The 3 Most Dangerous Things to Say in a Relationship

-Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Almost every relationship article mentions the Big C: Communication. But what if your words are doing more harm than good?

Language is a powerful force, and what you say to your partner on impulse could be doing a great deal of damage. Here are the top three most dangerous phrases to let slip from your lips.

1. “You Always… You Never…”

The classic communication killer. Nothing is more guaranteed to aggravate your partner than to hear this kind of sweeping generalization. The problem with “You always…” “You never…” is that it’s so easy to let slip in the heat of the moment, and what your partner hears is, “You’re useless. You always disappoint me.” Even if it’s over something as trivial as doing the dishes.

You may be frustrated, and simply wanting to make a point, but what the other person hears is an attack on his or her very character. That hurts. Lines of communication clamp shut with a vengeance. Your partner will automatically become defensive and is unlikely to really hear another word you utter.

Hyperbolic criticism like this only serves to push your loved one away and won’t get you any closer to having your needs met.

What to say instead:

“I feel ‘x’ when you do/don’t do ‘x’… How can we sort this out?”

“I really appreciate it when you do ‘x’.”

As you see, starting with “I” rather than “You” is often a good start! Beginning with “I” turns your words from a blanket accusation into an invitation to talk, and to come to a resolution.

2. “I don’t care.”

This is a no-brainer. Your relationship is based on caring, so why sabotage it with this thoughtless phrase? To say “I don’t care” in any context — I don’t care what we have for dinner, I don’t care that the kids are fighting, I don’t care where we go later — automatically implies a lack of emotional investment in the other person, and in your shared life.

The most important predictor of a long-lasting relationship, according to John Gottman, is quite simply whether or not couples regularly perform simple acts of kindness, such as showing interest when the what each other has to say. If your partner makes a bid for your attention and you react with “I don’t care” (either spoken or implied) — it’s going to inflict damage.

What to say instead:

Pretty much anything, as long as it conveys interest and involvement in whatever your partner wants to share with you!

3. “Never mind… it doesn’t matter.”

Of course, there will be times when you genuinely mean this. But too often we use these words in a dismissive sense, eg. “Never mind, I’ll just do it myself,” or “No point talking about it!”

Both phrases in this sense imply that you are rejecting your partner’s input, deliberately shutting her or him out. It can also be passive aggressive — trying to make an implied point about your partner’s behavior, or attitude, rather than having a frank and upfront conversation.

What to say instead:

“I would really love to get your input on ‘x’…”

“I’m in a tight spot here, please can you help me out?”

Don’t forget to say “thank you!” Such a small thing, but those two words make all the difference. Unsurprisingly, couples who thank each other regularly feel more supported and appreciated, helping them to get through periods of tension when they do arise.

No doubt, we all have times when our partners frustrate and annoy us. Expressing that frustration might just seem like speaking your mind, or being honest. But often, it’s just not constructive.

Ask yourself, “Is this a real issue or just a passing annoyance?” If the answer is the former, try to use neutral, constructive language that focuses on actions rather than character, and avoids placing blame.

That doesn’t mean you should watch every word you say, all the time. But more sensitivity around hurtful phrases goes a long way. And making the effort to reinforce your love with positive phrases — “Thank you,” “I love you” — is worth it a hundredfold.

Sharing Good News Boosts Health and Happiness

-Janice Wood

A new study finds that supportive, responsive partners provide a buffer to loneliness and sleep deficits among military couples.

Better sleep, communication, and emotional support are key to better overall health and to being successful in the workplace, according to the research, which was presented at the 2017 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention.

“This study adds to a larger body of literature that supports how important it is to share with your partner when good things happen, as well as to respond positively to the sharing of good news,” said  Sarah Arpin, a social psychologist at Gonzaga University.

For the study, Arpin and her colleagues examined the sharing of good news, loneliness, intimacy, and sleep in 162 post-9/11 military couples.

