5 Ways to Improve Communication with Your Partner for Joy, Peace, and a Deeper Relationship

So often, one or both members of a couple are shocked to discover their beloved partner has become a stranger. And sometimes it’s even more distressing — we wake up and find that not only does our partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend not just seem to be a stranger … but someone with whom we can’t imagine ever having joyfully coexisted.

The truth is, this is not an uncommon experience. And more importantly, it’s not a sign that your relationship is doomed or over. It doesn’t mean you married the “wrong” person, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure in romance. It does often mean that our relational skills rarely keep pace with our individual growth processes, and we often don’t notice it’s happened until the lines of communication have ground to a halt.

Hopefully, we are all continuously growing in meaningful and often surprising ways throughout adulthood. Growth means some kind of change. We frequently forget that when we initially learned to communicate with our partner, it wasn’t crystal clear from the get-go. There were bumps in the road, misunderstandings, and even deeply hurt feelings because people who are new to each other don’t know each other well enough yet to create smooth and effective conversation. And just about the time we really think we’ve got it down to a fine science, we discover we’ve evolved just enough as individuals that we’re overdue for a sort of re-familiarizing and exploration of this new version of ourselves, and a fresh introduction of that new self’s communication needs and nonverbal messaging. We might become frustrated with our partner’s seeming inability to appreciate how we are now doing business, and interpret that as a newly discovered shortcoming on their part or even a sign of trouble in the relationship itself.

Here are 5 great ways to help you rediscover the partner you want in your relationship:

1. Remember that people change, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just new.

Most of us expect that communication abilities with our partner are a bit like recipes we learned by heart long ago. A chocolate chip from 1998 is fundamentally the same as a chocolate chip from 2018, and so using the same chocolate chips should get you the same results every time. We’d all be pretty irritated if Grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe suddenly ceased producing delicious treats and we’d done nothing differently!

But as individuals, we aren’t chocolate chips. Even if we don’t realize we’re different than we used to be, the classic recipe may not produce the same delicious treats. We need to look for a new one that accounts for the wonderful new ingredients that admittedly have different properties than the old ones. We need to look forward and focus on our goal of delicious treats made with the ingredients we have now.

2. Old dogs can definitely learn new tricks.

When people grow, and their needs, wants, and deepest selves evolve, they often feel that their relationship or their partner cannot possibly accommodate these new qualities. This creates a sense of competition for space in the relationship, and one or both of the individuals may have the sense that there is only enough “room” for one person’s feelings, needs, or desires at a time, to which the other person must yield. The truth is that, regardless if one person or both individuals have changed or in what direction, most relationships often can accommodate multiple and seemingly irreconcilable individual growth.

3. You can both be right, and no one has to compromise.

One of the greatest communication skills that any couple can cultivate is that of collaboratively allowing for the peaceful, nonthreatening existence of feelings that are seeming in conflict, without “surrendering,” “giving in,” or “compromising.” When we become attached to the idea that only one thing can be true or right at a time, we limit ourselves, our partner, and our relationship. The two little — but so powerful — words, “yes, and …” validate the importance of each individuals’ perspective and contribution, while directing the focus towards a larger cohesiveness that surpasses individual differences.

4. Know your attachment style and your partner’s. And don’t forget it.

People respond differently to the threat of distance, abandonment, and relational strain. It has a lot to do with family dynamics from childhood. But you’re not a kid anymore, and neither is your partner. Read up on attachment styles so you can own your emotional responses and not ascribe them to your partner as something he/she needs to “fix” about themselves so you can interact more peaceably.

5. Keep your eye on the important stuff.

Have a good heart to heart with yourself and find out if you’re more focused on being right or being happy. There’s a good chance the two have very different pathways.

Allowing for multiple truths to co-exist can feel threatening, initially. But ultimately it creates a space of ultimate safety for both parties that frequently brings them closer, because they feel they can share themselves (including the newly discovered parts of themselves) in the deepest possible way with their partner without fear of being judged. The confidence to be genuine and authentic is a powerful bonding force between intimate partners; one that transcends the “differences” that constitute the subject.

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Why So Many Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment and Assault

When women started coming out of the woodwork stating that they too had been sexually harassed or assaulted by a man, people wondered, “Why did they wait so long to report it?” and “Why didn’t they speak up at the time?”

