Cultivating a Positive Body Image

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we may find ourselves satisfied and happy with what we see. In the last few years, as selfies and other cameras have gotten higher and higher definition, and in the last few years of the pandemic, as we’ve had to look at ourselves in online meetings, we’ve become more aware of our looks.

That awareness can be a good thing if it is met with an appreciation of what we see, but it can be frustrating and even devastating if we don’t like what we see. That freckle or the slight crook in our smile, our skin tone or hairline, the shape of our nose or of our legs – it’s possible for us to begin looking at these things and wanting to change them because we aren’t happy with them. There is, however, another way to go, and that’s to cultivate a positive body image towards yourself.

What is body image?

Your body image simply refers to how you perceive your own body and your assessment of your physical appearance. It encompasses your emotional responses, your attitude, beliefs, and perceptions of your own body.

If you have a negative body image, that means you feel dissatisfied with what your body looks like. When you compare yourself to other people or to the standard that you believe society holds concerning our bodies, you feel you compare unfavorably.

A negative body image can lead a person to have a distorted image about certain parts of or their whole body, and it can often lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. It means that you’re literally not happy in your own skin and probably walk around wishing you were someone else.

When you have a positive body image, on the other hand, it means that even when it doesn’t match other people’s ideals, you accept your own body for what it is and feel comfortable in it.

That doesn’t mean that you never want to look a little different; on some days, you might wish you could change how you look, including the desire to lose a bit of weight or have a bit more definition. But a positive body image means that on most days you feel confident and are happy with the way you look.

There are several things that influence our body image, and it goes beyond what we see in our bathroom or hallway mirror. How we perceive ourselves is a complex combination of our beliefs, the experiences we have in life, the generalizations we make, and the influence of our culture, friends, family, the fashion industry, and popular culture, as well as the social and other media we consume.

By conveying positive and negative messages, all of these can combine to shape our views on what is beautiful, ideal, and acceptable, as well as what is not, thereby affecting how a person sees and relates to their own body. These different influences encourage us to adopt certain beliefs about bodies – those of others and our own – and often we end up possessing idealized images of the body that are often unrealistic and usually unattainable.

If a person suffers an illness or undergoes an accident that changes their appearance, that can make them reconsider their body image and generate a negative body image. Having breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy can affect a person’s body image, as can having a skin condition such as acne or eczema, or having a limb amputated due to an accident.

When a person has certain experiences such as discrimination based on their race, body size, or age, that too can undermine their confidence and deliver the message that they are not worthy of respect or that they are somehow lacking something and do not measure up.

Cultivating a healthy body image

There are a lot of cultural voices that militate against having a healthy and positive body image. As our broader culture has become more visually oriented, mediating our communications and interactions in increasingly visual ways, whether through our portable devices, our televisions, laptops, and so on, we are constantly bombarded by images from across the globe.

We upload hundreds of millions of photos online on various social media platforms, and that’s to say nothing of the millions of videos that are uploaded on sites like YouTube. A decade ago, around 2012, more pictures were taken every two minutes than were taken throughout the entirety of the 1800s, and that number has only continued to grow.

The point is, that we see a lot of images, and those play a huge role in shaping our self-perception. We see what gets likes, retweets, and what gets reposted, and that shapes our value system. The body positive movement has helped immensely to ensure that a greater diversity of bodies get coverage in our different forms of media, but it is still grossly disproportionately skewed toward the supermodel and hunk side of things.

We are exposed daily to images of people we don’t know, whose lives are glamorized, and have that sheen of unreality that makes them all the more desirable and simultaneously unattainable.

To cultivate a healthy and positive body image, here are a few things that you can do:

Avoid comparisons. When we compare ourselves to other people, we can land ourselves in a bad space. On social media, and other forms of media in general, people put their best selves in their feeds, offering that up for consumption by the public. That snapshot of a person’s life is all we get, but we can make a meal of it, comparing the entirety of our lives with that one moment.

We should avoid comparisons with others in general because the grass usually looks greener on the other side, and it stirs discontent within us. It’s even worse with social media, because we become hyper-focused on these snapshots and slices of a person’s life, and we can easily begin to feel uncomfortable about our own bodies, leading to distress and ill health.

Exercise, but for fitness and not appearance. Just as avoiding comparison can help us avoid the trap of measuring our lives on the basis of appearances, it is far better to work out for your health than it is to look good. If, in working out to get fit, more flexible, and so on, you start to not only feel good but begin enjoying how you look, that’s a welcome bonus.

A study in 2015 found that people that exercise for functional reasons such as getting fit and staying healthy tend to have a more positive body image, while those that pursued exercise to improve their appearance felt less positive about their bodies.

Exercise in general makes you feel good, boosting your mood and making you more aware of what your body can do, and that’s a great thing. But when it’s aimed at looking good, that can detract from the many benefits of working out. Get a workout in and focus on the amazing things you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.

Appreciate what your body can do. Your body is there for you. With it, you can laugh, create, dance, embrace your loved ones, feel the breeze or the surf, and enjoy the feel of grass and the smell of flowers. These are all wonderful gifts, and we can turn our minds to appreciate the many things that our bodies can do.

It’s true that we often take our bodies for granted; we only really notice them when something gets hurt or stops functioning as it should. The rest of the time, we don’t notice it except to notice what might not be the right size or shape.

Instead, a healthier way to go about things is to appreciate all the things your body can do. Do yourself a favor and curl your toes in bed, give yourself a nice big stretch, lift your child or hug your loved one. Take a look at the things you can create, at the problems you can solve with your body and mind, and celebrate them.

Learn self-acceptance. You are who you are, and your life is what it is. Perhaps it doesn’t need a filter, whether in posting only your best photos or in applying a literal filter to your pictures to look other than what you really do. It also helps to embrace positive self-talk such as reminding yourself that you are wonderfully and fearfully made by God, and therefore precious in his sight (Psalm 139).

Get comfortable with yourself. Being comfortable with yourself may mean doing something as simple as finding clothes that are comfortable and help to make you feel good about your body.

More than ever before, there are fashionable and varied choices out there, and unless your job has a strict dress code, you can be eclectic in your fashion choices to arrive at what works for you. You can also do something nice for your body, including daily self-care, or getting a massage and a haircut to take care of your body.

Keep your eyes off your body and on the Lord. One of the downsides of the body positive movement is that it continues to place an emphasis and focus on bodies. While they are an important gift that we need to take care of, there’s more to life than our bodies and what they look like. We are served well by keeping things simple for ourselves.

Paul reminds his young protégé, Timothy, that the pursuit of excess and riches can bring sorrow, saying, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6: 7-8 NIV). We can become so focused on what our bodies look like, whether they conform to some ideal, that we neglect to attend to what our bodies are for – God’s glory.

In another letter to the believers in the city of Corinth, Paul wrote, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” and he goes on to say, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6: 13-15, 19-20 NIV).

Instead of being overly concerned with our bodies, about what we wear and eat and what size we are, we can rather pool our energies into developing our character and being the sort of people God desires us to be. We can focus on others and their needs, and how we can serve them well as we work for the kingdom.

Talking about the kingdom of God may make people think of ethereal, floating existences where bodies don’t exist or matter. The Christian faith is not a disembodied faith that is uninterested in bodies. Bodies matter immensely, but excessive or misapplied focus on them is decidedly unhealthy.

If you need specific encouragement for any issues you have about body image, consider meeting with a Christian counselor. There may be unresolved problems behind the way you see yourself, and a caring counselor can help you heal from the past and overcome your hang-ups.

Photos:”The Face in the Mirror”, Courtesy of Elisa Photography, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Making Heart”, Courtesy of Jackson David, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Runners”, Courtesy of Fitsum Admasu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Healthy Breakfast”, Courtesy of Jannis Brandt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Cultivating a Positive Body Image

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we may find ourselves satisfied and happy with what we see. In the last few years, as selfies and other cameras have gotten higher and higher definition, and in the last few years of the pandemic, as we’ve had to look at ourselves in online meetings, we’ve become more aware of our looks.

That awareness can be a good thing if it is met with an appreciation of what we see, but it can be frustrating and even devastating if we don’t like what we see. That freckle or the slight crook in our smile, our skin tone or hairline, the shape of our nose or of our legs – it’s possible for us to begin looking at these things and wanting to change them because we aren’t happy with them. There is, however, another way to go, and that’s to cultivate a positive body image towards yourself.

What is body image?

Your body image simply refers to how you perceive your own body and your assessment of your physical appearance. It encompasses your emotional responses, your attitude, beliefs, and perceptions of your own body.

