Is it me or is she/he/ or are they Toxic?
14 ways to tell if a relationship is toxic.
According the great writer Leo Tolstoy “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Our sources say, ‘Not true Tolstoy’, of course when psychologists and social scientists put their noses in the matter we can quantify and define exactly what happens in relationships that allows them to crest over the threshold of basic mediocrity, to the troubled zone of high conflict, into the slimy territory of out right, toxicity. A healthy marriage, friendship, or relationship is supportive, stable, and enriching. Use our relationship wellness checklist to learn more! A relationship that makes us feel bad sometimes isn’t enough to reach the criteria of toxic, it literally must ooze with the stuff, consistently embodying certain patterns of relating. Unfortunately, there are some people due to their own emotional traumas or psychological profile that do have a proverbial sign on their back for attracting toxic people as they really are more easily victimized by a toxic persons strategies. This article is for you, the people that dig in and remain a part of the toxic dance which twirls them way past their comfort zone, for the quick to forgive, and the long winded in making excuses for their beloved others. Let us look at what the cherished whispers of your intuition might be trying to convey to you as you wonder if its you, or is it them?
There is a lot of research on the effects of the invalidating environment, if you wonder what that means. Think about this, when you try to share your feelings or thoughts with this person, do they become defensive and tell you that you’re completely wrong? Do you have to continually work to get them to see your side of things or do they never see your perspective at all? While two people in a healthy relationship will sometimes not see things the same way, that is different from trying to convince a person that their perception is inaccurate and the only way to see things is theirs. One of the things that many couple’s therapists coach couples on is that, “there are two valid perspectives in the room.” People in healthy relationships set out understand each other’s feelings, that means that your partner tries to see your side even when you’re in the throes of a disagreement.
Are you walking around like a stick in the mud feeling like you’re always regretting something in the relationship? Maybe you’re being victimized by endless attempts at guilt. Try to tell them that you can’t make it to the holiday dinner this year and she says, “Well shows how much you care about this family!” We need to have the freedom to pursue what is right for us and the encouragement to express it without buttressing up against endless guilt trips.
Uses Manipulation or Gaslighting
Do you try to talk to a partner about feeling hurt or anxious over their drooling at the handsome guy at the cocktail party last night and they call you clingy and crazy? Does your loved one say things to you that are outright not true and sometimes you end up wondering if you are going crazy because their perception is so entirely different from yours? Does your friend or partner outright lie when you catch them doing something inappropriate? It is common for Narcissists and Sociopaths to use Gaslighting. Gaslighting is defined as purposely telling someone things that are totally untrue, this is even more sinister than lying, it is a form of brainwashing. It is intended to throw off your intuition and make you doubt your reality and the validity of your feelings. The sad truth is that those who are most vulnerable to gaslighting are those people who value others feedback more than they trust their own intuition, those who have grown up on high doses of manipulation, and especially the ‘people pleaser’ dependent personality type.
Are you always putting in work for the relationship and the other person simply isn’t? Whether friend, relative, or partner, healthy relationships are mutual, meaning both people put in the work to make each other a priority. If you have talked about this with them before or maybe are too afraid to talk about it because your intuition fears what you might learn, a good test is to stop putting in the effort and see what happens, do they reach out at all?
Minimizes your needs
‘They might be toxic if.’ Do you have to work really hard to make yourself understood? Have you stopped trying out of hopelessness? Tell your friend that you have a lot going on and need to make it home right after your dinner out and they say, “You can stay out for a while longer, you will be fine.’
Feel afraid to talk to the person
If any or all of the above has been happening for a while now, you may become consciously or unconsciously afraid to talk with this person. Maybe you start to turn toward others to talk out your thoughts. Perhaps you shut down and repress your authentic self completely because you fear that nothing will happen or that you will upset them if you try to talk about anything that they may not want.
Hold the relationship hostage
Does your partner or friend threaten to break up, leave, never talk to you again as though it is a script in their relationship? Sometimes this is a symptom of a person who doesn’t know how to manage their emotions well or is poor at resolving conflict. Other times, this is a big fat red flag marking the territory of a toxic relationship. Healthy connection is grounded in trust and commitment that you will be there for each other even when times get hard. Of course, at other times there is a breaking point when it becomes so hard for so long that one of the people in the relationship wants out, ending a relationship is not toxic, that is just done.