“Very few studies have examined daily relationship processes among military couples, who may be particularly vulnerable to relationship difficulties post-deployment,” she noted,

In relationship research, sharing good news is referred to as capitalization. Capitalization is a particularly important support process in close relationships, the researcher explained.

“When you share something good, and the recipient of (the) information is actively happy for you, it heightens the positive experience for both parties,” she said. “However, when someone ‘rains on your parade,’ that can have negative consequences.”

Researchers required couples to be living together for at least six months to participate in the study. About 20 percent of the couples were unmarried. The length of time couples were together varied widely, though the average length of relationship was 12 years.

This study is part of a larger research project, the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe) that is working to enhance retention of veterans in the workplace, with the goal of improving workplace culture and general well-being of service members.

The Four Horsemen

-The Gottman Institute

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue The Four Horsemen series by providing you with a strong foundation of understanding before we go into further depth about each specific communication style. Consider today’s posting an overview of what is to come over the next four weeks.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…” 

In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner – which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated!

The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

  • She: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
  • He: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been:

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.” 

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit.

Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. This Friday, we will introduce you to the antidotes!

Tip: Practice, practice, practice! Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.

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.

Resentment Can Damage Marriage Even More Than Cheating

-Leslie Doares

It just eats everything away…

Infidelity is the worst thing that can happen in a marriage, right?

Think again.

While cheating is a devastating betrayal, the MOST damaging thing you can do in your marriage is to give in when you don’t really want to.

7 Last-Ditch Ways To Save Your Marriage (When You Feel Hopeless)

When you agree to something you don’t actually want, resentment builds and eats away at your relationship. Over time, each concession you make gives birth to termite-like resentments that erode the very foundation of your marriage. The more unwanted concessions you make, the faster your marriage crumbles.

Of course, every marriage involves some form of concession at some point in time.

In fact, the moment you accept the common belief that marriage requires compromise, you’ve opened your relationship to unwanted concessions. We often believe compromise means talking someone into accepting a solution even when they don’t feel 100 percent OK with it. Without honest acceptance, it’s impossible to truly embrace the proposed solution, and so the nesting ground for resentment is put into place.

I was reminded of this truth while working with a couple whose relationship struggled through infidelity issues. The partner who had the affair shared that he closed his Facebook account because he was tired of “defending” his activity on it. I could tell from his tone that he’d felt pressured into doing so. Recovery from any affair is guaranteed to be even harder when either person resents taking an action they don’t want to take as a means of satisfying the upset of the other.

In fact, resentment is often the first step anyone takes on the path toward infidelity. Without fail, these moments of caving to their partner leads to emotional distance and disconnection. Once feelings of resentment are firmly in place, the relationship becomes vulnerable — and if they are left unaddressed, it will surely die.

Knowing whether or not your partner is honestly agreeing or simply making a concession to appease you can be one of the toughest marital challenges.

If one partner agrees to what seems like a mutual decision, how would the other know the agreement isn’t really mutually acceptable without being told so directly?

If you see yourself as a people-pleaser or as conflict avoidant take special care.

5 Illusions About Marriage That Need To Be Broken

People with these personality types are most likely to make unwanted concessions because their fear of upsetting their loved one outweighs their desire to honor their own needs. This may work for the moment, but the resulting resentment eventually reaches a point where the feelings can no longer be contained. More damage is done to your marriage the longer this process takes to unfold.

Each concession increases the number of resentment termites and later leads to costlier, more time-consuming repairs in order to rebuild the marriage.

Learning how to reach solutions that do not involve unwanted concession is the best way to avoid resentment.

Although the process is simple, it may not feel easy at first. Here’s what you do:

Make a commitment to yourself and each other that you will no longer agree to a solution that doesn’t work for both of you. Ever.

This doesn’t mean that you draw lines in the sand and require your partner to accept your way at all times. It means that you keep talking and listening until you find common ground. The more you hold to this commitment, the easier it becomes.

Isn’t having a great marriage worth it?

5 Crucial Reasons You Should Talk More

Have you ever been sitting on a subway or plane and felt annoyed because the person next to you keeps trying to chat and chat and chat?

