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The desire to connect with other people is a universal need. Relationships, whether they're with a significant other, a family member or a friend, enhance your happiness and give you a sense of belonging. Even though social relationships are an essential part of a fulfilling life, it takes good communication to foster and grow that bond. Sadly, people don't always know how to express themselves constructively, which can lead to poor communication in the relationship.

When we don't know how to properly tell another person what we're thinking or feeling it can make them feel defensive, leads to fights and ultimately worsen the relationship. The good news is you can learn good communication techniques with a little bit of practice.

The first step is recognizing some of the common communication mistakes that crop up in relationships. Once you understand these, you can avoid them and practice positive ways to speak to those you care for.

Common Communication Mistakes in Relationships and How to Fix Them

Poor communication is one of the top reasons couples, friends and family members experience problems in their relationships. It can create distance between family members, break up friendships and is one of the leading causes of divorce. Recognizing communication issues and taking steps toward change can help heal your relationships.

Here are four common communication mistakes that can hurt your relationships as well as the keys to fixing them:

1. "You" Language

Blame is an easy trap to fall into when you're trying to communicate how you feel. You get frustrated at your partner or friend, and your language becomes judgemental. When trying to communicate your feelings, "you" language only comes across as an accusation:

  • You don't do enough around the house.
  • You need to spend more time with me.
  • You don't listen to me.

These statements put all the blame on the other person and make them totally at fault without taking any responsibility yourself.

Instead of using "you" language, try to communicate how you feel without casting blame. If you can get the other person to understand what you're thinking or feeling without throwing judgment, then they won't feel the need to defend themselves from you.

2. Universal Statements

When we feel that another person is not pulling their weight in the relationship, we tend to jump to universal statements about them:

  • You always go out without me.
  • You never help with the kids.
  • You forget to put the toilet set down every time.

These absolute statements focus on what the other person is doing wrong and how you feel they should be better. Funnily enough, speaking like this to people you care about discourages change.

Instead of speaking in absolutes, examine your relationship and find things you appreciate about the other person. When your loved one feels valued, they're more open to your needs. Then you may be able to point out areas of improvement without it coming across as an accusation.

3. Confrontational Tone

Even if what you're saying isn't negative, the way you speak to your loved one can cause problems. The tone of voice goes a long way toward how something is received. If you sound negative, the other person automatically becomes defensive.

Before speaking to your partner or friend, check yourself and where the statement is coming from. Tone often sounds negative if what you are saying comes from a confrontational place. If you have a harsh tone, chances are they'll feel attacked.

Instead, try to be understanding about where the other person is coming from. Curiosity is different than confrontation. You can ask the same question, but if your tone is curious, the other person will be less likely to feel you are blaming them for something.

4. Avoiding a Conversation

It should go without saying, but speaking and listening to your loved one is essential to good communication. However, if you are tired or distracted, you may fall into a pattern of avoiding conversations. This can cause your loved one to make up stories about you in their head because they don't know what's actually going on — and the stories they make up are usually negative.

In the same respect, when they do all the talking, and you don't really listen to what they're saying, the other person doesn't feel seen or heard.

For effective communication, you need to open up and explore deeper feelings. You should also practice active listening, where you engage with your loved one and seek to understand where they're coming from. Talking and listening don't come naturally to everyone. However, practice makes perfect, and anyone can change.

The most important thing to remember about poor communication is that, with a little effort, things can improve. Even if you are the only one willing to fix communication mistakes, it leads to a dramatic improvement in your relationship. Hopefully, as the other person sees you making an effort, they will strive to improve their communication habits as well.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Tuesday, 18 December 2018 08:51

Healthy Family Relationships

Families are unique. Each family has its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and no family is perfect. The most important aspect of family is that you are there to support and love each other through all of life's circumstances. However, sometimes dysfunction is a weed that hides among the flowers, quietly killing off what makes the family bond so beautiful.

When we grow up in a certain kind of environment, it seems normal. For that reason, it may be difficult to figure out if your family is healthy or unhealthy. The goal is not to create an idyllic picture like what you see on TV. Your main objective should be to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy characteristics and to address any dysfunction so that you can improve your relationship with your family. With that in mind, here's are some of the features that characterize a healthy family versus an unhealthy family.