As a psychotherapist who has specialized in working with former victims of abuse for nearly forty years, I have found that there are actually many reasons why women don’t report sexual harassment and sexual assault, including:

  1. Denial and minimization. Many women refuse to believe that the treatment they endured was actually abusive. They downplay how much they have been harmed by sexual harassment and even sexual assault.
  2. Fear of the consequences. Many fear losing their job, not being able to find another job, being passed over for a promotion, being branded a troublemaker.
  3. Fear they will not be believed. Sexual misconduct is the most under-reported crime because victims’ accounts are often scrutinized to the point of exhaustion and there has been a long history of women not being believed.
  4. Shame. Shame is at the core of the intense emotional wounding women (and men) experience when they are sexually violated. Abuse, by its very nature, is humiliating and dehumanizing. The victim feels invaded and defiled, while simultaneously experiencing the indignity of being helpless and at the mercy of another person. This sense of shame often causes victims to blame themselves for the sexual misconduct of the perpetrator. Case in point, Lee Corfman, the woman who reported that, at age 14, she was molested by Roy Moore, the controversial Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama said, “I felt responsible. I thought I was bad.”

A History of Being Sexually Violated

There is yet another important reason that prevents women from reporting sexual offenses —the fact that many of these women have been sexually abused as a child or raped as an adult. Research shows that survivors of previous abuse and assault are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted or harassed in the future. Women who have already been traumatized by child sexual abuse or assaulted as an adult are far less likely to speak out about sexual harassment at work or at school.

You’ve no doubt heard it said that sexual assault is not about sex—it is about power. It is about one person overpowering another. When a victim of sexual abuse has the experience of being overpowered they experience a sense of vulnerability, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that is unmatched by any other experience. Once a girl has been sexually abused she loses the sense of ownership over her own body, her self-esteem has been shattered and she becomes overwhelmed with shame. This sense of shame further robs her of her power, her sense of efficacy and agency, and her belief that she can change her circumstance.

This sense of shame has a cumulative effect. Depending on how much a woman has already been shamed by previous abuse, she may choose to try to forget the entire incident, to put her head in the sand and try to pretend the incident never happened.

Those who experienced previous abuse will also tend to respond to overtures of sexual harassment much differently than women who have not been previously abused. It has been found that many children who have previously been sexually abused freeze when yet another person makes a move on them. Some have described feeling like they are standing in cement. They can’t move, they can’t run away, they can’t protect themselves. Instead, they feel powerless and are triggered by memories from previous abuse. I believe this is what happens when some women are sexually harassed or assaulted at work. Their first reaction may be to freeze or go into denial. As one client shared with me, “I couldn’t believe it was happening, I just stood there and let him touch me.”

Some women realize that their reactions to inappropriate sexual advances is strange or inappropriate. Some may have realized that the reason they didn’t report was because they already felt so much shame from previous experiences of child sexual abuse or rape. But many are completely in the dark, not able to connect the dots between their present behavior and their previous abuse experiences.

Those who were sexually abused in childhood often have such low self-esteem as a result of previous trauma that they don’t consider something like sexual harassment to be that serious. They don’t value or respect their own bodies, so if someone violates them, they downplay it. As one client who had been sexually violated by a boss when she was in her early twenties shared with me, “My body had already been so violated by the sexual abuser that my boss grabbing my butt and breasts didn’t seem like any big deal.”

In the last several years there has been a focus on raising the self-esteem of girls and young women. We want our young women to feel proud and strong, to walk with their heads held high. We try to instill confidence in them and tell them they can do whatever they set their minds to do. We send them off to college or to their first jobs with the feeling that they are safe, that they can protect themselves and that we will protect them. But this is a lie. They are not safe, they don’t know how to protect themselves and we don’t protect them.

How ironic that we now have movements to encourage and empower girls and women all over the world but the fact is that 1 in 3 girls are either sexually abused or raped in their lifetime, traumas that undermine or even wipe out any gains in self-esteem they may experience.

Those with a history of sexual abuse or assault are more likely to keep quiet since they may have already had the experience of not being believed and not receiving justice.

My own personal experience with not being believed when I reported having been sexually abused by a family friend at age nine had a powerful and lasting effect on me. The feeling of helplessness was devastating for me. It followed me throughout the rest of my childhood, into my teens and into my adulthood. When I was raped at twelve I didn’t tell my mother, nor did I report it to the police. I assumed no one would believe me. When I was sexually harassed at my first job, I didn’t report  it for the same reason.

