "because then everyone will know I'm no good."

I was shocked as the words tumbled out of my mouth. Shocked -- and yet at the same time I was aware of a feeling that was very familiar. In that instant I knew these were the words I had been saying to myself inside my mind my entire life. Little did I know I had lived my life up until then as a puppet – allowing anyone and everyone to pull the strings, rarely pulling my own. Only in this instant did I become aware. In a moment I went from being a woman who told herself she had everything, to knowing I was a woman who had nothing because I didn't have me.

My journey was destined to begin whether I knew it or not. Once my truth was out in the open, the healing trek began. It wasn't easy. Acknowledging that I believed I was no good was a pain I could hardly bear. Simultaneously, this pain was also a blessing, for it provided me with constant motivation to do whatever it took to heal myself.

No wonder it mattered so much what other people said and thought about me. When I thought of myself as unacceptable, what other choice was there but to look outside of me for validation? There was none coming from within. This is a definition for puppet that needs to be included in the dictionary.

Then there was the "D" word, denial. They say denial works best with the person doing the denying. I had buried the truth of what I believed, hid it from myself, and projected these beliefs on to others -- what I thought they believed and said about me. I was unaware until that moment sitting on the floor of my living room, that what I had always believed about myself was that I was no good.


How Did I Get Here?

How did I get this way? Where did it start? When?

When I look at where I was when my journey began, it seems sinister, almost evil. It was like a murder mystery, a whodunit, that needed unraveling to find the source. Actually, this was more true than not. Being imprisoned by concern about what others thought of me, and relying on others validation of me, kept me from being fully alive. What was inside me that was so flawed – seemingly bent on my destruction -- while on the outside I was constantly trying to prove I was good?

Or was my mind like a computer with a corrupt operating system? Something inside me was running my life without my awareness. I needed to find it and to investigate how I got this way. And if I figured out what had been choreographing my life, could I rewrite the program? Would I be able to create an operating system based on truth?

So, what is my story? My family's critical remarks -- actually anyone's -- seemed to have the power to cripple me. Even what I thought others were thinking about me kept me from being myself. Clearly, I wasn't pulling my own strings, and those who were pulling them probably didn't even know they were doing so. I believe there is one reason, and one reason only my story, or anybody's story for that matter, is important. I needed to know where I was at the start of my journey.

Don't let me fool you. I was in love with my story, and repeated it endlessly to anyone who was willing to listen. It was kind of like a pet I wanted to show to everyone. Yes, it got me some attention, but was it the kind of attention I wanted, that I craved?

I discovered eventually that my story was made up, based on my perception of life events, and not necessarily the events themselves. I believe it is important to write our story for the purpose of discovery. For me it seemed the only way to uncover the decisions I made about me as a result of my life experiences.

How was I going to know how to get where I wanted to go if I didn't know my starting point? It was as if I wanted to know how to get to New York, and when asked where I was now, I said, "Uh, I don't have the vaguest idea." The directions to New York would be vastly different if I started in London rather than Los Angeles. It was time for me to get real, to get honest with me.

It 's a "Once Upon a Time" Story

I decided to write my story as if it was a fairytale. You know, "Once upon a time ...?" I thought it might be easier to get to the truth if I told myself I was just making up a story about a little girl that wasn't necessarily me.

As I told myself that I was just pretending to know something, I found the truth revealed itself more readily. Playing pretend suspended my fearful, limiting thoughts that kept me from accessing the truth. The little girl in me also thought this made it seem like fun rather than a chore. In fairytale form here's the story she told.

Mardi's Fairytale

Once upon a time there was a little girl who came into life feeling very happy, bouncy and full of joy. Soon after she was born she realized something was awfully, awfully wrong. No one around her seemed happy, and her joy felt out of place. Her parents were very religious, very, very strict, and very, very, very serious.

Her daddy was a preacher man obsessed with the evil world, Satan and someone he called the antichrist. Every sermon he preached was about fearing God, judgment day and hell as he spoke loudly from the pulpit, usually long beyond the allotted time. The little girl lived imprisoned with her father and all to whom he preached behind a wall of fear and guilt. The prison warden was God. The little girl learned that to love God was to fear God.

Her mother kept her mouth shut, and never put forth a differing thought or opinion from her father's ranting. Men were right and meant to be followed in silent submission, she taught her daughter. She never heard words of love, only corrections. The little girl came to believe she must be bad and evil.

She went to schools run by the church, where also she was taught she was a sinner, Judgment Day was at hand, and she must be ready at all times. Each night as she knelt beside her bed praying to Jesus to forgive all her sins, she wondered "what are all my sins?" She was taught that if one sin was left unforgiven she would be cast into the fiery pit of hell with Satan to burn forever. She just wasn't sure what that one sin might be.

She laid in her bed at night afraid to go to sleep for fear death and hell might come before morning. When she heard a plane flying overhead she froze in terror that it might be the Russians (the present enemy of the U.S.) coming to drop a bomb on her house, fearing she would die and go to hell because there might be a sin that was not forgiven.