Characteristics of Healthy Family Relationships

Families are the most basic social unit. Within our families, we learn the skills that make us successful at school, work and in all different kinds of social interactions. All families are different. Some are loud and boisterous, making jokes and picking on each other affectionately. Others are quiet and subdued, content to sit in silence in each other's presence or have quiet, meaningful conversations. However, no matter what your family looks like, there are a few characteristics that make a family healthy. These are the six C's of a healthy family unit:

  • Caring: Caring families encourage each other toward success. They're not afraid to show affection through words or deeds.
  • Consistency: Families make themselves available and work for each other's good. Whenever possible, they help each other out and share responsibilities. They also keep promises they make to each other.
  • Communication: This is the foundation of any good relationship, especially families. Healthy families enjoy sharing positive news and tidbits about their lives. However, they're also able to address issues or hurts constructively.
  • Coping skills: Crisis is a part of life. Healthy families use their collective coping skills and grow stronger together when forced to face adversity.
  • Core beliefs: Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and values. However, healthy family units generally share the same core beliefs. These positive values give them a sense of belonging and peace.
  • Common interests: Healthy families enjoy spending time together. Despite the individual personalities of each member, they share common interests and have fun and laugh together.

Signs That You May Be Experiencing Unhealthy Family Relationships

If you come from an unhealthy family, you may not even realize it. After all, over time, you get used to the status quo. You may have noticed that your family doesn't treat each other the same way as your friends' families, but you may have chalked that up to different personalities. An unhealthy family unit, though, impacts how you view yourself and the world around you and can play a negative role in your mental health and self-esteem.

Dysfunction in family relationships can be caused by a number of different factors — unresolved conflict, misbehavior, abuse and more. Whatever the cause, there are a few things that characterize unhealthy family relationships, including:

  • Poor communication: As we said before, communication is crucial to the family unit. Whether it's passive aggressive comments, angry and explosive fights or families that avoid communicating altogether, poor communication leads to misunderstanding and hurt.
  • Lack of empathy: Your family should be a place you run to for solace, where you're welcomed with compassion and understanding. However, in unhealthy families, instead of empathy, there is anger and judgment.
  • Perfectionism: Healthy families understand that there's no such thing as perfection in people. However, surprisingly, many unhealthy families have a dysfunctional need to be or appear perfect. This perfectionism can manifest in keeping up false appearances or having unreasonable expectations of perfection on their children's, or parent's, behavior.
  • Lack of boundaries and control: Accepting boundaries means you respect someone as an individual with their own distinct thoughts and ideas. Some families, though, refuse to accept these difference and instead seek to control the other family members. Lack of boundaries and control can manifest in manipulative behavior or barging into situations inappropriately.
  • Excessive criticism: There is a difference between encouraging a family member to improve and always finding fault. Excessive criticism means that no matter how hard you try, the other members of your family never find anything good in your behavior or actions.
  • Fear and abuse: Families are supposed to be a safe place. When a member of the family is abusive, this creates an environment of fear. You may not feel safe being yourself, or you may try to get away because you're always afraid of the other person's actions. This is a red flag indicating that there is an unhealthy family dynamic.

Addressing Underlying Issues

In unhealthy families, the dysfunctional characteristics that define them are left unaddressed and thus never resolved. However, to improve your family relationships and take steps toward becoming healthier, these underlying issues should be acknowledged and talked through. If you and your family decide to work through some of the unhealthy aspects of your relationships, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You cannot change the past, so don't let it control your present.
  • You can't change people or control their actions, you can only control your own reactions.
  • Protect your own well-being, and be willing to move on if a relationship is unhealthy and unchanging.

At the end of the day, your success and happiness are in your own hands. The dysfunction of your past doesn't have to dampen your future. If your family refuses to discuss the unhealthy aspects of your relationships, then it may be time to move on from trying to address those underlying issues.

The most effective way to heal is to lead a full and fulfilling life and to create a family of your own with healthy bonds. You can forgive your family while at the same time recognizing their dysfunction and establishing healthy boundaries to protect yourself.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 13 September 2018 15:53

Depression and Relationships

In the United States, the leading cause of disability among individuals aged 15 to 44 is major depressive disorder or MDD. Though this disorder affects both genders, it is more prevalent in women than in men. Studies show that an estimated one in every 10 women experiences depression symptoms, with between one in nine and one in five women experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. Because various types of depression can cause different symptoms, some women may not be aware that this disorder is impacting their lives.

1 in 10 women suffer from depression

Depression is more than simply being upset or feeling sad. Although negative events, like the loss of a loved one or a major life change, can cause an individual to experience significant feelings of sadness and even depressive episodes, depression causes severe symptoms that last for over two weeks which affects the way a person feels, thinks and acts.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Decreased energy
  • Loneliness and self-isolation

What many people may not realize is that depression not only impacts the individual suffering, it affects their relationships as well.

How Depression Can Affect Relationships

Like many other serious mental health issues, depression can have a long-reaching impact on every aspect of your life including the relationships you have with family members, friends and romantic partners. Depression can develop at any age and be attributed to genetics, other medical conditions, medications, major life changes or any combination of these factors. Because this disorder can occur and persist throughout life's many stages, the varied symptoms of depression have the potential to impact all types of relationships — even relationships that are inherently healthy, supportive and positive.