It is vitally important that we all realize that those with a history of sexual abuse or assault, especially if they reported it and were not believed, are far less likely to report any further sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement has empowered a lot of women to come forward to tell their truth and this is encouraging. However, the fact that women with a history of abuse have a much harder time both defending themselves from and reporting sexual misconduct right away is an enormous problem that needs to be exposed. Only then can we make a significant change to the climate of secrecy and silence that still surrounds the issues of sexual harassment and assault.

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Best of Our Blogs: February 23, 2018

In Sound True’s Insight at the Edge podcast with Gabrielle Bernstein, she explains a thought-provoking view-that judgment is a form of addiction, something that starts with a temporary high and ends with an emotional hangover.

“I think I can see for myself, before doing this process I felt justified in my judgment. I felt like they were protecting me. It was a false sense of protection. But when I really started to dig into it, I could see how detrimental the behavior was, and how it was really bringing me down. The reason I believe that judgment is an addictive pattern is that the same way we would use drugs, or alcohol, or work, or sex, or love—to project out, to do something, to anesthetize a deep-rooted wound or discomfort.”

This applies to everyone we judge from our neighbors to politicians. The next time you catch yourself judging your partner or yourself, stop and think about why you’re being triggered, what are you most afraid of and what can you do to enact positive changes in your life.

Our top posts on behaviors you shouldn’t put up with, ways you’re avoiding change, how to adopt positive behaviors and coping skills are all tools to refocus your attention on things you can work on instead of resorting to judgment.

7 Toxic Behaviors You Should Never Tolerate
(Knotted) –  Are you excusing behaviors that should never be tolerated? It’s quite likely you suffered from “being marginalized, ignored, mocked or picked on” in your childhood.

Nine Lies We Tell Ourselves To Avoid Change
(Cultivating Contentment & Happiness) – Here are the real reasons why you procrastinate and can’t seem to reach your goals.

Don’t Be Fooled by Smoke and Mirrors: 12 Traits of Truly Authentic People
(Success in the Workplace) – Your smart phone and social media use may be affecting your ability to have healthy relationships. This will help you determine who is authentic and real in social situations.

38 Ways To Relax And Change Your Imbalanced Thinking
(Caregivers, Family & Friends) – Have you experienced shakiness, sweating, dizziness, nausea and racing thoughts? Try these tips to calm you down and help you cope.

Habits Of Successful Relationships
(Dating & Relationships) – If you or your partner struggles with a bad habit that’s hurting your relationship, all is not lost. You can start with this plan to build healthier habits.

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​Teaching Teens Ways to Excel at School Despite Mental Illness

Author imageTwo extremely upsetting statistics came out not too long ago. Reports have found that not only is there a link between absenteeism in school and mental illness, but there is also a correlation between suspensions from schools and children who have mental or neurological health concerns. These include personality disorders, depression, ADHD, autism and spectrum disorders, and other mental health issues, both treated and untreated.

This is a major concern. Rather than recognizing symptoms and reaching out to provide support to the students who need it most, those children are being thrown out of the very environment that would provide them the most stability to manage their conditions. Not only that, but it is stigmatizing mental illness in our youth and taking away their chance for a solid education.

The Rise of Youth Mental Health Risks

In 2008, suicide was named the third most prevalent cause of death for people 18 and under. Since then the number has risen and suicide is now the second leading cause of death in our young people.

Other factors are also at play. Many illnesses, such as depression, begin to present as young as 12 years old. Other conditions, such as ADHD, can have a marked impact on emotional health and can exhibit much younger. Those under the poverty line are especially at risk and face the highest number of consequences related to their mental health.

Part of this is likely due to lack of funding in poorer areas of the country. We see correlations with poverty and many public health crises, from mental to physical afflictions. For example, rates of obesity and diabetes are both more common in less wealthy portions of the US. Untreated mental health is another serious issue that has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.

Taking Their Future

Looking at these facts makes the reports of suspension and absenteeism all the more heartbreaking. For myself, it also hit a nerve. My son is was adopted at the age of six. Right away we noticed some difficulties and by the age of eight he was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Through the years he has struggled with other mental health issues, though through intervention and wonderful experiences with dedicated educators, administration and medical professionals he has grown into a well-adjusted young man well on his way to a bright future.

Not all children are so lucky. Without the help and attention my son received, I can only imagine what state he might be in today. The statistics show that such a fate is the reality of thousands of children every year that fall through the cracks and don’t get the assistance they so desperately require.

We are taking our children’s future from them, for nothing more than the crime of being born with struggles that are manageable.