Uses the silent treatment
When something happens that is upsetting to them, they refuse to communicate for days, weeks, or even months? A person who uses the silent treatment is often trying to gain control over the situation or even more insidiously, they may be trying to hurt you by shutting you out. The antidote for the silent treatment is to develop a self-soothing strategy that creates enough calm so that life’s invariable relationship challenges can be overcome.
Makes you feel that you’re never enough
You will know when you experience it, if you tell them that you got an A or promotion, they say get the “A plus next time” or “bet the promotion wont last long”. We must champion each other in relationships and encourage each others success and find pathways to overcome problems, that is one of the reasons people enter relationships, to give and receive support.
When you have any relationship that’s more than a flip in the sheets or handshake, you’re going to mess up. Healthy people apologize when that happens and it takes a strong person to offer an apology when they are wrong. Toxic people will criticize, blame shift, deny and become defensive if you attempt to extract an apology from them.
When the apology happens, loving people do their best to forgive. Forgiving can be hard, depending on what happened you might now be able to forgive, for instance if there was an infidelity in the relationship or some other betrayal, you may forgive or you may find the need to end the relationship. The choice is always yours, however, if you decide to remain in the relationship then you also are committing to forgive and not use the mistake as a launching point for endless criticism, guilting, and shaming. At other times, if the same apology has been happening for a long time, it can become meaningless and you may start to realize that the perpetual issue is a deal breaker, in that instance, working toward honoring your boundaries should be the goal.
Uses name calling or makes you feel diminished
While we do end up feeling irritated with our partners behavior sometimes, healthy interactions focus on the behavior not the person. It is the difference between saying that you notice someone’s bedroom is messy and calling them a slob. Name calling can be outright abusive and is a sigh of a toxic person.
Goes into rages or uses anger to control
Does this person have a quick temper and use it to wield their power, saying and doing things that leave a lasting scar. Of course if we are talking about physical abuse or safety concerns, that is more than a sign of someone who is toxic, that is violence. Same with pushing, chocking, pinching, blocking someone’s exit to safety, breaking their items to name a few. Having a temper is never an excuse to make someone feel unsafe or do any of the things above.
Zaps your energy
Do you leave their company and feel depleted and out of energy? Is this the friend that always monopolizes the conversation, do you know so much about them but they know not so much about you because they barely ask? Or, does this person have more heads than the fabled medusa, constantly talking poorly about other people especially talking critically about others who they are supposed to be their friends or former partners? Do they constantly play the victim and come to you for rescuing? Chances are they are toxic!
The take home point is that toxicity is among us, others take on these characteristics out of necessity in their lives and they fail to integrate healthier strategies for relating to others. If we want a healthy relationship, we wont find it by accepting the above behaviors and dismissing our fears and intuition. Toxic behavior doesn’t change on its own, it does require professional intervention to support relationship health.
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by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 19, 2019 gottman counselor, gottman marriage counseling, gottman method counseling, marriage counseling near me, sound relationship house0 comments
Gottman Method Marriage Counseling
Gottman Method Couples counseling is a form of therapy created by Drs John and Judy Gottman, which aims to support a positive and constructive relationship between two married or dating partners. Gottman method counseling is grounded in research and is proven to be one of the most effective ways to help couples enhance their relationship. The theory identifies the ‘Sound Relationship House’ as the model that helps the marriage counselor and couple conceptualize the parts to their marriage or relationship. The Sound Relationship house includes the following, from the basement up: Love Maps, Shared Fondness and Admiration, Turn Toward instead of Away, The Positive Perspective, Managing Conflict, Make life Dreams Come True, Shared Meaning and the two walls of the Sound relationship house: Trust and Commitment. Let us examine each of these components to your relationship house.
Love Maps denotes the amount of cognitive space that our partner takes up in our thoughts. When we spend time talking with our partner we generally can stay in tune with what is important to them including their interests and people close to them. Often in the beginning of a relationship there is a lot of time spent on getting to know our partner. Love Maps need to be continually updated and this only happens with shared time and connection.