If you have a negative body image, that means you feel dissatisfied with what your body looks like. When you compare yourself to other people or to the standard that you believe society holds concerning our bodies, you feel you compare unfavorably.

A negative body image can lead a person to have a distorted image about certain parts of or their whole body, and it can often lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. It means that you’re literally not happy in your own skin and probably walk around wishing you were someone else.

When you have a positive body image, on the other hand, it means that even when it doesn’t match other people’s ideals, you accept your own body for what it is and feel comfortable in it.

That doesn’t mean that you never want to look a little different; on some days, you might wish you could change how you look, including the desire to lose a bit of weight or have a bit more definition. But a positive body image means that on most days you feel confident and are happy with the way you look.

There are several things that influence our body image, and it goes beyond what we see in our bathroom or hallway mirror. How we perceive ourselves is a complex combination of our beliefs, the experiences we have in life, the generalizations we make, and the influence of our culture, friends, family, the fashion industry, and popular culture, as well as the social and other media we consume.

By conveying positive and negative messages, all of these can combine to shape our views on what is beautiful, ideal, and acceptable, as well as what is not, thereby affecting how a person sees and relates to their own body. These different influences encourage us to adopt certain beliefs about bodies – those of others and our own – and often we end up possessing idealized images of the body that are often unrealistic and usually unattainable.

If a person suffers an illness or undergoes an accident that changes their appearance, that can make them reconsider their body image and generate a negative body image. Having breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy can affect a person’s body image, as can having a skin condition such as acne or eczema, or having a limb amputated due to an accident.

When a person has certain experiences such as discrimination based on their race, body size, or age, that too can undermine their confidence and deliver the message that they are not worthy of respect or that they are somehow lacking something and do not measure up.

Cultivating a healthy body image

There are a lot of cultural voices that militate against having a healthy and positive body image. As our broader culture has become more visually oriented, mediating our communications and interactions in increasingly visual ways, whether through our portable devices, our televisions, laptops, and so on, we are constantly bombarded by images from across the globe.

We upload hundreds of millions of photos online on various social media platforms, and that’s to say nothing of the millions of videos that are uploaded on sites like YouTube. A decade ago, around 2012, more pictures were taken every two minutes than were taken throughout the entirety of the 1800s, and that number has only continued to grow.

The point is, that we see a lot of images, and those play a huge role in shaping our self-perception. We see what gets likes, retweets, and what gets reposted, and that shapes our value system. The body positive movement has helped immensely to ensure that a greater diversity of bodies get coverage in our different forms of media, but it is still grossly disproportionately skewed toward the supermodel and hunk side of things.

We are exposed daily to images of people we don’t know, whose lives are glamorized, and have that sheen of unreality that makes them all the more desirable and simultaneously unattainable.

To cultivate a healthy and positive body image, here are a few things that you can do:

Avoid comparisons. When we compare ourselves to other people, we can land ourselves in a bad space. On social media, and other forms of media in general, people put their best selves in their feeds, offering that up for consumption by the public. That snapshot of a person’s life is all we get, but we can make a meal of it, comparing the entirety of our lives with that one moment.

We should avoid comparisons with others in general because the grass usually looks greener on the other side, and it stirs discontent within us. It’s even worse with social media, because we become hyper-focused on these snapshots and slices of a person’s life, and we can easily begin to feel uncomfortable about our own bodies, leading to distress and ill health.

Exercise, but for fitness and not appearance. Just as avoiding comparison can help us avoid the trap of measuring our lives on the basis of appearances, it is far better to work out for your health than it is to look good. If, in working out to get fit, more flexible, and so on, you start to not only feel good but begin enjoying how you look, that’s a welcome bonus.

A study in 2015 found that people that exercise for functional reasons such as getting fit and staying healthy tend to have a more positive body image, while those that pursued exercise to improve their appearance felt less positive about their bodies.

Exercise in general makes you feel good, boosting your mood and making you more aware of what your body can do, and that’s a great thing. But when it’s aimed at looking good, that can detract from the many benefits of working out. Get a workout in and focus on the amazing things you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.

Appreciate what your body can do. Your body is there for you. With it, you can laugh, create, dance, embrace your loved ones, feel the breeze or the surf, and enjoy the feel of grass and the smell of flowers. These are all wonderful gifts, and we can turn our minds to appreciate the many things that our bodies can do.

It’s true that we often take our bodies for granted; we only really notice them when something gets hurt or stops functioning as it should. The rest of the time, we don’t notice it except to notice what might not be the right size or shape.

Instead, a healthier way to go about things is to appreciate all the things your body can do. Do yourself a favor and curl your toes in bed, give yourself a nice big stretch, lift your child or hug your loved one. Take a look at the things you can create, at the problems you can solve with your body and mind, and celebrate them.

Learn self-acceptance. You are who you are, and your life is what it is. Perhaps it doesn’t need a filter, whether in posting only your best photos or in applying a literal filter to your pictures to look other than what you really do. It also helps to embrace positive self-talk such as reminding yourself that you are wonderfully and fearfully made by God, and therefore precious in his sight (Psalm 139).

Get comfortable with yourself. Being comfortable with yourself may mean doing something as simple as finding clothes that are comfortable and help to make you feel good about your body.

More than ever before, there are fashionable and varied choices out there, and unless your job has a strict dress code, you can be eclectic in your fashion choices to arrive at what works for you. You can also do something nice for your body, including daily self-care, or getting a massage and a haircut to take care of your body.

Keep your eyes off your body and on the Lord. One of the downsides of the body positive movement is that it continues to place an emphasis and focus on bodies. While they are an important gift that we need to take care of, there’s more to life than our bodies and what they look like. We are served well by keeping things simple for ourselves.

Paul reminds his young protégé, Timothy, that the pursuit of excess and riches can bring sorrow, saying, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6: 7-8 NIV). We can become so focused on what our bodies look like, whether they conform to some ideal, that we neglect to attend to what our bodies are for – God’s glory.

In another letter to the believers in the city of Corinth, Paul wrote, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” and he goes on to say, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6: 13-15, 19-20 NIV).

Instead of being overly concerned with our bodies, about what we wear and eat and what size we are, we can rather pool our energies into developing our character and being the sort of people God desires us to be. We can focus on others and their needs, and how we can serve them well as we work for the kingdom.

Talking about the kingdom of God may make people think of ethereal, floating existences where bodies don’t exist or matter. The Christian faith is not a disembodied faith that is uninterested in bodies. Bodies matter immensely, but excessive or misapplied focus on them is decidedly unhealthy.

If you need specific encouragement for any issues you have about body image, consider meeting with a Christian counselor. There may be unresolved problems behind the way you see yourself, and a caring counselor can help you heal from the past and overcome your hang-ups.

Photos:”The Face in the Mirror”, Courtesy of Elisa Photography, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Making Heart”, Courtesy of Jackson David, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Runners”, Courtesy of Fitsum Admasu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Healthy Breakfast”, Courtesy of Jannis Brandt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

What to Do with a Broken Relationship

Relationships are beautiful, but slightly fragile things. We thrive when we’re in meaningful relationships with others, and that is how it should be. Our relationships are a major part of what allows us to flourish, and likewise, when our relationships are out of joint, we find that our life loses color. That’s when we need to learn what to do with a broken relationship.

What to Do with a Broken Relationship

It can take years to build a relationship with someone – a long-cherished friendship, an open and mutually supportive parent-child connection, or a solid and fulfilling marriage. However, the unfortunate reality is that what takes years to build can be undermined in a matter of mere moments.

Whether through a betrayal of trust, unkind words spoken in anger, or the failure to meet expectations, a relationship can end up facing serious challenges. Though sometimes the damage done is hard to repair, relationship challenges can often be overcome in healthy ways.

The older you get, the more you come to understand how precious relationships are, and their fragility as well. Broken relationships are a sad fact of life, but thankfully we aren’t left without options for what to do if things go south. Whether you are the one that has made a mistake that leaves a relationship in shambles, or you’re the one that is on the receiving end, here are a few things to consider about a broken relationship.

Recognize how brokenness is a part of life.

The world is a messy place. It’s not okay that it’s a messy place, but it’s just the reality. Part of the messiness of the world and ourselves is that our relationships are less than perfect, just as we are less than perfect. Disappointment and heartbreak are just some of the seasons we can expect in life (Ecclesiastes 3).

Sara Teasdale wrote, “It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.” The messiness and brokenness of our world hurt, and our hearts will be broken many times in our lifetime, but there is one small comfort in the face of all this – we can learn and grow even amid these painful experiences, and our hearts can become more resilient and wiser.