Intervening as Parents

Many schools seem to be trying to fix this problem and are implementing specialized programs and one on one care for students who struggle with ADHD, behavior problems, and depression. School districts in my own state of Utah have been offering free counseling and classes to students and their families, an invaluable resource.

As parents, we can further this effort through our own actions in the home. We have to step up and work with them on school work. We need to find them tutors or online sites where they can catch up with concepts they struggle with. We need to offer emotional support and encourage them. We need to show interest in their hobbies and help them take part in them.

These are not guaranteed solutions to mental illness, of course. Doctors should be consulted, therapy should be sought and medication may be necessary in extreme situations. But health is holistic, incorporating more than just therapeutic methods into daily life. It is what we do from the time we wake up to when we sleep that has the biggest impact on our mental and emotional well-being.

References:

  • Prevalence. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2ARMCtc
  • Jarosz, A. V. Suicide Replaces Homicide as Second-Leading Cause of Death Among U.S. Teenagers. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2cyinIc
  • Liahona Academy. The Reality of Teen Depression [Infographic]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2osnsrR
  • Murray, Sally. Poverty and Health. (n.d). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2CdPP6G

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How Do We Assure the Children?

Fabrice Florin from Mill Valley, USA - Tam High Vigil for Parkland School ShootingIf polled, most parents would say it was their primary job to protect their children from harm. “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t touch a hot stove.” “Don’t go off with a stranger.” These are common instructions offered from adults to young ones.

Responsible parents keep a watchful eye on those in their care. Until the past decade or so, that was sufficient. In recent years, a feeling of helplessness has overcome some. Sending your child to school in the morning didn’t fit into the worry category. In the wake of the most recent school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, it has become a present fear and a reminder that certain occurrences are beyond a parent’s control.

When shots rang out that Valentine’s Day afternoon, students were completing a day that ironically began with an affirmation, “Life supports me in every way possible.”

A series of disturbing pieces of information were revealed about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz who had been expelled from the school. It painted a picture of an emotionally disturbed young man whose adopted parents had died, and he was taken in by family friends who say they had no idea he was planning the demise of so many people. He was obsessed with guns and posted photos of himself on social media. He allegedly abused his former girlfriend and tormented animals. Rumors were that he was part of a militia/white supremacist group. The FBI had been aware of his postings, and he was still able to legally purchase as firearm known as an AR-15.

It was considered one of the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent history, including Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and Columbine. Sadly, many have become inured to the effects of regular reports of violence that can occur anytime, anywhere in the world.  

An admission here: I am not a gun enthusiast. I have never held one, nor do I plan to. I have never lived with anyone who owned guns. I have a few friends who are responsible gun owners. One, who is a gun safety trainer, is my source for accurate, albeit, paradigm stretching information. When we have conversations, they are food for thought. He considers himself politically liberal and has attended all kinds of peace-related events, rallies and marches, so not everyone who carries a gun, carries right wing views.

I have a visceral response to the topic, so writing about this deadly attack has been challenging. Even though what happens anywhere in the world ultimately impacts all of us, this is personal since my daughter-in-law is a teacher and I see many clients in my counseling practice who are students K-12.

My friend shared this bit of weaponry wisdom that is taught to those who take training.

The Gun Safety Rules Are:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (meaning, assume they are)
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

This tragedy is complex and multi-layered. To explain to children what happened takes fortitude and self-examination that may feel like more than most parents have the training to express. How can you be a calm source of comfort for children in your life who question how this could have happened? Some ideas that can be of assistance.

    • Ask yourself about your stance on guns. Do you own them?  If so, are they safely sequestered? What is the purpose of gun ownership in your case? How do you educate your children about their safe use?
    • What are your thoughts about gun violence and how it impacts on children?
    • What are your thoughts about mental illness and gun ownership? Statistically, more people with mental health diagnoses are victims of violence than they are perpetrators.
    • Do you consider gun violence a public health crisis? The Centers for Disease Control advocates for that perspective.
    • What do you teach your children about healthy expression of emotion? Anger is a normal human emotion that can be used as either a tool for positive change or a weapon for emotional or physical threat.
    • How about the idea, “If you see something, say something”? If your child is aware of threats made, even seemingly in jest, they are to be taken seriously. If someone posts photos or words that indicate a desire to do harm, it is important to tell a trusted adult. Second guessing is no comfort when lives are in the balance.
    • Does your child isolate or reach out to socialize with others?  Are they aware of other children who are ostracized or bullied? Are they in the role of perpetrator or victim of bullying?
    • Be a good example of healthy communication. Model cooperation, compassion and empathy. Remain open to hearing your child’s concerns about school, self-worth and socialization.

