Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How to Recognize and React to Verbal Abuse

All too often clients come in upset and confused by recent conversations with a family member. Much of the time, both my client and their family member have good intentions but are caught up in unproductive communication patterns which can be improved with care and effort.  Unfortunately, sometimes clients are experiencing the destabilizing emotional and physical effects of verbal abuse.

What always impresses me is how people attribute the best motivations to their partners, parents, siblings or others. People want to believe the best about others, which is a wonderful and redeeming quality of humankind. However, the flip side of this optimistic view is that sometimes we minimize or deny truly mean-spirited, manipulative or de-humanizing treatment.

Clients who live in an environment with verbal abuse often have trouble trusting their perceptions and wonder if they are “exaggerating”, “making it up” or are “too sensitive”. They also are often blamed for bad moods or problems of their abusive family member or friend, which can make them feel guilty or ashamed for no reason. Often people feel like they are walking on egg shells or have given up in trying to get their needs met in this relationship. 

Types of verbal abuse
  1. Persistent blame and criticism and failing to take personal responsibility for mistakes or behavior.
  2. Name calling, swearing, yelling, screaming or consistently refusing to allow the victim to state their opinion or feelings. 
  3. Gaslighting; the use of consistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying to make the victim question their sanity. For example, when confronted with a statement such as “yesterday you told me you were mad at me and refused to come to my parent’s house”, the abuser might say “I didn’t say that” or “you took it the wrong way”. 
  4. Manipulation. For example, “If you really cared about me you would do this my way”.
  5. Minimizing the accomplishments of the victim.

Good people with bad communication habits can learn healthier ways to communicate. Therapists can help, but unfortunately abusers usually refuse to seek help. Verbal abuse is extremely detrimental to the physical and mental health of victims, causing maladies such as chronic pain, headaches, TMJ, digestive problems, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety or PTSD. 

Often, people can’t leave an abusive relationship immediately. If your circumstances require you to interact with  a verbal abuser, you can fight back.

Strategies for surviving verbal abuse
  1. Stick to the facts. Abusers will often try to distract from their bad behavior by changing the subject or getting emotional. Directing the conversation back to the facts can help. In high stakes conversations or meetings, prepare for the conversation with an agenda and notes.
  2. Call them out. When the abuser calls you a name or blames you for something clearly out of your control, name the behavior: “stop the name-calling”, or “stop blaming me for something out of my control”. 
  3. Don’t get reeled in. Verbal abusers often use guilt to manipulate. If the other person is trying to manipulate you by making you feel guilty, ask them why they are trying to make you feel guilty. Know that abusers often feel powerless and this strategy brings a false sense of power. 
  4. Know yourself. Abusers will often gossip or spread lies about their victims. Know that people who know you well and are strong and caring won’t usually believe the abuser.
  5. Become a relaxation strategy  expert.  Yoga, deep belly breathing, meditation, guided imagery, prayer are just some of the things that can hep re-calibrate your nervous system after an interaction with an abuser
  6. Talk to a trusted friend or professional  It is crucial to know that you are not broken or flawed, and informed folks will validate you. In a crisis, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233) or the National Dating Abuse Hotline 866-331-9474 or if you feel at risk of self injury or injury from another call 911. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cooking Up a Cure

As you can imagine, the topic of food comes up a lot in client sessions. Over or under indulgence in food are extremes that many of us use to cope when we are stressed or unhappy. Unfortunately, over time this strategy results in health problems, sometimes life-threatening ones. Although challenging, especially in our “super-size-me culture, it is important to find balance and peace of mind in our relationship with food.

If you were hoping to read about how to eat for optimal physical and mental health, you can check out my post The Power of the Gut-Brain Connection . There you will find plenty of ways to improve your physical and mental health through food.

Today, I want to share my thoughts about food and mood from a different perspective. It is a cold February Sunday in Connecticut, and I was inspired by the many references made to pork shoulder in an engaging and thought-provoking novel I finished recently, Kitchens of the Great Midwest  (J. Ryan Stradal). I wanted to try pork shoulder because it is especially suited to how I like to cook on Winter Sundays- I get a stew or soup going by mid-day and enjoy the smell and anticipation of the meal to come.

If you are familiar with pork shoulder you know it is NOT a low-fat meat and likely has never been used in the same sentence with the word “healthy”.  Cooking an indulgence like this is where balance comes in. Healthy eating most days and meals of the week leaves room for most us for an occasional treat.

This kind of pleasure is incredibly worthwhile on many levels. First, food fully engages our senses. Good smells, tastes, textures and new flavor combinations are fantastic for our mood and can even reduce anxiety. Food is often visually appealing, and taking in the color and shapes of a beautiful dish is wonderfully calming for our busy brains.

Cooking for ourselves and others is a healing act of self-care and love.
I can still remember the sweet smell of vanilla-laced sugar cookies baking as I worked side by side with my grandmother, who thrilled me as an eight-year-old when she gave me an apron like hers. I loved it even more when she had me roll out the dough or sprinkle colored sugar on the cookies. This nurturing childhood memory has become a lovely piece of my decades long narrative around family and food.

I try to continue the tradition of sharing love by enjoying conversation with family and friends by preparing and sharing a fragrant, tasty meal whenever possible. Its a fantastic respite that slows the passage of time and restores me from the demands of busy work days.   

If you dont have good memories connecting food and love, I enthusiastically encourage you to take some baby steps towards creating some. The abundance of online recipes, complete with video demonstrations, make it easy to learn how to cook or, for accomplished cooks, to learn new skills and recipes. If you live alone or your family migrates to their own corners to eat, or eats at different times, shake things up and invite someone to join you. Try meals from different cultures and you may discover a love of a spice or an herb that is new to you and a recipe to add to your regular rotation.  

Heres to finding more satisfaction and connection through food. Now if you dont mind, I am going to excuse myself to join my husband to break bread and try Peruvian Pork Stew with Chilies, Lime and Apples.

Be well,

photo by Joanie Simon, food blogger