Turkey with a Side of Tension

This political election has divided many friends and family members. Just to get a break from the heated rhetoric, people have had to unfriend their own parents or siblings on social media. Friendships have been severed and tension is present in the workplace.  No time in recent history has a more divided ideology been present in our culture. We simply do not agree with the “other side” and cannot wrap our thoughts around how the opposing viewpoint can come to the conclusions that they have recently. Now, welcome to the holidays where we are expected to come out from behind our computer or phone screens and interact with people that we previously withdrew from out in cyberspace. Face to face, in the same physical space for hours or even days at a time. Heaven help us! I know many of you are nervous about it and with good reason, honestly.

If you find yourself dreading getting together with your family members who see life very differently than you do, let’s talk about some of your options and a few coping skills that might help.

#1: Just Don’t Go

You do have the right to say that given the tension that is already present because of this election, you are simply going to sit this holiday out. Your relatives might not like that decision but as an adult who has complete domain over themselves, you get to choose where and when you engage with people. This is especially true if these family members have been abusive or very ugly to you about your beliefs. There are consequences for being unkind to people and maybe you choosing to not join them is the feedback they need to hear.

#2 Set Boundaries Ahead of Time

If you decide that going is the best option for you, then maybe consider a family group text or email letting everyone know that you are looking forward to seeing them and under no circumstances do you plan to stay if anyone brings up the election. Weren’t we supposed to stay away from discussions of politics and religion anyways with people? This year has taken that etiquette suggestion and put it on steroids.

#3 Simple Answers

You have decided to go to the festivities, sent your group warning to talk about anything but the election (and religion), and someone decides to ignore your boundaries. What do you do? You could immediately put your fork down, stand up, and walk out but that’s a bit dramatic for most people. Let’s at least try to defuse and redirect before you grab your coat and head home. Simple replies such as the following might be helpful:

“My text (or email) was very clear. I am not talking about this. Thanks.”

“There are many opinions on this topic.”

“We will have to wait and see what happens.” 

“Did you know the Cowboys are 9-1?” (that might only work in Texas but you could reply with a very random fact that shows you are not going to take the bait to get into a political argument.)

The absolute worst thing would be to start talking about the popular vote or protests or God’s specific opinion about America’s election.  Back away, back away, back away.

#4 Don’t Drink Too Much and Don’t Stay Too Long

Get in, get out, and don’t get drunk. That’s actually really good advice for many of life’s situation but especially around the holidays in the middle of the social climate we have now. If you find yourself wondering how this holiday will go, then don’t stay too long and wear out your welcome. Quality and not quantity will be your friend. Maybe by Christmas tempers will have cooled and you can plan for a longer visit. Right now for Thanksgiving, let’s not add any new wounds. It might feel odd being a bit more formal and emotionally distant with your family, but I assure you it is a much better option than allowing emotions to spill over and letting it get out of hand.

I wish you well as we head into this holiday week and don’t forget self-care if your plans include extended periods of time with family who might want to drag you into discussions you do not want to have. My hope is that most people are more obnoxious while hiding behind their social media accounts and will soften as everyone sits down around the table to give thanks. If that doesn’t happen, know that you have the power and right to leave any environment that is not safe for you.

Happy almost Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each of you!

Shannon

 

You Just Don’t Care

When a close friend shares with you that the pastor made uninvited sexual advances towards her and you argue that the pastor is a godly man and wouldn’t do such a thing, you just don’t care enough about protecting people against abuse in a religious community.

When you see bruises on your sister’s arm and know that her husband has a history of physically hurting her and you choose to not ask her about the bruises, you just don’t care enough to make things messy within the family.

When your young child tells you that the female babysitter is making him do things that are “scary” and you ignore his words because it’s more convenient for you to keep using the same sitter, you just don’t care enough to protect your child from harm.

When you see a co-worker being lied about and their career damaged because of the toxic behaviors of others, you just don’t care enough about workplace abuse to be part of the solution to stopping it.

When you know a friend plays psychologically abusive mind games with his girlfriend and is obviously causing her intense emotional distress, you just don’t care enough to stand up to the abuser and tell him you see the games he plays.