Shared Fondness and Admiration All of our relationships are a mirror of ourselves. When we notice that we or our partner doesn’t respect, admire, or care for us, we both start to feel poorly about ourselves as well as the relationship. Healthy relationships are full of respect and care that are exhibited and practiced on a daily basis. We have many ways to express fondness and admiration, including the love languages of Verbal Affirmations, Physical intimacy, Time Spent, Acts of Service, and Gifts. Fondness is expressed in what we say and do as well as how we say and do it.
Turning Toward instead of Away Couples make bids for each other’s attention and time regularly when they are in love. It is important to analyze how each person is responding to the bids by either turning toward it in acceptance, turning away, or even turning against. The Gottmans recommend a 5:1 ratio of turning toward each others bids for every one time in a day we turn away. A bid might be, “look out the window honey, the sun is so beautiful right now!” If Johnny the husband accepts that bid by saying, “oh yes, it is beautiful.’ Then Sandy the wife feels connected, understood and pleased that she has shared a marriage moment with her husband. If instead Johnny the husband says, ‘Why are you bothering me?” That bid has instead been turned against. If Johnny the husband doesn’t respond that is an example of turning away. Everyone will miss some bids sometimes, but healthy relationships accept five bids for each one they miss. Turning against bids has predictive value to divorce according to the Gottmans’ research.
The Positive Perspective A Gottman Method Couples Counselor is always analyzing whether a relationship is in a negative or positive perspective. This is really the color of the fabric of the relationship, the perceptual lens through which our partner’s behavior is viewed. When we are in positive sentiment overload, everything our partner does is cute, loveable, and easily accepted as well as overlooked. Conversely, Negative Sentiment overload is when we believe that everything our partner does is evidence of their failing or lack of caring. Think about your partner being 10 minutes late for dinner. In positive sentiment overload we would think, ‘I hope she is ok, I know how much she would want to be here on time.’ In the same scenario if we were in negative sentiment overload, we would think, “What a clown, she never takes anything seriously and is late all the time!” Perception is the foundation of our thoughts and feelings, and they contribute to our response to our partner which also contributes to their response to us.
Managing Conflict Every form of couples therapy should help the couple learn to manage conflict if those skills are not already in place. Conflict is one of the most common reasons that a couple decides to enter counseling.
Making Life Dreams Come True The best and most healthy relationships allow us to have a balanced and peaceful sentiment from which dreams and goals are born. When our partner is on our side, they collaborate with us to make personal and shared dreams happen. Conversely when we feel that our partner has different dreams and goals or is non-supportive of ours, little bits of those dreams and our love for our partner can begin to erode.
Shared Meaning Do you feel that you and your partner are on the same page and moving in the same direction, do you share friends, do you have rituals that help you move through time together like a weekend retreat? How do you continue to connect with your partner over the years?
Trust and Commitment In the Sound Relationship House, all of the preceding points serve as layers to the house, with the bottom ones needing to be in place before moving on to the next level. Trust and Commitment are the walls and without the walls to a house, even the strongest foundation will not make a safe home. Trust is more than trusting that your partner is honest and monogamous or non-monogamous if that is what is agreed upon, it is faith in consistent reliability. Commitment is equally important. If the relationship uses tactics of holding the relationship hostage by threatening to leave, it is difficult to have trust in the commitment. Both parts are necessary to open up, feel safe, and stay motivated to care for each other.
Just like with the house or home that you live in, your relationship requires consistent care and attention to become the best version of itself. When we care for our home and our love, it cares in return by providing safety, warmth, and can become a place of magic which is worth every bit of time that we put into it.
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by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 12, 2019 bdfn, brain health, healthy food, NIH, Uncategorized0 comments
How to Boost Your Brain Health
If you knew that tweaking some lifestyle habits could act like brain fertilizer, building new connections to reduce your risk of dementia, improve mood and reduce depression, improve heart function, and more, would you want to learn about it? Lauri Lang, RDN, LDN, is here as your licensed nutritionist to help you navigate those changes and learn about the best ways that nutrition can support your wellness.
Then read on! Above I have provided a brief explanation of a protein that impacts all of this, and possibly even lifespan, greatly, and below you will find multiple ways that we can increase its production. This magical protein is BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and while some details of our individual levels are genetically determined, and it naturally wanes as we age, we have great agency in boosting its production through lifestyle choices and habits we make.
