Posts Tagged 'emotional abuse'

Toxic People Play by Different Rules

Toxic people don’t play by your rules of give and take. You can make sense of their behavior when you recognize it is competitive not collaborative. Its purpose is to get the upper hand.

Here are some clues that you are dealing with a toxic person.

• You feel confused after your interactions with this person.
• Conflicts are never resolved. The toxic often declare a discussion closed while you are still struggling with it. No compromise is reached, or worse; you find yourself apologizing after their outburst.
• You feel depressed or depleted after spending time with this person.
• When you are feeling good, or enjoying success, the toxic may attempt to deflate you with a subtle put down or an argument.
• If you are feeling bad, the toxic person is likely to have a crisis that is more urgent than your problem and demands your attention.
• Difficult people demand your attention; interrupting your wedding or your mother’s funeral with their routine problems.
• They become inappropriately angry. A toxic coworker may turn red and look daggers at you as you express an inoffensive opinion.

Toxic people live in a different reality than you do. If you assume they are being rational, you will try and try to understand them or explain yourself so they’ll understand you. But the toxic person doesn’t want to come to any understanding except that you are at fault when they feel bad.

Once you know who is toxic you protect yourself from their poison. If you are involved with a toxic, difficult person, check out my upcoming class: Emotional Freedom from Difficult People. Learn easy, safe techniques for feeling better fast and being less susceptible.

Can You Get Another Person to Change?

The short answer is “no.”

BUT, you can change that person’s behavior – quite a lot – if you know how.

Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are widespread problems in relationships. The workplace bully and the boss from hell are people who have taken emotional abuse tactics to work with them. You can’t always get away from these people, but you can make sure their control tactics affect you less.

There is plenty of information about controlling people and why they treat others as they do. Chances are, if you have to deal with such a person, you don’t care why they are intimidating or critical; you just want them to stop. You probably also know how unlikely it is that such a person could suddenly become happy and kind. You would be pleased if they simply stopped being unkind.

Most advice about dealing with bullies and abusers will advise you to get out of the relationship. This is the optimal solution, but it is not always feasible. In times of double digit unemployment, it may be difficult to leave a job before the boss from hell affects your reputation. It may also be difficult to leave a spouse without financial hardship or the (statistically very real) risk of losing child custody.

But you can change a person’s behavior, if not their nature. There are actions you can take which make you less susceptible to abuse or intimidation. A woman I know changed her behavior at work and had the office bully suddenly asking her out to lunch and wanting to be her friend. Another woman very quickly conditioned her angry boss to express himself far more respectfully. (Note: If you are in a violent relationship, don’t attempt such changes as they could provoke more violence. Consult a shelter; make a safety plan, and a strategy for leaving.)

The most potent defense against bullying is the personal power you project physically. When you project physical strength and power, you send subliminal messages that say, “Don’t mess with me,” regardless of your size, age or gender. Participation in sports helps build physical confidence, but the most effective way to cultivate and project this power is martial arts – even a meditative martial art like t’ai chi.

Make sure you also maintain powerful, centered posture and keep your consciousness in the present moment and centered in your body.

Emotional detachment also prevents you being sucked into control tactics, buying into criticism or accepting inaccurate versions of reality.

Whenever possible, put time and space between you and an emotionally abusive person who is on the attack. Use that time and space to double check their “facts.” Emotional abuse is geared to define you as powerless and incompetent and this may be accomplished with small exaggerations or out and out lies. Check the accuracy of others’ evaluations of you.

Another way to detach, when you find you must be in the presence of abusive anger, blame or criticism, is to cover your solar plexus (above the navel and below the ribcage.) You can fold your hands over this nerve center and it will help you emotionally detach from criticism, blame or anger.

When you are upset and off center, a bully or abuser gets a shot of energy from having power over you. If you detach and stay centered, you deny them that power and you will find that you get a shot of energy from the interaction. Finding it difficult to manipulate you, that person may just take his or her toxic self off to greener pastures.

Whose bad mood are you mirroring?

People who hang around together tend to vibe together. Moods and emotions are contagious. Your brain registers the emotional changes of people who are nearby, whether you are conscious of it or not.

Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., in an article in Scientific American describes how the non-conscious mind mimics facial expressions of others. Mirror neurons record other people’s facial expressions and body movements and cause one to mirror the expression and posture. This triggers a similar emotional response.

When two people get together, who mirrors whom? In relationships of equality, it seems that moods would average out in most cases. My experience supports this notion.
Experience also tells me that relatively empathic people tend to mirror those with less empathy. And, it stands to reason that those with limited empathy are either not picking up emotional signals from others or ignoring those signals.

