Projective Identification: How Narcissists Project Their Identity Onto Others

-Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

A client walked into my office for the first time and began to describe her husband as a narcissist. They had been married for 15 years, had two children, were well-established in the community, and were both very career oriented. She came across an article about narcissism and concluded that her husband fit the profile. Not interested in getting a divorce, she wanted to learn how to manage his narcissism.

But something seemed a bit off about her as she was too put together and completely lacked the usual anxious reaction that corresponds with living with a narcissist. Her appearance was immaculate, her mannerism was guarded, she shed what seemed like an obligatory tear, and within minutes she revealed her income, square footage of her house, and details of her latest European vacation. There was nothing about the kids, no evidence of even the slightest abuse, and no signs of PTSD, anxiety or depression. Then it hit me, she was the narcissist.

Twisted Perception. The distorted perception of reality that narcissists possess allows them to be the stars in a world that is centered on their wants and desires. Everything they see is colored by that viewpoint. Narcissists have a limited picture of life as they are the superior ones in beauty, knowledge, power, or influence. It is easier to think of it as seeing the world through 50 shades of yellow. Yellow because they are the bright shining stars in a world that caters to their demands.

This client viewed herself as perfect with an imperfect husband who needed to be fixed. She would play the victim card when backed into a corner of realization for her contribution to the marital issues. There was no acknowledgement of her wrong doing, a complete lack of remorse, and no empathy for anyone but herself.

Unhealthy Coping. This twisted perception is the perfect stage for utilizing denial, projection, and intellectualization as coping mechanisms. In order to maintain their perfect world, narcissists need to cope with anything that poses a threat to their reality. They usually start with simple defense mechanisms: denial (refusing to acknowledge the existence of a problem), projection (taking their negative emotional responses and assigning them to others), and intellectualization (distancing through overthinking so as not to feel). If those fail, they escalate to abusive measures.

Within the first hour of meeting, all of these defense mechanisms were exploited. She denied any issues with her children, which is impossible with a narcissistic parent. She showed text messages from her husband that were mild in nature and claimed instead that he was furious. When asked how she felt about an incident, she dodged the question by talking about her thoughts on the matter. When pressed for any signs of abusive treatment, she insisted that he could be violent but lacked any explanation of how or when.

Projective Identification. Taking projection one step further, a person assigns an aspect of his or her personality onto another person. In the case of narcissism, all of the narcissistic traits may be splintered off and attributed to a spouse. This is done at an unconscious level where the narcissists are not even aware of what they have done. In some cases, it may be malicious but for the most part it is due to their twisted perception of reality where the narcissist must remain perfect.

While it appeared in our first encounter that my client was doing this to her spouse, it was further confirmed by meeting her husband. He had zero signs of narcissism and instead was extremely co-dependent. His natural tendency was to enable the narcissism as he adopted the viewpoint that she was perfect and he was the one with the problem. He even agreed that she was right and he was narcissistic.

It took many sessions to reveal the actual narcissist. The projective identification was so integrated and well managed that it required much convincing to expose the real narcissist. The unraveling of the truth was painful at first but then it transitioned into healing as the husband was able to see the multiple colors of reality instead of only yellow narcissism.


6 Tips to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout at Work

-Joe Wilner

At times, we all experience stress, and for many people a major source of stress arises from work-related issues.

Feeling overworked, facing tight deadlines, and experiencing a lack of job-security can keep us in a chronic state of fight-or-flight.

Stress isn’t all bad, of course. A healthy dose of stress in the right context is positive and productive. This healthy stress is called eustress, and it helps us stay motivated and engaged in our goals and objectives.

But, when stress gets the best of us we can experience burnout, feel overwhelmed, and end up struggling to deal with our day-to-day responsibilities.

So here are six tips to defeat that unhealthy stress in your life so that you can stay focused and productive at work.

1. Get your heart pumping

Some people have a more active work life than others, but if you’re sedentary most of the day it’s important to make exercise a regular part of your routine.

“Exercise is truly one of those little tricks in life that can really reduce stress of any lifestyle,” says Jim Laird, Ph.D., professor at Clark University in Worchester. The minimum exercise to aim for is roughly 30 minutes of accumulated moderate exercise on most days of the week.

Start with some light stretching. From there, go for a walk and try to get at least 10,000 steps per day. There a numerous popular apps to help you track your activity level. If possible, make working out fun by playing sports, being outdoors, or trying yoga.

Here’s a list of exercise ideas you can start incorporating into your life today.

2. Use diet to ease stress

Medical science clearly shows that our diet is directly related to our overall well-being. If you aren’t making this connection it’s time to consider how to create healthier eating habits.

When it comes to increasing energy and stamina, consider including complex carbs and proteins in your diet, as well as snacking throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.

Whether it’s through your meals or supplementing vitamins, incorporate omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12 to keep yourself mentally and emotionally nourished.

As I’m not a doctor, please consult a medical professional with questions or concerns related to diet, but these are a few ideas you can research and explore further.

3. Honor interests and hobbies

When was the last time you did something remotely fun and entertaining?

We all need time to unwind and enjoy life. Make enjoyable activities a part of your routine to avoid stress.

Hobbies and passions take our attention away from our worries and help us let go of stress. We also get a boost of positive emotions when we’re engaged in activities we enjoy. This dose of positive emotions in crucial to help balance out the negativity bias we’re faced with as a human being.

4. Find meaning and value in your work

There’s a story of three construction workers laying bricks. One afternoon a man walked by and asked the construction workers what they were doing.

The first worker said, “I’m laying one brick after the other.”

The second worker said, “I’m making a wall.”

The third worker said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

When we take pride in what we do and realize the value of our work, we’re more likely to focus on the positive and make productive meaning out of stressful events.

Make it a point to review what you appreciate about your work.

5. Mind over matter

Often the more stressed out we feel the more we start to think negatively. Worry intensifies and we dwell on what we don’t like. This of course only exacerbates stress.

Learn to master your mindset and attitude. Watch and observe your self-talk and use self-encouraging statements to assist you in maintaining a helpful perspective.

Be intentional about what you read and watch and try to consciously have a mental diet of positive ideas and motivating messages.

6. Let it go 

Relaxation techniques may be the most underestimated tool for managing stress. When the sympathetic nervous system triggers the stress response, relaxation techniques provide us the means to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm our physiology.

You can utilize meditation, deep breathing, taking a hot shower, or going for a soothing walk, but one way or another create a relaxation ritual that helps you calm your mind and body.

Sometimes dealing with stress is a matter of letting go of what we can’t control and staying present in the moment.

The more tools you have on your tool belt the better equipped you are to manage stressful events as they occur. Hopefully these ideas help to grow your set of tools.

The Curse of Counter-Dependence

-Jonice Webb, PhD

Sophie was excited about her new position. Finally she would have the opportunity to use the marketing skills she had learned in her MBA program. But in the first week, it was clear to Sophie that she was somewhat over her head. With multiple demands coming at her from every direction, she realized that she desperately needed to rely on her immediate supervisor for help and support. But instead of letting her supervisor know her situation, Sophie simply continued to struggle, falling farther and farther behind.

James was packing up his apartment to move into his new condo. Every day after work for a week, he packed boxes, sorted and stacked for hours. By the end of the week, he was exhausted. With moving day fast approaching, James could not bring himself to ask any of his friends for help with packing or moving.

Everybody needs help sometimes, there’s no way around it. For most people, it’s not a big deal. You ask someone for assistance and usually, presto! Help is delivered.

But not so for many other people. These are the ones who balk at letting themselves even need help, much less ask for it. To these folks, relying on another person feels scary, and it may even feel just plain wrong.

These are the ones who are living with the curse of counter-dependence.

Counter-Dependence: A deep discomfort with any form of reliance on others.

In reality, the word “discomfort” is probably an understatement. I have seen many counter-dependent folks in my time. For a significant number, it’s a fear of depending on anyone, and that fear can reach the level of a phobia. It’s a fear that can keep you stuck in a bubble of self-sufficiency, and also hold you back from opportunity and growth.

3 Ways Counter-Dependence Hold You Back

  1. It prevents you from receiving the help and support that others get, putting you at an automatic disadvantage to everyone else.
  2. It keeps you isolated, feeling unsupported and alone in the world.
  3. It holds your relationships back, since you don’t get to experience the richness and depth of a truly mutual, trusting relationship where each party relies on other.

Exactly what is the source of the curse over Sophie and James? How did they each become so averse to depending on another person? It all goes back to how they were raised. It was Childhood Emotional Neglect.

13-year-old Sophie tiptoes carefully up to her sleeping mother, afraid of the reaction she might receive if she wakes her. She has no choice but to do so, because she needs her mother to  sign a permission slip for tomorrow’s school field trip. After silently watching her mother sleep for a few minutes she loses her nerve, and silently tiptoes out.

13-year-old James lives in a bustling, active and loving family. The family is so active that talk of schedules, soccer games and homework rule the day, from the moment of waking up to the dinner conversation. James’ parents and siblings have no idea how to respond to emotion or talk about anything difficult, so as a family they just don’t go there.

Why is Sophie afraid to wake her mother? Perhaps she’s an alcoholic who is passed out from drinking and whose responses to Sophie can be highly unpredictable, or even violent. Perhaps Sophie’s mother works two jobs to support the family and will be exhausted if Sophie wakes her up. Or her mother might be ill or depressed, so that Sophie feels guilty asking her for anything.

Interestingly, the specifics of Sophie’s predicament do not matter. The lesson for her is,

Never burden others with your needs.

Many would envy James for his family. Yet James’ family is unwittingly searing an important message into his developing brain:

Your emotions and needs are bad. They are to be hidden and avoided.

These messages we receive in childhood are powerful, even if they are never stated outright. Sophie and James will walk through their lives unaware that they are controlled by fear. A fear that a normal, healthy part of themselves (their emotional needs) will be exposed. A fear of chasing away the people they want in their lives by asking them for something. A fear of feeling or appearing weak or needy.

4 Steps to Reverse The Curse of Counter-Dependence

  1. Become aware of your fear, and how it holds you back from allowing others to help and support you.
  2. Work on accepting that it’s okay to have needs. You are human, and all humans have needs. Make it a point to pay attention to yours, notice them, and treat them as valid.
  3. Know that those who care about you want you to depend on them. They want to be there for you and to help you, and they are probably frustrated and feel shut out by your counter-dependence.
  4. Start taking risks. Make it a point to ask for help. Step-by-step, try to increase your comfort level with depending on another person.

Just like James and Sophie, the fear of depending upon other people may be seared into your brain from childhood. But that does not mean that it’s permanent. You can reverse the curse by directly challenging and over-riding it.

The curse will only run your life as long as you allow it. Why should you fight it? Yes, it requires perseverance and work. But deeper relationships, less exhaustion, more support and less alone.

It definitely pays to reverse this curse.

7 Red Flags to Watch Out for in a New Relationship

-Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

You’re dating someone new and everything seems to be going pretty well. That is until you spot something a little off in his (or her) behavior. When you’re first getting to know someone, you don’t want to analyze and judge every single thing he does or way he acts, but you also want to evaluate what kind of person he is and if he could be a good fit for you.

When we really like someone, we often want to overlook certain behaviors and chock it up to him or her having a bad day or our reading the situation wrong. But before you get too invested in someone, it’s important to know what her personality is really like. Here are seven red flags to watch out for in a new relationship.

1. Your friends don’t like him

True friends have your best interest in mind. If they don’t like the new guy you’re dating, they probably see something in him that you don’t. Sometimes the excitement of a new relationship blinds us to someone’s true qualities. If you’re not getting a good report from your friends, step back and take a closer look at your beau to try to better see what they see.

2. She talks about herself a lot

People who constantly talk about themselves are usually self-absorbed and a bit narcissistic. If she doesn’t ask you questions about your day, your family, etc., then she likely doesn’t truly care. Staying in a one-sided relationship with someone who is completely self-centered isn’t healthy and will ultimately leave you unfulfilled.

3. You find him checking out other women

Your guy should be into you. If you find him scanning the restaurant or club, looking at other women, then he might be looking for his next fling. It’s disrespectful to check out other women, especially when he is on a date with you. If he respects you, he won’t be doing this.

4. She talks down to you or others

No one wants to feel belittled or talked down to. If your new romantic interest criticizes you, diminishes your feelings, or insults you in any way, then she isn’t a good catch. The same thing goes with how she treats others. If she treats you like a god, but you see her discounting others, the time will likely come when she discounts you, too.

5. Small things set him off

Some men tend to have tempers when they become angry and this isn’t always a cause for concern. But if little things make him furious, or minor details cause him to erupt, then he could have anger issues. If little things make him mad, how will he react when larger problems come your way?

6. She is controlling

Whether she tells you to stop hanging out with your guy friends or she always dictates when and where the dates will be, she has to have the final say in your life. Sometimes this can come out in small ways, such as her asking, “Oh, you’re wearing that?” Stay with this girl and she will eventually want to control every aspect of your life. It is probably wise to get far away from this one.

7. You’ve experienced any sort of violence

If he has grabbed you forcefully even once, get out. Violent men are dangerous men and need professional help. A common mistake is to stay and tell yourself you will be the one to help him. Violence is never acceptable. Run the other way if he is acting aggressive toward you or anyone else.

New relationships should be drama-free for the most part. Early on, it’s all about the excitement of getting to know each other, first kisses, and having fun together. If you just started dating someone and are questioning his or her maturity, character, or sincerity, trust your gut, value yourself, and consider if the relationship is really worth continuing.

Four Ways To Become More Innovative

-Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

The philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “No man steps in the same river twice.”  His point — life is always changing.

But the underlying message might have been even more insightful. Perhaps we shouldn’t be expecting to step in the same river twice.

Life, after all, is anything but predictable. And yet how we deal with life’s uncertainties makes all the difference in the world.

In his brilliant book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, Tim Harford (also known as the Undercover Economist) asked several of the world’s most recognized leaders to predict which businesses would succeed or fail. Then he compared the success rate of businesses to evolutionary trends.

What did he find? Neither successful businesses or evolutionary trends (as measured by the success of specific species) follow any pattern whatsoever. Even further, when Harford compared the “experts” predictions to that of a control group, the experts did no better than the general population at predicting business success trends.

The takeaway is that we simply cannot predict the future — nor should we try. What we should do instead (and Harford makes a strong case for this) is develop our innovation skills.

Just how do we do that? Here are four ways:

Remove fixed beliefs. Fixed beliefs are absolutes about the world. People will always be fair (or unfair). You can’t ever trust x people. Bonds will always pay out. Real estate is always a good investment. What fixed beliefs do is shut the door on variation — because we already know what is going to happen. They hold us hostage to our own internal blocks, and keep us from trying new approaches. So what’s a better way? Also yourself to see things from multiple perspectives. People are not always fair, or unfair. Sometimes businesses work and sometimes they don’t. Some people can be trusted while others can’t. Often the difference lies in how willing we are to see things from another perspective.

Expose Yourself to Other Perspectives. As Harford says, there is a reason that we don’t look for innovation on isolated islands. Isolated ideas, he says, are not subjected to contrary ideas, and like evolution, are not improved by environmental stresses. The result? Ideas that won’t stand the test of experience. So what’s a better way? Listen to other’s perspectives. Consider alternative thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. Open your mind and think beyond yourself.

Be Open to New Opportunities. Opportunities don’t usually knock on our door. Instead they are often disguised in the form of roadblocks. We are stuck. We can’t find a way. We are faced with a problem for which there seems to be no solution. But for each of these often frustrating situations is also an opportunity. What is it? The opportunity to learn something new. Maybe we have to learn to say no. Maybe we have to learn to ask for help. Maybe we have to learn to recognize our limits. Maybe we have to learn to overcome our limits. Whatever the lesson is, it is also an opportunity to discover new abilities we didn’t know we had. And given enough time, these new abilities might just take us down a road we never dreamed of.

Try New Approaches. Innovation, whether it be in deciding how best to solve a problem, how to deal with a difficult situation, or even what areas of your life to salvage after a setback, depends on varying your approach. When you allow yourself the freedom to try something new as a simple act of exploration — without judgment — not just do you open your mind to new possibilities, but your also widen the possibilities you consider.  As Harford points out, some of the greatest innovations come from what Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, calls “positive black swans.” While these innovation projects, Harford argues, do not have a known payoff or a fixed probability — in fact, no one ever really knows what ideas will work or even why — they cannot be predicted or planned. For this reason, their very existence depends upon our ability to vary our approach, even trying the opposite of what we might think will work, in service of research and development.

Innovation, like evolution, often doesn’t follow a planned approach. Instead it is rooted in the willingness to look beyond, to see what might’ve otherwise been missed, to let go of our ideas about how things should be, and instead, to see them another way. Perhaps a better way.

No Longer Bending Over Backward To Please People

-Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

The term co-dependence has been in the recovery vernacular for a long time. It originated in reference to the enabling family and friends of those with addictions. You know, the folks who will consistently pick their partner up at the bar when they are too impaired to drive. On the one hand, that is a positive, protective gesture for everyone on the road and on the other, an action that may perpetuate the pattern. Another example is the spouse who calls their loved one’s boss to say that they are too ill to come to work when they are actually hung over from a bender the night before. Perhaps it reflects a litany of excuses for why this person is unable to change. The word has evolved to reflect the attitudes and actions of those who are known as people pleasers, approval seekers, those who are emotional chameleons and enmeshed with loved ones. I know the phenomenon well since I too exhibit some of the Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence as explained in the website

The most notable for this co-dependent in long-term recovery, include

  • minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
  • perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
  • judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough
  • are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
  • put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.

I came to the awareness of its role in my life in my 20’s. I had been reading my journals from college days (I still have them) and noticed a pattern in relationships. I would bring into my life, people with wounds that I thought I had to heal. Having grown up with parents who modeled doing it all, including raising a family, working several jobs, volunteering in the community, having a large circle of friends and maintaining a life-long loving relationship, I believed I needed to emulate them. If I wasn’t busy doing things for others, seducing them to love me and continuing to do what they wanted so they wouldn’t leave, I was worried that they would. I realized that this persona that I called ‘Little Shirley Temple, tap dancing for attention,’ was born in early childhood. The charm and charisma that are also aspects of co-dependence were taking root and growing in me. Those qualities do serve me as a therapist, writer, and speaker, but when left to run amok, can devolve into dysfunction. And so they did, in many relationships over the years. Quite simply, ‘Shirley’ wanted to be loved best of all.

In 1986, I met a man who became my husband. He too was charming and charismatic, as he wooed and won me. The red flags began waving early on in our relationship. A child of an alcoholic/rageaholic father and a mother who rode her own emotional roller coaster ride, and desperately wanted to be loved, he was primed and ready to go head to head and sometimes heart to heart with me. The former, rather than the latter characterized much of our nearly 12 years as a married couple, before he died in 1998 of Hepatitis C. At the time, I was deeply immersed in my own fear-based patterns. I felt called to heal his wounds, kiss the boo-boos and make them all better. I ramped up the attributes of this process addiction, thinking that if I met his needs more fully, he would be kinder and more patient and less angry. Many years later, I came to call that ‘savior behavior’.

What are the signs of savior behavior?

  • Consistently putting the needs of others before your own.
  • Ignoring signs of fatigue and burnout, but unable to slow the pace and regroup.
  • Doing for others what they are fully capable of doing for themselves.
  • Feeling resentful and unappreciated.
  • Attempting to help others circumvent pitfalls and personal potholes while falling into them yourself.
  • Anticipating what others want and offering before they even ask.
  • Wanting to appear altruistic and earn approval.
  • Getting extreme gratification from being a caregiver.
  • Believing that you know what is in another’s best interest.
  • Attempting to convince others how to feel and what to say.

One of the most brilliant things he shared that remain with me to this day as barometers for my progress are these lines.  He said I was “an emotional contortionist who would bend over backward to please people,” “a deer caught in the headlights when it came to decision-making,” and that I would “be looking over my shoulder to see if the ‘propriety police’ were watching.”

For years, I resisted viewing them as behaviors to banish, since they had earned me love and approval. I had become adept at reading people to determine what they wanted and would often provide them with same before they could even request them. I would hesitate and procrastinate, delaying decisions until the last possible moment to prevent making the ‘wrong one’. I would cover my mistakes and lies that I had told in order to keep the peace. I would sacrifice integrity to prevent rocking the boat. I would second guess myself in an effort to be absolutely certain I was heading in the right direction and even then, I doubted.

In the past 18 years since his death, I have evolved dramatically. I chalk it up to a number of factors. They include a sense of freedom from living with someone who in many ways was as addicted to his anger and married to his wounds, perpetuated by having lived with parents who were unhappily married, as I was to being conflict avoidant and having been raised by parents whose marriage and lives I idealized.  I have also remained in the recovery field as a therapist, teacher, and journalist, which keeps me on my toes and won’t allow me to sink into complacency. Many of my friends are in recovery from all manner of addictions and they call me on my stuff often.  In addition, I have been able to stretch my comfort zones as I speak my truth and express my own needs. Three examples from this week alone, follow.

I had been doing some work for someone I love. It was rewarding and fulfilling creatively. It made a difference. The person publically praised my work. All of these fed my approval seeking inner child.  While I was paid,  the budget wouldn’t permit remuneration in alignment with what my investment of time and my expertise was worth. I was able to confidently let her know my feelings and she accepted them.  I am not moving forward with the next round with her professionally, even as we remain friends.

A few weeks ago, while in the midst of a slump, feeling discouraged about the trajectory of my life, a friend reached out and generously offered to have me enroll in a 21-day program her was leading, in order to turn it around. I was excited about it until I learned that one of the requirements was that I would need to take that time away from social media. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so for many reasons, among them, the requirement to post my articles so that they will be well read and the need to remain visible to the public. I also find social media to be a means of having ongoing discussions about topics that matter. I sat with my decision for a day and then reached out to him to share my concerns. He understood and let me know that it was a must and when I was ready to take that leap, I was welcome in the program. Not sure that will ever happen, but it was nice to know there was an option. The interesting thing, which is a common phenom, is that my decision to state my case assertively meant that the training had already begun and perhaps had met its goal.

Lastly, I shared with another friend that I noticed a pattern in our relationship that she had expectations that I respond immediately (or nearly so) to her messages. She is assertive in asking to have her needs met, which I do admire and it sometimes borders on excess. I pointed out that it seems my role in her life is to provide resources and promotion for her work in the world, which is valuable. I let her know that there are others in my life to whom I have been offering attention, including one whose mother just died and another who is facing the possibility of a breast cancer diagnosis after just having had hip replacement surgery. The tone of the message was not apologetic as it would have been at an earlier point in my life. It was clear and compassionate to both of us. I have not heard back from her, but have no sense of trepidation about her response.

In all of these cases, I am worlds away from that emotional contortionist. Ironically, over the past few weeks, I had been in the throes of bronchial distress to such a degree that I injured my ribs from coughing and ended up in the ER on New Years Day. Last night, they were healed to the point at which I could actually do a back bend.  I remain on the road with recovery.

When Is It Okay To Cut Off A Relative?

-Cherilynn Veland, LSCW, MSW

When Is It Okay To Cut Off A Relative?

After the holidays, we therapists  are besieged with family drama stories. Family members fight, bad things happen, after too much champagne — talk about conflict and drama. Some of this is normal. However, when family members are repeatedly mean, nasty, and/or hurtful; it is time to have a serious think about whether it is appropriate or healthy to have contact with these family members.

What?! Cut people off? What kind of a counselor suggests that?

Well, normally I don’t. I think that even extreme family dysfunction can usually be worked around with healthy boundaries, support, and a reframed attitude. However, there are exceptions. Obvious exceptions include: abuse, extreme addictive behaviors, sexual inappropriateness, and physical abuse. Other exceptions include toxic, mean and abusive language or behaviors towards others. These can be unworkable and harmful.

I have a friend, Tanya, whose uncle used to scapegoat her at family events. Uncle Meanie would yell at her, make angry accusations, and cause fights. He would talk politics and, one time, Uncle Meanie cut her out of family get-togethers for years because she voted for the “wrong” presidential candidate. Another time, he invited her for Thanksgiving but then charged $21 a person for admittance. I kid you not.

This past Thanksgiving, he yelled at her, “Shut up and maybe you could learn a thing or two!” She felt humiliated. When she asked him if he would ever talk like that to her husband, he calmly stated that he wouldn’t have. It was neat that she thought to ask that, and, that he told the truth in response. (Interestingly, heterosexual women are much more likely to be attacked by narcissistic men, BTW).

So what did Tanya do?

  1. She reevaluated the importance and health of having him in her life.
  2. She realized that her holidays and her mental health would be better not setting herself up for abuse.
  3. She recognized that she had choices in this situation.
  4. She decided that forgiveness would be right for her, but that continuing to tolerate abuse wasn’t OK.

Tanya decided to cut him off. No more family dinners with Uncle Meanie. No more Thanksgivings or Christmas meals. No more events together, sitting at his table with his wife and kids. Tanya realized that she might miss out, but she figured that she could find friends to be with, or other family members who valued her, cared for her, and treated her with kindness and respect. Now, doesn’t that sound more appealing than being yelled at and humiliated?

Cutting someone off isn’t ideal, but some people refuse to make changes, no matter the cost. While a big loss, it is enough for Tanya to know that she doesn’t have to carry the burden and the hurt of his angry impulses anymore. No more punching bag for Uncle Meanie … (it’s still hard). Tanya’s mom is upset and wants Tanya to continue tolerating this abuse. Not fair.

Cutting off a parent would be a much more complicated decision. However, some parents are so toxic and cruel that this can be a life-saving decision. If you are thinking of doing this with your parent, consider counseling with a professional for clarity beforehand. This book by Dr. Susan Forward could be a useful resource: Toxic Parents: Overcoming the Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life.

I have a very good friend who had to do this with her parents and her whole family. She still has hard days, but she doesn’t regret it at all. She has a supportive network of friends and is a member of a 12-step group that helps her manage. Garnering support is always smart.

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 2: Exercising Regularly

-Staci Lee Schnell, MS, CS, LMFT

This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here: “Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully“.

The relationship between Physical Health and Mental Health plays a significant role in our lives. It has been found that staying physically fit actually helps our mental health as well. When our physical health is poor it puts a great strain on our mental health.

Eating healthfully, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are all important elements in a mentally and physically healthy life. Lifestyle interventions with a combination of psychotherapy and medications are all important in one’s treatment plan.

The Importance of Exercising Regularly to Benefit Mental Health

One can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.

It is well known that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve our mental health as well. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and more. Exercising regularly can also relieve and reduce stress, enhance coping skills, improve memory, help sleep, and boost one’s mood overall.

Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells which has been shown to help in age-related memory decline. It changes the brain in ways that protects memory and thinking skills.

Regular physical activity can also foster a sense of self-worth and a higher self- esteem, helping us to feel stronger both physically and mentally.

Aerobic exercises such as running, swimming, biking, dancing are all mood boosting.

Exercise cannot cure Depression, Anxiety, or Attention Deficit Disorder but can help improve the symptoms.


When one exercises, there is a release of endorphins. Endorphins are powerful chemicals in our brain that energize our spirits and make us feel better. They may also serve to improve our overall mood as well as reduce the perception of pain.

Exercise can also serve as a distraction from worries and depressing thoughts.  Which allows one to find some time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise is not a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.


Exercise, proper diet, good sleep, and sunshine are all natural anxiety reducers. Physical activity relieves tension and stress and boosts physical and mental energy.  Exercise enhances our well-being through the release of endorphins, just as in Depression.

Physical Activity helps relax our muscles and relieves tension in our bodies.  Regular exercise can reduce the impact of stress, as well.

Yoga combines physical movement with meditation and deep breathing to help calm the mind and alleviate worry and is a great activity for those with Anxiety.

Exercise is not a cure for Anxiety but an enhancer to psychotherapy and medication treatments.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Exercise has been shown to improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which affect focus and attention. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand.

Executive functioning skills, psychotherapy, support groups, and medication prescribed by a doctor, as well as regular exercise can all be included in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Working with a Therapist specifically trained in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is essential in the treatment of these Mental Health Disorders.  Exercise alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully

-Staci Lee Schnell, MS, CS, LMFT

Mental health and physical health are closely related. Keeping physically fit actually helps our mental health too; because it is very hard to stay psychologically healthy when our physical health is poor. If we are physical functioning poorly it takes an emotional toll on us as well.

Caring for your body and mind may mean you’ll not only live longer, but better. Eating healthfully, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are all important aspects to both the health of our mind and body. Just as there are many effective treatments for physical illnesses, besides therapies and medications, lifestyle interventions can be beneficial to our mental health too.

The Importance of Eating Healthfully to Benefit Mental Health

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But what exactly does that mean? Put simply, food is fuel, and the kind of fuel you consume determines the types of nutrients in your system, therefore impacting how your mind and body function. In other words, if you eat poorly you’ll tend to feel poor.

Food can play a contributing role in the treatments of Depression, Anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder. Eating a healthy diet can actually play a part in one’s treatment plan. However, a healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.


A combination of Psychotherapy, Anti-Depressants, and a healthy diet consisting of Folic Acid, Vitamin D, and Omega-3s should all be included in one’s treatment for Depression.

Increasing one’s intake of folate has been associated with helping to reduce depressive symptoms. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains have high amounts of folate, or folic acid.

Depression rates are higher among those with a Vitamin D deficiency. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most naturally occurring Vitamin D. Other foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals have Vitamin D added.  Eating foods high in Vitamin D therefore, may help reduce depression.

Some studies suggest that Omega-3s may be helpful in the treatment of depression as they seem to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Omega-3 essential fatty acids may also help boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants. Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) are the most highly recommended sources of omega-3.  Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, flax (or flaxseed oil), olive oil, fresh basil and dark green leafy vegetables.


Studies have shown that when people take Probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook may improve.

Some Teas are known to help reduce Anxiety.  Chamomile Tea has a natural calming and soothing effect and Rooibos and African Red Bush teas seem to have a balancing effect on stress hormones.

Tryptophan has been linked to helping one to feel calm. Turkey, Soy, Eggs, and Cheese are all high in tryptophan.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, other psychotherapies, anti-anxiety medications, and a healthy balanced diet should all be included in one’s treatment plan for Anxiety Disorders.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Protein may help improve concentration and possibly make ADHD medications work for a longer period of time.  Beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts can be good sources of protein.

Complex carbohydrates may help with the sleep issues some experience with ADHD.  Eating vegetables and some fruits, including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi may help one’s sleep if eaten in the evening.

Eating more omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with increased concentration as well.

Executive functioning skills, psychotherapy, support groups, and medication prescribed by a doctor, as well as eating healthfully can all be included in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Psychotherapy with a Therapist specifically trained in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is essential in the treatment of these Mental Health Disorders.  A healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

The Unloved Daughter and The Problem of Letting Go

-Peg Streep

Negative childhood experiences shape us in many ways, some more subtle than others. While lack of self-esteem and the nagging feeling of self-doubt are often highlighted as among the major difficulties the unloved daughter faces in adulthood, the difficulty she has letting go and leaving toxic or stressful situations is usually given short shrift. Fearful and anxious about making mistakes, the insecurely attached daughter is apt to stay in relationships long past their expiration date. She is more likely to keep plugging away in situations which cannot be resolved. She is often unable to break out of patterns which she knows on a conscious level are holding her back but she’s paralyzed anyway.

Unloved daughters have trouble letting go. There’s the problem in a nutshell.

For all that the culture admires perseverance—which human beings are hardwired to be anyway—we often lose sight of the fact that knowing when and how to head for the exit is an extremely valuable life skill. It’s one that usually eludes the unloved daughter who’s prone to second-guess her every move, worry about every misstep or possible error in judgment, and has her default setting set to “doormat.”

But what’s learned in childhood can, thankfully, be unlearned in adulthood with some effort. If you’re stuck, staring at the door but unable to get yourself to go through it, here are five things you can do to change you and your life.

1. Give up on wishful thinking

It’s time to toss all that positive thinking, your copy of The Secret, and the rose-colored glasses you have on your night table. Inculcate some realism into your assessment of where you find yourself. Don’t talk yourself into thinking that you’re turning some kind of corner when your partner (or boss) is simply being less nasty or abusive than usual. Ask yourself whether the person you’re dealing with wants things to change or whether he or she is content with the status quo. If the answer is the latter, you need to plan an exit strategy.

2. Stop thinking about your investment

If you find yourself thinking that you’ve put five years into the relationship and that you’ll lose that five years if you’ll leave, you’ve fallen into the trap of The Sunk Cost Fallacy. Everyone engages in this kind of thinking at some point—it’s part of the human aversion to loss—but the insecurely attached person is more likely to stay mired in it if she indulges in it. Don’t! Focus on where you might find yourself if you do leave instead because nothing is bringing the time you invested back anyway.

3.Work on managing your emotions

If just thinking about leaving is filling you with angst or you’re flooding with second-guessing yourself, actively work to manage those feelings. Visualize a place that calms you or bring to mind the experience of being with a loving and accepting person. Take a walk, do some exercise, take deep breaths. Do not let your emotions get the better of you; you can manage them if you try. Use your journal to explore why you feel the way you do.

4. Set goals for yourself

Studies show that writing goals down forces us to be articulate about our wants and needs and actually helps us implement the goals we set. There’s also research that shows that if we set more abstract goals for ourselves, we’re more likely to see expanded opportunities for achieving them.

Say you are thinking about ending a relationship. Instead of setting a goal of finding a new lover, boyfriend, or friend, think about it abstractly. Here are some examples: “Have more rewarding and supportive companions,” “Expand my circle by trying new things,” “Get involved with community to experience greater connection,” “Spend more time with old friends and work on my ability to be intimate and supportive.”  Abstract goals allow us to see different opportunities for connection that specific goals—such as finding a new boyfriend—do not.

5.Harness your motivation

Scrap those affirmations because studies show they don’t work. Instead, motivate yourself by asking yourself a question: “Will I….?” which is far more effective. Work at achieving your goals by anticipating possible glitches, using “if/then” thinking and developing a Plan B so that you’re not taken down by a possible setback. Securely attached people tend to do this without thinking; insecurely attached people simply have to work a bit harder and make it conscious behavior.

Where we started doesn’t have to dictate where we end up. Being more adept at letting go of what needs to be left behind is something everyone can learn.