One thing we know about human nature is that there are introverts and extroverts in this world, and everyone falls somewhere on that continuum. Some people seem to be programmed to talk and engage, while others are genetically programmed the opposite way.

But what makes some people less talkative than others? Is it as simple as genetics? I don’t think so.

Wives complain about their husbands’ one-word responses; my clients often tell me that they feel a deep loneliness, even when they are surrounded by people. I’ve heard many stories about lovely folks standing alone at parties, feeling awkward, and waiting until enough time passed so that they could go home.

Are all of these people introverts? Maybe, but many of them had another good reason to be in their predicaments. Unbeknownst to them, they had built a wall between themselves and everyone else. A wall that acted as a hurdle for the words that they could and should speak. A wall that took their voice, and bounced it right back at them. A wall that whispered,

That’s not important enough to say

Talking is annoying

Talking is useless

You have nothing to offer in this conversation

Sadly, all of these people are being deprived of one of nature’s most valuable tools: communication, and all of the wonderful benefits that come with it.

5 Reasons You Should Talk More

  1. Boost your mood: Imagine running errands, feeling hurried. Anxiously waiting in line at the pharmacy, the woman standing behind you says, “Excuse me can I ask you a question? Where did you get those shoes? My husband’s been looking for some just like that and can’t find them anywhere.” You have a brief discussion in which you make a tiny joke and she laughs. Studies show that these types of small, meaningless encounters boost your mood. A connecting moment with another human being releases a neurotransmitter in your brain called oxytocin. This chemical has been shown by research to have an anti-anxiety effect. It gives you a feeling of well-being, and may increase human empathy. It’s not just you; the woman you just spoke with will have a similar boost in mood.
  2. Think things through: Talking with a stranger at the pharmacy is one thing. Talking with a trusted person you are close with is quite another. There is great value in saying aloud something that you are working on in your mind. Worried about your daughter? Wondering if you should change jobs? Thinking you should buy a new car? Simply putting what’s in your head out there to another person forces you to own it. The response of the other person gives you input. This back-and-forth process helps you draw new conclusions and may even give you new ideas. It’s all good.
  3. Become more interesting: Talking less may feel safer. You’re unlikely to offend another person by saying nothing. However, the risk of being a quiet person is appearing uninteresting to others. Putting something out there (almost anything) gives others something to grab onto and something to remember you by. Unless you’re gabbing on and on about minutia, talking makes you relatable and interesting.
  4. Rewire your brain: If you’re a non-talker, you are probably being stopped by a combination of introversion, (which is fine and great; we’re not trying to change that here); and your wall. The wall was likely erected in your childhood as a result of subtle or overt messages from your family that your voice was not particularly welcome or interesting. Overriding those messages now as an adult, as often as you can, automatically starts to break through that wall. You can rewire your brain over time, and talking and interacting will become easier and easier for you.
  5. Have deeper, more valuable relationships: Every word you say empowers you. Every word allows other people in your life to know you better. Every word you say encourages another person to say something back, which allows you to know them better. The better you know each other, the deeper your relationship goes. Deeper relationships are more meaningful, more resilient and more valuable than shallow ones.

If you are an introvert, the idea of talking more may feel energy-draining. If that’s the case, it’s important to listen to your body’s needs and take care of yourself. However, research shows that talking and engaging with other people actually makes introverts happier. So there is a balance, and it’s important not to give in to silence.

Reduce your anxiety, become more interesting, break through your wall, and improve your relationships. All can come from one little habit that you can cultivate in yourself.


Think You’re a Good Listener? Prove it

-Holly Brown, LMFT

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and this week I had the pleasure of attending Rosh Hashanah services and hearing a sermon on the value of listening. As a therapist, I listen for a living. But in my personal life, sometimes I can be a little lax.