- Eat more oily fish! Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA or Eicosapentaenoic Acid, a neuroprotective nutrient found in the brain. Also, DHA Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, found in fish. Both of these nutrients have many benefits including increasing BDNF (it also has the most anti-inflammatory action). This is an essential nutrient, and studies show up to 95% of Americans are deficient in it. SMASH is acronym for high omega-3, low contaminant fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring.
- If fish consumption is not for you, supplements are also available, check for molecularly distilled 3rd party analysis and therapeutic dose levels. Omega-3’s are also found in vegetable sources like flax, chia and walnuts, and while still beneficial, contain ALA which may not convert well to EPA and DHA.
- Increase intake of Turmeric and Curry, Blueberries and Red grapes! Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color, and has a plethora of health benefits, including boosting BDNF. It has been recognized for many epidemiological aspects of better health in cultures where it is a staple, such as lower Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and less inflammation. Try a golden milk recipe, or cauliflower turmeric flatbread. It can be added to many dishes, with a sprinkle of black pepper to increase bioavailability. It is also available in supplement form. The pigment that gives blueberries their color, anthocyanin, and a phytochemical, resveratrol, found in red grapes also raise BDNF levels.
- Avoid sugar, processed foods and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) these items have the opposite action, as the SAD (Standard American Diet) which are high in these elements, has been shown to result in lower BDNF levels. For optimal brain and all around function, we have to put optimal fuel into the body.
- Intermittent Fasting is another way to increase BDNF, there is increasing evidence that periods of gut rest, as short as 12 hours, can boost our bodies repair mechanisms. While this is not for everyone, there is a growing body of research on the topic.
- Exercise!!! It is the best way to boost our BDNF levels. Find ways that work with your life, and that you enjoy, as developing this habit is a huge key to keeping our brain and hearts functioning optimally throughout our lifespan.
- Social Connection, Stress Reduction and Mental Stimulation! Nurturing relationships with close friends and family members, and spending time where authentic communication, love and acceptance are present provides a boost. People under a lot of stress produce less BDNF, so finding ways to reduce stress including meditation, yoga, exercise and mindfulness practices, getting out in nature, are critical.
- Sun can boost BDNF levels. This can be short amounts daily, while practicing skin cancer awareness and limits.
- Sleep….last but not least! Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep, this is critical to general health. BDNF is reduced with sleep deprivation. If you struggle with this, investigate changing your sleep hygiene habits, including trying a guided meditation for sleep.
So many great choices….where will you begin with your health and wellness goals?
If you are thinking about how nutrition counseling can help you or looking for a near by nutrition counselor, Lauri Lang, RDN, LDN is glad to help. Call us at 412-322-2129 or find our counselors near you at;Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 4, 2019 Behavior Therapy, CBT, cognitive behavior therapy, Cognitive behavior therapy near me, cognitive distortions, Cognitive therapy, maladaptive assumptions0 comments
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a common buzz word and psychological term, but what is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? According to the Beck Institute, In clinical terms, it is a specific theoretical therapy that is used as a psychological treatment. Since its creation in the 1960’s by Dr. Aaron Beck, CBT has been proven to help reduce the symptoms associated with a range of mental health concerns including diagnoses like Anxiety, Depression, Substance Abuse, Marriage and Relationship issues as well as many other chronic mental health concerns. CBT has been clinically proven to be as effective as medication in many instances. At other times CBT is a helpful adjunct to medication therapy. Specifically, CBT helps the patient or client to identify the ways in which their thoughts and behaviors contribute to their mental health concerns.
The basis for cognitive behavioral therapy is embedded in the idea that psychological problems are at least partially influenced by maladaptive thought patterns. Furthermore, CBT recognizes that mental health issues are further solidified within unhealthy patterns of behavior that make our mental state feel worse. Finally, CBT provides a way to manage this and develop more helpful and constructive ways of dealing with patients’ lives and the issues that come up in them.
Changing the way that we think has a profound effect on our well-being. Remembering; thoughts become feelings and our emotional state affects even our heart rate and breathing patterns. A common way to enact CBT involves several steps.
First the patient begins to recognize their distorted thinking patterns, particularly the ones that are “created” emotional reactions.
