Dysfunctional Relationships: Emotionally Withholding

iStock_000020769810Small_0In romantic relationships, we would like to think that it’s always going to be filled with passion and romance, but typically relationships go through phases where the passion and romance seems to die off.

Some of this is natural which is why relationships take work and both individuals have to work on keeping the fire going, but other times this can be deliberate.

Sometimes in relationships, one person will decide to emotionally withhold and this can border on the line of emotional abuse.

I’m not talking about when your partner is upset with you so he or she may not talk to you for a few days, may not want to be touched or gives you the cold shoulder until they get over whatever upset them. I’m talking about something that is much more long term and damaging to a relationship.

Thomas G. Fiffer, in his blog post  described emotional withholding as:

Coldness replaces warmth. Silence replaces conversation. Turning away replaces turning towards. Dismissiveness replaces receptivity. And contempt replaces respect.Emotional withholding is, I believe, the toughest tactic to deal with when trying to create and maintain a healthy relationship, because it plays on our deepest fears—rejection, unworthiness, shame and guilt, the worry that we’ve done something wrong or failed or worse, that there’s something wrong with us.”

How Can You Tell If Your Partner is Emotionally Withholding?

If you are in a relationship where you often feel alone, there is a good chance your partner may be emotionally withholding.

There is a difference between someone who is emotionally withholding (a deliberate behavior used to control a person/relationship) and someone who is out of touch with their own feelings due to stress, trauma or other issues.

People who emotionally withhold are purposely withholding love, affection, support and attention in order to control a relationship.

The other person in the relationship may find themselves always pursuing their partner in search of the love, affection and attention that they want. They may find themselves always trying to prove that they deserve love.

People who stay in these types of relationships often do so because it is familiar.

Maybe they grew up in a family where they never felt like they deserved love, were always rejected or felt abandoned. To them, it may feel natural to pursue love and affection, even if it’s painful, because they are not used to it being freely given and without conditions.

Holly Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist suggests:

Ask yourself how generous your partner is. How invested does he/she seem to be in your well-being, in making sure that you feel positively about yourself? Or is it the opposite–that he/she is maintaining the upper hand by ensuring that you continue to seek approval?

The person who is emotionally withholding is always trying to keep the balance of the relationship in their favor. They give you just enough to keep you interested. Just enough to keep you searching for the affection that you want and deserve so that you get stuck in this vicious cycle of searching out for their affection.

Most people are not ALWAYS emotionally satisfied in their relationship 100% of the time, but think about how much you feel emotionally satisfied versus how often you feel emotionally starved.

If you feel like you are continuously starving for love, affection, attention and support, then you may have a partner who is emotionally withholding or at the least, emotionally unavailable.

If your partner is emotionally unavailable, consider if this is because he or she is stressed, depressed, going through their own issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, or if it is more malicious and planned out to achieve a power balance in the relationship that benefits them and not you.

Being in this type of relationship can cause the person who is constantly seeking affection to have multiple issues from low self-esteem to anxiety, depression and even sexual dysfunction.

Outside support from friends, family and even a professional may be needed in order for that person to maintain healthy self-love and self-care. It is crucial that you take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who know your worth and value you.

If you are in a relationship where the other person is emotionally withholding then it’s important to remember that you deserve and are worthy of love and it should come freely.

You Are A Gift

iStock_000018620938_Medium-500x333Earlier today I was speaking with a fifteen year old girl in our juvenile detention center. She is experiencing depression and is 6 weeks postpartum so I was concerned about her. As we talked, I started to understand some of the sources of her depression.

During our session, she revealed that her mother also gave birth to her when she was fifteen and that her biological father has been in prison since she was three years old. Her mother is currently married to a verbally and physically abuse man that she feels her mother places before her in order of importance, attention and affection.

As this young lady and I talked, she described how she grew up feeling like a burden to her young, single mother and how after her mother had other children and multiple boyfriends, she was always made to feel like she was “in the way”.