I imagine that’s true for all of us: We can get used to thinking we know how our partners feel, and we don’t actually check it out. Here’s why that’s a mistake, and how to correct it.The sermon was about how, as a society, listening has become a lost art. When it’s all about monologue (and even a tweet can be a micro-monologue), that’s where we get into trouble. We disconnect from ourselves, each other, and our ideals. We screen out ideas that don’t agree with our own. We can become narrow and judgmental. We lose touch with our empathy.

I couldn’t agree more. So this year, the rabbi issued a challenge: Listen more than ever, and start with an exercise.

The exercise he recommended is one that I remember from a training I once attended. It’s deceptively simple, and very enlightening. It won’t take long, but it will take effort.

Sit with someone, allow them to talk for five minutes without interruption, and then tell them, in your own words, what you heard. Then reverse, and you’re the speaker, and they’ll be the listener.

During the training I attended years ago, as therapists, we assumed the paraphrasing would be a breeze. What we found was that we were often wrong. By paraphrasing and then inviting correction, we developed a deeper understanding of the speaker.

It was eye-opening. Often, we don’t check our assumptions. We’re too sure of what we’ve heard, and we then move forward with erroneous assumptions.

Think of what that means in terms of our relationships–if we’re habitually “listening” but coming away with the wrong understandings.

Try the exercise yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. Listening truly is an art and a skill. Don’t let it be a lost one in your home.

This is an exercise that can be repeated regularly–when there are disagreements, or just important topics where you really want to be understood. You can also use a version of it daily, by simply checking in quickly: “So what you meant is…?” Allow yourself to be corrected, respectfully. Correct your partner, respectfully. Your relationship will be better for it.

And move it outward, to other relationships, to your community. The world will be better for it.

3 Types of Parents Who Get Bullied By Their Own Children

…and some expert advice on stopping the cycle.

Susan Newman, PhD

Parents often make excuses for their children’s outrageous behavior, whether it’s a preschooler’s tantrum or a teen’s sullen refusal to do what he or she has been asked. Children who become unmanageable or verbally abusive to their parents are, in fact, bullies, although most parents don’t think of these behaviors in that way.

Maybe they should.

Sean Grover, a New York psychotherapist, mustered the courage to call such children exactly what they are—bullies—and figured out how frustrated parents can take charge again and restore positive parent-child relationships.

Here’s what he had to say:

Sean, you have worked with children and parents for more than 20 years. What prompted you to write, When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Being a Parent Again?

Grover: Years ago, when I started to feel I was being bullied by my own child, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. I found a lot of generic advice that doesn’t fit all parents, or quick solutions that didn’t last.

I realized that parenting books rarely address a parent’s unique history, culture, and parenting style. When I stopped trying to fix or change my child, and explored my own role in fostering her bullying behaviors, I found the answers I needed. Her behaviors were a direct consequence of my own insecurities.

The greatest impact on how we parent is our personal history. It amazed me how few parenting books took that into account. Obviously, I can’t provide therapy to all the parents who are being bullied by kids. So in the book, I use worksheets, journaling, and insight-oriented exercises to help parents understand their history and discover how it affects their parenting choices.

When we think of bullying, most of us couple the word with “school.” We worry about our children being bullied in a school setting. How does a parent recognize that they have a bully in the house?

Grover: The collision course between parents and children is nothing new. All children go through test periods. Parents are always in the position of making unpopular decisions and saying no to things kids want to do.

When a child tests a parent’s authority and the parent sets a limit, the child learns to control himself. Setting limits and boundaries is essential to a child’s healthy emotional development. When those limits and boundaries aren’t set clearly, you’ll soon find yourself at a tipping point for bullying.

Testing can be described as nagging and pestering. Bullying, on the other hand, is aggressive, hostile, and mean. It involves verbal assaults, physical aggression, putdowns, and unrelenting abuse. And it feels terrible.

The bullies in the schoolyard are no different from the child bullying her parent at home: Both will stop at nothing to get what they want. They lack empathy and are trapped in their own narcissism. They will threaten, blackmail, and terrorize you until you give in. Until they are taught limits and boundaries, the parent-child relationship is doomed.