When you watch several family members scapegoat another member to the point of causing anxiety for the person, you just don’t care enough to be an ally to the abused individual because you don’t want to be targeted too.

When you know your friend’s wife chronically belittles and berates him to the point of causing him to be depressed, you just don’t care enough to tell him that he deserves to be treated better.

When you look the other way to abuse, exploitation, and discrimination you simply just don’t care enough.

Will you care enough when the tide of life shifts and you are the target?

Will someone else care enough about you and intervene?

What have you recently done to show that you are willing to stand in the gap for another person?

Or what have you done to send the message that you just don’t care?

What are you willing to do to stop abuse in all its forms?

Your answers to these questions will help shape the type of communities we all reside within.

Survivors, know that many of us do care. Many of us work tirelessly to loudly ring the warning bell that abusers walk among us. Many of us love you as sisters and brothers. Many of us believe that bad things did happen and were covered up by people who should have stood up for you. Many of us are you, a survivor, too.

Stay In Your Lane

boundaries

It’s frightening when someone crosses the yellow line and drifts into your lane; coming at you head-on. This can apply to driving a car or emotionally. Emotionally? Yes. There are people who don’t know how to stay in their own lane of life and they cross relational boundaries. Typically I write about the experiences of being in contact with clinically toxic people but for today’s discussion, this sort of behavior can definitely take place from folks who are not personality disordered but just good old fashioned, rude.

We all should be aware of our actions and perhaps we have been guilty of swerving into someone else’s life lane when they never really ever asked us to. Definitely use this post as self-reflective but I really intend it as a resource to help us deal with those folks who feel the need to come at us in a way that is annoying, if not emotionally dangerous.

I have found myself murmuring in my own head thoughts like “My goodness, stay in your lane!” or something similar. I assume that if I am frustrated by encounters with these lane changing people, that surely someone else out there has experienced similar life intrusions. I have lately noticed two types of relational bad drivers and wanted to share them with you in the hope that if you encounter these sort of individuals, that you might not feel guilty getting off the same road as them.

The first scary driver is what I will call the Overstepping Their Role individual. This person might be a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance, fellow church member or really any level of regular contact with them. Your first awareness that they have crossed the line with you is when you find yourself really irritated and can’t quite put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps you found yourself irritated and immediately knew why. If you encountered an Overstepper, they will have come at you as an expert of your life in some aspect. They may have tried to position themselves in a role of dominance to you or wanted to speak into your life in a way that you never previously opened the door to them. Let me pause here and say that we all need authenticity in our relationships and that includes hearing things that might be hard to hear. However! Those little nuggets of life truths must come from the people that we (and let me repeat WE) have welcomed into our lives in the role of adviser, mentor, leader, confidant or whatever we choose to call them.

The Overstepper does not have the right to position herself or himself in a role that we have not granted them. I highly encourage you to take swift action the very first time that the Overstepper shows their true colors. Sure, you can choose to clear up the fallout of the very first unwanted lane change. This will have you continuing to drive on the same road with them until the next time the Overstepper decides to go for Round 2 of undermining you. For me, I like the saying that says when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. I am long suffering with people who may have had a bad day or are just not themselves for a season but the Overstepper typically has been watching and waiting for just the right opportunity to position themselves in some headship role over you. No. Thank. You. Stay in your lane Overstepper!

The second type of relational bad driver, who likes to target your lane, is the Direct Hit person. Some of the characteristics of this individual include:

  1. Being the ultimate example of  a “Frenemy” or “Famemy” (you know the oxymoron of friend/family and enemy because they behave like both, depending on how it suits their moods).
  2. Uses triangulation to exclude you from activities with other family members or friends. They get satisfaction from stealing relationships away from you and probably never even noticed someone until you did. Then the gloves come off and they purposefully set out to rob you of your connection with that other person.
  3. Gloats and gets pleasure from your failings. This is enjoyed by the Direct Hit person because they cannot be truly happy for other people’s successes. They dart over into your life lane with the purpose of knocking out your good things in order to feel better about themselves. They are the equivalent of the school bully but in an adult body.
  4. They purposefully create situations to make you look bad and then laugh at you in front of others. They have no problem publicly mocking you so others will not like you as much. The Direct Hit person believes this makes them more popular.
  5. They swing between being nice and a good companion, to hitting you head-on in an attempt to inflict some dings and scratches on your car. Stay in your lane, Direct Hit person!

