Do you have a child with anxiety? Has your child not wanted to get out of the car for an activity, such as a sport or birthday party? Has your child ever shared he/she is scared to sleep alone?
If so, what was your response? Did you say, “let’s stay in the car” or “come sleep in my bed?” This is what your child wanted right? As parents, we want to comfort our children. By protecting and comforting our children, we think we are doing the right thing for them. However, comforting children with anxiety disorders can do the opposite. Comforting is actually accommodating the child and “accommodating leads to worse anxiety, rather than less anxiety, because the child is always relying on the parents. When you provide a lot of accommodation, the message you are sending your child is, “you can’t do this, so I’m going to help you,” according to Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at Yale School of Medicine.
As parents, we need to show the child that we understand how terrible it is to feel anxious and praise them for doing what was difficult. Parents can do this by providing supportive statements building the child’s confidence. For example, “I know you’re scared to get out of the car to play soccer. But I know you can do it, you have fun when you play, remember the last game when you left the field excited with your team?” The supportive statement is really a motivator. The parent identifies the feeling of anxiety and then praises the child reinforcing they can do what was difficult for them.
The next step is to communicate to children that they can tolerate that anxiety and they don’t need to be rescued from it. This helps give them the strength to face their fears. Sleeping alone for example, encourage the child to start in his/her own bed. Say to the child, “I will come check on you in 5 minutes.” If the child asks you to stand outside the door (or something similar), identify their feeling and provide them a positive praise and reinforce they can do it. “I know it's scary for you, but you can do it. You're going to do great!”
By staying consistent with communication statements and being patient with the child, you and you’re your child will see success. As the child continues to make progress, make sure you are providing positive praise on what they have achieved. Such as, “wow, you're a Rockstar! You were nervous and scared, but you went 5 minutes longer than last night! You got this! you can do it!”
Remember, this process may seem to go slowly, but every minute longer they stay in their bed, is success, eventually they will be sleeping on their own at night.
It’s important to validate your child’s feelings and show them you care (not just the child with anxiety). This teaches communication and makes you a better parent.
Have you ever felt convinced that you were crazy? Maybe you saw your partner texting his ex (or another persona non grata) right in front of you, then when you confront him, he has deleted the text thread and told you it never happened? Or perhaps your boss continually claims you are not meeting the goals you have been crushing, and bringing in others on a campaign to discredit you? This is gaslighting. A gaslighter’s modus operandi is to make their victim question their perceptions. They might blatantly deny what you know to be true, withhold information, refuse to address valid questions, or verbally abuse you through jokes, name-calling or confusing statements meant to undermine your confidence in yourself and your thought processes.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse. In romantic relationships, it often leads to feelings of anxiety and even clinical depression in the victim. Because the abuser has often discredited and minimized the victim’s concerns so many times, it gets harder for the victim to trust their perception of reality, and even harder for the victim to reach out for help. The victim may adjust to a “creeping normality,” of abuse, where the shift is slow and insidious. In fact, the term “gaslighting” originated from the play-turned-movie, Gaslight. In it a woman is convinced that the gas-fueled lights in her home are getting dimmer whenever her husband turns the attic lights brighter, so he can search the attic for some jewelry that belonged to a woman whom he has murdered. The wife asks if the lights seem to be getting dimmer, but he convinces her she is imagining the change and she eventually starts to believe she is delusional.
Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film “Gaslight.” Photo: MGM
Red Flags: The Language of Gaslighting
Gaslighting often takes a few forms. The abuser may hide information from the victim to cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed or taking responsibility for a mistake, they may convince the victim to second guess their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves. Look for phrases like: “I only lied because I had to avoid your reaction. I knew you would go crazy,” or “Why do you keep obsessing over this problem? You’re overreacting,” or simply, “Nothing happened,” despite clear evidence that a mistake or deception has taken place.
The abuser may also try to make the victim feel small. They will discredit your beliefs, your reactions, and your perceptions to convince you that you’re not good enough or simply going insane. The most evident form of this is name-calling: telling you that you are stupid, psychotic, pathetic, and using other words that undermine your worth. Look for phrases like: “You’re acting crazy,” or “You’re being way too sensitive,” or “None of my friends’ wives/husbands care about this (insert inappropriate behavior).” The clear message here is: your thoughts and feelings do not matter, and nobody else will love you for having these (often valid) concerns or reactions.
