When Compliments and Adoration Wilt into Verbal and Emotional Abuse…What Do You Do?

You remember how it was. Compliments, excitement, adoration, gifts, trips and fun. Now those are fewer and fewer and the anger is more often. You brace yourself when you go home. You never know what to expect.

Your partner tells you their goal in arguing is understanding, resolution or compromise, but their words are shaming, blaming and said with the express intention of changing your perception to theirs. The conversation becomes circular always coming back to what you did wrong. You’re probably in an emotionally abusive relationship.

The goal of verbal abuse is one-upmanship, control  and humiliation not real compromise or understanding. Often an abused partner will spend inordinate energy and time trying to explain their ideas and motives to the abuser, only to be met with disqualifications and humiliation. If someone is scolding you for not loving them correctly or telling you that you are responsible for their anger, loneliness, rage, or behavior you are experiencing emotional abuse.

No one can shame another person into loving them or feeling emotionally safe. An abuser is not after intimacy or transparency, they are trying to get undivided emotionally charged attention from you. They want your undivided attention, control and for you to subjugate yourself to their perceptions.

Abusers accuse and shame. They don’t take responsibility for their own feelings, outbursts or threats.

They don’t exhibit real curiosity for others’ emotions or hopes. They do not show respect for ideas differing from their own.

They are unable to clam themselves down when upset and take their frustrations about life out on those close to them. Their own reality and perceptions are the only “right” ones. Black and white thinking is a sign of low psychological sophistication and immaturity. This all or none approach to life is often targeted at those nearest the abuser.

Situations (things that happen, things others do) reveal a person (expose their motives/feelings, what they are capable of, etc.) circumstances don’t make a person (mad, sad, retaliatory, aggressive, blaming, etc.). Circumstances do not dictate how a person will respond, they are opportunities that expose what is really inside a person. An abuser will tell a partner that he/she is responsible (or work, finances, relatives or other drivers are responsible) for the abuser’s reactions, feelings and acting out behaviors. This is as mature as a child telling a sibling across the table, “You looked at me and made me spill my milk!”

Adults are responsible to develop self-soothing activities (hobbies, friends, creative outlets, physical exercises, relaxation techniques, etc.) to handle uncomfortable feelings. Abusers do not take responsibility for their uncomfortable feelings, they blame the person closest to them who is often trying to make the relationship work by acquiescing and not making waves.

Victims of abuse often become depressed and/or anxious. They try over and over to use compromise, explanations and avoidance to please the abuser. This only leads to the abuse victim feeling invisible, alienated, helpless and often out of touch with what they feel, want and believe. The victim’s attention becomes more and more focused on what the abuser feels, what the abuser wants or the beliefs held by the emotionally abusive partner.

Once this painful pattern is recognized it can take a lot of time and effort to reclaim the lost aspects of oneself. If you feel you may be the victim of emotional abuse begin by being gentle with yourself. Say kind things to yourself. You didn’t get into this situation over night and it may take some time to change it.

Begin by learning to identify abuse.

Abusers say things like:

“If you were really sorry you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

“Your apology wasn’t sincere.”

“I do everything for you, what do you do for me?”

“You’re so gullible/naive.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it. Why can’t you just take a joke?”

“That’s not what I meant. Can’t you ever listen?  I love you more than anyone ever will.”

“You don’t understand love, you came from a dysfunctional family.”

“Your’e going to wear that!?”

“If you don’t understand (behave) I’m just going to leave.”

“You’re just trying to make me mad, aren’t you?”

“Women are to subjugate themselves to their husband in all ways.”

“Husbands have to love their wives.”

“Your friends wouldn’t talk to you if they knew how you really are.”

“Why are you so defensive all the time? You always think I’m mad when I’m not.”

“You’re always making excuses. I don’t care what you meant to do, it’s what you do that matters.”

“No one else is going to love you/do for you what I do.”

“Don’t walk away from me I’m not done talking.” (This can go on into early hours of the morning.)

“You know what you did.”

“You can’t support yourself. I put up with you. How do you make my life better?”

“If you leave I will take the kids away.”

“You know what you did (years ago) and you deserve what you get.”

If you think you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship gather as much information as you can. Breaking free of emotional, verbal, financial or physical abuse is very difficult. Surround yourself with friends and family who are caring and see you for the wonderful person you are. Develop a sense of yourself. Don’t isolate. Follow your dreams. Join groups of positive inspirational people. Take care of yourself physically, eat and sleep well. Give yourself credit everyday for the things you accomplish. Remember you are responsible for handling your feelings and your partner is responsible to handle theirs. Individual therapy and group support can be helpful.