An example would be: ‘I always mess up relationships.’
The next step becomes to challenge the maladaptive thought with a more healthy or realistic thought. In the example above it would be helpful to examine the use of ‘always.’ Instead, a healthy way to frame the above thought might be to make the statement, ‘My last relationship didn’t work out but I learned a lot from it.’
By managing our thinking instead of being overcome by it we empower ourselves and set up a more positive feedback loop to our thoughts, feelings, mind/body connection and even into our relationships. Another benefit to CBT is that problem solving skills are enhanced. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very much focused on the present, in contrast to psychoanalytic counseling which will spend a lot of time fostering informed connections between early childhood experiences and present day defense mechanisms and mental health concerns. In CBT, your therapist is most concerned about what is happening in the here and now, and it is within the present moment that we have the opportunity to change.
The therapist and client collaborate in a mutual fashion by challenging unhealthy thinking, enhancing the development of positive emotional feedback loops and by planning for enhanced wellness. Just as with all forms of counseling, it is not just about the therapy that happens in the 53 minute hour, but CBT especially uses homework exercises to help the clients solidify the changes that they are working on. CBT is one of the most effective tools and some therapists will use it along with other forms of therapy to further benefit the clients’ needs.
To learn more about how CBT can help you, contact our counseling centers!
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 1, 2019 how to meditate, kinds of meditation0 comments
We all have the innate capacity for greater clarity, calm, and focus. Consciousness is in fact a skill that can be sharpened when each day we wipe clean the debris that clouds our minds and trickles even into our physical bodies. Mindfulness meditation is a kind of focused awareness where we become distinctly aware of our selves, the nature of our thoughts, the quality of the sensations coursing within our veins. Yet mindfulness is not merely helpless attention that is splashed around our roving internal focus. It also incorporates the potential to alter the state and being of our consciousness, via our breath and attention. While meditation has so much potential that it can be prescribed as a tool to manage anger, depression, and anxiety, it is extremely trans-formative when used as a spiritual or mindful tool for wellness.
While there are many various forms of meditation, let’s explore some of the most common, starting with Zen Buddhism meditation. In the Zen tradition, the practitioner is seated cross legged or in lotus position, one of the more important components of which is that your spine be completely erect. Your focus then is simply on the sound and motion of your breath coming in and out of your nose. The sound and sensation of each breath is a meditative focal point, very simple but powerful. The drawback is that for beginners it may be very hard to just sit and breathe!
Another common Buddhist style of meditation is Vipassana. It is a style of insight-based awareness when attention itself is used as a tool. To concentrate all of one’s focus on a specific point can be an enlightening and extremely calming experience. For instance, you could place all of your attention on a body part, a thought, or a visualization. The goal is truly to become liberated from the shackles of our own awareness which tends to lack focus and be chaotic in its natural state. This style of meditation takes years of cultivation to improve upon but can be seen as a daily or regular practice. Like polishing a jewel, we clarify our thoughts and mind, as we will notice many different thoughts coming through our consciousness as we are seated. We do not attach to any one of them however, we allow them to slide by and label them as mechanisms of the ego, or desire, or self defeat. We become very aware and curious about our thoughts in this style of meditation.
This is perhaps the most accessible style of meditation for the beginner. It may start with breathing in a seated or lying down position with closed eyes. From there an instructor cues in various visual scenes, sometimes like a story. The practitioner is able to visualize various motions and enactments that can journey them into their unconscious. This is a favored method for beginners because it allows a place for the meditator’s focus to rest and is highly interactive and imaginative. After completing the meditation, if done in a group setting, the practitioners may talk about some of the things that they felt and visualized in the sequence.
This form of meditation is best performed after gaining a basic understanding of each of the chakras by becoming aware of their placement and function through the body. The practitioner then visualizes sending breath and sometimes light to those seven energy centers through the physical and subtle body. The subtle body is the non-visible and esoteric energy centers including the chakras and meridians. This form of meditation can be very effective and energizing to unblock the chakras and re-balance them. Chakra meditation is related to bringing balance to the flow of Kundalini energy which flows from the crown of our skull to the base of our root. This is an ancient yoga style that tends to be more spiritually focused.Learn More