Some of the behaviors of the Direct Hit person definitely can sound like a personality disordered individual and they just well might be. For the purposes of today, let’s just go with the idea that the Direct Hit person is to be avoided; regardless of any other underlying bigger issues.

Have you been cruising down your own life road and had one or both of these types of people try to cause damage to you? You are not alone. The next time you see the oncoming hit approaching, I highly suggest you flip on your blinker and make a right turn completely onto a new street. As you get away from them, roll down your windows, turn up the radio and sing along to a good song. Life is way to fun to waste time on the Overstepper or the Direct Hit person. Far too many other drivers know exactly how to stay in their lanes. Why continue on an unsafe road with people who don’t have the good sense to know their place in your life? Not a very wise idea for sure.

Happy driving!

– Shannon

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is literally right around the corner and are you ready? Not just ready with the activities planned and ready with shopping done, but are you ready? Ready for whatever may come up, both positive and potentially negative. I don’t know about you, but into each of my own holidays, a little bit of good and a little bit of hassle always seems to go hand in hand. Some years it’s a lot of good and some years it has been a lot of hassle. Such is life, right? Our hope is that we can plan ahead to help create realistic expectations and remove (when we can) the problems that could pop up.

We all want to have great memories of Christmas 2015 and feel included in the club of functional families and individuals who had a wonderful holiday. We want the picture-perfect Christmas morning and day full of laughter and warmth. We don’t want kids to wake up that morning vomiting with the flu or a grumpy family member who decides that December 25th is the perfect day for them to be a scrooge all day long. Yet, both realities happen sometimes. So, what is the best way to squeeze out as much enjoyment of the day? I think it includes planning the things we feel we can control.

For example, I love baking on Christmas day. I love the warmth of the oven on and the good smells filling the house. I pre-plan what I want to bake and have all the necessary ingredients ready ahead of time. I love to watch movies with my family on Christmas day so the day before we will go and pick out some favorites and have them ready for the afternoon lull that hits after the presents are opened and before dinner. I really don’t enjoy cooking dinners because inevitably not all the food is hot at the same time and it drives me nuts! After the frustration of last year, when half the meal was hot and the other half was stone cold, I have decided to set a crock-pot for Christmas dinner. It can sit and slowly warm while I am busy baking and all come out hot at the same time!

I encourage you to think back to last year or years ago and what were sticking points that made the day either really enjoyable and that you can duplicate or on the opposite, what are some things that need to be changed up this year to make the day go smoother.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and send you wishes for a day that is enjoyable and leaves you satisfied when you lay your head on your pillow on the evening of December 25th.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon

Family and Friends: Your Loved One Isn’t Crazy

From reading the title, you might be wondering what this post is going to be about.  I am writing this for the family and friends of survivors of psychological abuse. Why? Because I hear from many survivors who say that it is incredibly hard for them to describe the insidiousness of the abuse they experienced and many family and friends just don’t know how to support their loved one through the steps of recovery. There is so much to be said on this topic but I am going to try and just hit the highlights.

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Supervisor and I am the owner/lead therapist of a private practice. One area of my counseling work includes specializing in recovery from psychological abuse from a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath (aka toxic person). These relationships can either be romantic, family members, friends or in a work environment. For the purposes of today, I am going to focus on recovery from abuse within a romantic relationship.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and if your loved one was romantically connected with a toxic person, he or she was the victim of abuse. I know that may be hard to comprehend because the type of abuse your loved one experienced didn’t leave visible bruises or broken bones. It did, however, leave your loved one very harmed and much different from when they began the relationship with the abuser. You may even have witnessed behaviors from your loved one that you never thought he or should would do. Their reactions to the psychological abuse may have even left you questioning if your loved one might actually be losing their grip on life or might be “crazy.” For some reason, toxic people love to accuse their victims of being crazy. I hear it again and again. Not sure why that particular word but it is a favorite go-to for narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.