This means that broken relationships aren’t the end of us – they don’t close our doors to other opportunities, and they certainly aren’t a unique occurrence. While it can be devastating and hugely challenging to suffer from a broken relationship, we don’t have to be overwhelmed and entirely undone.

Try to find out what happened.

When a relationship breaks down, it may come as a complete surprise to you. Or, in some cases, perhaps you know or can make a good guess at what happened and how things fell apart in your relationship. Perhaps you can pinpoint the precise moment when things crumbled and the relationship was changed forever. While it may seem like dragging yourself through unnecessary pain – doing a post-mortem of your relationship can help you in several ways.

Taking time to discern what happened can help you in making a meaningful apology and in changing certain things if that’s what’s needed. For instance, If you betrayed your friend’s trust by telling someone else a secret, you can take several steps.

You may need to work through what you did, why you did it, and exercise empathy for the other person. These steps will help you understand on a deeper level what went wrong and how you find yourself in your present predicament. When you make your apology, all these things are elements to consider.

Knowing what may have gone wrong will alert you to things you should avoid in other relationships. We want to grow as people, and one way to do that is to learn through our own mistakes. Whether you’re the one responsible for the broken relationship or not, we can learn important lessons about ourselves and other people in the wake of a disruptive event in the relationship.

You may need to adjust expectations, communicate needs more clearly, or establish clearer boundaries with others. These are valuable ideas to ponder because they help us understand ourselves and our relationships better. Understanding why this particular relationship broke down can help you get back on track more securely, or it can help you better cultivate your other relationships.

While it’s important to understand what happened and how things fell apart, we must also recognize that understanding what happened does have its limits. In Mend my Broken Heart, Jocelyn Soriano wrote “Yes, I understand why things had to happen this way. I understand his reason for causing me pain. But mere understanding does not chase away the hurt. It does not call upon the sun when dark clouds have loomed over me. Let the rain come then if it must come! And let it wash away the dust that hurt my eyes!”

If you’re the one who has been betrayed and hurt, understanding what happened and why may be cold comfort. Sometimes, understanding helps us come to grips with our new reality, but it can only go so far.

Ask for forgiveness.

We all make mistakes. But we don’t all make the same mistakes in the same way, nor are we consistent in dealing with others the way we would want to be treated. This makes for messy relationships, self-righteousness attitudes, and often an unwillingness to change.

Asking for forgiveness is one important way to try and restore a broken relationship. When you acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, recognize how you’ve hurt the other person, and can clearly see ways of doing better in the future, that can create room to repair a broken relationship. An apology might not fix everything, but it’s a great starting point.

If trust was broken, it may be a long road to get back there again, if you can manage it. One of the ways an apology is powerful is that it lets the other person know that you’re on the same page about your behavior. They now know that you know that what you did was wrong, and for them that can be an important step in finding healing.

If you’re the one whose trust was violated, you can consider what your options are, including extending forgiveness to the person that hurt you. The Bible says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). This verse is a powerful reminder of our own brokenness and need for forgiveness. It allows us to empathize with those who have sinned against us.

Forgiving the other person might not mean that things completely reset, but it does mean that you’re choosing to let go of any resentment or bitter feelings toward that person. It’s a way to begin the work of rebuilding the relationship, should you so choose.

Additionally, if you’re the one who was hurt, you might need to redraw or restate your boundaries with other people. Every healthy relationship requires healthy boundaries, and when one or more of those are violated, that situation can provide you with an opportunity to either restate or redraw those boundaries as needed.

Pick up the pieces.

You need to decide for yourself how the relationship is important to you and what you’re willing to do for it. True friendships, familial relationships, and other meaningful connections with others aren’t easy to find or replace, especially if they’ve been the work of years to cultivate.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t move on from these relationships if they are harmful, but it does mean we need to weigh carefully what we do with them. In some cases, walking away may be the best thing you can do, while in others working on things is what wisdom dictates.

Take time to heal and process what’s happened. Picking up the pieces of a broken relationship is hard work, whether you’re picking up those pieces to try and put them back together again, or you’re picking them up to set them aside.

Whether you’re the cause of the broken relationship or not, when a significant human connection falls apart, it hurts. If you need help processing a broken relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trustworthy individual such as a friend, family member, spiritual advisor, or trained Christian therapist.

Photos:
“Just Married”, Courtesy of Nikita Shirokov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Daisy from Below”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope”, Courtesy of Ronak Valobobhai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading the Bible”, Courtesy of Jessica Delp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Knowing the Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Relationships take various forms, and they go through their own peaks and valleys, just as with the rest of life. In a marriage, for instance, the couple might move from the honeymoon phase and into a season of financial hardship that tests their ability to resolve conflict and problem-solve. Some couples will struggle with that, while others will deal with the conflict and difficult circumstances in a healthy manner.

Again, couples go through all sorts of things, and many healthy relationships will face challenges, sometimes with mixed results. However, the mark of healthy relationships is that they don’t remain in a state of conflict, nor do they endlessly repeat the same mistakes without learning or growing from them.

In other words, difficult seasons will come, but healthy relationships weather those storms through mutual respect, affection, good conflict management skills, and so on.

In other relationships, what’s lacking are these same hallmarks of a healthy relationship. These toxic relationships are a hotbed of simmering conflict – one or both partners are in constant fight or flight mode, and they are not happy or fulfilled. There can be toxic patterns in a relationship, but a toxic relationship is one in which those patterns are a feature, not a bug in the system. Below are a few signs to look out for that might point to your relationship as being toxic.

Emotional detachment in a toxic relationship.

In a healthy relationship, the partners are emotionally connected and vulnerable to one another. They share themselves, offer one another validation, and show that they care for each other in various ways. Emotional detachment can happen for a season, say for instance if one partner is in a time crunch at work. However, sharing one’s feelings with their partner is what makes for a healthy relationship. Emotional detachment can happen in various ways, including:

You don’t celebrate each other’s wins. In a healthy relationship, the couple supports one another and celebrates their respective wins. If the atmosphere in the relationship is one where your wins aren’t celebrated, and possibly where an air of competition reigns, that could be problematic.

Negative spontaneous emotional reactions. Your partner’s gut-level impressions of you, such as whether they like you or find you interesting, or whether they think you are competent, or how you might compare to other people – all these can point to the health of your relationship. A relationship dominated by spontaneous negative emotional reactions is a cause for concern.

Lack of self-disclosure. Relationship health is supported by emotional self-disclosure, where you are vulnerable with, listen to, and mutually support each other. Sharing your important feelings within the relationship matters, as does listening well and being responsive to such self-disclosures. If this interplay of sharing and listening well is absent from the relationship, it is cause for concern.

Few positive non-verbal behaviors. We speak with more than just our words. We can use touch, our faces, our bodies, and the tone of our voices to communicate alongside our words. A relational environment where there are few positive non-verbal behaviors such as smiles, laughter, hugging, etc., might point to an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship.

It’s also important to ask yourself if the dominant tone of your relationship is one of affirmation or criticism. Of course, we don’t always get things right, but if your spouse is constantly criticizing you – how you dress, how you look, speak, act, and so on, that’s not a healthy situation. Emotional detachment, if it becomes a habit, signals the deterioration of a relationship, and it needs to be addressed.

A lack of safety in a toxic relationship.

In a relationship, it’s important for you and your children to feel safe. Safety can be emotional or physical safety. With emotional safety, do you feel able to express your emotions without feeling judged or like you’re failing somehow? Do you feel like people care how you feel, and that your emotions are taken into consideration?

Physical safety can be compromised if you’re threatened with violence, or if resources such as food, clothing, health care, and shelter are held at ransom. Relationships marked by the lack of safety are likely toxic.

No boundaries or boundaries are repeatedly violated

Boundaries are important for the health of any relationship. Boundaries signal that each person has their own personality and needs, and respecting those boundaries shows consideration and promotes individual integrity. Boundaries can center around finances, privacy, use of time, friendships, sex, and much else.

If in your relationship you either don’t have boundaries or the boundaries you set are violated repeatedly, it may signal a toxic relationship. Each relationship needs boundaries to prevent it from slipping into codependency or other similar dysfunction, and when boundaries are violated, there need to be consequences. Repeated violations of reasonable boundaries display a fundamental lack of respect that needs to be remedied.

Constant cover-ups in a toxic relationship.

Spouses often cover for one another. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including not wanting them to look bad, or wanting to spare them from something uncomfortable or humiliating. There is a line between that and covering up bad behavior for them so that they escape accountability, or so that truth about them doesn’t get out.