She didn't tell anyone how she felt, she didn't dare. What if she told someone and they verified she was a horrible sinner that was certain to go to hell? She constantly studied all the people around her, trying to figure out what being perfect looked like. The little girl craved love. She wanted to feel loved, to feel safe, to feel treasured. It wasn't that her parents didn't love her, but love to them meant fear, discipline and obedience. That didn't feel like love to her.

She watched her big sister being stubborn and arguing with Mother and Daddy, which certainly didn't get her love and approval. So, the little girl decided she must be different. She must be very good, and try to do everything right, just the way the grown-ups wanted.

She watched and listened to her mother and father to get clues to what she thought they wanted her to say and do. She tried to act that way all the time so they would be pleased with her and make her feel loved.

This behavior didn't work any better than her sister's stubbornness. Her parents didn't believe in showing approval and giving praise to anyone. They didn't know how to make her feel loved.

They believed their job as good parents was to correct and discipline their children, to make them perfect so they wouldn't go to hell. They believed that if you told your children they were good, they would become vain and lazy, most certainly sinful.

Over and over the little girl heard her mother finish her disapproving comments with, "What will people think?" As the little girl grew up that phrase became her personal mantra, "What will people think? What will people think? What will people think?"

She became an expert at observing and listening to what others said in order to try and get a sense of her. She didn't have a clue about who she was because she was always attempting to be what she thought other people wanted her to be, so they would love and approve of her.

She was terrified of criticism for fear she would hear she was no good. This way of being became a habit that operated automatically without her knowing it.

She finished college and married her college sweetheart, naively believing they had a love that would last forever. But it was the sixties. Drugs, sex and rock and roll became her husband's main menu, while she tried to accomplish her list of duties required for being the perfect wife and mother and paying the bills.

Eventually, he lost his job, left town and never returned, leaving her with months of unpaid rent, a pile of bills, and a 6 month old son. Soon after she met the man who became her second husband, thinking she had really found the right one because he seemed utterly responsible.

Again, she was blind to the fact that he didn't make her feel treasured and loved. He treated her much the same as her parents had, often berating her with disapproval and criticism. She groveled in his presence, never speaking up for herself.

"Have you ever thought of being a Mary Kay beauty consultant," someone said to her in her late twenties? I think you'd be wonderful." Wonderful? No one had ever before told her she'd be wonderful at anything.

"If you don't like yourself, how can you expect anybody else to," she heard at a workshop? These words took her breath away. Of course she was obsessed with wanting everyone to like her. But, liking yourself -- wasn't that a sin?

Sin or no sin – it felt good, and she went for it. Whatever Mary Kay had, she wanted it. She read positive thinking and self-help books. She practiced telling herself over and over that she was good and wonderful.

Inevitably, she ended the marriage in which she felt unloved and unlovable. She knew there was something in her that needed to be fixed, but she didn't know what that was. She hoped someday she would find out.

Engulfed in the responsibility of providing for and raising her two children, years passed. A couple of serious love affairs took her into heights of joy and ecstasy she hadn't dreamed possible. She felt cherished and sure the love would last forever, but both ended in betrayal and heartbreak. She didn't know why.

At forty she felt happier and more aware than she had in her twenties and thirties, yet still she was caught in the trap of trying to make others think she was good and wonderful, and cared too much if they didn't.

She passed the quizzes in popular magazines with high scores that predicted she was desirable, destined for success, the woman men wanted to marry. If she was so wonderful, why did her life feel like a disappointment? She was alone, raising her kids by herself. She wasn't a rich and famous success. Great men weren't beating down her door begging her to marry them. Something wasn't right, but she was afraid to look inside and admit that something was wrong.

Then, one day something happened that made her wake up and change her life forever.

Writing my story was a rich revelation. I would love to have been the little girl that had perfect parents, a child who knew from my beginning the truth and beauty of me. I would love to be able to say that what I knew about me was that I was wonderful and perfectly loved just that way I wanted to be loved. Has anyone actually had a life that perfect?


Excerpted from Who's Pulling My Strings? by Mardi Kirkland. Copyright © 2016 Mardi Kirkland. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, ix,
Chapter 1: Where Am I?, 1,
Chapter 2: How Did I Get Here?, 5,
Chapter 3: What Do I Do Now That I Know?, 13,
Chapter 4: What Was I Thinking?, 16,
Chapter 5: How Does This "Thought Power" Work?, 22,
Chapter 6: The Truth in the Mirror, 27,
Chapter 7: Victim Or Creator?, 34,
Chapter 8: Finding The Thinker, 44,
Chapter 9: Uncovering The Big Lie, 49,
Chapter 10: What Do I Do With These Feelings?, 61,
Chapter 11: You Want Me To Feel What?!, 66,
Chapter 12: Calling Up My Courage, 73,
Chapter 13: I Feel Angry, 88,
Chapter 14: Mourning Losses, 97,
Chapter 15: What About The Shame?, 105,
Chapter 16: How Do I Heal?, 115,
Chapter 17: Why Do We Resist Change?, 122,
Chapter 18: Is It Fear Or Is It Love?, 127,
Chapter 19: The Cleanup, 131,
Chapter 20: Disarming My Critic, 142,
Chapter 21: Emotional Giant, 155,
Chapter 22: Learning To Forgive, 163,
Chapter 23: No Strings Attached!, 174,

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