I hope to shed some light on why your loved one is or has been struggling with finding stability post-breakup with a toxic person. Let’s start with the basics of why this breakup is not like any other relationship your loved one has been in previously or maybe you have experienced:

It Was All A Lie:

Your loved one met someone who they had fully and truly fallen in love with and wanted to spend the rest of their life loving. Your loved one was authentic in his or her feelings towards the other person.

However, your loved one met a con-artist. The other person only pretended to have feelings for your loved one and strategically set up the entire “relationship” in order to meet his or her own abusive needs.

Toxic people derive great entertainment out of taking a healthy and happy person (your loved one) and completely ruining their life. Hard to imagine right? As a therapist, I can tell you it is 100% true. Your loved one may have tried to share this information with you but it was hard for you to believe. You may have even liked the toxic person. Guess what? You were scammed too. Luring in the family and friends is all part of the staged affection the toxic person exhibited and it is done to gain your trust that they are a good honest person. How does this work to their advantage? When your loved one comes and tells you all the nasty and horrible things that happened to them, you question them and their perspective. Maybe you even unknowingly sided with the toxic person against your loved one. Nice move by the abuser, right? It’s all part of the calculated attempt to destroy your loved one and even their relationship with you. Pretty scary if you ask me.

Not A Normal Break-Up

Telling your loved one to go date again or even better, to go hook up with someone new isn’t going to help the situation at all. So, please don’t tell your loved one anything close to that advice. The reason that your loved one isn’t ready to get out there is because they are a shell of human being right now. Their grief is so complex during the stages of a breakup and recovery that a survivor has no idea which way is the ocean floor and which way is the surface. They are literally drowning in their emotions. Why? Is it because they are weak and need to just get a grip on life? No. Their entire personhood was systematically stripped down and replaced with abuse. The exact traits that your loved one exhibited that the toxic person found appealing, then became the target for destruction.

Your loved one’s self-worth and identity have been scrambled by a master manipulator.

For example, if your computer got a virus, would you just expect the computer to keep functioning like normal? Why can’t the darn thing just work like it did before?! No you wouldn’t. You would realize that your computer had been infected by malware that took over its operating system. This is what has happened to your loved one. They have been poisoned by the exact individual who they thought was their special person in the world. Their rock, their go-to person, their happily-ever-after. It is going to take time for your loved one to deprogram from the abuse; like when someone leaves a cult. Their entire way of seeing themselves and the world around them must be torn down and correctly rebuilt. Just getting out there and dating isn’t going to help your loved one at all. It actually can stunt their recovery in many ways.

It Takes As Long As It Takes:

I know you want your old loved one back. The one you remember pre-toxic relationship. I know you can see glimmers of her or him at times and then get your hopes up that this nightmare is finally behind you all. In reality, many survivors of psychological abuse develop post traumatic stress. There are triggers that bring on intense anxiety and certain times of the year that are harder than others for your loved one. This is normal. Sad, but normal. Why does the abuse cause trauma and a long recovery? Your loved one experienced systematic and repeated covert abuse. The toxic person set out to destroy your loved one. No matter how nice she or he presented to you, listen to what your loved one tells you about the true character of this person. Really listen. Educate yourself on terms like Gaslighting, Smear Campaigns, Triangulation, Flying Monkeys, Idealize/Devalue/Discard Stage and Love Bombing. Do yourself and your loved one a huge favor and read the book “Psychopath Free” by Jackson MacKenzie. It is from a survivor’s perspective and really truly excellent.

Above all, believe your loved one when they confide in you that they were abused. Forgive yourself for not noticing the abuse and come together with your loved one to move forward. The toxic person wanted to destroy your loved one and all of her or his relationships. Please do not let that plan succeed.

I wish you all the best as you support your loved one in their recovery. I truly believe better days are ahead for you both.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon