Tagged: mental health

Gaslighting: The Stockholm Syndrome of Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Gaslighting is a traumatic form of abuse by a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist initially disguising themselves as a dear friend, a doting partner, a loving family member, or a supportive co-worker or supervisor. The main goals are to take away your power (usually with the hope of gaining it for themselves) and to deflect from their own issues and project them onto you.

The gaslighter might be a supervisor that thinks you’re gunning for their job, a partner or parent who wants to exhibit control over you, a friend who’s jealous of you, or a co-worker who thinks s/he’s in competition with you. They feel insecure and powerless and divert others’ attention from their own problems by focusing on, and exacerbating, yours.

Oftentimes, this makes them look like “the hero” because they “saved” you or have to “put up” with you and, over time, this gives the abuser more power and control. They’ll say things like, “It’s a good thing you’ve got me around looking out for you” or “What would you do without me?” It starts out seeming supportive and caring and the criticisms are very subtle.

The subtlety and impression of caring are what remind me of Stockholm Syndrome, because the victim not only doesn’t see it for the longest time, but can’t bring him/herself to think for a minute that the abuser would ever do anything to hurt them – let alone go to the extremes that they do. In fact, in most cases, the victim can’t imagine their lives without that person.

The abuser then begins to drop little hints here and there, saying, “Hmm…your partner has been running late an awful lot lately. I wonder why that is.” Or maybe something along the lines of, “Well, that presentation for work might not have gone that well but you’ll do better next time.” Only, you weren’t actually complaining (or noticing) that your partner was running late recently and you had felt your presentation was amazing.

Concern for you becomes the main focus, only the concern is imagined, or more likely created, by the other person to make you doubt yourself. The abuser will use a series of orchestrations to turn their allegations into “truths” to make the victim feel that s/he is the one imagining things, and that they’re “misinformed”, not remembering things correctly, not that bright, or even paranoid, delusional, or crazy.

So how do you know if this is happening to you?

1) You constantly second-guess yourself.
2) You find wedges between yourself and others you used to be really close to, yet you have no idea why.
3) You know that something is definitely wrong, but can’t pinpoint what or why.
4) You feel confused, hopeless, and joyless all the time.
5) You feel as though you can never do anything right.
6) You start to suspect the abuser is intentionally hurting you and are told by him/her that you are “imagining things” that are very clear and obvious.

If you think this is happening to you, it’s helpful to document the behaviors and activities. Keep a log of the things they say that seem degrading or dismissive or just don’t make sense. Look at the frequency and significance of the events and in what areas of your life they seem to be targeting, such as your relationship, your friendships, or your job.

Should you discover that you are a victim, immediately begin to break off ties. People who gaslight are either not aware that they’re doing it or have been doing it for so long, it’s become “normal” behavior to them. Most of the time, they don’t care and cannot be reasoned with. Don’t engage with them any longer and, when in doubt, review the documentation to reassure yourself that you are not going mad and that you are now back in control and aware of the situation.

Healing from abuse takes time. You can’t beat yourself up over it or take it personally. When this person is done with you, they will happily move onto someone else. You can’t blame yourself; they’ve done it before you came along. Therapy can help. Try your best to surround yourself with people who love and support you 100% unconditionally and activities that bring you joy.

Your Relationship With Your Depression

I often ask people what their relationship is with their depression and they usually look at me like my head is on fire. I explain that, when my depression was at its worst, I looked at it like a comfortable old slipper. If I got into an argument with my boyfriend at the time, I would throw my hands in the air, retire to my bedroom, dim all the lights, put The Cure’s “Disintegration” on repeat, and lay in bed, possibly for a whole weekend which “freed” me from having to deal with his nonsense. If I had a project due for school, forget about it. I now had a valid excuse to not have to go out to parties and be social. I looked at my depression like a long, lost friend coming into town for the night. You know shenanigans will ensue. It will be fun while it lasts, but there will be hell to pay later with the consequences.

At some point, though, I realized that I wanted to have a good relationship. I wanted to have friends and enjoy my time with them. I wanted to do well in school and get my degree. My depression was actually robbing me of all those things I claimed to want. That’s when I learned that I had to change my relationship status with my depression from “It’s Complicated” to “Divorced.

Whether you realize it or not, you have an actual relationship with your depression. Is it part of your identity? Are you comfortable with it? In love with it? If so, that’s a huge part of the problem.