Social isolation

Living with depression is difficult for many individuals, regardless of their age, occupation or status in society. Although some of these individuals may be required to interact with others throughout their daily tasks, they can still feel alone even when they are surrounded by people. Social isolation occurs when an individual has a lack of meaningful social interactions with others. For instance, if you work in a service-oriented career where you engage with many customers, you can still experience social isolation if you lack quality and rewarding interaction, which can have negative effects on health.

There are many ways in which depression can affect relationships. The symptoms of depression, especially when combined with other co-occurring disorders like anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse disorders, can create real or perceived strains in all types of relationships. Those without depression are also at an increased risk of developing symptoms if they have poor quality relationships with family members, romantic partners or other social acquaintances. These symptoms could both further decrease the quality of those relationships and increase the severity of symptoms.

1. How Depression Impacts Family Relationships

It's important to remember that every case of depression is as unique as the person affected. The dynamics of each interpersonal relationship can be vastly different from one person to another and they can be altered by a number of factors including depression or other mental health issues. However, this does not mean depression will cause a relationship to become ruined, irreparable or forever damaged. Depression has the potential to put a strain on a relationship, but treatment and therapy can help to manage and reduce this impact.

Depression can strain relationships

A family history of depression and other mental health issues increases the likelihood that an individual will also develop similar conditions. It is often hard for family members - parents, siblings, children and other relatives - to understand what it's like to struggle with depression and they may be confused if this struggle is new.

Here are some ways that depression can impact family relationships, explained through brief scenarios:

  • If a parent reacts with irritability, frustration or anger, it could cause their child to develop increased feelings of worthlessness.
  • If an individual suddenly loses interest in an activity they do with their sibling, that brother or sister may feel abandoned, discarded or isolated.
  • If a child experiences sadness and observes their parent suffering from the same depressive symptoms, they may feel that attempting to overcome the disease is hopeless.
  • If one family member experiences increased anxiety and restlessness while the other feels tired and lacks energy, the ways in which they each try to cope with these symptoms may drive them further apart.

Without support from family members who understand, or at least seek to understand, the unique symptoms you're experiencing, it may be difficult for you to share your thoughts and feelings. If you don't believe they'll respect or accept the ways depression is affecting your mind and body, you may choose to distance yourself from them or begin to harbor negative feelings towards those who don't seem to be on your side.

Mothers and Depression: The Impact on Children

If you are a mother suffering from depression, it is natural to be concerned with how this will impact your child's development. Some studies have shown that there is an association between parents experiencing depression and the frequency of behavioral problems in their children, a lack of quality interpersonal functioning and lower results rating cognitive, intellectual and academic performance. Depression in parents also seems to have an association with increased rates of depression, cognitive vulnerabilities towards the disorder and increased rates of anxiety in their children.

However, this does not mean that a parent's depressed behavior alone will influence the likelihood of depression in their children. Other risk factors, or the absence of protective factors, can also influence child depression. These factors include comorbid psychiatric disorders, lifestyle hardships like poverty and exposure to violence and conflict. Additional influences that also play a role include genetic variability, severe and frequent exposure to stressful environments and prenatal exposure to anxiety. A parent's depression doesn't automatically translate to the development of a child's depression.

2. How Depression Impacts Romantic Relationships

A romantic relationship may bring enjoyment, contentment and even love into a person's life, however, these positive feelings won't necessarily reduce symptoms of depression. There is no "cure" for depression — negative thoughts or feelings can't simply be erased or replaced by positivity. This disease can impact romantic relationships just as significantly as other family relationships. The symptoms of depression may cause an individual to behave in ways that can interfere with a casual or serious romantic relationship and create emotional hardships.

Any sexual component in a relationship, including relationships in which sexual encounters exist without courtship, can be affected by depression. Decreased sex drive is one of the many symptoms of depression and can cause an individual to refrain from engaging in any sexual activities. Depression can decrease energy and make an individual feel negatively towards themselves and their partner which will greatly impact their desire to engage in sex.

Depression has an effect on all types of romantic relationships, especially if the opposite partner does not have depression or has suffered from it in the past. These individuals may withhold their support for their depressed partner or engage in intensive supportive actions, both of which can cause relationship strain. Conversely, it's been shown that many women will hide their depression from their spouse by engaging in self-silencing as an act of protection, thus not allowing the partner to have the opportunity to show support.

Depression can be a hurdle

Many Americans admit that depression is a significant hurdle in their relationships. Depression can also affect marriages and has the potential to increase marital dissatisfaction and rates of divorce. In fact, divorce rates can increase nine times higher than average when one spouse suffers from depression. Though it's expected that familial issues or financial strains may impact a relationship, depression can make any issues in a marriage much more complicated and damaging.

3. How Depression Can Affect Friendships

Not only is it common for those struggling with depression to isolate themselves from their family and loved ones, it's also common for them to completely withdraw from their other social relationships. Depression has the potential to affect all types of relationship no matter how close or casual you and another person are. Some symptoms of depression may cause you to inadvertently push others in your life away.