If you find yourself often covering up for your partner because they were drunk, rude, physically, or verbally abusive, and so on, that points to a toxic relationship dynamic. You shouldn’t be part of their personal PR and cleanup crew, and covering up for them reveals unhealthy (possibly codependent) dynamics in the relationship.

Lack of freedom in a toxic relationship.

In a meaningful relationship with our significant other, we should feel the most accepted and loved within that space. When we are with our friends, these are supposed to be the people that get us, that understand our weirdness and welcome us, nonetheless. In our family, that space above others is where we ought to feel appreciated, loved for who we are, and feel that our best interests are high up on the agenda.

If you feel that you don’t have freedom in your relationship, it’s possibly problematic. Possibly problematic because sometimes we want more freedom than we ought to get, like a teenager wanting to stay out way beyond what their parent thinks is wise, or if a spouse wants the freedom to commit adultery.

Rather, the freedom in mind here relates to things like feeling the freedom to be yourself, to make mistakes, to be with people such as your friends and family. It’s a problem when you’re constantly criticized for being who you are, if any mistakes you make are closely scrutinized while those of others aren’t, or if you get isolated from people such as your family and friends.

You should be able to meet with your family and hang with your friends, but when your partner wants to isolate you, it’s a sign of toxicity and may be a prelude to other abusive behaviors.

A lack of mutuality in a toxic relationship.

At the heart of a relationship is what you do for each other. You celebrate one another; you are there for one another during your tough times; you rebuke one another when there is a need for it, you forgive each other for mistakes that you make, you take on responsibilities to help one another flourish, and you each make compromises for the sake of the other.

If you find yourself in a situation where this is flowing in one direction, that could be a sign of a toxic relationship. A lack of mutuality in a relationship is a cause for concern that you should take seriously. There ought to be a healthy give and take within the relationship, and while things are never balanced equally, there should be some level of reciprocity in how you do things in your relationship.

It cannot be that only one person constantly needs to be forgiven, that one person is the one who makes the compromises, or that only one person needs rebuke. A relationship is the coming together of equals, and that means each of you must receive dignity, respect, and consideration.

Conclusion

If you detect these signs of toxicity in your relationship, having a conversation with your partner about them can help you begin addressing the issue. With the help of a couple’s therapist, you can turn a toxic relationship around, but it needs you both to show up and put in the work.

Photos:
“Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Shelby Deeter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hugs”, Courtesy of Candice Picard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “I give you my heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

4 Steps to Healthy Weight Management

Most people desire to make changes to their health and usually begin with wanting to lose weight. They have a vision and a goal number they want to see on the scale so they set goals and action steps to reach this weight loss.

Often, however, many individuals may reach their goals but then find that the weight loss doesn’t last. Or, they may not know the exact steps that are required for them to reach their weight loss goals. Instead, they find themselves on a rollercoaster without consistency. What is the missing piece?

Having healthy weight management.

If you’re thinking about making changes to maintaining your weight, it can be a difficult road to find what is best for you, your body, and your lifestyle. The majority of our thoughts are centered around the foods we choose and how much we exercise. While this is true, there are missing components to successfully find balance and ease with being able to maintain healthy stability.

Having a healthy weight management goal instead of a weight loss goal may just be the perspective shift you have been looking for all along! When you focus on what healthy weight management looks like for you, you can be set free from needing to try different diets or setting a goal weight because you begin to understand what is right for your body naturally.

In this article, you are going to learn four steps to find and successfully implement lasting healthy weight management.

Step One: Understanding your digestive health

Your digestive health is the first place you need to look when it comes to your ability to manage a healthy weight. In the context of weight management, the amount of stress you are dealing with, the number of inflammatory foods you are consuming, and the overall health of your gut are paramount and also work in tandem.

Your digestion begins before actually eating food as it relates to external factors like stress and anxiety that unknowingly greatly affect how your foods are digested. Additionally, if your diet consists of food high in sugar or processed, your gut lining and proper functions of your digestion will be impaired due to the constant state of inflammation.

This is what can cause unhealthy cravings or addiction to sugary foods. When you learn to choose the right foods that are anti-inflammatory and eat for your digestion, you’ll immediately see improvements and see your body remarkably adapt to its natural healthy state.

Step Two: Define what is healthy management

As above-mentioned, focusing on setting a healthy weight management goal instead of a weight loss goal will help you in the long run. Every day we are bombarded with advertisements, promotions, and sales for healthy foods, products, supplements, and diets. Through social media channels, magazines with headlines on the front cover, or even if you ask Google what is healthy management, it’s very noisy!

What happens is that all of the images, phrases, diets, and advertisements that we see, subconsciously begin to build the wrong impression of what is right and true for your health. It becomes easier to focus on all of the things you “should” be doing instead of learning, knowing, and understanding what is right for you and your body. The key factor is to read between the lines and find what you need for your health.

How do you do this?

The answer is to set a goal for success. Before you begin a new health journey, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What does my desired weight management look like?
  2. How will I know when I am successfully managing my health?
  3. What is my desired look, feel, and lifestyle?
  4. Why am I choosing to focus on maintaining my weight?

When you take the time to ask yourself these four questions, you are setting yourself up for success before you even begin. What happens is that most individuals want to choose better foods, make changes to their eating and exercise habits, and immediately jump into the new diet that everyone is speaking about, such as the one that promised instant results that you read about on the magazine cover while waiting in line at the grocery.

So because this is all the craze, many people rush into then buying those suggested ingredients, supplements, or diet plans without truly preparing for the course that aligns with long-term sustainability.

Maintaining a healthy weight goes beyond the food choices and amounts of exercise because it has everything to do with your reasons, definitions, and lifestyle. If you never measure what success in this area means to you, how will you know when you have reached it?

If you do a personal inventory, you may already be maintaining your weight from a goal you set years ago, but without knowing what it looked like back then, it’s easy to want to keep doing new things because without realizing that you already met your initial goal.

When you consider what asking yourself these four questions means to you, you will start to see the connection between the how, what, why, and your will. These four questions are pivotal in helping you set your vision and determine what steps are needed to help you reach your goals. Coupled with a better understanding of your digestive health, you’ll be empowered to choose the right foods for long-term health rather than short-term satisfaction.

Step Three: Find an activity you love to do

One of the largest areas where people “fall off the wagon” is not loving what they were committed to doing, especially in the area of exercise. Most people end up feeling less motivated because it resembles a chore that interrupts their day and must be done. When you find an activity you love to do, your inspiration is automatic and you end up excited about it, becoming naturally committed.

When it comes to exercise, try an activity that is something new and different. Notice the change in words from exercise to activity. Placing your focus on a daily activity also changes your perspective from it feeling like a chore. Make small commitments then increase your frequency over time. When trying a new activity and you realize you don’t like that one you picked, try something new. Exercise does not have to be hours on a treadmill or doing squats.

Finding new trails in nature with gorgeous views. You can even try switching up the times you decide to commit to your activity and couple it with a benefit, much like going on a walk to go watch the sun rise or set. Consider trying a new sport and joining a league like rowing, softball, or volleyball. Sometimes when you reflect on a sport you used to play when you were young, you may find you are inspired to pick it back up as an adult. What is on your list to try?

Step Four: Fight those negative thoughts

Another contributing factor to why it is difficult to maintain a healthy weight is because we let our thoughts and words defeat us. Sometimes when it comes to not seeing progress as soon as one thought would happen allows an open door for negativity, frustration, and setbacks to enter in.

When you act upon the four questions you attached to your goal (hint: see step two), you end up staying committed to the lifestyle goal you are seeking instead of the feelings when you let negativity lead.

With that said, when you surrender your health to God’s power, you can maintain anything when you rely upon His strength. Another encouragement is to study Scriptures that reflect your goals and partner with the Holy Spirit to pour out His ability for you to stay committed to your health management goals.

If you are looking to take these four steps in a practical way, consider coaching. When you work with a coach, you get to discover and design your goals through a series of questions to help you get clear on your vision and steps. Not only do you get to make a step-by-step plan with a coach, but you also get to work alongside them as they help guide you through each step to make sure you are on track to reaching your goals and that you stay in line with your vision.

Contact me today if this article resonated with you and if you want to explore the benefits of coaching when it comes to maintaining your healthy weight.

Photos:
“Weighing out the Beans”, Courtesy of Tyler Nix, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fruit Breakfast”, Courtesy of Jannis Brandt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watermelon Smile”, Courtesy of Caju Gomes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Planning”, Courtesy of KOBU Agency, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Recognize Binge Eating Disorder

Sixteen year-old Addison has a great, loving family and plenty of friends. She excels in school and is also very active in the church’s youth department and in sports as well. Addison’s issues are deep within, however. She has trouble expressing her emotions and therefore struggles alone in her sadness and insecurities.