This can be bad news if you are regularly close to a controlling, manipulative, or even moody person with limited empathy. People with personality disorders that have little or no empathy tend to pair up with people who feel more empathy than the average.  So guess whose mood you end up reflecting?

Are you partnered with or related to a controlling or cranky person? Do you work for one? Take time away from them on a regular basis. Vamoose whenever they are in a horrid mood.   Most people can be cheered up, but if someone always drags you down, get out of Dodge!

If your boss is on the warpath, develop a sudden illness or a crisis to attend to.  If your angry husband needs therapy, have him call a professional.  Meanwhile, have some family crisis or work project that takes you out of his orbit for a while.  If your parent makes you feel blue, visit another time or at least get out of the room they’re in for a bit.

You might want to act as if they have a contagious disease, because…they do.

How to Manipulate and Control Others

If you are an abusive boss or controlling spouse or a manipulative parent, you can greatly enhance any of your control tactics by isolating the one you wish to control, so that the only input they get is from you.
Irene had a boss who was weirdly abusive. Irene found it hard to believe that her supervisor really was manipulative because her machinations just didn’t make a lot of sense. But Irene continually felt a sense of confusion and being off balance which are sure indications that you are dealing with abusive control tactics.

About the time Irene developed an intractable eye twitch, her supervisor gave her two weeks to shape up. Apparently, Irene’s work was far below standard. Irene worked hard to understand what she was doing wrong. Her supervisor couldn’t seem to give her any solid suggestions for improvement.

Irene also asked to buddy up with some of the better performers to see what they did differently. Her supervisor resisted this. In fact, in Irene’s work, it was typical to work with a partner, but she almost always found herself working alone or with someone from a different area who didn’t know her work.

Irene also noticed that she did not receive the same communications as others in her group. If she learned about changes, it was usually by accident. The others in her work group seemed to be doing fine. She felt left out of her work group and became more and more certain that they shared her supervisor’s low opinion of her work.

Eventually, she approached her supervisor’s boss for a reference and discovered that her measurable performance was not substandard. It was above average, though she had a couple of isolated problems. She left that meeting feeling relieved but also confused.

When Irene’s supervisor went on vacation and left another person in charge, it made a huge difference. Communications went out to the entire work group. The group met to handle some urgent tasks. Irene participated. Her work group seemed delighted to see her. They expressed appreciation for her contribution.

This was heartwarming, but also confusing. The group began to open up and talk about things. Most complained bitterly about the supervisor’s poor communication and odd behavior. While she was reluctant to share that she had been counseled for poor performance, Irene told the others a little of her experience. They were surprised.

Several others had similar stories. Irene learned the lesson here. Do not accept one person’s view of reality; especially if it makes you feel confused or out of balance.

Whenever you feel confused, reach out to others and find out what they experience. If Irene’s work group had given her feedback that she was a poor performer, that would have been disappointing, but she would not have been any worse off. As so often happens, their feedback did not support her supervisor’s claims, but validated Irene.

Also, once the team knew that they were being isolated, they banded together to communicate to each other to make up for the supervisor’s lack of communication. Once Irene began communicating with others, she got a realistic sense of her performance that restored her confidence and sense of balance.

It is typical for emotionally abusive people to make efforts to isolate their spouses from family and friends. Hostages are kept isolated so they can be brainwashed. It does not occur to most of us that a supervisor would isolate employees to control them.

A sense of confusion or being out of balance is a clue that you are being manipulated by a controlling person.  You may think you have no reason to doubt the person, but your interactions leave you confused or feeling slightly woosey.  M. Scott Peck in The People of the Lie; his book about human evil, says that the presence of evil always leaves one with a sense of confusion. Pay attention to this. If you feel confusion in response to another person’s claims or assertions, get more information!

If you feel isolated, reach out to more than one other person.

When the Pack Needs an Alpha Dog

There is a right use of power. Some of us are squeamish about exercising power. Perhaps we confuse power with control. It isn’t the same. There are times when it is necessary to exercise power or lose control. We rightly exercise power over those for whom we are responsible. It might be to protect a child or an invalid or to protect our rights from those who don’t respect them.

I once worked in a group which had a leader who was an information expert but not really a manager. This happens quite a bit when a great technical expert becomes a group leader but has never learned how to manage. It happens a lot in IT, healthcare, and sales teams. Technical experts are expected to know things and know how to do things. Managers need to know how to exercise power appropriately and relate to people.