I used to look at it as an ugly head that popped out of my shoulder saying things like “You’ll never be good enough,” “You can’t do that,” etc. The ugly head is still there but now it more comes out of the ground and I stifle somewhat effortlessly with my foot. Depression usually doesn’t go away or get “cured.” Mine hasn’t. But instead of EMBRACING it, I MANAGE it.

You have to be very careful with how you identify with your diagnoses. I talk to a lot of people who feel like it’s just their burden to carry and it’s never going away. If that’s your perspective, then that will be your reality.

Getting to a point where you are managing it is possible, but not easy. It requires work. A lot of people don’t want to do that work and get stuck in their diagnosis. They feel like it will never get better. Two things are required from the beginning to get through it: Hope and Belief.  You have to allow yourself to hope to get better and then believe that you can.

My journey started with changing my “relationship status,” working diligently on positive thinking and changing my mindset. I used to be a very pessimistic person and considered the glass “half empty.” I would have told you that I was just being realistic, but now I am optimistic. Your “reality” is what you choose to FOCUS on.

Hope this helps!

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 3 of 4– Managing the Ego

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the 61-75 days of that challenge.

“I am my own worst enemy.”  Are you at all surprised by how profoundly true that statement is?  Author Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now all problems exist in the mind.  It makes sense if you think that if its true happiness comes from “out there,” then it must be true all problems come from “out there” as well.

When we live our lives believing our happiness and sorrows exist outside of ourselves, beyond our control, it leaves us in the unfortunate position of feeling victimized, without power and control.  Being put in such a very scary position leaves us no other alternative than to defend ourselves from the inevitable and constant attacks from the world.  This is where the ego comes in.

The ego is a construct of our personality designed to protect us from the hostile world we live in.  The ego needs to defend, appear strong and in control to others, and most importantly, be right; because if you can’t be right in this world, then what have you got?

The ego is not a bad thing, really.  It just does what it does.  Some would say the tiger is evil for killing the beautiful gazelle.  Others say the tiger is good for it plays an important role in the circle of life.  But the tiger is neither good nor evil.  It just is.  So it is also true for the ego.

We can’t be ego free.  We have to accept we will always yearn with the desire to be right, appear strong and in control to others, and feel a need to defend ourselves from what we tend to expect is a hostile world.  We can learn how to manage our ego.  I remember clearly my prior addiction to being right. There was a time in my life I would die on any principle if I convinced everyone else I was right.  What a waste of time!  Rather than make me appear weak and out of control, giving up my need to be right actually helped me become a stronger person.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show. We did 15 days of exercises to help you recognize and manage negative ego responses. I will address days 75-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

Disease or Dis-ease? Rethinking the philosophy of Addiction

The nature of addiction is not well understood in our society.  From the right, addiction is seen as largely a character defect; a level of laziness wherein the addict will not get her act together and pull herself up by the boots straps to take responsibility for life.  From the left, addiction is a disease rooted in genetics that leaves the addict largely helpless to his cravings.  He needs intense behavioral programming to help him stay in recovery and he must be ever vigilant, because his biology places him at life-long risk.

Depending on where we fall on the ideological scale, we largely accept these beliefs as fact. Even public funding supports these beliefs as most substance abuse programs are founded on behavioral principles and the philosophy that addiction is genetic and has no relationship to mental health.

I take issue with this.  From my own experience, I classify myself as an addict.  I’ve been addicted to many things in my life:  cocaine, anger, sex, cigarettes and diet coke, to name a few.  I don’t really struggle with addictive impulses now, nor have I for years.  Although I can never really compare my inner struggle to anyone else’s, my compulsions to indulge were very real and felt impossible at points to overcome.

I’ve never been to rehab.  I’ve never attended a 12-step meeting.  I don’t have any particular problem with any of those tools, but what I did do was dedicate my focus to establishing an improved relationship with myself.  I recently came across the book, Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, a well-researched account of how our addictive impulses are more about our lack of connection, our lack of bonding, much more than any genetic problem were are just condemned to live with.

This new discussion on the subject challenges both the left and right standards of thinking and suggests we can overcome addiction altogether by focusing on the key relationships in our lives and doing whatever we can to feel bonded and connected.  Personally, I take the theory one step further and suggest the most important relationship in our lives is our relationship with ourselves.  I know for me, the more I committed to a loving, respectful, bonded and connected relationship to myself, the less need I had for my addictions.   The struggle simply no longer existed.

Additionally, when I look back on times in my life I became more susceptible to my cravings, I can see how I had become disconnected from myself and it was through reconnection I emerged craving-free once more.