It became very apparent that this young woman, consciously or unconsciously, had a baby at fifteen years old, partly so that she could have someone in her life that didn’t make her feel like a burden, but gave her the unconditional love she has been yearning for. However, due to her own psychological damage, she now sees her 6 week old baby as a burden and if she doesn’t learn to change the way she views herself, she will pass on that damage to her child.

What I discussed with her this morning and will try to instill in her is this:

We are the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves. We are also gifts to other people and the Universe. Our children, if we have any, are also gifts.

Too many people grew up being made to feel, even as children, that they were a burden. Maybe they were born to parents who themselves were brought up in painful situations where they did not truly know how to love and appreciate others.

Maybe their parents conceived them as a resolution  to fixing a broken relationship or “save” a troubled marriage. Maybe their parent expects them to be their caretaker, or they were simple born during a difficult time of their parents lives and they were never able to be truly enjoyed, loved, appreciated and viewed as precious gifts as children.

Many of us have grown up never feeling truly accepted and carrying these feelings on unconscious and conscious levels that we were and are a burden.

This is how people can fall into a deep depression or become suicidal, thinking that the World would be better off without them.

This type of thinking is what keeps people from truly connecting with other people on any level or truly enjoying life.

Because of this they end up beating themselves up all the time with negative self-talk, not appreciating themselves, walking around apologizing for themselves, feeling like other people know better and are better than them.

For those of us who have received this terrible message growing up, it’s time to change it.

You are not a mistake. You are not here by accident. You are here because we are supposed to be here.

Our lives have purpose and intention.

We don’t have to apologize for being here or for being ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our past mistakes or experiences that have helped create who we are now. We don’t have to be ashamed, apologetic or doubt the beauty that is our unique selves.

We are not a burden and if our parents are the ones who tried to put that on us, it’s time to recognize that it is their issue and not ours. We don’t have to carry that with us. We can let it go.

We are precious gifts and today we will start treating ourselves as gifts to others, the Universe and especially ourselves.

Emotional Vampires: How To Spot Them And How To Deal With Them

ed6568492c7ad5b402e59e8e9a09fe20-d55q1a1I am personally very sensitive to other peoples energy. Meaning, if I am in a room where everyone is sad, I can feel that sadness and even myself start to become sad. The same is true if the energy and emotion are happy or angry. I often get taken out of my element when I get around someone whose energy is different than mine. Meaning, I can come home happy and immediately become down if my partner is down because she had a bad day. It’s something that is my personal challenge to work on, but many of us are like that.

We realize that while some people are very positive and they often help improve our mood and energy, others are just the opposite, they are very negative and suck us dry of any happiness, positivity, peace and joy. A popular term for these type of individuals today is emotional vampires.  Some emotional vampires we know right away because they immediately drain us of emotional and physical energy as soon as they come around. Others are much more discreet and make remarks that leave us feeling bad and doubtful about ourselves such as  “You’re just not as smart as your brother” or “You’re always taking things personal”.

There are different types of emotional vampires and here I’ll list them and give you some tips on how to deal with each type you may encounter.

The Narcissistic Vampire

This vampire is all about themselves and everything is always about them. They are conceited, grandiose, entitled, want all the attention and admiration and believe that they are ultra-important. They lack empathy and have a very short fuse when it comes to giving love to others. Even when they do show favor to others, they will quickly withdraw it if things aren’t done their way, then they become very hurtful and punishing.

One way to combat this type of vampire is by keeping things in perspective by realizing that these type of people are very limited emotionally. If you expect more from them, you will just be disappointed over and over again. Falling in love with them is just setting you up for heart ache because they do not know how to be selfless or love unconditionally. If you depend on them for your self-worth you will only be crushed.

If you must deal with this type of person, the best way to handle them is by showing them how something will be in their best benefit. They are very selfish people and are happiest when they believe they are benefiting the most out of a situation.  This type of person is in my opinion the second most draining.