When the day is done and the night closes in, as everyone else sleeps, Addie feels drawn to the kitchen area. The day’s stresses fade away as she begins to relax over the food she finds there. From cookies, chips, and cake to a gallon of chocolate ice cream, she eats all she can manage to get her hands upon. Then she makes her way to her bedroom where more snacks she’s stashed await her.

At first, Addy experiences relief as she eats. She does not, however, enjoy feeling powerless over the situation and not in control. Once she realizes the amount of food she’s eaten, she is overridden with shame. Addy swears to herself that she will never repeat the action again.

She tries to live up to her promise but cannot. The cycle continues, over and over again. Every time she feels stressed out, she uses food for an outlet. She has no clue what to do about her situation or who to turn to. She doubts anyone would understand. She feels extremely along and afraid.

Brady has just turned thirteen. He’s known as a nice kid and he is also the joker of the classroom. He’s got friends but isn’t at all secure in himself or his friendships. He is always paranoid that his friends will decide they don’t like him anymore due to something he says or does.

His jokes are just a cover for his fear. Food is one thing he can rely upon to give him the happiness he is longing for. When sad, stressed, or bored, food is always there to lift him up and offer him relief, at least temporarily.

It wasn’t until Brady got into therapy that he realized the connection between food and his feelings. He knew he was drawn to food, but prior to therapy, he didn’t know the full implications and how very serious the situation was. When he felt he was not in control, he knew he could eat food and he’d feel better, if only for a moment.

The eating then turned to shame, especially when comments were made about his love for food by his parents. His eating caused him to gain weight which prompted bullying by his peers. The situation eventually escalated to the point that he required therapy. Now he is learning to identify and express his feelings. He is developing skills that he needs in order to cope with the emotions that used to overwhelm him.

Tammy is a young woman of thirty-four years of age. She has had issues with her body image and problems with her self-esteem for as long as she can remember. Her weight and appearance have been a struggle ever since she was a child.

She faced ridicule and bullying by her peers which turned into a severe distrust of others. She doubts who she is on the inside and feels very alienated. She is grown now but her job is quite stressful and very fast-paced. Keeping up with the job is tough and keeping up with life is even tougher.

There are two things that help Tammy deal with her stresses: food and alcohol. It seems she is forever having one drink too many or eating too much, too quickly. She feels remorseful after doing either. But, she feels very alone and overwhelmed.

She is doing all she knows how to do to cope with the way she feels. Therapy has crossed her mind but she thinks she should be able to handle her emotions and feelings on her own. Besides, unleashing all the pain is a scary thought. She doesn’t need the added stress.

The concept of being an “emotional eater” simply means to use eating in order to cope. It isn’t a new thing and most people have heard of it but it is far more serious than most realize. Binge Eating Disorder differs from just eating too much at one sitting. It isn’t simply eating for reasons that are emotionally based either. While both scenarios are problematic, they don’t entail the qualifications for being a binge type eater.

What Binge Eating Disorder Really Is

Binge Eating Disorder was recognized by the Association of the American Psychiatric’s list of mental disorders in 2013. Before that, it was in still in research although it was deemed a serious problem by a myriad of professionals throughout the course of many years. Finally, it has its rightful place as a disorder with a name and a set of criteria which distinguish it.

The BED diagnosis criteria are as follows:

  • The person must have repeated episodes of bing-eating.
  • The definition of a binge consists of possessing three or more of the five following characteristics:
    • Eating considerably quicker than normal
    • Continuing consumption of food beyond being comfortably full
    • Eating large quantities of food even though one is not feeling hungry
    • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by the portion sizes
    • Having feelings of guilt, depression, or disappointment with oneself following the binge-driven behavior
  • In addition, the person who engages in the binges must feel significant emotional distress or remorse about the binge they have taken part in.

The criteria for this disorder is different from that of bulimia nervosa, however, because an individual with BED doesn’t frequently take part in behaviors that are aimed at preventing weight gain.

Negative emotions usually come prior to the episode of binging. It can also be characterized by triggering from other root stressors. That is the reason it’s often regarded as a coping mechanism which is closely related to stress and other negative emotions.

As mentioned before, it is typical with this disorder for food to be consumed in a rush instead of at a pace that is normal. There is little to no mindfulness in the process. The person is likely to eat as an effort to relieve emotions and/or to escape stress.

Shame tends to be an ever-present part of the equation. It is common for those with BED to experience it on a regular basis. It is also typical for one to attempt to hide their shame by engaging in their behavior disorder which only increases and intensifies the negative ways they were already feeling. That is how cyclical behavioral patterns begin and continue.

Additional Common Diagnoses

Those who have been diagnosed with BED quite often meet additional criteria pertaining to other diagnoses as well. It’s not unusual for them to also display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and even bipolar disorders. Another typical problem is substance and alcohol abuse. For this reason, a professional who is trained to recognize BED will also generally check for additional diagnoses as well.

Medical Complications

This type of eating disorder should be taken very seriously. Heart disease, diabetes type 2, muscle and joint issues, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems may be present. It’s vital with a BED assessment to also have an evaluation of medical health as well as one of mental health.

BED Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that put a person at more risk, typically. Those things tend to be common with those who have BED.

Some of those risk factors are:

  • Persistent dieting, prior to or in conjunction with active BED
  • Significant weight change history
  • Being overweight
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Not being able to emotionally cope or express oneself
  • Being unhappy with bodily appearance
  • Possessing other mental health disorders like having bipolar disorder, substance abuse issues, or depression
  • Being bullied or made fun of about weight
  • Emotional, sexual, or any other type of trauma or neglect
  • Experiencing a significant loss such as a breakup or death

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Remember that weight is not always an indicator that someone has BED. The problem can occur in those who don’t have weight issues and those who have weight issues may not have BED.

Shame is frequently experienced with BED. Due to shame, hiding the symptoms and behaviors is very common. Though not conclusive, the signs below may be an indicator of the disorder if one or more are present.

  • Trouble eating in social situations, preferring to eat when alone
  • Obsessing over food and/or binge planning
  • Eating fast with a lack of control
  • Frequently feeling constipated or bloated
  • Eating past the point of feeling full
  • Discovering food wrappers, hoarding food, finding large quantities of food missing
  • Elevated withdrawal from activities and relationships and/or becoming isolated more
  • Habitually beginning new diets and/or odd meal rituals and/or frequently skipping meals
  • Fluctuation of weight
  • Unhealthy fixation and focus on bodily shape and/or weight
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

If a loved one, or yourself, is displaying BED symptoms, it’s imperative to seek a professional evaluation by a specialist in the field. Because BED is likely to include serious medical complications, it is recommended that a physician also evaluate the patient.

In addition, a dietitian can be a very important professional involved in the treatment since they are able to assist a person with the diagnosis and the disorder. They can play a crucial role in the patient understanding and coming to grips with the implications BED has on their health. Nutritional needs are discussed and medication is sometimes prescribed.

If BED is determined to be present, a number of psychological treatments exist which can be of help. Some of these methods are as follows:

  • Cognitive Behavior based therapy, or CBT, is a method which assists individuals in understanding the direct relationship thoughts, behaviors, and feelings have. It helps them develop positive and effective strategies to help alter negative patterns.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Technique, known also as DBT, is a helpful approach to teaching new skills which can be focused on so that emotions can be regulated during stressful times and during temptations to eat irregularly. Both individual and group settings are generally a part of this type of therapy.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy, also known as IP, is a technique which helps individuals explore relationships such as loss, conflict, and so forth. It examines how they perceive themselves alongside others and takes a look at how those components might play into their eating disorder and its behaviors.

There are even more treatment types that might be recommended for BED, depending on the individual needs that you may have which flow from our life experiences, like trauma, abuse, etc. A qualified licensed therapist will be able to lovingly point you in the direction that will be the most helpful where a full plan of treatment is concerned.

It is overwhelming to live with BED. Hopeless feelings can consume you and sadness may be a constant emotion you feel. But, there is a better way. There’s hope just around the corner when you begin your journey to healing and recovery. Don’t put it off. Call today and walk in the sunshine. A brand new life awaits you.

Photos:
“Happy”, Courtesy of Matias Saw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Altered Conscious”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Frustrated,” courtesy of Tim Gouw, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stack of Pancakes”, Courtesy of Maria Mekht, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Treatment for Anxiety: No Medication Needed

In this age of social media, more and more people, including popular entertainers, are posting their struggles with anxiety.

