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 12, 2019 bdfn, brain health, healthy food, NIH, Uncategorized0 comments
How to Boost Your Brain Health, BDNF!
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 PittsburghJune 21, 2018 counseling for PTSD, psychology, psychotherapy, ptsd, trauma, trauma informed care, trauma therapy0 comments
We have fantastic and astonishing memory abilities, the human mind and its processes, particularly in the way we store and retrieve the effective memories which then effect the way that we store and respond to our other memories and sensory input. Evolutionary psychology examines the way some things that can be problematic are often helpful to us in the past and as we evolved. This is especially true for trauma survivors. According to the American Psychological Association, Trauma is an emotional response to a event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster, abuse or assault. Immediately after the event, shock, emotional upheaval, loss of ability to function, and denial are typical. Trauma is especially present in situations where a person feels powerless and their sense of control are taken. Long term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea, nightmares, inability to rest or calm down, feeling tearful, experiencing fear and heightened startle response. While these feelings are very universal response to the paralyzing fear that is associated with trauma even if the survivor reports feeling neutral in the moment. Biology offers some rational for how we can feel afraid but work through it in the moment of the traumatic situation, but it is later when we are safe and comfortable that the panic can emerge, generally emotions are something that can be seen and felt most when everything is alright around us, meaning the traumatic event is over and we are safe. Some people have difficulty moving on with their lives because trauma can result in long term effects such as post traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
There are so many events that we experience which are traumatic, whether these develop into the more complex constellation of behaviors which we identify as PTSD, really depends on an interplay of biological, social, and other environmental factors. Some of the situations which can cause a trauma response include, domestic violence, sexual violence or assault, car accidents, national tragedies, serving in war, robberies. It is possible that we can experience a traumatic response my witnessing these events even if we are not the direct recipient of the threatening attack.
People who later feel the emotional and physical effects of trauma may wonder, what is wrong with me? Also, even if the event seemed manageable in the moment, it seems bizarre that they keep seeing flashes of it months or years later. The answer is while the effects of trauma can be debilitating, our cognitive processes are primed to be traumatized. Evolution explains that we and our ancestors are wired to hold tight to frightening or threatening experiences, imagine what happened to all of the humans who did not startle and produce massive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline at the sight of the saber toothed tiger just through the northern passage on the savannah. They died and did not evolve to have offspring in our gene pool. Having memory of dangerous events, people, situations, and gearing up to flee or protect one’s self is a sign of an evolutionarily healthy adaptation, it allows us to stay safe by avoiding possibly dire situations. In fact, our Vagal nerve which communicates directly to our bodies, without having to yield the advice of our logic, there are long term changes in the way that our Vagal nerve responds to triggers after we have experienced trauma. The vagal nerve is what allows healthy people to experience the ‘startle response’ for example when someone sneaks up behind you, usually we respond with a physical jerking motion in our bodies, and literally jumping. In domestic violence survivors, being ‘jumping’ and easily startled when a person raises their hand, is a well noted phenomenon that may last an entire lifetime.
We are wired to remember traumatic events. Survivors of trauma know that the sight of the perpetrator of their violence, even a coat that’s the same color as the one their attacker had worn can evoke the fear response. ‘Triggers’ are any stimuli which we associate with the traumatic event. These triggers and their associated memories can and do produce a jolt to the vagal nerve resulting in heightened, panicked, and anxious response in the person who is perceiving them. The biological response when we encounter a trigger are a plenty, our bodies enter a state of hyper-arousal, respiration becomes more shallow, heart beat rises, and fear settles in, even cognitive function is impaired as our higher order reasoning is impeded and all neurological resources are yielded to the hind brain and its motor and autonomic functions. The one and only thought becomes fight, flight, survive, and in some cases freeze. Remember, just like on the savannah in the seat of civilization, the extra energy our bodies create allow us to escape danger.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, systematic desensitization, and exposure therapy, and some therapies which aim to change the tone of the vagal nerve are recommended ways to work through the trauma and empower the survivor to be able to withstand exposure to triggers and regain emotional wellness. It is recommended that trauma survivors do their best to limit exposure to triggers as they heal from the event and associated memories. If you feel that you may be experiencing long term effects from a traumatic situation, it is recommended that you work with a therapist who is specifically trained in trauma informed care. Healing will allow the processing of the entire event, client and therapist will identify triggers, developing the capacity to respond to triggers with mindful balance, and work through the effects of any other psychological effects from the trauma.