This person left most decisions to the group of a dozen employees. I believe that group management can work. I must admit, however, that I have never personally seen it happen (or even heard of it.) If the pack has even one member who operates in a dog-eat-dog reality, it needs an alpha dog to see to the group’s welfare. The alpha dog can have a style that is participatory or he can be a hard core enforcer, but to be an alpha dog, he must influence group behavior. That requires power, not expertise.

When a technical expert is rewarded for expertise with a promotion to management, her experience is all…well…technical. If this person develops leadership skills as well, then she can exert power. If the technical expert is not a leader, he will not perceive the exercise of power in the work group, so he may not see that there is an enormous difference between participatory management and no management at all. The manager who won’t manage is usually a good employee who wouldn’t dream of dropping the ball in any of his technical tasks, but who fails to even see the ball in his managerial role.

Political power governs the group with no leader. The workplace becomes a series of Survivor episodes and the games tie up energy that could be used productively. If there is no management at all, the group will either get nothing done, or accomplishment will be on the backs of one or two of the group members. Staff may like but will not respect the manager who doesn’t manage. Eventually they will feel resentment.

Employees suffer a lot of unnecessary stress from not knowing how a decision will go and from competing for time and assignments which should be doled out equitably. They feel open to the manager’s judgment but do not feel protected or supported in any real way.

When this team leader says, “Here’s what needs to be done. You all figure out how to do it.” He walks away having no idea that all hell just broke loose behind him. Manipulation takes the place of management, and all sorts of dysfunctional behavior occurs.

The tough nut takes the plum assignment; the narcissist takes a prolonged break; and the dutiful pick up the pieces while trying to avoid being bossed around by those who did none of the real work.

The same scenario plays out in a family in which the parent will not parent and allows minor children to make decisions. The appropriate use of power can steer the family or workgroup into constructive and cooperative behavior. This doesn’t mean being a drill sergeant or throwing your weight around.

Unfortunately, use of power cannot be learned from a textbook or even an MBA program. It must be learned by doing and practicing. When I coach new managers, I teach them to imagine that power is a visible force so they can direct it appropriately.

They soon learn that their imaginings are quite real. Power may be invisible but it is tangible to most of us.

More Sins of Omission – Hiding your Light Under a Bushel


Good people often feel that they are promoting good when they simply avoid doing wrong. The new age movement promotes this by preaching non It takes courage to shine brightly.judgment without understanding the concept, and suggesting that inner peace means passivity.

When the enlightened practice non judgment and inner peace, they act, or refrain from acting, from a state of being centered.  Ghandi practiced passive resistance and love, certainly, but his was acourageous stance which he discerned would avoid violence.  He was not passive to avoid action.  When I am passive or non-judgmental to avoid taking a stance, it is a cop out.

More than most people, I understand the power of the unseen and what can be done with energy.  I practice a number of energetic or mental techniques which are invisible and yet quite profound in their results.  But if I see someone drowning, I think it is more appropriate to go physically to their rescue than to send them good energy.  If someone is trespassing, and doesn’t listen to reason, then litigation may be more appropriate than love.  (If you are capable of litigating lovingly, then that’s even better.)

Bullies, abusers, those who lack empathy, sociopaths without conscience…none of these people respond well to good energy.  People who cannot relate to or connect with their fellow humans are often quite oblivious to the energy of others.

In dealing with these selfish forces, those of us who are good should be positive forces for good, rather than passive lumps who are satisfied with simply not being bad.

What does it mean to be a positive force for good? It involves using power appropriately.  We all have god-given power to wield.  It was not bestowed upon us to be hidden or to atrophy from disuse.

Positive goodness may involve speaking up, enforcing boundaries and not allowing trespasses, protecting our dependants, and taking action to promote positive outcomes.  Positive goodness almost always involves courage and risk taking.  It certainly takes discernment to stand up for what is right without continually focusing on what is wrong.

Positive goodness almost always creates a kind of magic in the life of the person who practices it.  Whether you win or lose your particular challenge, the courage you practice and the boundaries you fortify put you in a wiser, more centered place.  From this state of being, your energetic influence on the world is huge and beneficent.

The prize is that you shine more brightly as your true self and experience deep joy rather than fleeting happiness.

Sins of Omission

Survivors of abusive relationships are often accused of choosing to be in that relationship. Yet, I have never met anyone who became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship on purpose or felt they had even an inkling of the abusive nature of their relationship until they were well and truly involved.

Abuse generally doesn’t occur on the first date or even during the first weeks or months of a relationship. People put up with control tactics in the workplace to keep their jobs. When control tactics sneak into a relationship, it is almost always after a commitment is made, and some of these tactics are very subtle.