The Victim Vampire

This type of vampire is always crying “poor me”. They hate to take responsibility for their own actions. They believe that everything and everyone is against them which they believe is why they are unhappy. They fail to see, or want to see, their role in causing their own unhappiness. They will blame everything and everyone but themselves. These type of  vampires are most draining when you try to help them, but never can.

For this type of vampire you have to set limits and boundaries for self-care. Tell them you can only listen for a few minutes because you are busy, otherwise they will drain you quickly.

The Controlling Vampire

This vampire is always trying to control others by telling them now only what they should do, but also how they should feel. The way they do this is sometimes obvious, other times it’s less obvious because they try to control you by invalidating your emotions if they don’t believe you should feel that way. These are the type of people who always know what’s best for you and don’t have a problem telling you. In the end you end up not feeling good about yourself, feeling demeaned and belittled.

With this vampire you have to be assertive and confident. Pick your battles wisely with them and don’t try to control or “fix” them, that will only set them off. Be assertive on the things that matter and let some of the smaller things go.

The Splitter or Borderline Personality Vampire

Dealing with someone who has borderline personality disorder in itself is a taunting task. These type of vampires are always in black and white relationships, there is no gray areas. You are either good or bad therefore the relationship you will have with them will always be love and hate relationship. One day they worship you, but do something wrong and the next day you are totally worthless. They are very emotionally damaged people and often feel numb unless they are angry, and that’s when they feel alive. These type of vampire will keep you on a continuous emotional roller-coaster which is not only emotionally draining, but they can make you feel like you’re going to lose  your mind trying to deal with them and walking on eggshells to avoid conflict.

With these type of vampire you have to not allow them to suck you in and get as angry and upset as they are. You have to protect your emotions, stay calm, don’t over-react when they come looking for a fight. Believe it or not, these vampires respond best to structure and knowing where the limits are. If they start to get angry and out of control, tell them that you are going to walk away until they calm down. They won’t like it, but in the end this type of response is best for you and them. They will come to know their limits. They are also good at pitting people against each other and dividing friendships and families which is why it’s also important to not take sides when one tries to pit you against others, especially family and friends. These people in my opinion are the most draining because of their unpredictable, yet predictable nature.

We all know some emotional vampires and to be emotionally free, we have to learn how to deal with them.

For more information on emotional vampires check out “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.” by Dr. Judith Orloff and “Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry.” by Dr. Albert Bernstein

“I Love You” Versus “Love You”… Is There A Difference?

LoveDo you think there is a difference between someone saying “I love you” and just “love you?” I ask this question because personally I think there is a difference. I tend to say “love you too” when I am responding to someone I don’t really love. I usually tend to say “love you” to someone I don’t love in a romantic way, but in a friend or familial way. I prefer to save the “I love you” for someone I am truly in love with or when I am really expressing admiration to someone.

So is there a difference between the two?

I did a quick internet search and came up with some of these responses:

  • I say it more than “I love you”. I also say “loves”. For me, it’s just the way I say it, and the way my whole family tends to say it. We miss out the “I”. When people say “love YA” though, that bothers me. Again, it could just be the way they say things, but to me it seems insincere. It depends entirely on how they say it to others and any underlying issues with intimacy they may have. I have a lot of emotional issues so mine could well speak for that if only it wasn’t just the way we said it in my family. *shrugs* I guess I’m trying to say it’s entirely a “relative to the individual” thing as far as I see it.
  • Nope. “Love you,” is just something we say when hanging up the phone or closing an email. It’s more casual, but the meaning is still the same. It’s like “hello” versus “good morning”. We say, “I love you,” when hugging each other or being sappy during vacation. The phrase just depends on the circumstance
  • I say ” love you” allot to my husband (we tell each other several times a day, at random times) I don’t see a difference from “I love you” vs “love you” just the way I say it
  • I think there is a difference, The ‘love you’ one is more flippant and almost dismissive IMHO I hate “love you” I also hate “love u” and “ilu” all are dismissive hurried and lazy.
  • Defnitely a difference! While I am fine with “love you” it is nice every now and then to get a truly heart felt “I love you”. Just means more…
  • Well I tell my hubby “I love you” but I tell my best friend “love you” so meh I feel there is a difference but it also depends on the person as well. it may mean something different to them than it does to me or you.
  • I also think that HOW it is said makes a difference, I like to say I love you, and I am in love with you to my man and love you to my children as they walk out the door, I love them, but in a different way
  • The last two guys I was involved with both changed from “I love you” to more flippant responses like “love you” or “love ya” and both relationships went south about the same time.
  • I think it all depends on the context and the relationship of the people saying it. I used to get upset with my ex for saying ‘love you’ a lot, but it was usually because I was annoyed with him for other things and that was just an easy target to nag him about.
  • i tend to say love you alot in a kidding sense so i guess there is a difference.
  • I think the words “I love you” are very powerful, and people have dismissed it and reduced it to almost nothing, like the anoying – I whatever-.
  • Absolutely NOT! I think it’s silly to even think there is a difference. The difference is in the tone, not the words! Feelings are displayed in the tone! Simple as that!