Recently, I was speaking with an administrator of a local high school in a community with a pervasive gun culture. I asked what the environment was like for his students. The teachers assured them that to the best of their ability, they would look out for their wellbeing. Their school utilizes the ALICE system that is meant to protect and empower the children and teens. The acronym is meant to reflect intervention on the part of teachers and students and has been proven to have positive impact.

  • Alert
  • Lockdown
  • Inform
  • Counter
  • Evacuate

A few days following the attack, I was sitting with a 12-year-old client who, in a matter of fact manner, outlined the drills his school did in anticipation of a gun-toting intruder. I held back tears as I told him that I was sorry they needed to go through this and that when I was his age, we had fire drills that had us line up for a short time in the parking lot. That was it. No fear of threat to life and limb as I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s. No cowering in closets. No piling desks, bookshelves and chairs against doors. No heart racing terror that my friends and I wouldn’t make it home that day.

Students and teachers have elected to take matters into their own hands and speak out about their concerns. May they be heard, respected and responded to in ways that save lives.

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Podcast: Come On, Get Happy – The App

More and more apps are showing up that are geared toward mental health. One such app is called, simply, “Happy.” This simple to use app allows a user to speak with a “giver” (an emotional support individual) to discuss whatever happens to be troubling the user. In this episode, we speak with the company’s CEO, who explains how the app works, the vetting process of the givers, and plans for the future of the app. The importance of emotional support is also discussed, as are specifics on how the app works, including how a user is matched with a giver.

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Happy the App Show Highlights:

“When we give somebody our time, we’re literally giving them a piece of our life.” ~ Jeremy Fischbach

[1:46]   What exactly is this app for?

[6:07]   How does a user get matched with a “giver”?

[10:16] How important is emotional support, really?

[17:50] How does the app work?

[19:24] Do the givers get paid?

[20:37] How does one become a giver?

 

About Our Guest

Jeremy Fischbach is the CEO and co-founder of ‘Happy’ (www.happytheapp.io), a start-up that aims to change the culture of support in the United States by significantly expanding the number of people who can provide and receive the critical component of mental health, emotional support. Jeremy has a BA in psychology from Princeton and a JD from NYU.

 

 

About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. In addition to hosting The Psych Central Show, Gabe is an associate editor for PsychCentral.com. He also runs an online Facebook community, The Positive Depression/Bipolar Happy Place, and invites you to join.  To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

 

 

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Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. In addition to co-hosting The Psych Central Show, Vincent is the author of several award-winning novels and the creator of costumed hero Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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OCD, Learning, and Memory Problems

I’ve written posts and articles about my son Dan’s struggle with OCD in college, and our family’s experience is also fully chronicled in my book Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery. The most frustrating aspects of this portion of Dan’s journey were not only the widespread lack of understanding of what obsessive-compulsive disorder actually entails, but also dealing with an academic support staff who basically had no idea how to help him.

To be fair, it really wasn’t their fault. They were typically willing to help; they just didn’t know how. Aside from offering extra time on tests (which is often not even a good idea for those with OCD) they were at a loss. And so were we. Once my husband and I realized that Dan was struggling with time management, the balance of details within the big picture, and over-thinking, we asked that these issues be addressed mainly through the open-mindedness and flexibility of his professors.

But now there is something more concrete those with OCD can offer the academic support staff at schools and colleges. A January 2018 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine involved questioning 36 adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder and 36 adolescent controls without OCD. Participants were asked to complete two memory tasks designed to measure learning and cognitive flexibility. Adolescents with OCD struggled with cognitive inflexibility and showed significant impairments in both learning and memory. The study is summarized nicely here if you’d like to learn more about it.

I believe the implications of this study are huge. For one, unaddressed learning and memory issues in an academic environment are sure to stress already anxious children or adolescents. Their confidence and self-esteem are also likely to be affected. Not surprisingly, all of these issues can exacerbate OCD and quickly lead to a downhill spiral in both academic performance and overall well-being. Thankfully, the results of this study have already been shared with appropriate professionals who have subsequently helped students with OCD achieve a level playing field and realize their potential. What a relief this must be for students and their families who have struggled for so long, yet haven’t quite been able to put into words what they are actually struggling with.

Another important implication of this study, in my opinion, is that it educates and enlightens those who still have little to no understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know there are still academic support staff out there who believe those with OCD just need to be able to leave the classroom if they “have to” wash their hands – that is the extent of their comprehension of the disorder. But problems with memory, learning, cognitive inflexibility? Who knew? This study provides concrete evidence that those with OCD can present to others to help advocate for themselves.

I also find this study exciting because it shows we are making progress. Slowly but surely, hard-working researchers are chiseling away at the mysteries of obsessive-compulsive disorder, helping those with OCD along the way and giving them hope.

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How Psychological Abuse Damages Your Self

Psychological abuse leaves no visible marks and often remains hidden within families, romantic relationships, toxic individuals and groups, cults and organizations of various religious and non-religious orientations. However, it is at least as damaging as the more explicitly violent forms of physical and sexual abuse. Mental, emotional and spiritual abuse leaves lasting damage to a person’s sense of self, confidence and ability to navigate life successfully.

It often takes considerable time for psychological abuse to be recognized for what it is. Perpetrators are masters at manipulation and creating a harmless facade behind which they use a range of techniques to keep their victims in line.

Control

Various forms of control are used to undermine their victims’ independence: monitoring the individual’s actions, censoring and discouraging social connections, limiting  access to support, creating financial dependence, dictating lifestyle and how the person functions in life. Techniques of control are intended to isolate the victim and position the abuser at the center of their world. In the individual subjected to them a sense of helplessness and hopelessness is created that can be used for further manipulation.

Punishments and Rewards

In domestic relationships, abuse may be followed by apologies, promises of it never happening again or periods of harmony. Toxic groups may enforce strict rules but also offer more positive activities to encourage compliance and override disturbing impressions. Whatever the context, approval, inclusion and rewards depend on compliance and performance: as long as the individual does what pleases the perpetrator and follows the rules, problems are averted — until the next (so-called) transgression. The often arbitrary and unpredictable nature of punishment and reward destabilizes the victim’s assessment of their experience so they end up doubting the validity of their feelings and perceptions.

Exposing flaws and deficiencies

Excessive focus on what is “wrong” with a person, relentless criticism, demeaning comments and put-downs erode self-acceptance and a sense of self-worth. With their sense of self destabilized, victims often come to believe that any chance of well-being — and perhaps survival — depends on suppressing who they are, how they think and behave. In extreme cases this even leads to victims censoring themselves and adopting mannerisms pleasing to the perpetrator.

Denying their own perceptions, intuitions and truths, their real self may become so suppressed that it gradually becomes superimposed by a kind of pseudo-self. Without firm grounding in their own individuality victims find it difficult to access their own inner compass and self-reliance.

Inducing fear

Perpetrators do not take responsibility for their actions. They make light of what they did and blame the victim instead. Worn down by manipulation and accusations, a person eventually accepts and learns to believe that whatever is being done to them is their fault. They live in fear of recrimination and end up walking on eggshells to avoid unpleasant or harmful responses to their actions.

Drawn into the web

How is it possible for a person to become so compliant and crushed? Why do people not simply leave at the first sign of control or abuse?

Idealism, romantic attachment, loneliness, expectations of a better future or simply naivety and unhappiness with life draw people into the web of abusers. Abusers are masters at establishing or exploiting an imbalance of power through claiming superior knowledge, more resources, financial security, social status, love and belonging, charisma or popularity. Promising something of value only they can deliver encourages subordination of the victim.

Whatever the scenario, it always begins with a honeymoon period where the expectations of the individual are validated. Life is good, a bond develops and the unequal power dynamic seems acceptable. Gradually difficult incidents creep in. But as they are moderated by ‘good’ periods, the victim learns to accept and even excuse them as justified because of something they did or didn’t do.

Repairing the damage

If the initial investment, dream or intention was significant, victims find it difficult to admit to themselves that they fell for an illusion and allowed themselves to be treated badly. They may also have been so brainwashed and their self-esteem so undermined that clear thinking and resolute action are compromised. Recognizing the true nature of their circumstances and how they undermine authenticity, independence, self-esteem, happiness and well-being is the first step for anyone seeking to recover and rebuild.

Depending on the nature of the abuse, its severity and length of exposure, substantial support and assistance may be required to heal the damage. But with focused inner work and appropriate guidance there is every chance of making a fresh start and become stronger, wiser and thrive in the future.  

A word of warning: If you recognize your own or someone else’s situation in any of the above descriptions, seek help as soon as possible. Be very careful how you proceed: withdrawing from an abusive situation can be a most dangerous and vulnerable period. Abusers have extreme and often violent reactions to losing their power. Make sure you do it as safely and with as much support as possible.

What other forms of psychological abuse have you witnessed or experienced? What strategies do you find helpful in healing?

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Why Won’t Anxiety Go Away?

If you were walking through the woods and noticed a bear walking towards you, you would probably either run for your life or be so scared that you freeze. On the other hand, if your friends told you to watch out for a person dressed as a bear scaring people in the woods, you might initially get startled but would otherwise remember it was just a person. This heads up would make all the difference in your reaction.

Life is like a walk through the woods. We know that anxiety is going to manifest itself because it is a part of life. At one time or another, all of us will experience mild or severe anxiety. But what happens when anxiety shows up? Many individuals report that they hate it. They wish they could send anxiety to another galaxy. They try many strategies to get rid of it, or to at least manage it.

Yet, no matter what they do, anxiety keeps appearing and surprising them. Why won’t it simply go away? Here are some answers.

Remember your natural body response to danger. If you encountered a bear while walking through the woods, your safety alarm in your limbic system would quickly prepare you to fight, flee, or freeze so you could come out of it alive. During the bear event, you would not complain about the pit in your stomach, the rapid heart palpitations, wobbly knees, sweaty hands, or other sensations manifested in your body. You would feel grateful for your body’s built-in defense mechanism that helped you survive.

Your mind’s strengths are your demise. We humans have an amazing mind that allows us to do what other species cannot. Despite continued efforts to get some creatures to “think” like humans, none can use language and relationships like we can. Humanity is an advanced society because of our ability to problem-solve. However, when it comes to internal events such as anxiety, this ability backfires.

For example, when an important presentation, event, date, test, or interview is scheduled for the near future, anxiety may turn up. Your mind may say, “This is so important. You should not feel anxious!” You believe your mind and begin fighting the sensations in your body. You are not grateful for the pit in your stomach, rapid heart palpitations, and sweat all over your body like you were when you saw a bear. Yet, the mind insists, “You are not supposed to feel this way!”

What you resist persists. Your mind wants to protect you from unpleasant feelings. Reality is that when you resist an internal experience like anxiety, the more it comes to the surface. It is similar to a beach ball when you try to submerge it in the water. It can bounce up and hit you right in the face. Have you ever noticed that?

Your expectations may be causing the suffering. Your mind sets up rules and expectations. When anxiety is present, your mind may say, This is bad timing.” The moment you wish for something other than what is happening, that’s the moment your suffering begins.

You may fantasize about a magic pill that could exterminate your unpleasant feelings for the rest of your life. However, your mind has picked up some mental habits, beliefs, opinions, judgments, and stories along your life’s journey. The good news is that you can acquire skills that can teach you to look at anxiety differently.

For now, consider The Unwelcome Party Guest* metaphor:

If you were to hold a party with your friends and someone that you didn’t invite showed up, how would you respond? This unwelcome guest is annoying, smelly, obnoxious, and you simply don’t want him at your party! You ask him to leave. When he finally leaves, you go back to enjoying the party. A few minutes later he is back. You really don’t want him around, so you finally kick him out. To ensure he won’t come in, you stay by the door. The problem is that you are missing out on your own party! Your mental, physical, and emotional energy is now being spent trying to keep the unwelcome guest out of your house.

Does this sound familiar? Is this happening in your life party? Anxiety may be an unwelcome guest, but are you missing out on living a meaningful and value-focused life? Are you drained from trying everything you can to keep it away from your life? Could you let that unwelcome life guest do its thing as you focus on what matters most?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) skills can help you learn how to let go of the fight with anxiety. You can learn to make room for it. Because realistically, it will continue to show up in your life. You can learn how to become more flexible with your thinking. It is a process, and it is possible!

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYht-guymF4

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Feeling Disgruntled? How to Change Your Mood

“Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Everyone experiences a bad mood from time to time. In fact, it’s considered normal to have different emotions given circumstances, physical ailments or condition, lack of sleep, too much work or other stress and a variety of other causative factors. Still, when you’re in a funk, feeling disgruntled, you want a quick way out of it. After all, feeling dissatisfied is no way to live on a continuing basis. So, how do you change your mood? Perhaps these tips will help.

Shake it up.

This suggestion isn’t to get jiggly, but rather to do something today that’s not your normal routine. Likely, when you’re feeling upset or dissatisfied, it can be due to doing the same thing day in and day out. You need variety in life, so choose an activity or embark on a project that’s different. Indeed, a willingness to spice things up and change behaviors, modify routines and discovering something new, say researchers, can keep you motivated, improve mood, and prevent burnout.

Go outside for a walk.

Sometimes the simplest action can be the most effective at improving mood. For example, if you want to brighten your mood, step outside and go for a walk. Brisk stepping is good, yet even walking at a modest pace is great exercise that is beneficial for the release of endorphins in the brain, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. As for other exercise, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut’s kinesiology department, any exercise that includes light or moderate intense physical activity yields significant improvements in feelings of well-being.

Pamper yourself.

If you constantly feel tired and know you’ve not been getting sufficient sleep, it’s time to do something about it. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased accidents at work and while driving, greater risk of medical conditions such as coronary disease, high blood pressure, and more, as well as sluggishness, inability to concentrate, memory lapses, quickness to lash out and other signs of a sour mood. Aim for a solid 7 hours or more of sleep each night. Eat well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly. Put yourself in the frame of mind where what you do makes you feel good: a bath, petting the cat, cooking your favorite meal, listening to music. Pampering yourself pays handsome dividends when it boosts your mood.

Talk live with a friend.

The sound of the human voice can be reassuring, welcoming, like balm that soothes a wound. Talking live with a friend, loved one or family member, even a trusted co-worker can help ease loneliness, temper sadness, eradicate orneriness, dampen anger and erase disappointment. It isn’t what you talk about that makes a difference, though. It’s the fact that you are exchanging pleasantries and conversation with another human being, someone who can react to the tone of your voice and acknowledge in real time what’s going on with both of you. The reciprocity of this communication helps lift spirits and dash a down mood, especially during times of stress.

Get creative.

Feel like splashing some paint on a canvas to vent frustration or see where your creativity takes you? A study from Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions found that coloring and other forms of art therapy can help dispel a bad mood. Delving deeper into their experiments, however, they found that when participants engaged in open studio sessions, or art therapy moderated by and with the encouragement of a therapist also worked to create good feelings. The key takeaway here is to have an audience or co-participant as you get creative, for it’s the exchange of ideas in the process of being creative that appears to further self-discovery, creative expression and exploration resulting in improvements in mood.

Count your blessings.

Gratitude is good for body, mind and soul. Put another way, when you’re grateful, you’re enhancing your ability to improve mood through boosts in overall well-being. Show gratitude when you receive something from another, when you wake up in the morning and feel grateful to be alive, when you think about all the good things in your life and acknowledge how blessed you are to have them.

Do something for another.

Did you know that the simple act of doing something good for another can lead to a feeling of contentment? Researchers at the University of Zurich found that generosity – even a little generosity – makes people feel better afterwards, experiencing greater contentment. Even the intent to do something was enough to signal the brain’s altruistic area and intensify interaction between that area and the one associated with happiness. Help your neighbor take out the trash barrels, bring backyard flowers to a shut-in, hold open the door for others at the coffeeshop, say hello to those you pass on your walks. It doesn’t take much to make a substantial difference in your mood.

Challenge your mind.

Distraction may be your best solution to thwart a negative mood, especially if other avenues aren’t available to you now. Busy yourself in problem-solving, drag out the puzzle box and set to work arranging the pieces in a cohesive whole. Balance your checkbook. Pull together the paperwork to take to your CPA or start on your income tax return. The more challenging the effort, the more likely you’ll find your sour mood dissipates. Even small increments of success will add to your satisfaction and help boost your mood.

Engross yourself in a book or movie.

Like mind challenges’ ability to improve mood, diving into an enjoyable book or getting lost in a movie also create the opportunity to ditch unwelcome thoughts and negative mood with little effort. Since it’s so easy to do, it helps to always have a book ready that you want to read or are already in the process of reading. Movies you’ve taped on the DVR or bookmarked on your TV provider’s site also help ensure you’ve got access to entertainment that you can engross yourself in.

Plan a goal for tomorrow that excites you.

Nothing lifts spirits more than looking forward to doing something. When you create goals that you can’t wait to get busy working on, you’re already boosting your mood. For this reason, it’s always helpful to have a list of goals to refer to, so you have something to do tomorrow that excites and motivates you. Revise your goals regularly, making notes on progress achieved and what yet needs attention. This exercise also serves to sharpen your interest level for what’s on your agenda tomorrow. Looking forward, not backward, is often the key to overcoming negative thoughts or mood.

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