The question most parents ask when their child of any age rebels or become difficult is: What happened to my sweet, affectionate, obedient child? How does pushing the limits and seeking independence cross the line to bullying?

Grover: Never let your kid disrespect you. Never let your kid talk down to you. Establish a culture of mutual respect in your family. Help your kid to express frustration constructively. Children have more feelings than words, so they need strong leadership from their parents to learn how to express themselves in words effectively and use frustration as fuel for personal growth.

A little bit of defiance is expected in children. It’s how they learn to be assertive and establish a solid sense of self and identity. You don’t want your kid being too cooperative or too accommodating. He or she will become a pushover or a target for bullies, and is more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.

What immediate steps can a parent take when immersed in a standoff with their child?

Grover: Bullying is a symptom of an unbalanced inner life. When your kids act up, ask yourself: What’s really going on here? Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they frightened? Perhaps they are having social difficulties at school or suffering from undiagnosed learning problems that create much psychic tension and devastate self-esteem. Try to locate the source of their anxiety, then address it directly.

In heated moments, don’t become reactive. Hit the pause button. Maintain your leadership and never bully back. If you bully back you are establishing a bullying culture in your family.

When to comes to raising children, modeling is king. I’ve heard it said that children absorb 10% of what you say and 90% of what you do. If you’re losing your patience, yelling, and threatening, you’re going to eventually be on the receiving end of that behavior from your kids. You may not see it when they are young, but as they get bigger and feel more powerful, it will resurface with a vengeance.

Why do parents give in to bullying from a child?

Grover: The true cause springs from parents’ own histories—how they were parented, their childhood experiences, and the modeling that their parents provided. These are the true causes. Were they bullied as children by their own parents? Did they grow up with an absent or neglectful parent? Did they have a narcissistic parent? These are questions parents want to explore.

I also look at what’s going on in parents’ lives: Are they in an unhappy relationship? Does their partner have a different parenting style? Are they suffering parent burnout? It’s hard to parent well under those conditions.

Self-care and child care go hand in hand. Often the best way to turn a bullying situation around at home begins with taking better care of yourself.

Three parenting styles are most likely to trigger bullying in children.

The guilty parent. Something has gone wrong—a divorce, an illness, a financial hardship—and now the parent feels guilty. To ease their guilt they give their kids too much freedom and not enough limits. This always backfires.
The anxious parent. This is a parent who is always worrying and expressing anxiety. Children experience a parent’s anxiety as, “I don’t believe in you,” “I don’t trust you,” or “you’re not a capable person,” and this triggers a lot of anger and resentment toward the parent.
The fix-everything parent. These parents can’t stand to see their children frustrated and constantly step in and solve problems for them. Such parents have good intentions and are often heroic, but the outcome is horrendous. The child remains dependent on the parents and unconsciously resents them for it. They are never satisfied. In fact, the more you give them, the less they appreciate you. Children have a natural drive for independence that needs to be encouraged. The fix-everything parent discourages it and therefore dwarfs the emotional development of their own child. Children of fix-everything parents have a tendency to age but not mature.

In your book you provide a training ground for new skills and a road back to sanity for parents bullied by their kids. What can parents do to counter the bullying and reverse patterns that may already be set?

Grover: Parents committed to working on themselves rarely fall victim to continued bullying. Mindfulness is not a word often associated with parenting. Neither is self-mastery. But without either it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with your child. Parenting will always be an emotional and psychological workout.

After exploring your personal history and exposing the fears and insecurities that foster bullying in your child, make a concrete plan of action that begins with assembling an anti-bullying support team. Too often, bullied parents are ashamed of the situation. Breaking the silence and involving others for support is crucial.

Make sure you and your partner are united. Conflicting parenting styles are often at the heart of behavior problems at home.

Enlist friends and family. Children respond positively to adults other than their parents when these behaviors are confronted. Look for models and mentors in adults that your children look up to.

Involve school officials. Talk to guidance counselors and teachers. If your kid is into sports, talk to the coach. Let them know you are struggling and enlist their support.