So it looks like people have many different views on the subject, probably depending on their personalities, their relationships and their experiences.  I think however if in a relationship one person uses the words “love you” and their partner feels a certain way about it and would prefer to hear the more personal “I love you”, then that should be communicated. Otherwise, the person that prefers to hear “I love you” will most likely always feel a little sting when you lovingly say “love you”.

So what do you think? Is there a difference between “I love you” and “love you”?

 

Co-Rumination: Talking Too Much Can Lead To Depression And Anxiety In Adolescent Girls

4164756091_80f19ce3e2_zFor the most part, adolescent girls talk more than adolescent boys.  They just do. Little girls generally start talking sooner than boys and even as children are able to verbalize and express themselves much more efficiently. This ability to communicate has many advantages, especially in helping develop social-perspective taking skills (the understanding of other peoples thoughts, motivations, feelings and intentions).

Females are generally more gifted in the area of social-perspective skills which have great benefits including greater quality of friendships, better ability to get along with others, to show empathy and to be great caretakers. However, there is a downside to having well-developed social-perspective taking skills, including what is called co-rumination.

Co-rumination refers to extensively talking about and revisiting problems, focusing on negative feelings and speculating about problems with peers. While it is usually healthy to talk about problems, co-rumination generally focuses more on the problems themselves (especially negatively) and not on actual resolutions and therefore can be maladaptive.

Adolescent girls with good social-perspective skills are more likely to co-ruminate because they find it easier to talk to and relate to their friends about their problems and to understand their friends negative feelings about the problems. This type of understanding breeds closeness.

A  problem with co-rumination is that it exposes the person to their friends problems, worries and negative affect repeatedly which can lead to empathetic distress. Empathetic distress is feeling the perceived pain of another person. Which means not only does the youth have their own problems, they are also taking on the problems of their friends.

When I worked in the high school I would be amazed at how teenage girls would take on each others problems so much so that you would think it were their own. Some would see this as an endearing quality, but much of it was definitely dysfunctional. Sometimes the amount of enmeshment would almost seem pathological. Some teens would find it hard to concentrate because they were so worried about their friends problems even when in all reality, it had no impact on them.

I would listen to them discuss the same problems with each other over and over again offering no real resolutions, but instead harping on and internalizing them in ways that were more detrimental than helpful.

As a counselor, I would encourage problem solving and positive thinking. I would try to help them understand that their friends issue isn’t theirs as well as try to help them understand disclosure. Many teenagers today, in part thanks to social media, share way too much personal information with each other without understanding the impact it may have later.  Not understanding personal boundaries and disclosure is a crucial part of co-rumination and  both rumination and self-disclosure have been linked to increased anxiety.

Girls in friendships with a lot of co-rumination often view their friendships as high quality because there is a lot of understanding and empathizing, but there is often also a lot of internalizing of problems which leads to negatively and has been shown to increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Boys on the other hand generally do not socialize and c0-ruminate as much as girls do. The trade off is that while they may be more protected from empathetic distress, they are also less likely to have high quality friendships. There must be a balance.