The accurate hindsight of survivors of verbal abuse can be used as intelligent foresight.  There are some important social behaviors which seem to be lacking or inconsistent in people who are emotionally abusive and controlling.

Covert emotional abuse is very hard to detect by anyone who hasn’t already experienced it! The most insidious emotional abuse involves sins of omission rather than overtly controlling behavior. The abusive behavior is often interspersed with loving behavior, which confuses the situation. The inconsistent loving behavior provides aperiodic conditioning, which is the most powerful kind of conditioning.

Here are some sins of omission that are emotionally abusive and are often precursors to more overt behavior. When you encounter these behaviors in a relationship on a consistent basis, I suggest you stop giving the benefit of the doubt and run like hell in the opposite direction.

Failure to Respond. In the absence of a severe hearing impairment, anyone who does not respond to your greetings, comments or questions is controlling the communication in an anti social way. Relationships in which power is shared involve two way communication. Refusing to respond could be hostile or it could be an indication of a personality problem. You cannot have an equal relationship with anyone who gives you the silent treatment.

Withholding. Whether it is information, affection, approval or resources, withholding is the sign of a competitive relationship. A competitive relationship is not an equal relationship. When you meet someone who fails to make eye contact or say “hello,” I’d recommend you leave skid marks rather than stick around and invite more of this behavior.

Countering.  It may be disguised as a simple difference of opinion, but whenever someone immediately dismisses your point of view without consideration, you are not being treated as an equal.  Argument and discussion involve listening to each others opinions and this should go both ways. 

Forgetting. Some forgetting is simply a failure to remember, and is really a form of withholding if it happens all the time. There simply is not any good excuse for not remembering a spouse’s or partner’s birthday. Subtle forgetting is forgiven more often than it should be. A person who has been a close friend or partner for many months or years, should know who you are, remember important details about you and your life and remember the details of plans you have made together.

In a potentially romantic relationship, forgetting can include forgetting earlier encounters and this can get very confusing. The man (or woman) who looked deeply into your eyes last week and told you that you were significant, but barely remembers who you are when you next meet, is either severely impaired or abusive. This on again off again behavior also has a lot of power to condition you to hang in for the next reward.  In the long run, it won’t be worth it.

When you detect any of these sins of omission repeatedly, stop hanging around. Get out of Dodge! If sins of omission are interspersed with attentive or loving behavior, this is an even worse sign! This is not the behavior pattern exhibited by anyone who can engage in an equal relationship.
These sins of omission don’t just occur in romantic relationships, they are quite common in business and voluntary organizations. If you always volunteer but don’t get recognition, your boss takes credit for your work, or your team leader fails to greet you, you are experiencing control tactics. Start looking for a new organization to join.

Stick with people who give you positive and consistent social cues that they recognize your existence and respect it. Anything less is not good enough.

Are you a positive thinker or an optimist?

You might think that optimism and positive thinking are the same. They do overlap, but positive thinking has a negative side. By its very name, positive thinking buys into polarity thinking of pitting positive thinking against negative thinking.

Here is the practical difference. You are feeling discouraged. Perhaps your house is in foreclosure, you are being outsourced or your daughter has joined a cult. You are worried. You feel quite awful.

Your optimistic friend will talk to you about solutions; what might be done to help, how you might find a solution to the situation, why it might work out despite feeling awful right now. This optimistic friend’s thinking is positive, but he is not minimizing your worry and fear.

Your positive friend, on the other hand – the one in the new thought movement – is offended and upset by your worry and fear. This person is likely to tell you something like, “Just don’t give power to it!” Think positive thoughts and manifest the money/a new job/your daughter’s safety.
This person’s intense resistance to your “negativity” has already given power to it.  Jesus of Nazareth advised, “Resist not evil.”  I think he was talking about this very thing.  What you resist, persists.

Faced with her own negative thoughts, this friend may seem to have Tourette’s syndrome, barking, “Cancel! Cancel!” followed by a positive affirmation. Aside from making her look silly, a “cancel” command is…well, um, I hate to tell you this, but…it’s a negative thought.

This sort of exercise, if done without understanding, can do a good job of cramming the negative thought and feeling into the unconscious. Being conscious of unpleasant thoughts and feelings allows you deal with them and let them go. Repressing unpleasant thoughts and feelings keeps them around like unclaimed baggage.

Then the fun begins, as the negativity you ignore or repress pops up like a gopher and upsets or embarrasses you at inopportune moments. Repressed feelings cause you to binge eat or drink, and say things you are sorry for. They make you burst into tears or into a rage when you least expect it. If you are a fan of The Secret, you will wonder why you manifest unpleasant circumstances when you are such a positive thinker.