Anger and irritability as depression symptoms

Anger and irritability are two common signs of depression, but they could also be seen as personality flaws by others who do not understand depression's diverse symptoms. Aggressive behavior like becoming excessively mad, shouting or instigating conflict — and even passive-aggressive behaviors — can hurt the feelings of those you interact with. This could put a strain on your relationship and lead them to avoid interacting with you.

Warning Signs That Depression May Be Affecting Your Relationships

The symptoms of depression are diverse and vary in severity. You may be easily able to recognize these signs in a stranger and yet you could be completely unaware that this disease is causing a loved one to suffer. Similarly, you may also be portraying the signs and symptoms of depression without acknowledging or realizing the severity of its impact on your relationships. Depression can affect all of your relationships in vastly different ways. The following are warning signs that depression may be affecting your relationships.

1. You Feel Your Relationships Are Hopeless.

We allow those in our lives to occupy certain roles of varying degrees. These relationships — familial, intimate or platonic — create a support structure that can be a positive influence in our lives. Feeling that these relationships are meaningless or temporary is not healthy. Although family members pass, friends drift apart and relationships may dissolve, these are normal occurrences most individuals face in life. The potential for a relationship to come to an end is not a reason to abandon hope in all relationships.

2. Your Negative Emotions Influence Your Participation in Relationships.

Conflict is a natural part of our lives, however, avoiding this conflict is not always natural or healthy. Those who suffer from depression may have trouble dealing with intense, negative emotions — the same type of overwhelming emotions that are often present during a conflict. Reacting to these negative emotions in unhealthy ways does not allow you to process, rectify and overcome these feelings. If you completely withdraw from emotional conflict or react too strongly to it, it could damage your relationship.

Withdrawing from emotional conflict

3. You Use Destructive Behaviors to Cope With Depression Symptoms.

The onset of depression and the prevalence of this disease creates hardships throughout all aspects of your life. When some individuals suffering from depression feel that they cannot manage their symptoms, they may engage in negative behaviors in an ultimately failed attempt to relieve themselves of these issues.

Some self-destructive behaviors commonly cited are drug and alcohol abuse, both of which can negatively impact not only the depression symptoms but your overall quality of health as well. However, there are more ways in which a person could be engaging in damaging behavior without using these substances. Self-defeating thoughts and actions are also serious warning signs that have been found to be significant to suicidal thoughts in women. This sometimes subtle form of self-deprecation can be an eroding force that worsens depressive symptoms.

4. Your Sexual Activity Has Decreased Significantly or Is Non-Existent.

A decreased sexual drive is a symptom of depression and can occur at any time regardless of the relationship stage. The absence of sex, or more specifically the lack of physical contact and feelings of arousal, can cause partners to become physically and emotionally distant from one another. Although physiological conditions can cause a lowered sex drive, it is also a warning sign for depression and a potential way your relationship can become damaged.

5. You Experience Anxiety, Knowingly or Not.

Anxiety and depression are common co-occurring disorders — there's a high chance that those experiencing depression are also feeling symptoms of anxiety. One of the symptoms of anxiety is the urge to avoid situations that cause this panic. If you're actively avoiding interaction with your family, friends or partner for fear of having an anxiety attack, you may want to consider the possibility that you could be suffering from severe anxiety coupled with depression.

Anxiety and depression common co-occurring disorders

6. You Experience Changes in Your Sleep Patterns.

We seem only to get busier and busier as the weeks go by and it's not uncommon for individuals to feel tired or run down after juggling a full schedule. However, problems like insomnia and oversleeping can be indicative of depression. Regardless of how much sleep you get, if you feel consistently fatigued or find yourself unwilling to get out of bed to spend time with those you care about, you may be showing signs of depression.

Insomnia and oversleeping can be depression symptoms

7. You Engage in Self-Harm and Hide It From Others.

If you've attempted to harm yourself through any means, it may be hard to hide these injuries from others. Actively avoiding face-to-face interaction with those you care about because you're trying to conceal your injuries is a sign that you may be depressed.

8. You're Considering Suicide.

If you're considering suicide, or believe that to continue living is hopeless, get help immediately. You may be inclined to distance yourself from your support system, but this is the time you need these relationships most. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

Knowing When to Seek Help for Depression

Although at times depression may make a person feel isolated from everyone around them, no one needs to face depression alone. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important to know when an individual should seek professional help. Depression is highly treatable. Many people who have suffered from depression have regained their lives using a variety of treatments including therapy and medication. You can recover from your symptoms and manage this disorder. Realizing it's time to seek assistance from a mental health specialist is the first step.