Though not life-threatening, anxiety is a real, debilitating condition as the sufferer deals with excessive worry and troubling physical effects like difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, a racing heart, cold sweats, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Medication for these symptoms does exist. However, reliance on such is never a good thing as there are possible side effects, including addiction. Rather than turning to chemicals, it is best to deal with treatment for anxiety through other healthier methods.

Treatment for Anxiety: Options for You

The following are some great ways to reduce anxiety symptoms without the need for medication. A sufferer ought to consider a combination of these practices for best results.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a very effective way to deal with anxiety issues. When one has anxiety problems, the sufferer is overthinking what is happening at the moment or what may happen in the near, or even far, future.

In CBT, the professional counselor helps the sufferer reframe how they think and how they understand their behavior. In this way, negative thought patterns may hopefully be reduced to something more rational and realistic, preventing these unnecessary mental worries and physical responses to worry.

As part of CBT, the therapist may introduce breathing techniques to help the sufferer relax more. This helps reduce negative physiological symptoms like tightness in the muscles, a rapid heart rate, and difficulty breathing.

2. Self-Care

Similar to treatment for other forms of illnesses, physical or mental, it is important that overall well-being is considered. This means that mentally, physically and spiritually the anxiety sufferer must be conscious of finding ways to take care of themselves.

Physically, this means a proper diet, exercise and stretching; and enough rest. If the body is well, it will be able to respond to the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. racing heart, shortness of breath, muscle tension and aches) better than if it were weak.

Mental self-care is also important because if the mind is weak (e.g. low self-esteem, morbid thoughts) then the easier it will be to panic more due to anxious thoughts. Breathing exercises, journaling, and mindfulness of your current state (inner emotions and outer stimuli) can help you relax and get to know yourself in a more positive and informative light.

Spiritual self-care, which many today seem to ignore, is very essential as a weak spiritual connection to God makes one very susceptible to all kinds of problems, especially worries about the future. Regular prayer time, reading of Scripture, meaningful Church attendance, and fellowship with other caring believers will do wonders for the spiritual health so that negative, anxious thoughts will not easily bring one down.

3. Massage

Though it might not resolve the underlying issues behind a sufferer’s anxiety, massage therapy is still very helpful for relaxing the body and reducing tension. Muscle tension can be quite painful and bothersome so a good massage may provide temporary, yet needed, physical relief.

4. Yoga

Many therapists recommend yoga to strengthen the body and modulate the stress response. The various breathing exercises and yoga poses also help improve mental clarity which is why yoga is very popular today.

Now while yoga is very helpful for those suffering from anxiety, as a Christian, one must remember to only incorporate the principles of relaxation and mindfulness and not any non-Christian spiritual practices or beliefs. Compromising one’s spiritual beliefs should never be an option.

5. Acupuncture

An alternative form of medicine from the Far East is acupuncture. Here, through the guided hands of an expert, needles are inserted into the body to relieve pain and cure ailments. Though not all medical doctors believe in its effects, many more claim that it does work to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Summary

While medication for anxiety may be necessary in severe circumstances, it is generally still best to avoid ingesting too many chemicals. As there are many other options available to minimize anxiety symptoms, a sufferer ought to try them first to avoid future, medicine-related problems.

If you or a friend are struggling with anxiety and would like to know more, particularly about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, then you should seek the help of a professional Christian counselor to help you find the best treatment plan for you.

Photos:
“Anxious”, Courtesy of LoganArt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Therapist Office”, Courtesy of Cater Yang, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Church”, Courtesy of Neonbrand, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Matthew Kane, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Common Signs of Abuse and What to Do About It

Domestic abuse used to be a somewhat hidden topic. It may have seemed too shameful to speak about, especially because of the strong possibility that disclosure would be met with skepticism. Although it’s become more acceptable to talk about abuse today, victims are still often met with disbelief or blame. For this reason, among others, they are often afraid to talk about their experience.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most statistically prevalent form of abuse, which is committed by a male perpetrator on a female victim. (It is possible for any gender to commit abuse, which means men can be victims as well.)

Here are some of the most frequent questions I am asked as a domestic abuse counselor:

  • If there’s no physical violence, is it really abuse?
  • If he’s never touched me but is threatening and controlling, is this abuse?
  • Is it possible to fix the relationship?

I want this article to be a place to define domestic abuse. I’ll also list some of the most common signs for outsiders to be aware of, and for victims to be able to confirm that what they are experiencing is indeed abuse. I’ll also outline what steps a victim can take upon finding themselves in an abusive situation.

The Definition of Domestic Abuse

Abuse is rooted in a sense of entitlement and a desire for control. The attempt to control can involve many different behaviors, including threats, fear-mongering, physical violence, or other attempts to limit the victim’s independence.

Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Its cyclical nature traps victims into believing that it’s eventually going to change, but then it never does. It crosses socio-economic, racial, and religious barriers, and it can happen to victims of any age.

Because of how insidious domestic abuse is, it’s often difficult for victims to fully acknowledge what’s happening to them. Domestic abuse tends to escalate over time, making the victim’s situation increasingly dangerous.

Acknowledging the abuse is the first step. Recognizing what’s happening to you includes the realization that you are worth far more than this and don’t deserve to be treated in such a way (although the abuser will try to blame you).

Meeting with a professional can be the next step, but make sure that you are doing so safely to avoid retaliatory actions from your abuser. When a victim takes even a small step towards independence, abuse can escalate quickly.

Common Signs of Abuse: The Power and Control Wheel

The “Power and Control Wheel” is a resource used by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It divides abuse into eight categories, which you can see in the following image. Here you’ll see that abuse includes but is not limited to physical actions.

Coercion and threats: This can include self-harm, threats of suicide, or threats to hurt you or someone you love. Possible threats include violent ones, but other forms of harm are included as well.

An abuser may threaten to get you in trouble in some way or take something you value. These threats are made in order to intimidate you so you’ll submit to their demands or allow them to further abuse you. Threats of self-harm may also be used, in order to guilt you into giving in to the abuser’s demands.

Domestic abuse does not always happen how you might think. It can start small and build up from there. Often, abusers choose kind-hearted, empathetic victims whose very strengths are used against them. The victims are then manipulated into a life of submission to a controlling, abusive partner.

Intimidation: This form of abuse is related to coercion and threats. Intimidation describes the instilling of fear to force the victim into compliance. If the victim does not comply, she knows there will be consequences.

Emotional abuse: This type of abuse can be easy to hide or deny. Since it doesn’t leave physical scars, the abuser often claims the abuse didn’t happen or that the victim is exaggerating, being overly sensitive, etc.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of mind games, put-downs, insults that may or may not be disguised as jokes, minimizing, denying, blame-shifting, gaslighting, using male privilege, and more. The effect of this over time is that the victim’s confidence and self-worth drastically deteriorate. The victim then finds herself constantly seeking the intermittent reinforcement (periods of affection, approval, compliments, etc.) that the abuser periodically doles out.

This type of abuse can seem subtle, but it can eventually overtake the entire relationship and become normalized. When you’re coming to terms with emotional abuse, you need to know that it is not okay for your partner to degrade you, bully you, or verbally abuse you.

Emotionally abusive partners will seek (whether consciously or subconsciously) to condition their victim to accept this unacceptable and cruel behavior, but it is not normal or acceptable, and you do not deserve it.

Isolation is another form of control used by abusive partners. Little by little, the abuser removes your independence. You lose control over your time, spend less time with your friends and family, and become completely absorbed in the relationship. Not only does this isolation enable more abuse to take place, but it also removes both witnesses and influencers who could help break the cycle.

Over time, the abuse escalates as the victim becomes more isolated, and then she has no one to talk to. This benefits the abuser because the more isolated the victim is, the less likely someone will convince her that he’s abusive and she needs to leave.

Many domestic abusers will minimize and deny that the abuse is even happening. The abuser can also blame their significant other for the abuse. This can be very confusing for the victim. I have heard clients say things like, “Am I going crazy? Is this really not happening?” This is all part of the abuser’s control tactics, by making you feel “crazy” and/or confused, and he can keep the abuse going.

Minimizing and denying: This is an integral part of abuse. Very few abusers are violent, angry, or mean 24/7. They intersperse their abuse with occasional good treatment (although this can become more and more rare as the abuse escalates).

This keeps the victim confused and off-balance. She might think that the latest abusive incident is the last one. She might think it’s her fault, which he would like to convince her of, especially if she responds emotionally or angrily to his treatment of her.