There are a lot of things you can be addicted to aside from drugs or alcohol.  Fact is, we are all either in active addiction or active recovery.  The only difference lies in the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 2 of 4– Developing Acceptance

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the second 30 days of that challenge.

Aside from love, acceptance is probably what we want most in life.  Like love, we tend to look for it and crave it from others.  Also like love, I’ve found the most rewarding way to gain acceptance in this life is to accept yourself and not base your level of acceptance on what other people think about you.  This topic has been covered many times in books such as “What You Think about Me Is None of My Business”, but what has really helped me on this journey is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

 In this book, the second agreement states verbatim, “Take nothing personally.  What other people do or say is a reflection of their own consciousness and has nothing to do with you, even if it is directed at you.”  I can repeat it easily enough, because I have said it to myself a billion times.

To say the 70’s and 80’s were a hostile environment for a young gay boy would be vastly understated.  I knew I was different before I had words to describe why.  So did the other kids.  I was even bullied and mistreated by teachers, while others just looked the other way while verbal and physical harassment occurred right in front of them.  Those experiences left me without a good sense of self.  When you hear something over and over again, you easily believe it.  It becomes your truth.  Since I didn’t have the skills to accept myself I became addicted to acceptance from others.

That’s where the Don Miguel Ruiz’s 2nd Agreement comes in – after much meditating on it, I was able to rewire my brain in a positive way and develop a more useful truth:  Other people’s opinions are just opinion, and not necessarily qualified ones.  Opinions are not facts.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show with 30 days of exercises to help you become more accepting of not only yourself, but also of others around you. I will address days 61-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out What It Means to Me

I’ve often thought respect is the foundation of a good relationship.  Without respect, the other things we want from our relationships like trust, love, fulfillment and meaning all seem hollower.  Respect is a fertile ground in which trust and love and can grow abundantly.

Recently I found this great article written for school teachers about teaching trust to children.  The article explains respect should not be confused with obedience.  We may obey people we are afraid of, or for some reason defer to their authority.  That does not mean we respect them.  The article also states the best way to teach respect is to be respectful.  I find that very important as when I look around the world, I see many people displaying a sense of entitlement to the respect they “deserve” without acknowledging any responsibility to give respect to others. Here are some great bullet points about how to teach respect to your partner by first being respectful:

Be honest – If you do something wrong, admit it and apologize. Be aware of how your actions affect your partner and take responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

Be positive – Don’t embarrass, insult or make fun of your partner. This is as important when it’s just the two of you as it is in public.  We are programmed by society to shape behavior through criticism.  Just because it is common and everyone does it, doesn’t make it a good idea.

Be trusting – Let your partner make choices and take responsibility. I ask people all the time “what is the definition of trust?” People mistakenly believe trust is a confident belief you have for someone after they’ve proven worthy of it.  WRONG! Trust is about believing and being confident in someone without guarantee.  It’s also about forgiving people when they are truly sorry for having hurt you.

Be a good listener – Listen to your partner’s side of the story before reaching a conclusion.  How often do you interrupt or spend think about what how you are going to respond even before your partner has quit speaking?  Give your partner your full attention. Be aware of how your body language conveys interest and attention. If you are turned away doing something with your hands, I know you are not listening to me really.  Just saying you are doesn’t change reality. Learning to listen is a talent, skill and an art.  You have to practice it to become better at it.  It doesn’t happen without time, attention and energy.

Be polite – Use “please” and “thank you.” Be aware and respectful of your partner’s space. You can create a lot of happiness and contentment in your relationship simply by exercising basic politeness.

Be reliable – Keep promises. Show your partner you mean what you say.

These are basic, simple tips to use in your everyday life.  You can transform your relationship and your life just by practicing these every day.

The Greatest Love of All

I’ve been focusing and concentrating a lot recently about the concept of self-love and how, exactly, does one learn to love oneself?  I challenge clients with this question often and just as frequently the response is, “I don’t know”, or “I don’t love myself and don’t know where I would begin doing so.”

Working on self-love is one of life’s most difficult tasks. Because it is such a difficult concept to understand, it’s why most people give up, dissociate from their lives in significant ways and develop strategies to run from themselves.  People running from the responsibility of self-love has resulted in our being the most in-debt, overweight, addicted, prescription-pill-taking, depressed society that has ever existed on the planet.