Time to seek help for depression

If you or someone you care about is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms consistently for more than two weeks, you may be struggling with depression:

  • Decreased energy or fatigue, especially that which prevents you from socializing with others
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities performed alone or with friends and family
  • Trouble focusing on tasks, recalling details or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, insomnia or oversleeping
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, or believing that you appear this way in the eyes of others
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic about relationships or your general outlook on life
  • Consistent feelings of heavy sadness, anxiety or emptiness
  • Thoughts of death
  • Thoughts or attempts at self-harm or suicide

Depression is a disorder that affects brain chemistry. Co-occurring disorders like anxiety or substance abuse may increase and further complicate symptoms of depression. Though you may believe that those in your life perceive your relationship in a negative light, it's likely depression causing you to feel this way and to see these relationships through a tinted lens. You may discover that seeking help for depression can improve the relationships you have with family members, friends and intimate partners.

Repairing Relationships Affected by Depression With Help From Brookhaven Retreat

Depression is a common disorder that many women struggle with. Unfortunately, this disease affects the way you think, feel and act, which often negatively impacts your relationships with family members, friends and romantic partners. This loneliness may sometimes lead to destructive coping mechanisms such as abusing drugs or alcohol, which also increases feelings of isolation. To prevent depression from affecting interpersonal relationships, many women seek compassionate support and professional treatment. By developing healthy coping mechanisms and treating mental health issues, you can successfully manage your depression.

Brookhaven Retreat is a safe and caring facility that welcomes women from all walks of life with understanding and support. Specializing in individualized treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse issues, we remove the stigma that prevents women from addressing these diseases and provide them with the resources needed to heal, grow and return to their lives as stronger and healthier women. We're dedicated to guiding these brave individuals through recovery by offering the encouragement, understanding and professional knowledge they need to achieve positive change in their lives.

If you believe that your relationships are being negatively affected by symptoms of depression, you should know these challenges that you are facing can be overcome. Our knowledgeable and compassionate staff is available to help you reshape your outlook on life, reduce the negative thoughts that cause emotional strife and rebuild the relationships that depression may have damaged. Contact Brookhaven Retreat today and let us help you regain control of your mental health and live a happier and healthier life.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat for depression treatment

Published in Brookhaven Blog

Emotional manipulation happens all the time and is often subtle and hard to detect. The results of psychological manipulation tactics are often the most visible signs it is occurring. Another person’s control over you can have a detrimental effect on your mental health, exacerbate anxiety issues, and lead to depression. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship when emotional manipulation is involved.

What Is Emotional Manipulation?

A form of social influence, emotional or psychological manipulation is not a healthy practice. It includes applying pressure to control someone’s thoughts and behaviors through crafty, abusive or other underhanded practices. Emotional manipulation happens when someone uses deception, or similar mechanisms, to exploit another person’s vulnerabilities to achieve his own goal.

An emotional manipulator might talk down your performance at work to make you feel insecure, so that you won’t compete for a promotion. An emotional manipulator may use lies or deception to alter your perception of reality. Their goal is to tip the balance of power in their favor. Manipulators control other people by exploiting their weaknesses.

Manipulators exploit weaknesses

When someone is emotionally manipulated, they feel pressure to act a certain way because they’re afraid of certain consequences if they don’t. A victim of manipulation might be afraid her husband will stop loving her if she doesn’t make the dinner he wants. Now, if she makes dinner because she loves her husband and wants to see him happy, then she’s not being manipulated. When she does it out of fear for emotional consequences, then he’s controlling her.

Emotional manipulation can happen between any two people, including between child and parent, significant others, and friends.

Signs of Emotional Manipulation

Emotions are often hard to express, understand and process, which is why emotional manipulation techniques can be subtle and often go undetected. It can be very destructive to the victim’s mental health and is a big red flag that a relationship isn’t healthy. Recognizing the signs of manipulation in a relationship is the first step in separating yourself from the practice.

Recognize the signs of emotional manipulation

Here are some signs of a manipulative person to look for to determine if someone is subtly trying to manipulate you:

  • They make you feel sorry for voicing concerns or complaints. When you mention something that bothers you, this type of manipulator makes you feel sorry for bringing it up. You can never express your concerns without fear of reprisal. Their idea is to force you to keep your complaints to yourself and turn the focus back to them. It’s impossible to develop a trusting relationship with this type of person because you can’t talk about your feelings or ask for the change you need.
  • They deny something they said previously. Lying, exaggerating and understating the truth are all means of manipulation. Manipulators will distort the facts to bolster their own argument, making it impossible for you to prevail. They might agree to a condition and later refuse to admit they ever said that. When dividing up household chores, for example, someone might agree, or even volunteer, to mop the floor. When the floor is not cleaned and you bring it up, that person will claim to never have agreed to do it. This type of manipulator is always moving the goal and changing the conditions to keep you off balance.
  • They make you feel guilty. A guilt trip is a classic emotional manipulator tactic. Your actions are unreasonably tied to the happiness of your manipulator. When your significant other tells you it’s okay to go out with your friends then continues saying they’ll just sit at home all alone, that is a guilt trip. They wants you to feel sorry for them and choose to stay home instead. A guilt trip typically involves a tacit blame laid on the victim for the benefit of the manipulator. It can happen when the boss says he’ll have to stay late and finish the project instead of going home to his sick wife. He is emphasizing his sad situation to manipulate you into working late.
  • They diminish your problems and highlight their own. Whenever you try to share your difficulties with this type of manipulator, they make those problems feel insignificant. They don’t express the appropriate sympathy for your situation. By highlighting their own problems — which they assume are much worse — they force you to believe that your problems don’t matter. You may be manipulated into thinking the stress you are experiencing is not warranted and that you’re weak.
  • They communicate in a passive-aggressive style. Passive-aggressive is an indirect way of communicating that often leads to an emotional reaction. This type of manipulator might talk behind your back. Instead of telling you they don’t like your cooking, they tell your best friend, knowing it will eventually get back to you. The silent treatment is another form of passive-aggressive behavior. It makes you feel unimportant or as if you are not worthy of verbal communication.
  • They make subtle threats or use aggressive language. This type of manipulator might use a loud voice or stand very close to you when they’re talking. The tone of voice is meant to force you to acquiesce and discontinue the debate, and they may be trying to scare you into not wanting to escalate the situation any further. The body language this manipulator uses is meant to be imposing. If they are not of large stature, they may position themselves above you on a step or incline, or stand over you while you are seated. They may also use large hand gestures with a lot of fast movements, especially near your face. These are also meant to intimidate and coerce you into acting as they direct.

When you see these unhealthy types of behavior and communication methods, there’s probably emotional manipulation going on. Patterns of behavior are partially learned from the people around us. If you grew up around people who used emotional manipulation to get what they wanted, you might have developed some of these habits, as well.

Emotional Manipulation in Relationships

The free and safe expression of your ideas and beliefs is part of what makes a relationship healthy. When two people can do this with each other, they form a special bond. A relationship is not always equal or evenly balanced every day, but over an extended time, everything equals out.

Free expression of ideas and beliefs

One person might provide the emotional support while the other is going through a crisis. In time, the crisis will end and the supportive person will become the recipient of support. Everyone takes their turn. The mutual respect two individuals in a relationship have for one another helps them maintain personal boundaries while growing together.

When there’s a disagreement, both partners may argue to try to sway the other’s point of view. Sometimes they may decide to maintain their differences of opinion and neither changes their mind. There may be times when one partner presents a stronger case and the other decides to change their views or behavior because of that.

Sometimes disagreeing partners may resolve their difference in another way. Instead of reacting to the merits of the argument, one partner may decide to acquiesce to the other as a sign of respect. The partner who changes does so by their own decision and not because they were coerced or afraid of consequence if they did not give in. In a healthy relationship, partners take turns being the one who gives in when an agreement cannot be reached.

Emotional manipulation has no place in this type of healthy, nurturing relationship. Partners in a relationship are free to express their needs and opinions. No one should be coerced or manipulated into acting a certain way. Emotional manipulation is dangerous to relationships because it forces people to alter their behavior for the wrong reasons.

Behaviors based on guilt or fear are not genuine. Would you like someone to love you because they are afraid not to? Emotional manipulation puts all the power into the manipulator’s hands and leaves the other partner feeling weak and vulnerable. At any time, the manipulator might unleash his wrath, refuse to talk or simply walk out of the relationship.

How Emotional Manipulation Effects Mental Health

People who are the targets of emotional manipulation are made to feel small and powerless. When someone pushes you around all the time, you start to believe that you are weak. Emotional manipulators cause a reduction in the victim’s self-esteem by constantly reminding them of their mistakes.

Then, manipulators develop a tremendous sense of power. Whether they are conscious of it or not, they see that they get their way all the time and begin to develop a god complex, believing that their way is always best and that it’s natural and right for them to have power over the other person.

Mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression, can be exacerbated by emotional manipulation. The target of the manipulation begins to anticipate attacks from the manipulator as if they were physical. Stress builds each time their manipulator yells, gives them the silent treatment or utilizes other manipulating tactics. There’s a constant fear that vulnerabilities will be exposed or exploited.

Mental health issues from manipulation

Depression can develop because of emotional manipulation when the partner who is being manipulated experiences a feeling of powerlessness. The manipulation points out flaws, mistakes and vulnerabilities that you aren’t proud of. Having these things held up to your face repeatedly can diminish your sense of self-worth. It’s easy to believe the manipulator is right about you, and depression sets in.