Seek professional help if the bullying continues. Look for resources in your neighborhood that offer parents support or ask friends for a referral.

15 Kinds of Verbal Abuse

The abuser feels more powerful when he puts down his victim.
Berit Brogarrd D.M.Sci, Ph.D
In general, if we look at verbal abuse as a means of maintaining control and Power Over, then in this context all of the categories of verbal abuse listed and explained below make some kind of sense because they are all ways of establishing Power Over. Does this mean that the abuser actually feels more powerful when he, for instance, subtly puts down his partner’s interests? As incomprehensible as this is, it is so. Does this mean that the partner feels put down? Not always. She may feel a twinge of sadness that they cannot share this interest. She may even feel a twinge of sadness that her mate cannot enjoy this pleasure in, say, a particular artist or composer. Does this mean that her mate cannot enjoy this pleasure? Not always. He may simply find greater pleasure in feeling Power Over. She may never really know. We will also see that verbal abuse prevents real relationships. This seems obvious. However, the partner of an abuser may live under the illusion that she has a real relationship. She may do so for a number of reasons, an important one being that, as a couple, she and the abuser may function adequately in their respective roles. Verbal abusers generally experience many of their feelings as anger. For instance, if the verbal abuser feels unsure and anxious he may simply feel angry—possibly angry that he is feeling unsure and anxious. Yet part of being human is the ability to feel. The ability to feel, like the ability to think, is universal to the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, the abuser is generally unwilling to accept his feelings and unwilling to reveal them to his partner. He builds a wall between himself and his partner. He maintains a distance.

Patricia Evans identifies a number of categories of verbal abuse. Some of these kinds of abuse are obvious, others are more subtle.

1. Withholding

Withholding is primarily manifested as a withholding of information and a failure to share thoughts and feelings. A person who withholds information refuses to engage with his partner in a healthy relationship. He does not share his feelings or thoughts. When he does share anything at all, it is purely factual or functional information of the sort his partner could have looked up on the Internet, read on his Facebook wall or figured out for herself by looking around. Examples of withholding communication that fails to engage the partner include “The car is almost out of gas,” “The keys are on the table,” and “The show is on now.”

2. Countering

Countering is a tendency to be very argumentative but not merely in political, philosophical or scientific contexts but in ordinary contexts as well. The victim of the abuse may share her positive feelings about a movie she just saw, and the abuser may then attempt to convince her that her feelings are wrong. This is an example of countering. Countering is a way of dismissing the victim’s feelings, thoughts and experiences on a regular basis.

3. Discounting

Discounting is an attempt to deny that the victim of the abuse has any right to her thoughts or feelings. It may come out as criticism but criticism of a particular kind. The abuser may tell the victim on a regular basis that she is too sensitive, too childish, has no sense of humor or tends to make a big deal out of nothing. The abuser thereby denies the victim’s inner reality, indirectly telling her that how she feels and what she experiences is wrong.

4. Verbal abuse disguised as jokes

Verbal abuse is often disguised as jokes. The abuser may say something very upsetting to the victim of the abuse and then after seeing her reaction add “It was just a joke.” Abuse is not okay in any form. Jokes that hurt are abusive.

5. Blocking and diverting

Blocking and diverting is a form of withholding but one where the abuser decides which topics are good conversation topics. An abuser practicing this form of abuse may tell the victim that she is talking out of turn or is complaining too much.

6. Accusing and blaming

Accusing and blaming are forms of abuse in which the abuser will accuse the victim of the abuse for things that are outside of her control. He might accuse her of preventing him from getting a promotion because she is overweight or ruining his reputation because she dropped out of college.

7. Judging and criticizing

Judging and criticizing is similar to accusing and blaming but also involves a negative evaluation of the partner. As Evans points out, “Most ‘you’ statements are judgmental, critical, and abusive.” Some abusive judging and criticizing “you” statements are: “You are never satisfied”, “You always find something to be upset about”, “The reason no one likes you is that you are so negative”.

8. Trivializing

Trivializing is a form of verbal abuse that makes most things the victim of the abuse does or wants to do seem insignificant. The abuser might undermine her work, her way of dressing or her choice of food.

9. Undermining

Undermining is similar to trivializing but further consists in undermining everything the victim says or suggests, making her question herself and her own opinions and interests.

10. Threatening

Threatening is a common form of verbal abuse and can be very explicit, as in “If you don’t start doing what I say, I will leave you” or more subtle, as in “If you don’t follow my advice, others will find out that you are a very unreliable person.”

11. Name calling

Name calling, too, can be explicit or subtle. Explicit name calling can consist in calling the victim of the abuse a “cunt” a “whore” or a “bitch”. But it can also be more subtle, calling the other person things that are implicitly hurtful, for instance, “You are such a victim” or “You think you are so precious, don’t you?”

12. Forgetting

The category of forgetting covers a range of issues ranging from forgetting to keep a promise to forgetting a date or an appointment. Even if the abuser really forgot, it is still abuse, because he ought to have made an effort to remember.

13. Ordering

Any form of ordering or demanding is a form of verbal abuse. It falls under the general issue of control. I have written another post about controlling people. The link is here.

14. Denial

Denial is abusive when it consists in denying bad behavior and failing to realize the consequences of one’s behavior. An abuser will find a way to justify and rationalize his behavior. This is a way of denying that he has done anything wrong.

15. Abusive anger

Abusive anger consists in any form of yelling and screaming, particularly out of context. Even yelling “shut up!” is abusive. There are other ways to deal with people who need to “shut up”. No one deserves to be yelled at.

Facial Characteristics May Influence Perception of Honesty

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Can you look at someone and tell if they are honest? Many of us believe we can and a new Canadian study explains why we have this perception (accurate or not).

Researchers determined that certain facial features, not the expression, influence whether people think someone is trustworthy. That is, some people may “look” honest.

University of British Columbia’s psychology professor Dr. Stephen Porter, and Ph.D. student Alysha Baker, recently completed two studies determining that people often make judgments of trustworthiness based solely on the face.

“Our findings in this and our past studies suggest that your physical appearance can have major implications for your assumed credibility and other character traits, even more powerful than the manner in which you behave and the words you speak,” said Porter.

“The implications in social, workplace, corporate, and criminal justice settings are enormous.”

In their studies, the researchers asked participants to watch a video, listen to audio-only pleas, or examine a photo of people publicly asking for the return of a missing relative. They then asked for their personal perceptions of general trustworthiness and honesty.

“A lot of information that feeds into our impressions about one’s trustworthiness is deduced from the face,” said Baker, who conducted much of the research.

“More specifically, there are certain facial features considered that make an individual look more trustworthy — higher eyebrows, more pronounced cheekbones, rounder face — and other features that are perceived to be untrustworthy-looking — downturned eyebrows, or a thinner face.”

The studies cited two real criminal cases, one with an 81-year-old woman and one with a father of a missing nine-year-old girl. People believed the elderly woman’s public appeal for justice, even though it was later determined she had killed her husband.

Many judged the father to be lying, based on his facial features, even though he later proved to be innocent.

“When encountering a person in any given situation, we automatically and instantaneously form an impression of whether a target is worthy of our trust because, evolutionarily, this kind of assessment has helped our survival. For example, assessing ‘friend or foe’,” said Baker.

“We’re typically not aware of this quick decision and it may be experienced as ‘intuition’, but this can be particularly problematic in the legal system because these first impressions are often unfounded and can lead to biased decision-making.”

Baker cautions that in some legal settings those who are untrustworthy-looking may be judged more harshly and receive different outcomes than those deemed to be trustworthy-looking.

This has occurred in the United States where untrustworthy-looking men are more likely to receive the death penalty than trustworthy-looking men convicted of similar crimes.

This study appears in the journal Psychology, Crime & Law.

Source: University of British Columbia/EurekAlert