Hard? Yes.  Impossible? No.  Worth all the damage we do to ourselves to avoid the responsibility?  Absolutely not.  I have been posting a series of daily reminders on the BHC Assessment & Consulting Facebook page to outline self-loving steps.  You can “like” the Facebook page and follow along here: https://www.facebook.com/drdave0521.

First, you have to realize the work of self-love is a life-long journey.  You will never be finished.  That’s actually good news!  Imagine the longest relationship you will ever have in your life continuing to grow and get better, richer, more meaningful, rather than stagnant and boring.  Who doesn’t want that?

Second, you have to commit to the actions that create love: respect, acceptance, patience, value and consideration.  These may mostly be mental actions, but they are still actions.  You can achieve this by asking yourself, “How can I respect myself today? How can I accept myself today? Etc.”

The longer I live and study the human experience, the more I recognize this work of self-loving can make major headway in solving most of life’s problems.  It can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  It can help alleviate the effects of trauma.  It can probably even help alleviate the symptoms more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  At the very least, it can make life more livable.

Love is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Dealing with Difficult People: Part 3


A person with borderline personality disorder, much like the narcissist, is most likely not working on the same maturity level you are, does not pick up on social cues, and knows little to no boundaries. Someone with this disorder might have lack of control over emotions, difficulty maintaining relationships, lack empathy for others, and avoid accountability for actions. Some tell-tale signs might involve cutting, substance abuse, shoplifting, or other impulsive behaviors.


Acknowledge the person’s feelings. If she has become suddenly very upset, you might say: “I see you’re quite upset. Can we discuss what’s going on?” Make your points clear and concise. If things get too elevated, suggest that the two of you revisit the topic in an hour or so and explain that you want some time to think about what she said. Try putting the responsibility back on the person and ask them for possible solutions. Don’t bow and bend to appease the person but, again, lead by example and stay calm.


Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), Fatal Attraction (this example is commonly used and often criticized for being an extreme case and negative example); Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), Six Feet Under; Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway), Mommie Dearest; and David McCall (Mark Wahlberg) Fear.


You know who I’m talking about. You might have a PhD in Psychology but they know more about mental illness than you do because they once read a pamphlet about depression. This person is overbearing, thinks he has all the answers, isn’t willing to listen to the opinions of others, and may even consider the fact that you have an opinion as offensive. He might be boisterous and loud, enjoying the sound of his own voice and assuming everyone else does, too.


Keep it respectful but do so without putting yourself down. If you must have a confrontation with him, do it when the two of you are alone so as not to bruise his ego. Gently offer alternatives to his line of thinking in a way he won’t misconstrue as being attacking.

Ask your questions in a manner of “seeking clarification”, rather than flat-out disagreeing. Ask for specific details. Provide some attention to the know-it-all (since that is what he is after) but not too much. If he is offering unsolicited advice or harping on a topic that is irrelevant to his business with you, kindly explain that you are not interested in discussing that topic with him and move on to something else.


Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), The Big Bang Theory; Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons); Brainy Smurf.

Hope this helps!

Dealing With Difficult People: Part II


A steamroller is a bully who is not flexible or open to ideas, in most cases. He might be confrontational, manipulative, and/or rude and, in some instances, use threats or intimidation to get his way. Disagreeing with his opinions might make him feel offended, violated, or even hostile – flying off the handle at even the smallest of details. Some paperwork filed an hour late on your part might result in a menacing phone call with a tone of voice more appropriate for if you had run over his dog with your car. The steamroller can escalate situations quickly and may even become violent or threatening.


You’ll want to make sure to keep the environment (and yourself) as calm as possible. Keep your tone of voice low and calm, make eye contact with the person, and make it a point to let them know that you want to hear them out and come to a solution, but that you want to be reasonable. Make it clear to the steamroller that you are not the enemy. This person wants to feel heard. Note that there is a difference in helping someone feel heard, versus helping him/her feel justified.

These are the best tactics because you are leading by example. If the person continues to become out of control and escalates into threats or potential violence, you might say something to the effect of: “I understand you are upset and I really want to help work this out or understand more about the situation. However, I think it would be best if we continue this at a later time.” Use a lot of “I” statements so the person does not feel blamed or targeted.

Stand your ground, don’t be apologetic, choose your words wisely, and don’t engage in arguments. Have an exit strategy in mind as soon as you sense escalation.


Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), The Devil Wears Prada; Scut Farkus (Zack Ward), A Christmas Story; Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), A Few Good Men; Lt. Col. “Bull” Meechum (Robert Duvall), The Great Santini; and Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls.