How to Stop Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation can create mental health issues and a downward spiral in a relationship. As soon as you recognize you’re being manipulated, take steps to stop it, or distance yourself from the manipulator. Here are a few suggestions for how to respond to manipulation:

  • Remember your worth and fundamental human right to respect. There’s never a reason for someone to raise their voice to you, bully you, or strike you. When a conversation escalates to shouting, walk away. Suggest postponing the conversation until the other person is less angry and can better control their temper. In a debate or discussion where you and the other person have opposing views, you have a right to be heard. Listen when it is not your turn to speak, but do not abdicate your right to express your opinion clearly and uninterrupted. You are on equal ground with the other person as a person deserving of respect.
  • Avoid blaming yourself. Each person is responsible for themselves. You are not to blame when someone becomes angry or aggressive. Do not accept the guilt another person tries to throw at you. If that person does not like your behavior or the ideas you choose to share, they have several options that do not include manipulating you into believing it’s your fault.
  • Put the focus back on the manipulator by asking clarifying questions. When a manipulator tries to get you to do something, ask some questions that might show them the request is unreasonable. Ask if the request seems reasonable. Restate what they’re asking you to do in the form of a question. Ask if it’s a demand or a request, if you have a say in it and what you get out of it. These questions will force the manipulator to look at the situation from your perspective.
  • Use time to your advantage. It is hard to make a good decision under pressure, which is exactly what a manipulator is counting on. They will force you to agree to something before you have a chance to think about it, hoping to push you into it and knowing you’ll follow through on your word. Instead of answering right away, take time to think about it. Walk away so you’re not under their influence while you consider what you want to do.
  • Learn to diplomatically but firmly say “no.” Resisting a manipulator is tricky, but it can be done. Saying no is not always the easiest, but if you practice it can get easier. The key to telling a manipulator no is to be firm but pleasant. Raising your voice or expressing anger may only inflame this type of personality, but you have to be able to say “no” and mean it.
  • Stay safe. Most of the threatening behavior of manipulators is just bluster, but if you feel that confronting them could put you in physical danger do so in a public place with plenty of people around. Staying safe also means protecting your mental health. Limit your exposure to an emotional manipulator as much as you can, because the messages you get from them can be damaging.

Be gentle with yourself

Be gentle with yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the head games of an emotional manipulator. What is important is that you realize what is happening, so you can make some changes and minimize the damage. Your freedom to express yourself through words and actions is essential to your well-being and your mental health. You can’t alter the behaviors of others, but you can limit your exposure to situations that are unhealthy and refuse to internalize the messages a manipulator tries to feed you.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 08:00

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

The core characteristic of a healthy relationship is positivity. Healthy relationships, whether between friends, family or romantic partners, are key to your emotional well-being.

You may not realize it, but relationships provide you with a sense of purpose and meaning that fuel your motivations and pursuits. They also offer support that buffers against the negative effects of stress. Think of all the times when your family, friends or partner have sparked a light in your life.

The quality of these relationships influenced just how bright that light shone because a healthy relationship is mutually caring. When your friend offered support during a rough period, not only did they respond in a way that made you feel understood and cared for, but you were open to receiving support from them.

Understanding the key characteristics of a healthy relationship is essential to building your own or an understanding of when a relationship may be toxic and harmful to your emotional health.

Qualities of a Healthy Relationship

The key qualities of a healthy relationship include several factors that serve as a foundation for every relationship. Understand what each one means and why it is important to the health of your relationship, but also your emotional well-being.

Essential qualities in a relationship include:

1. Trust and Support

In its most basic form, trust and support focus on being there for your family, friends and partner. The larger, more important parts of trust and support are honesty and respect.

An essential quality of a healthy relationship is allowing each party to have their own opinions, interests, hobbies and circle of friends. Support your friend’s interests, but do not abandon your own.

When you abandon your interests, hobbies and friends for someone else’s, that is not a healthy relationship. You are not respecting your interests or being honest with yourself.

Losing that individuality and respect can make you feel like you’re driving in the dark without headlights, which is why it is essential to have trust and support for yourself and your relationships.

2. Honesty

Honesty is a key characteristic of a healthy relationship because it promotes open communication and insight into your behavior and the actions of your friend, family member or partner.

Open the closet of your past and go through the dirty laundry. Admit to friends when you have been in the wrong or claim responsibility for your decisions to rebuild or continue a healthy relationship.

Share your emotions and feelings to convey and describe your point of view or reasoning. Without communication and honesty, it is a struggle to build a mutually-beneficial, healthy relationship.

3. Compromise

Compromise is often a challenging cornerstone in relationships. It demands honesty, as well as trust and support to create an agreement that satisfies both parties.

Friendly, honest communication is essential. Compromises arranged with passive-aggressive tactics, threatening behavior or physically aggressive actions all suffocate healthy relationships and are often a sign that the relationship was already unhealthy.

A successful, healthy compromise also relies on parties that are receptive to the discussion and agreement — another sign of a healthy relationship.

