Doing Life Together

character-1797362_1920It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “He/she is emotionally abusive,” but what does that really mean?

Just because someone is negative or says things you don’t like, doesn’t mean they are emotionally abusive. If you hurt because of a break-up, have an argument, or someone yells, that is not abuse. But when the volume turns up, arguing becomes screaming that turns to name-calling, and someone denigrates your person, then you are moving into emotional abuse.

Emotional abusers use their words as weapons. It’s all about control. Do as I tell you or I will put you in your place. The weapon is usually verbal attacks and criticism. It takes the form of belittling, put down, I will gaslighting you and make you think you are crazy.

Emotional abusers try to make you think you are responsible for their unhappiness, so they play the blame game regularly. When you try to hold them accountable for their part of the problem, it’s all your fault.

When emotional abusers talk about you, their eyes roll in contempt. They call you stupid or inept. They may refuse to talk to you, treat you in cold and distant ways and isolate you from other people. Sarcasm is used to mock you. Affection is withheld as a way to punish you from getting out of line. And then an apology may come, but the cycle soon repeats.

The feelings that follow emotional abuse are usually insult, worthlessness, confusion and wounding. The bully tactics result in a loss of your esteem, self-loathing and a doubt in your perceptions and assessment of things. Emotional abuse can be overt or more under cover, making it harder to recognize at times. Eventually, you become your own internal critic and worry that you might just be as bad as the person paints you to be.

A few more markers of emotional abuse include:

  • A constant dissatisfaction regarding who you are as a person
  • A demand to attend to their needs over yours
  • Probing and prodding for every detail of your life apart from them
  • Being labelled selfish for basic self-care
  • Being condescending
  • Feeling like you have to walk on “eggshells” around the person
  • Putting you down in public and in front of others

If you feel you are being emotionally abused, find a therapist who can help you respond to the manipulation and control. It takes a lot of work and intention to turn the emotional abuse cycle around, but with help, you can regain your dignity.

mental-2470926_1920John called his parents one night and told them he was coming home from college. He couldn’t take the pressure and stress anymore. The college counselor said he was struggling with high anxiety. John’s parents were stunned. John had always been a high achiever. He wanted to go to college. They had no idea how he was handling the pressure of school until he called.

Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the US. It’s easy to think that anxiety is not as serious as depression, but anxiety can cause distress and impairment. For some people, it is debilitating in that they can’t engage in life the way they would like. Sadly, anxiety is gripping our college students at alarming rates. It has now  over taken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services.

So what is going on? Is it a fear of failure? Do young people need to live with their imperfections? Are they convinced they don’t measure up no matter how hard they try? Is there pressure to stand out and do just one more thing to add to their resume?  Yes, to all the above. In addition, teens and young adults are anxious about school, teachers, family conflict, foods they ear, disease and news events. Safety is on their minds given all the terror and school shootings.

These issues can be grouped into a more general concern–dealing with life uncertainty and lack of control. No matter the challenges faced, one has to learn to roll with change, uncertainty and things that feel out of control. To do so, a person has to move through their discomfort rather than medicate, avoid or distract from it. And that means feeling uncomfortable and tolerating distress!

We don’t life to feel uncomfortable! But the treatment for anxiety is to expose yourself to the actually source of the anxiety and move through it. In other words, you confront your fears, not run from them. This type of approach is used by therapists and called exposure therapy. It is the most effective treatment for anxiety and fear. Facing fear retrains your brain to stop sending fear signals when there aren’t reasons to be fearful.

John’s parents wisely told him to stay at school and work with the school counselor. She was trained in exposure therapy and knew just what to do. A few weeks later, John called his parents to tell them the therapy was working. He was confronting his fears and anxiety, and exposing himself to situations that made him anxious. His confidence to handle uncertainty had grown. He finalized realized that avoiding anxiety was making his life worse.

child-1439468_1920“I’ve asked my ex spouse to please pick up the kids at the house at 6:00 for the weekend, but he doesn’t follow through.” “She says she will have the children ready for their visit, but they aren’t ready.” ” I just want him to do what he says and not always make me the one who has to deal with the children’s disappointments.”