I also believe that the impact of co-rumination and empathetic distress affects people well into adulthood, especially those in enmeshed friendships or in the helping fields where we in some instances we call it secondary PTSD and burnout.

So what do we do with this information?

It’s hard to curtail co-rumination without discouraging social-perspective taking which also has very high and much needed benefits. One solution is to help the individual understand and balance their concerns for other people with their own needs. Helping an individual learn what is their problem, and what is not their problem also helps to start separating some of the negative affects of co-rumination.

Also, focusing on the positive would help a lot. Many young girls focus on and talk about their problems way too much and internalize them instead of resolving them which only makes them feel worse.

I’m not discouraging talking about problems or young girls talking to their friends about their problems, but there is certainly a healthy and unhealthy way for young girls to discuss, think about and solve their issues without ruminating and falling victim to empathetic distress.

Conscious Uncoupling: What Is It Exactly?

rs_560x415-130724130535-560.martin.cm.72613A lot has been made about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin deciding to consciously uncouple, after more than 10 years of marriage. Many people are unsure of what exactly conscious uncoupling is and figure that it’s just a new age, more amiable way to say divorce, but is it?

The couple stressed in a statement that “in many ways we are closer than we have ever been”, they have come to the conclusion that “while we love each other very much we will remain separate”.

Conscious uncoupling is a great and healthy way to  to end a relationship, while remaining complete as a person. It’s basically when, in an ideal situation, a couple comes to an agreement that their romantic relationship isn’t working for them and that they should end that part of their relationship, leaving room for friendship or at least parting ways without bad feelings.

It sounds very Pollyannaish, but why do breakups, divorces and the end of relationships have to be so painful, heartbreaking and dramatic?

Part of it is because that is what is taught and modeled to us by society, our families and the media. We are taught breakups are supposed to be destructive and negatively impact our lives, but they don’t have to be.

Imagine if when one person realizes that the relationship isn’t working for him or her, that they were able to talk to their partner and have a conversation where they both agreed to consciously uncouple. There would be less pain, less negativity and less destruction in those two peoples lives.

They wouldn’t carry the baggage from their past relationship (at least not as much) into the rest of their lives and into their new relationships. They would be overall more mentally and emotionally healthy individuals.

Sadly, many of us aren’t rational enough to do conscious uncoupling. Most of us are naturally irrational and neurotic when it comes to love and our feelings for each other. Most of us, even when we know a relationship isn’t working out, stay anyway.

Much of the time we stay in relationships out of fear; fear of being alone, fear of hurting the other person, fear of what the future without that person will look like it. We all have our reasons for why we stay in relationships we really want out of.

We stay and become bitter, or stay and cheat either physically or emotionally. We stay and withdraw love, affection and sex to punish the other person. We stay until the other person does something that makes us leave, something which usually ends up hurting us and thus we usually leave relationships wounded and go into our new lives damaged with a greater risk of entering into a new relationship baring scars from old relationships.

I wish I had the rationale and guts to at least try conscious uncoupling in my previous relationships. It would have saved them and myself much pain, heartache, regret and sorrow, but I didn’t out of fear.

Conscious uncoupling takes audacity, a healthy overall sense of self, and I think for it to work successfully for both people, it takes two people who already have not only a healthy sense of who they are as individuals, but also have an overall healthy relationship with great communication to start with.

You may be thinking, if they had  a healthy relationship and great communication, then what was the problem? The problem could be anything. We don’t have to be in bad relationships to decide that it should end. We don’t have to be in good relationships and then consciously or unconsciously make them bad so that we have a reason to leave. We can practice conscious uncoupling as a healthy way to end a relationship while keeping us whole.

For more detailed information, and if you have 50 minutes, you can watch psychotherapist and author Katherine Woodward Thomas discuss conscious uncoupling. She specializes in “the art of completion” which she says is  “a proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace”

From experience I know that it hurts when relationships ends, but conscious uncoupling reminds me that it doesn’t necessarily have to.