Signs of Verbal Abuse Video

How to deal with a Verbally Abusive Boyfriend video.

How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship video.

Is My Teenager in an Abusive Relationship? Video

Books on emotional and verbal abuse

“The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond”, by Evans

“But He’ll Change: End the Thinking That Keeps You in an Abusive Relationship” by Hunter”

“But I Love Him: Protecting Your Teen Daughter from Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships” by Murray

“Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder” by Mason

“The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family”, by Payson

“The Sociopath Next Door” by Stout

Books to improve communication

“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Rosenberg

“Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation” by Rosenberg

“Toxic Relationships: How to Regain Lost Power in Your Relationship” by  Brasher

“Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” by Beattie

Four Rules for being in a Relationship with a Borderline Personality Disordered Person  Video

Narcissists and Intimacy Video

© 2012 Lois Nightingale, Ph.D.

Psychologist PSY9503



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9 ways to Teach Children Tolerance in a Fearful World

Messages of prejudice and stereotyping can be subtle or overt. Discrimination can be conveyed yet “disqualified” in humor or even in silence.  Children may pick up ideas about what constitutes good and bad people from the media or friends, but parents still have the advantage of early training, modeling and education. Your values of fear or of curiosity and inclusiveness cannot be hidden from your children, no matter how hard you try. They are watching you.

We all have fears and apprehensions about things that are strange to us and we generally prefer situations and people with whom we are familiar or who we perceive are like us. But these human traits do not necessarily translate into ideas of superiority and inferiority. Hate crimes stem from seeing those different as a threat. Fear and self-loathing are at the core of prejudice.  Projection of one’s own insecurities leads to stereotyping others. When we are compassionate to ourselves, understanding we are in some ways the same, and in some ways different from others, curiosity and inclusiveness are fostered.  Kindness in the world begins with kindness to oneself.  The world is becoming smaller every day. Teaching compassion and inclusiveness is more important than ever.

Here are nine things parents can do to foster tolerance and kindness in children:


  1. Don’t laugh at belittlement. Don’t remain silent when disparaging remarks are made about groups of people. Comment when you see compassion and kindness extended. Rejoice when gains are made by those struggling for acceptance and equality.
  2. Model your tolerance of differences in; strangers (race, culture, sexual orientation, physical differences, jobs, etc.) family members (religion, choice of partners, diseases, income, etc.) your children (their interests, strengths, ideas, physical differences, social abilities, etc.) even of yourself (physical traits, challenges, talents, etc.). Children listen when parents least expect. Your humor, off handed comments and what you agree with and endorse are observed by your children. Putting yourself down (for weight, income, age, skin color, education, etc.) teaches children that there is only one “right” way to be accepted.
  3. Get your family involved in the bigger community outside your immediate neighborhood or house of worship.  Isolation can lead to narrow thinking. Expanding your family’s interests can initiate conversations and exposure to new people and concepts. Reach beyond your habitual activities. Volunteer with a group, try a new hobby, take a class, and attend art exhibits, theater, or a wide variety of live music.  Have conversations about things your family learns and appreciates about different people and life styles.
  4. Research, learn and then teach your children about different religions and their celebrations, cultures and their foods, political systems and their origins, types of families, or social organizations and their goals and objectives. The more you model curiosity and admiration for groups different from yours the more you teach children that differences are not a threat but can be life enhancing. You may have opinions and preferences but the more information and curiosity you model the less fear you will covey.
  5. Remind your children of the challenges of your own ancestry and as well as the struggles of other groups. Every human culture, lifestyle and religion has experienced prejudice and hatred. Religious fights for acceptance, segregation, women’s right to vote, first generation immigrant struggles, marrying into a “wrong” family, having a nontraditional partner, breaking into a closed industry, or questioning a longstanding family tradition. Convey the emotions, kindnesses of others, courage and compassion that can be gained from understanding another’s plight.
  6. Travel with your children. Show them how others live, work, celebrate, grieve, worship, care for children and the elderly. Help them look at others the way others see themselves, not in comparison to their own value system and norms.
  7. Answer your children’s questions about prejudice and fear the best you can, even if you don’t have all the answers. Entertaining and answering your children’s questions indicates you welcome discussions. Shutting down questions with quick frustrated answers tells kids the topic is off limits. Sometimes asking what a child thinks about a question before you give an answer can deepen the discussion because you have shown you care about what your child thinks as well. Modeling respect for your children’s ideas is a big part of demonstrating tolerance.
  8. Get involved. Write letters to elected officials with your older children. Attend listening groups and demonstrations. Support those who are victims of discrimination. Explain legislation and propositions on upcoming ballots that affect minorities. Encourage your children to have a voice on issues they feel strongly about. Families can make a difference long before children are old enough to vote or hire employees.
  9. Model compassion. Even in your agitation at those who harm others out of their fears, try to convey to your children that all human beings deserve to be treated with respect. Taking a stand against prejudice does not mean living in anger, it means living in action.

© 2012 Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D.

714-993-5343                               www.nightingalecenter.som


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What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a relatively short-term form of psychotherapy based on the concept that the way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally. It is action-focused and addresses thought patterns (cognitions) that lead to disruptive behaviors and uncomfortable emotions. CBT is oriented toward current problem solving by changing maladaptive thought patterns, behaviors and communication, rather than on past experiences.

CBT is based on extensive empirical research. It is the primary psychological treatment being studied in research today. CBT has been shown to be as useful as antidepressant medication for individuals with depression and is superior in preventing relapse. Studies indicate that patients who receive CBT in addition to medication have better outcomes than patients who do not. CBT is especially effective for anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, and panic disorders.

While CBT acknowledges many of the core beliefs contributing to “automatic thoughts” in response to life situations may have been developed in childhood or during times of crisis, the predominant focus is on helping clients feel better and develop behaviors that work best in their current lives.

CBT clients need to be motivated, as CBT can be hard work. Clients may feel uncomfortable at times as they practice new behaviors and thoughts. Clients are expected to do work outside of therapy. Homework assignments, journaling, role-playing, cognitive rehearsal, relaxation techniques, systematic desensitization, deep breathing exercises, reinforcement strategies, and validity testing, are all techniques used in CBT. Clients who seek CBT can expect their therapist to be active, problem-solving and goal-directed. The harder clients work, the better their chances of recovery.

Cognitive therapy is not about “positive thinking” in the sense that you must always think happy thoughts. Rather, it is a way to gain control over racing, repetitive thoughts which often feed or trigger anxiety or depression. In CBT people learn how to change their thoughts, behaviors and their feelings to live more fulfilled lives.

To receive more information about how you can begin CBT therapy you may call Dr. Lois Nightingale for an appointment in her Yorba Linda, California office. 714-993-5343

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Social Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse

Many people suffering with a Social Anxiety Disorder believe drinking helps them. Often their friends encourage this behavior telling them they “open up” and are “more fun”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Alcohol consumption can complicate a Social Anxiety Disorder leaving the person with even more anxiety or worse, addicted to alcohol.    

Self-medicating Social Anxiety with alcohol can be dangerous.

Social Anxiety is a phobia (like phobias of elevators or spiders) that can be addressed with therapy. There is also treatment for alcohol abuse and dependency.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety:

1. Debilitating fear of being judged, embarrassed or humiliated.

2. Avoidance or severe restriction of encounters with people.

3. Developing physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, G.I. distress, or tightness in the chest when faced with a feared social situation.

4. Avoiding social situations such as eating in public, writing in front of others, using public restrooms, or public speaking.

5. Increasing fear that people will notice the anxiety which becomes stronger than the actual fear of the situation. Worry that one will be perceived as weak, anxious, or foolish leading to even more avoiding or limiting contact with other people.

6. Social anxiety disorders can lead to underachievement at work or school due to avoidance of calling  attention to one’s self such as a promotion or being forced to participate in groups. Those suffering may have few friends, have trouble dating, developing relationships or changing dead end jobs. Depression or substance abuse can develop in prolonged or severe cases.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse/Addiction:

1. Excessive use of alcohol but may not have regular cravings, nor a need to use daily, or withdrawal symptoms during periods of sobriety.

2. May have  frequent alcohol binges separated by periods of not drinking.

3. Temporary memory loss called “black outs” when under the influence.

4. Recurrent arguments with friends and family as well as irritability, depression, or mood swings.4. Use of alcohol to relax, to cheer up, to sleep, to deal with problems, or to feel “normal ” in social situations.

5. Problems with the law due to intoxication.

6. Headache, increased anxiety, insomnia, nausea, or other unpleasant symptoms when tries to stop drinking.

The following symptoms are specifically associated with chronic alcoholism.

7. Flushed skin and broken capillaries on the face, trembling hands; bloody or black/tarry stools or vomiting blood; chronic diarrhea.

8. Drinking alone, in the mornings, or in secret.

9. Needs to drink regularly or even daily. Drinks more and more to get the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms if stops drinking or wants to quit drinking but can’t.

If you are suffering from Social Anxiety help is available. If you are struggling with addiction or substance abuse there is help. Ask your physician or call a local mental health care provider.

© 2012   Dr. Lois Nightingale

Social Anxiety Video

How to Detect Signs of Alcoholism Video

Alcohol and Your Brain Video

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Coping with Holiday Stress and Depression

Most people believe the holidays are supposed to be a time of joyous celebration where family members who haven’t seen each other recently get together to praise and acknowledge each others’ accomplishments over the past year. Many people would respond with, “Yeah right.”

For many people the holidays bring out their worst concerns. They may reflect on their “failures” of the past or worry about loneliness. They may have financial worries that place a shadow over any excitement or anticipation those around them may have.

For those who find the holidays less than “storybook perfect”, there may be a risk of the “Holiday Blues”. This type of stress and depression can be caused from holding unrealistic expectations, wanting everything to be perfect or isolating altogether. A sense of cynicism can come from a focus on the over- commercialization or an inability to spend the holidays with loved ones.

The symptoms of the “Holiday Blues” are much like those of other types of stress and depression. Symptoms may include poor concentration, disturbances in eating (too much or very infrequently), drinking too much, difficulty sleeping or wanting to spend all day in bed, irritability, low frustration tolerance, and agitation. Physical signs of stress may also be present such as, stomachaches, headaches, back problems, digestive problems, jaw tightness and physical fatigue.

Even though many people with the “Holiday Blues” experience these feelings during the holiday season, some sufferers can be greatly affected by a post- holiday let down after January 1. These later reactions can be due to fatigue, emotional disappointments of the preceding months and residual financial stress.

There are many practical things anyone with a predisposition to the “Holiday Blues” can do to minimize its effects. Remember that the action one takes to prevent feeling stressed and depressed takes less effort than to try later to pull oneself out of feeling down and miserable.

  1. Give yourself the right to enjoy the holidays as you wish. Try to let go of high expectations and wanting everything to be perfect. Allow yourself to participate in the aspects of the holiday, which have meaning for you and try to let go of anyone’s “shoulds”. Allow yourself to be a little “crazy”. Have some fun and let go of how everything “must” look, including yourself.
  2. Organize your time. Take 10-15 minutes each morning to plan out what your day will look like. Don’t leave things until the last minute. Make lists and plan out how you wish to spend your time. Don’t spend all your time planning for just one event (an office party or Christmas dinner, etc.).
  3. Try something different, especially if this is the first holiday after a significant loss (death of a loved one, loss of home or job, children growing up, or a divorce). Spend the holiday in a different location or celebrating with different people than usual.
  4. Find the specialness and uniqueness in THIS holiday season. Don’t compare it with the past. Life moves forward not backwards. Each holiday season is different and these are the “good old days” you will look back on in a few years.
  5. Spend time with people who accept and love you unconditionally. These may not be biological family. Often our chosen family members are able to accept us more unconditionally. Surround yourself with encouragement and support.
  6. Take care of yourself physically. Don’t drink too much (alcohol is a depressant). Exercise, it will help with all the holiday goodies you want to enjoy. Get outdoors. As the days shorten and less daylight hours are available many people become depressed from insufficient light. Go for walks, eat your lunch outside. Drink lots of water.
  7. Do something for someone else. There is no faster way to get out of a “funk” than to help someone else feel better. Make a gift for someone. Give a gift anonymously. Help out at a soup kitchen, church or temple charity project, local hospital or retirement home, or homeless shelter. Focus on people rather than things. Give “love coupons” good for making a favorite meal, or a walk in the woods, or a visit to a museum or art festival.
  8. Spend time doing low cost or free things. Too often the holidays are focused on consumerism. There are many holiday displays that are free to visit and participate in. Children love to drive around at night and look at lights or visit large hotel lobbies decorated for the holidays.
  9. Remember the significance of this time of year that is important to you. Find a way to celebrate that aspect of the holiday, whether with a group or alone with a personalized ceremony. This is a special time of year and beneath the fear and cynicism, almost everyone has some warm attachment to some aspect of the winter season.
  10. Give yourself the gift of letting go of past resentments. It has been said, “resentment is a poison we take hoping that it will harm another.” Forgive, if only for the holidays or only a part of the remembered betrayal. Release someone from indebtedness for past mistakes. Do this not for them but for your own peace and serenity this holiday season.

If you or someone you care about is having a particularly difficult time with holiday stress or depression, there is help and support available. The Nightingale Center has an extensive list of group referrals and resources. If you would like more information or a free packet sent to you, please call 714-993-5343.

© 2012 by Dr. Lois Nightingale, director of the Nightingale Center in Yorba Linda, Calif.

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12 Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Relative at Your Holiday Event