When you get right down to it, it is only the story we tell ourselves that determines whether our thoughts and feelings are negative or positive. You cannot manifest anything of lasting value at this superficial level.

But below the flow of energy we call emotions and our mental chatter about them, is an enduring state of connection and love. The more you let the emotions flow, feel them and let them go, the more you will experience that connection and love.

I’m positive.

How You Look from Behind

I used to sit in the back of the room at staff meetings and um, well, uh, I would daydream. In one especially riveting meeting, I noticed that 8 out of 10 women present had styled their hair on the front and sides, but had left the back uncurled or uncombed! From the front, these ladies presented a very together appearance, but they were totally unaware of what they looked like from behind.

This is the way subconscious feelings and patterns affect us. You meet someone who presents a cheery, positive face to the world, but you sense an underlying insecurity, sadness, or even anger. No matter how positive and socially skilled you are, your innermost feelings are there, broadcasting subliminal messages that may contradict your demeanor.

Most of the time, this is no big deal. We all have a mix of conscious and unconscious things going on. But if you are pretending to like someone you truly dislike, they will sense it. If you are secretly insecure, I guarantee, most everyone else is aware of it on some level.

How do you know what unconscious obstacles and patterns may be tripping you up if you are not conscious of them? You can become conscious of the unconscious by looking at reflections of yourself, much as my colleagues at the meeting should have done when fixing their hair in the morning.

The first mirror is body feelings. Many of us have been schooled to ignore feelings, but they never lie. Make an affirmation about your wildest dream and see how it makes you feel. For example, “Men find me so attractive they run up to me at the mall and offer me gifts.” Then listen – really listen – to your body. If the statement is true you will feel peaceful. If the statement is false, you will feel some dissonance, or tension, somewhere in your body. (Hint: probably in your belly.)

Another great mirror is other people, but look at the reactions of most people not just a few. Do you get odd reactions from people in general? Are people often rude for no reason? You are probably not a truly awful person, or you wouldn’t be reading this. People are reacting to some dissonance they sense in your person. They probably are not conscious of their reaction, so don’t bother asking them.

The third good mirror is an intuitive coach, counselor or consultant. Find one who has expertise in the area you have trouble with, whether relationships, marketing, managing people, or communications. Intuition helps the expert to quickly identify your unconscious patterns and obstacles and point them out to you. Their expertise helps them guide you to deal with the issues identified. A good intuitive expert will not distort your reflection much.

The Scary Notion of Being Fearless

We have nothing to fear but fear itself?  Well, um, what about oncoming Mack trucks and  downed power lines? Without healthy fear the human lifespan would be about 15 months.

Healthy fear is something we don’t give much thought to.  Healthy fear is the alert watchfulness you feel when you drive down the highway, ready to respond to reckless drivers and other obstacles.  Healthy fear is being careful not to put your sleeve in the campfire or obeying your intuition to avoid that dark alley.  If you think about it, you’re probably grateful for healthy fear.

Most of us have our struggles with unhealthy fear.  But why is that?  Why do our fears get unhealthy?  We lie awake worrying about things we cannot control and eventualities that are annoying but not really life threatening.  We scan the horizon for predators…oh wait, that’s the television screen!  Those predators aren’t real…but they might be.

We worry about aliens and spirits and flesh-eating viruses even though most of us have never seen any of these things.  We worry about accidents and yet talk on the mobile while we drive and talk about the worrisome economy.  The fact is our worried mental chatter keeps us from listening to our real fears and getting their life-preserving messages.

If you are a student of metaphysics, you may have been taught that fear is the absence of love.  Ultimately, it is.  If you trust the benevolence of the universe, you will be fearless.  But in day to day life, you need to also trust the God-given feeling in your body that says, “Get the —- out of the street!”

I have recently learned that the quickest way to deal with fear – healthy or unhealthy – is to pay attention to it.  What is its message for me?  Often, just getting the message stops the fear.  Recently, I awoke every morning with intense panic and fear.  It woke me up with the birds before daylight.  I kept ordering it to go away. It got stronger.  I turned away to focus on love, but the fear got more insistent still.

One day simply I sat and felt the fear and asked what I was afraid of.  It took a couple of days before I got an intelligent notion of what my fear was telling me.  It was telling me I was ignoring some tasks that needed my attention.  These tasks were critical for me to succeed in my work, but somehow I had ignored them.  I tackled these tasks in earnest and within a few weeks I was getting much better results in my work.

Magic!  The fear was gone and I could sleep right through my alarm clock.

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