It is also common to see isolation used as a tactic in gaslighting and other forms of abuse. The gaslighter often takes pleasure in knowing they have control over their victims, and seclusion makes their manipulation easier. They may exert economic control of the household if they can. They may smear or discredit the victims’ friends and family by spreading false information about them so that the abused cannot easily gain outside support. They may convince their victims that they are their only ally. Look for behaviors like the abuser reaching out to your friends/family members in an inappropriate way (making advances on them or sending them inappropriate content via social media, text, etc.), then pretending that it was the other person who initiated, or finding another way to get you to no longer trust the friend/family member. The end result is that you will have one less member of your support system to turn to in a time of need.
How to Respond
A common pitfall many victims fall into is trying to help their abuser. They may see some good or some pain in their abuser and hope that with enough encouragement and support, the abuser may improve and become a loving person. Unfortunately, we cannot force people to do anything. An abuser will only get better if they make the choice to grow and heal. Victims must learn to attend to themselves first. They can start by writing things down—often seeing the disconcerting behavior and resulting confusion on paper reveals patterns. They can also reach out for support—for trusted others to validate their reality. Checking in with feelings and body sensations might also shed light on what’s really going on—sometimes an inexplicable stomach ache, chest tightness, an elevated heart rate, and other mystery symptoms are indicative of a highly activated nervous system that is not feeling safe. Notice when these sensations or unsettling emotions arise and see if you can attribute any of them to stressors related to someone in your life.
A Take Home Message
Gaslighting is pretty scary stuff. Yet it is not just a tactic used by sociopaths and narcissists—you might be guilty of manipulating others yourself, without realizing the impact it can have on someone you love. Sometimes gaslighting is a behavior we learned from an abuser at a young age and later utilize to protect ourselves from perceived weakness or shame. We all have light and dark within us, but we all have an opportunity to change. Whether you are noticing yourself gaslighting others to get your way, or you’re on the soul-crushing receiving end of this treatment, we have choice in how we move forward. Choose wisely and take good care.
At some point in your life, if you haven’t already, you’ll probably find yourself in a relationship. If you’re lucky, your relationship will positively challenge you, support you, and encourage you – it’s the type of relationship we all strive to have!
However, some relationships take twisted turns to where one partner is abused, humiliated, manipulated, and/or harmed. These types of relationships can be incredibly scary, so it’s important to know the signs of a toxic relationship before entering one.
What is a Toxic Relationship?
For starters, a toxic relationship can take many forms. Whether it be abuse, humiliation or manipulation, a toxic relationship will hurt you. This type of relationship doesn’t support, doesn’t encourage, and it doesn’t love – although it pretends too!
Toxic relationships, which can be seen through examples of domestic violence, can be incredibly trapping. Generally, one partner is the abuser and one partner is the victim. This cycle of toxicity, or abuse, can almost feel unwinnable.
The cycle is broken down into three phases:
Now you might be asking, “What if I’m not abused?” That’s a fair question, as not all toxic relationships revolve around direct abuse and/or harm. Some relationships are toxic, simply because they’re toxic.
Breaking Down Toxic Relationships
As just mentioned, not all toxic relationships incorporate direct abuse and/or harm. However, they can still harm us indirectly.
For example, a relationship without trust is what? Probably a strained relationship, right? This strain can lead to arguments and accusations, which can ultimately lead to long-term feeling of hurt. What if you’ve tried to leave and your partner threatens self-harm? Although they’re not directly harming you, they’re emotionally manipulating you to stay – which is toxic.
If you’re in a relationship where your partner is always cheating, always lying, or always making you feel like you’re the “crazy one,” – then that’s toxic. In fact, this is called gaslighting. If you’ve watched Hannah B’s season of The Bachelorette, then you’ve witnessed gaslighting.
What is Gaslighting?
As defined by The National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting is a strategy used by an abuser to make their partner question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. Gaslighting tends to happen over time, not overnight. When it does occur, the abuser gains a lot of power.
Listed below are the types of gaslighting techniques, defined by The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you believe your partner is intentionally utilizing any of these techniques, chances are – it’s a toxic relationship.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a fulfilling, healthy relationship – cherish it! Make sure you keep your wits about you and notice any red flags if they ever emerge. In addition to that, if you see someone struggling in a toxic relationship – be their ally. They don’t need another person putting them down, so be as supportive as you can.
If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, to any capacity, reach out to a trusted person who can help you leave the relationship. Whether that be friends, family, counselors… reach out to your support system. If you feel as though you can’t reach out to anyone, for whatever reason, there are numerous resources that can help.
Some of these resources include:
Please note, leaving an abusive and toxic relationship can escalate violent behavior. It’s essential to have a safety plan or personal support. Your safety is the number one priority!
I know it can seem scary, but it’s never okay for someone to be abused, humiliated, manipulated and/or harmed. Listen to your gut when you see red flags and help others to do the same. No one deserves a toxic relationship!