4. Shared Responsibility

Shared responsibility is an important quality in a relationship where the involved parties, such as a couple or a family, live together.

It is important for a healthy relationship that you share responsibilities, whether through agreed compromises or honest discussions about chores, bills, parenting or other responsibilities.

When you are the only one responsible for everything around a home, it can make you frustrated and discontent, as well as diminish the light that is the trust and support you have for yourself.

Shared responsibility also means that you share responsibility for problems within the relationship rather than placing the blame all on one person.

5. Respect and Non-Threatening Behavior

Respect is similar to trust and support. You are valuing your friend’s opinion and hearing them out. While you may disagree with their opinion, remember that respect does not mean you have to agree with their viewpoint but that you have to make an effort to understand it and be mindful of where they are coming from.

It is important to give respect because without it, a person will feel devalued and ignored. When a friend, partner or family member interrupts, name calls, or creates an environment that feels unsafe, it makes you feel as if your opinion or feelings are not respected and that you are not safe to share how you feel with them without being ridiculed.

6. Good Communication Skills

Characteristics of healthy relationships revolve around good communication skills — respect, honesty, compromise, etc. all rely on good communication at their core. Communication is the foundation of every healthy relationship.

You know you cannot read your partner or friend’s mind, so understand they cannot read yours, either. Speak with honesty and transparency in conversations about your feelings and emotions. Effective communication encourages and leads to honest discussions and mutual respect.

Focus on these key qualities of a healthy relationship as you meet, talk and spend time with friends, family or your partner. Build and improve on them to strengthen your relationships and better your emotional well-being.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 20 April 2017 06:00

Anxiety and Relationships

If you suffer from anxiety, you know it can get in the way of enjoying your life. It can hold you back from trying new things, or it can make you avoid social settings. Anxiety seems like a protective instinct, but when it’s overdeveloped, it hides you under an unnecessary shell.

Anxiety can be especially troublesome in romantic relationships. If you suffer from anxiety, you’d probably like to hide the symptoms from the people around you. However, romantic relationships tend to cross a line of intimacy that makes it impossible to keep secrets. Managing your anxiety in a romantic relationship can be a challenge.

How Anxiety Impacts Relationships

Romantic relationships can be especially difficult when you suffer from anxiety. There are a number of ways your anxiety can cause problems, including:

  • Difficulty Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries. You don’t trust your own feelings, so you aren’t willing to share them with someone else. The communication deficiencies inherent with anxiety can keep you from asking for what you need, including affection or space.
  • Difficulty Developing a Deep Connection with Another Person. When you suffer from anxiety, you spend a lot of energy worrying about what could happen or what will happen next. That concern is always self-centered and keeps you from focusing on the other person. It’s as if you’re constantly having a conversation with yourself and ignoring the other person in the room.
  • Constantly Paralyzed With Worry. Instead of speaking up about something that makes you uncomfortable, your anxiety keeps you stuck with the discomfort. You may recognize something about your relationship that doesn’t work for you, but you cannot make any changes because your anxiety won’t let you move.
  • Unable to Feel Joy. True happiness comes out of a sense of safety and freedom. Anxiety keeps you from feeling truly safe or free to express yourself. An intimate relationship without safety and freedom won’t reach its full potential. Continuing in a romantic relationship like this deprives you and your partner of real joy.

Romantic relationships require a level of interaction with another person that doesn’t come easily to people who suffer from anxiety. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy relationship. It’s just important to realize your specific challenges.

How to Overcome Anxiety's Effects on Relationships

Once you see that your anxiety presents specific challenges in romantic relationships, you can overcome those problems. Here are some specific ideas to help you:

  • Share to Add Trust. When you have concerns, it is better to articulate them early, before your anxiety has a chance to spiral out of control. Learn to calmly express your concerns without making them into a full-blown crisis. The response you get from your partner will be less defensive and more productive.
  • Live in the Moment. Train yourself to live in the moment, especially when you’re around your partner. When anxiety brings fear into your mind, decide whether it’s unfounded or not and forget it, or decide to share it with your partner if there is some legitimacy to it. By dismissing your fears one way or another, you will spend more time mentally engaged in the moment.
  • Try Not to Let Fear Rule. You can counter your fear with compassion. Instead of letting anxiety turn to that paralyzing knot in your stomach, turn your thoughts to the compassion you have for your partner. Practice turning your fears around and then gently connecting with your partner.
  • Remember to Laugh. Let your sense of humor replace those anxious thoughts. Approaching your partner with a playful sense of fun can lead to more relaxed intimate moments and greater pleasure for both of you.

Through a combination of open communication, mindfulness, and compassion, you can overcome the challenges of anxiety in romantic relationships. To learn more about coping with anxiety, contact Brookhaven Retreat, a mental retreat facility for women.


Published in Brookhaven Blog