Dealing with you ex spouse can be frustrating and annoying. The same issues that were present when married can be amplified when you divorce. And, unresolved issues from the divorce can get played out through the children if you aren’t careful. However, when it comes to parenting, it’s time to put the past in the past and agree on the goal of cooperative parenting. Maybe you couldn’t agree on much when married, but now is the time to think about how conflict and disagreement impact your kids.

In fact, parenting now should be handled like a business partnership. Just like you would with a business partner, stay calm and interact in ways that are civil. Stick to facts and don’t get drawn into emotional battles. Do not engage in emotional drama. If things get heated on the phone, tell your ex that you are happy to resume the conversation when things are calmer. Let him or her know ahead of time that you will hang up the phone if emotions run high and words and actions go negative. There will be a time-out to calm down and re-engage later. If personal conversations are too difficult, agree to communicate via email or a parenting portal that both of you will regularly check. Basically, agree on how to communicate, when to communicate and what the timeline will be for decisions.

In terms of your mindset, try to approach parenting positively. The contention of the marriage is behind you, not move forward and minimize the damage to your kids by acting on their behalf. The more negative you are about the motives of your ex, the more you will interpret his or her actions negatively. It’s not your job to interpret their motives, rather focus on behavior and what needs to get done. If there is a lack of follow through, circle around on the terms of agreement and the facts at hand.

The key to handling your ex is to move to a more transactional style of cooperation. Only discuss issues involving the children. This is an important boundary. No name-calling, threats or  using kids to get back at your ex. Don’t flaunt your freedom, lifestyle or new partner. Be friendly and compromise where you can to make things work for your children. Above all, work on letting go of anger and unforgiveness so they don’t spill out in front of your children. Children need both parents and don’t need to be caught in the middle of unresolved issues. Since your time is now limited with your ex, focus on the good qualities of the person.


person-4153256_1920We all know worry is not good for us. It takes a toll on our physical health, it creates anxiety and gets in the way of moving forward.

But why do we worry when we know this is problematic? The answer is the same for any dysfunctional behavior that we hang on to and do not release. It serves a purpose or we wouldn’t do it.

Here are a five reasons why we hold on to worry even though none of these reasons are really true. We falsely believe worry…

1) Stops bad things from happening—Worry has no impact on what happens in our lives. It doesn’t stop anything. But we think we are somehow taking control when we worry. In fact, worry or no worry, life will happen. Worry only makes you feel worse and doesn’t stop a thing.

2) Prepares us for the worst outcomes-85% of the time what we worry about doesn’t come true so this is a lot of wasted energy. Again, this is a false belief that somehow worry will prepare us for when the bad news comes. You will feel bad with bad news no matter if you worry or not. But you will really feel bad worry about things that never come to pass.

3) Allows us to control external events- This isn’t possible. We can’t worry things into happening. This is magical thinking.

4) Is a way to show we care-Find another way too show that you care! You can certainly be concerned for someone and express your concern but worrying about them or for them doesn’t add to a relationship.

5) Feels like we are doing something -All we are doing is creating stress on our physical body and engaging in a behavior Jesus told us not to do. We aren’t moving to a solution with worry. Worry circles problems and keeps us stuck. Instead, we need to learn to sit patiently and wait, trusting God in the process.

Worry takes a toll on our physical, emotional, relational and spiritual lives. Worry strangles (the literal meaning of the word) the joy out of life. Worry also interferes with our spiritual life because it is based on doubting God. In order to worry, we have to give up trust and wonder if God will really do what He says He will. The opposite of worry is trust. When trouble comes, do we trust?

If you want to let go worry, give up the idea that worry is useful. When we truly believe that worry has no place in our lives, this is the beginning of freedom.