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, Serving Western Pennsylvania with Individual Therapy, Couples Therapy, Family Therapy and Wellness Services.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 10, 2018 addiction, anxiety, cell phone addiction, cell phone anxiety, counseling for addiction, help for cell phone addiction, social media addiction, therapy for addiction, video gaming addiction0 comments
The Dangerous New Addiction that you use Everyday, Hint-It is not a drug!
In a world of highly demanding home lives and work lives, where performance is prized above peace and calm, there is one object which is the focal point of so much of our attention. TO maintain peace, balance, and calm, our human bodies require us to at least sometimes, think without disruption, to look around at the leaves on the trees and to see and be with everyone contained in the horizon around us. To love and care for our spouse and families we need to supply them with attention by unplugging from everything that is not directly in front of us. If we are going to live a life of contentment, balance, and enhance our mindfulness, we must examine the culprit that stands in our way. One very intrusive companion to our feeling of alertness and attention is our cell phones. While they are a way for us to communicate plans and conversations, to manage our work, to find true love and date, as well as find out information about anything in the world that we want to know via the internet, they are also a major problem. There is so much focused awareness placed upon our cell phones that medical community is examining it as an object that can absorb our attention so much, even black out what is around us causing distress and impairment in our physical bodies and relationships. The research community has decided that yes, cell phone use does qualify as a form of addiction and at minimum for most of us, it contributes to our growing levels of stress and anxiety (Desola et al).
The presence of addictive behavior that takes place on our cell phones spans so much more than just compulsive shopping or video gaming. The anxiety that we feel surrounding our cell phone has resulted in new bodies of language, some of our favorite pop terms devoted to describing our responses to not having our most favored objects by our side are; “Nomophobia” meaning that we fear no having our phones, there is also “FOMO” commonly known as the Fear Of Missing Out i.e the fear of being without our cell phone or even disconnected from the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device some of us are so tuned into our cell phones that we hear phantom ringing, imagining that the phones are ringing when they are in fact not. “Phubbing”, meaning to inadvertently ignore someone we are with to check our phone. “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and feeling the compulsive urge to then respond immediately to ours texts (De Sola 2016).
Our attachment to our cell phones is so strong that we legitimately feel “separation anxiety” when we are away from them for too long. Bring your awareness to the last time that you lost or misplaced your phone, how did that feel for you in the moment? If you are like many people you felt the typical markers of anxiety including, excessive thoughts and worry, even elevated heart rate and fear that you may be missing something very important out there in our cloud based cyber world. Here are some very good signs that you may have a problem.
9 signs that you or our loved one may be struggling with anxiety or addiction with cell phone use;
- Using cell phones in a dangerous context such as while driving or biking.
- Having had an accident or other incident due to using a cell phone in a dangerous context
- Having problems in relationships, ie your partner or loved one annoys you by criticizing your cell phone use.
- Having problems at work or school because of cell phone use.
- Preferring online, texting, or social media world to real life contact.
- Inability or difficulty sleeping due to cell phone use.
- An inability or difficulty refraining from using cell phones even though attempts have been made to cut back.
- Urgency to respond to messages immediately and having a marked irritability if access to phone is delayed.
- High degrees of anxiety and loneliness and changes in mood due to need to send, respond, or receive messages.
While it is nearly impossible to function in the world without a cell phone, as with all things that are addictive, there are ways to enjoy them and their many functions without being addicted. Whether we are using our phones to be productive or to purchased extra lives on candy crush, what we do is less important than how we do it, and whether or not we meet the diagnostic criteria for problematic use. If you think that you may be experiencing a problem with how you are using your cell phone, or if others suggest that they think you have a problem, spend some time really thinking about whether you do feel balanced or does your attention often get derailed to be plugged into the digital world. The solution may be as easy as trying to cut back or even trying a digital detox. Yet the fact is that if you are experiencing a true addiction or dependence on your cell phone or have developed another anxiety disorder surrounding it, cutting back may be very difficult to do without the support of a therapist or counselor.
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De-Sola Gutiérrez, J., Rodríguez de Fonseca, F., & Rubio, G. (2016). Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 7, 175. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00175Learn More