Most misunderstand the narcissist as being an overly-confident individual. However, this person may have no self-esteem at all. It’s not about confidence or self-esteem necessarily – it’s about how this person sees the world. To the narcissist, the world does not exist in any form other than how it pertains to him.

Some tip-offs that you’re dealing with a narcissist might include grandiosity (or extreme sense of self-importance), a constant need for admiration, heightened fantasies/delusions about imagined successes, willingness to take advantage of others for his own gain, appearance of arrogance, strong sense of entitlement, sees others (wait staff, assistants, etc.) as “beneath” him and, therefore, treats them in a disrespectful manner, has unreasonable expectations of deserving and demanding favorable treatment, is often envious of others or imagines others to be envious of him, and possibly a lack of empathy for others.

You know someone like this. The type of person who might say, “Well, enough about me! What do YOU think of me?”


Manage your expectations. Accept this person the way he is. Don’t expect to get comfort or support from the narcissist. Don’t get frustrated when he uses you to better his own situation, then falls off the radar. Don’t feel disappointed when you realize she only hangs out with you because she sees you as inferior.

You have to understand that the narcissist legitimately has limitations and that it is not about you, whatsoever. If this person is very important in your life, you will need other sources of support, comfort, and emotional stability. Be able to set good limits and boundaries so s/he does not take advantage of you. If this person is a co-worker and you need something from him/her, try to find an angle of “what’s in for them” to motivate them.


Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), American Psycho; Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), The Godfather; (along the same lines) Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), The Sopranos; and Karen Walker (Megan Mullaly), Will and Grace.

Hope this helps! 🙂

Dealing With Difficult People…Part 1

We all know them. They’re out there. They might be our co-workers, our clients, our family members, our friends, or even our partners. What do you do when they’re people that have to be in your life?

For starters, there are different types of difficult people and, therefore, there are different ways to deal with them.

I had so many difficult personalities to go over, that I decided to divide this blog up into a 3-parter, so stay tuned…


These folks always “believe” they are communicating, but nothing could be further from the truth. They mistake body language and facial expressions for assertive verbal communication. The behavior itself (an angry glace or an over-dramatic sigh) might be passive, but later actions (taking the last slice of pizza when they know the other person wants it) indicate signs of aggression. Note that the aggressive aspect is not punching or yelling – it’s more subtle, which is what makes it passive.


I might encourage clients to be more assertive by pointing out that that I sense some tension from their behavior, tone of voice, or body language and I would ask them if they would care to discuss what’s going on. I will be very patient, compassionate, and understanding. I might explain the different types of communication and why it is important to learn to be more assertive and how others might be reading said behaviors, tone of voice, or body language.

In dealing with the passive-aggressive, remember that you are dealing with someone who is averse to having confrontation. It might help to try and be empathetic. Most of us aren’t born with the right tools to communicate effectively – it’s something we have to learn.


Lucille Bleuth and Lucille Austero, Arrested Development; Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Rosalyn Rosenfeld, American Hustle; Betty Draper, Mad Men


I used to be a BIG TIME pessimist, but I would have told you I was only “realistic” about things. My attitude was that, “If it can go wrong, it will” and that “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”. Looking back, I can hardly believe that’s how I used to go about in life.

A pessimist has usually already made up his mind to be the victim in most situations and isn’t really looking for solutions, but just wants to vent or complain. It’s much easier to stay stuck where you are and moan about the woes of the world than to accept responsibility for your part in it and do the work that needs to be done. And a lot of us get stuck in that mode from time to time.


People who are stuck in negative thought processes often see the world as a very cruel and lonely place. Don’t perpetuate that for them. Try to treat them with compassion, but be careful not to get sucked in to their negativity. Try to point out the positives in a given situation, without seeming too much like a “Little Miss Sunshine”.

My rule of thumb is to offer up two suggestions when someone has a complaint or an issue. If I feel the person is working harder to explain why the suggestions WON’T work than they are listening to why they will, I disengage. I might even explain to someone that they don’t appear to want a solution and, therefore, I don’t see how I might be of assistance to them.

You know you can’t change a pessimist (unless they’re interested in learning how), so do your best to be mindful that this is just how the person is, be thankful you are not that way, and carry on with your day.


Dr. Gregory House, House; Red Forman, That 70’s Show; Sophia Petrillo, The Golden Girls; Frank Costanza, Seinfeld; Karl Pilkington, An Idiot Abroad; Oscar the Grouch, Sesame Street

Hope this helps! Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine’s Day!