Often the abuser will convince the victim that his treatment of her is not that big of a deal, that she’s just too sensitive, that all relationships are like this, or that it didn’t happen at all. (This is especially powerful if he is not physically violent but sticks to emotional abuse. How can she prove it, even to herself?)

Abusers also gaslight their victims by claiming to forget an abusive incident or twisting it to make it seem like it happened differently than it did.

Using children: Abusive partners often use children as pawns in their quest to control their victim. They take advantage of a mother’s fierce maternal instincts and manipulate that love to intimidate, threaten, manipulate, and/or demean her.

One of the most frequent and potent examples of this is when an abuser threatens to take the kids and prevent the victim from seeing them. He does this so she will agree to his terms. It can be terrifying to encounter this and know what to do next to both escape the abuse and not lose the children.

Male privilege: This type of abuse is when a man uses his gender as a basis for power and control. He bases his demands on the fact that he is the man of the house, or on his twisted view of traditional gender roles. Many healthy marriages are based on traditional gender roles, but it is not healthy when a man uses “gender roles” to control his partner.

He does this to create an imbalance of power so he can make unilateral decisions without taking her thoughts or wishes into account. This leads to a feeling of helplessness on the part of the victim. She might feel as if she has no say in anything about her life or decisions for the family.

Economic abuse: This is another form of subtle abuse that is very difficult to identify and address. It involves the woman being financially dependent and the man using this to control her and benefit himself. This can take many forms, and it can happen whether or not she is working herself.

What Should I Do Now?

If you have read this and started to realize that you are in an abusive relationship, or maybe that someone you know is, it’s important to know what to do next.

Assessing the safety and risks is the important factor. Once a woman begins to make efforts to change the relationship or to leave the situation, the risk of violence increases exponentially. Making a safety plan is paramount if you believe there is even the slightest risk of violence.

Listen to your intuition; it’s a powerful ally. Physical abuse can begin suddenly even if only non-physical abuse was happening before. The National Domestic Hotline (1-800-799-7233) can be a good place to start assessing your safety and deciding what to do next.

Seek Counseling

A counselor can be an invaluable resource if you feel that you are experiencing domestic abuse. The isolation of abuse can make freedom seem almost impossible to attain. Doing it alone is overwhelming, and it’s easy for the abuser to maintain control.

The support and professional guidance you’ll receive from a Christian counselor can help alleviate the anxiety of this process. We will walk with you as you begin your journey to safety, freedom, and healing.

Escaping a domestic abuse situation is not simple. A counselor can help you to carry out the next indicated actions, as well as providing practical help making a safety plan, finding lawyers, medical professionals, understanding the law, and more.

The emotions and possibly trauma involved in domestic abuse will require a committed and extended recovery process. Feelings of low self-worth are common and normal after abuse. Counseling can help you process what you’ve been through and find a healthy place of recovery, hope, and personal growth.

The Lord provides comfort for His children. We want to help you seek a relationship with Him so that you can lean on Him each day of this difficult journey. He loves you and does not desire for you to be abused and mistreated.

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4) As Christian counselors, we desire to be instruments of His freedom and healing. You do not have to go through this alone.

Photos:
“Alone,” courtesy of Tiko Giorgadze, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hurt”, Courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of AKi Kikuti, Flickr.com, CC 2.0 License

Social Anxiety: How to Manage Well

Social situations tend to make many of us anxious. Some of us find meeting people a challenge. Walking into a place where there are people we don’t know makes us uncomfortable. It is common to try to work around these uncomfortable situations in order to survive in the world.

Anxiety can prevent us from taking part in social activities. It can cause us to have problems at work or keep us from going to gatherings. When we are missing out, it is high time to take a close look at our anxiety and the social phobia it is causing in order to better understand it and to better enable us to get help.

When Social Anxiety Becomes a Disorder

The more you know about a problem, the easier it is to find a solution. The same is true with social anxiety and the disorder behind it. Learning more about the diagnosis of it and what it entails will help you assess your symptoms so you can determine whether seeking mental health assistance is advisable. In the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or, DSM-5), Social Anxiety Disorder is described as:

“Marked anxiety or fear having to do with a social situation, or situations, where the individual is exposed to the possibility of being scrutinized by others. It might be brought on by something like a conversation with another person or persons, meeting new people, being observed when drinking, eating or something similar, and/or performing or speaking in front of others such as giving a speech.”

In children, the anxiety must be brought on in a setting that is pure rather than just when they are interacting with adults.

The individual has anxiety and fear of acting in a certain way or of showing the symptoms of anxiety in a fashion that will be viewed negatively such as being embarrassed or humiliated which will ultimately lead to being rejected by or offending others.

The situations are typically socially oriented and almost always instigated by anxiety or fear. It is common for children to express their anxiety and fear through crying, freezing, clinging, throwing tantrums or not speaking when they are in social situations.

Social situations which provoke negative emotions are either endured with great anxiety and fear or avoided altogether. The degree of anxiety or fear is exaggerated in comparison to the threat that’s posed from the situation or the socio-cultural context. Generally, the individual experiences the anxiety and/or fear for a period of six months or longer.

The negative feelings of anxiety or fear or the action of avoidance bring on significant clinical distress or the inability to function properly in the individual’s occupation, social life or another important area. It’s important to note that the avoidance is not brought about by drugs, illicit or prescription.

If there is a medical condition that exists (like Parkinson’s disease, disfigurement from injury or burns, obesity or such) the problem is only classified as social anxiety if it is not caused by the medical problems or if it is in extreme excess.

Self-diagnosing is not wise when you are concerned if you have a mental disorder just as it is not advisable to self-diagnose when wondering about medical problems. It is imperative to be certain that you are given the correct diagnosis and, if warranted, the right treatment as well. It is recommended that you incorporate time with a therapist to ensure you get the proper diagnosis.

Rekindling Our Bodily Connection

Anxiety is never comfortable. That is why our natural reaction is to get as far as we can away from it. We do whatever we can in order to avoid feeling it. The problem is that this type of reaction is counterproductive to the diagnosing of the problem and to successful treatment. With this in mind, the next time you feel anxiety creeping in, try to turn to it instead of away from it. Acknowledge your feeling. Don’t hide from it.

It is also helpful to approach it with curiosity. Ask yourself where you are feeling it. Perhaps it is in your stomach, or the area around your chest or in your neck. Sometimes, tingling fingers or hands accompany fear and anxiety.

Try to get a grip on it through taking deep, controlled breaths. Breathe in through your nose and then out slowly through your mouth, counting to three. Once you have completed the deep breathing exercise, attempt to figure out what the trigger is.

There are times the trigger will be obvious. You may suddenly recall that you are about to go to a party where there will be a number of people you don’t know. Or, it may seemingly come out of nowhere. It is a good idea to ask yourself where it came from anytime your anxiety or anger rises suddenly. Even if you don’t have the answer, you will be taking a step toward your recovery.

Trigger Complexities

Our mind, body, and emotions are all interconnected which means there can be a myriad of possibilities when it comes to causes for our anxieties, social ones included. It is a defense mechanism that we develop early on to deal with traumatic experiences. We naturally defend ourselves against further harm and protect ourselves from the pain as well.

Imagine you are in a dark room full of furniture. You can’t see the furniture so you continue to bump into it time after time. A therapist helps you to identify and understand the triggers you have, much like illuminating the furniture, one piece at a time.

When you can clearly see the furniture, the less likely you are to run into it as much and when you happen to, you know just what you ran into. Throughout the course of time, you may even decide to move the furniture elsewhere rather than it being in the middle of the room where you easily bump into it.

Understanding Social Anxiety

It is conducive to have a range to work with when we are trying to get a handle on our anxieties in social situations. When you note that it is rising, assign it a suitable number. “I feel my anxiety is at a 7 on a scale where 10 is the highest,” you may tell yourself. If you find your anxiety is in the 7-and-over range much of the time, it would be a wise idea to set up a meeting with a qualified therapist.

If you leave high anxiety unchecked, you can condition your body to be chronically anxious. That is why there are some disorders of anxiety that only get better with medication.

When you have identified the degree of your level of anxiety, the next thing you will want to do is to make an attempt to lower it by using the tools you have at your disposal. When our anxiety is soaring, it is very difficult to think with a clear head and deep breathing can be helpful at times like this. It sends a signal to your sympathetic nervous area (the system that deals with fight or flight) that it is alright to be calm as there is no danger.

While you are doing deep and slow breathing, you can try to think and focus on just one thing. It might be a smooth stone, a waterfall or a word. Since our minds can only handle thinking about one thing at a time, it becomes impossible to dwell on the fear at hand when we are thinking about a stone or waterfall. Initially, it may be difficult to do because we feel as if we are thinking of a million things at once, but in reality, our minds are just racing with many thoughts coming at us, one by one.

Controlling our focus is the key to stopping the circus. It takes some practice but it can be done. When you think of positive things about yourself, you will find that your anxiousness subsides. A good bit of the worry we have is based on things that are not true. You may feel God is going to punish you for something or that you are going to get a disease. Think of fears you had in the past that never came to pass. That is very helpful in recognizing the unwarranted fears.

Putting your thoughts and feelings into perspective is helpful too. Since there are millions of things that have the ability to kill you, you can see how it is a complete wasting of your time to try to figure out which of those things you will die from. Living in the here and now means not being obsessed with the past or the future. Now is all we have anyway so, why not chose to live in it?

It will be easier to think clearly when your anxiety has subsided and is under control. That is the time to think about the root of your social anxiety. Know the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is not typical. If you are at odds with someone and are nervous about running into them, that is normal. But, if you fear to encounter anyone, that is not.

What is it that scares you about the given situation? Do you worry that you will not know what to do or say and will look foolish? Are you afraid you will say something but it won’t be appropriate? Do you fear you will fall or break something and look clumsy?

In each one of the cases mentioned, fear is the underlying factor. You are afraid of looking foolish or like a jerk. You are afraid that you will be rejected or hated. While the fear is not legitimate because it is exaggerated, it certainly feels true. Until you take it by the horns. Realize that one of the greatest fears humans have is abandonment. Do you fear you will be left alone?

The stakes seem incredibly high when social anxiety tells that you will do or say something so bad that you’ll be hated, despised or abandoned. But when you start to understand more about the situation, you can make a plan and have a way out. You can control and manage your situation and fight the lies that you have let yourself believe.

Managing Social Anxiety

There are many experiences when it comes to anxiety and everyone is different. It is not possible to address each possible situation so I will be using a few vignettes with various examples of possibilities for the approaches. These are generalized in order to hopefully paint a picture that many can imagine themselves in.

First Vignette – A twenty-eight-year-old male is employed at a large company where there are no inside walls and the individual desks are grouped. Each person in the area views and contributes to everyone’s work. One day, the man walks into the area and his heart begins to race. He feels like he is getting dizzy and reaches to steady himself. He gets out of the building as quickly as he can and the thought of ever going back paralyzes him with overwhelming anxiety.

Approach Possibilities – When there is a symptom of dizziness or any form of chest pains, it is certainly recommended that a physician is consulted in order to rule out any medical causes. If medical causes are ruled out, then you can look further into the root.

One thing to check into is if anyone he is not comfortable with moving in closer to his proximity. Has the work he has been doing been brought into the spotlight and he has been ignoring it to where it has become an insurmountable anxiety? Perhaps the close quarters in his work setting is finally closing in on him. Is there anything about the area of his workspace that has undergone change or has any of the relationships changed?

If all environmental factors have been ruled out, it could very well boil down to a psychodynamic contributor, like having an overly critical father or mother who continually made him feel belittled. While this issue is one that can take some time to really work through, there are short-term solutions that can temporarily help to boost his self-confidence.

This is where the tools mentioned above could really help to calm anxiousness in the moment. Focusing on one single thing could be very helpful. If the given anxiety has continued for over six months, it might not respond to somatic techniques in which case, a visit with a qualified psychiatrist might be in order to talk about the possibility of an anti-anxiety prescription. Persistence and patience when pursuing a diagnosis is the best route to getting the best care possible.

Second Vignette – A thirty-something-year-old female always has anxiety creep up when she is in public, but one night when she is at a party where she doesn’t know hardly anyone, she gets so anxious that she has to flee the party.

Approach Possibilities – Like the man in the first vignette, the manifestation of chest pains or dizziness is a good indication a doctor should be seen as a first step.

If leaving the party helped to calm her, it might be of help to rule out the environmental factors that could have possibly been present. Asking if there was anything in the room that seemed to be threatening in some familiar way is a good place to start. Smells can initiate triggers too. Was there a smell that could have triggered an old trauma response emotionally?

Perhaps someone vocalized something that triggered the response. Maybe there was a person who appeared to be familiar but who she couldn’t seem to place and that mentally distressed her. And, there might be a person who had a similarity to someone within her past who was threatening.

Environmental factors should be ruled out and psychodynamic roots can be addressed and looked into too. Taking steps of desensitization may well be the most helpful answer so that she doesn’t have to avoid going to parties for months or even years.

The first thing she might attempt is to go to another party in order to see if the problem is a recurring one. Then, she could try meeting a stranger and a friend together. Then she could be around one friend and five or so strangers at once.

As she does this, she should monitor her anxiety level and also watch for triggers. She can then begin to get in touch with the level of her anxiety and can work to develop solutions for workarounds and also to address the specific issues she has.

While there are common factors, everyone’s individual anxiety is different. It is something that is unique to them and only them. It takes courage and it takes determination to face fears and to wonder about them so we can reduce anxiety by developing and using techniques.

If anxiety is disrupting your life, it is time to get help so you can explore your thoughts and feelings. Getting help will help you take steps toward a life of growth and better health. You can be free.

Photos
“Anxious,” courtesy of Sascha Berner, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Thinking,” courtesy of Jacob Botter, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alejandra thinking II,” courtesy of Luis Alejandro Bernal Romeo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How Do I Know if I Need Help for Depression?

Emotions, including sadness, are a natural part of what it means to be human. As much as Facebook friends might never admit it publicly, life isn’t all “likes” and “shares.” When sadness becomes all-encompassing and debilitating over an extended period, it may be time to consider the need to get help for depression.

We’ve all heard of depression, but how much do we really understand about it? It’s often misunderstood in terms of its clinical diagnosis and greatly overused in pop culture.

According to a recent 2016 national survey on drug use and health, an estimated 16.2 million adults 18 or older across the United States experienced at least one or more major episode of depression (SAMHSA, 2016).

This number represents nearly 5% of all adults (Bureau, 2016) with the highest percentage of occurrence among adult females (8.5%). From 2005 to 2015 depression had the highest increase among teenagers with the most rapid increases seen in young people (A. H. Weinberger, 2017).

When Should I Get Help for Depression?

Because depression can vary in how it presents itself, it’s difficult to know whether it’s truly a mental health concern or simply a case of the blues.

Below are some of the more common symptoms of depression that you should be aware of:

A pervasive feeling of sadness and hopelessness

Changes in emotional functioning are one of the most noticeable early signs of depression. You may notice yourself feeling more irritable, or just plain sad more days than not. Things suddenly feel hopeless, crying becomes a daily routine, sometimes for no clear reason.

You may begin to blame yourself for your condition and the lack of control you feel with your emotions. This is often accompanied by growing feelings of anger internalized to yourself.

Things you might find yourself saying things like:

  • “I can’t do this anymore.”
  • “Why do I feel this way, no matter how hard I try nothing changes?”
  • “I should just give up.”

Lashing out and reduced patience

If you’re noticing that you’re very short-tempered or yelling at your spouse or kids a lot, or otherwise lashing out. Instead of working through your feelings, and identifying their root cause you may project them onto others, blaming those around you for the feelings you have about yourself.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “You don’t understand me, you never have.”
  • “All you do is think about yourself, you don’t care how I feel.”
  • “Why am I always angry, I hate myself. I’m a horrible parent.”

A lack of appetite or disinterest in food

A sudden change in weight, either gaining or losing, can be a warning sign of depression. You may lack appetite, or no longer remember the last time you ate or have interest in foods that were once enjoyed. This is often tied to feelings of low self-worth regarding body image.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “No matter how hard I try, I’ll always look this way. I can’t change a thing.”
  • “I cry by myself and then I eat, it’s what makes me feel better for a short while.”
  • “I’m not hungry right now.”

Fatigue, lethargy, reduced physical activity

Another common symptom associated with clinal depression is being extremely restless at night and constantly tired during the day when awake, with little to no motivation to get out of bed to start daily activities. Going to work, or getting the kids on the bus in the morning becomes overwhelming. Even trips to the grocery store may begin to seem like they are simply too much to handle.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “Can we go out another time, I’m just not up for it today.”
  • “I’m falling behind on my work, I just can’t keep up. Who cares anymore, it doesn’t matter.”
  • “Why am I so tired all the time. I can’t get any good sleep, I just need to rest a little longer.”

Having feelings of worthless or excessive guilt

You may experience increased feelings of guilt about things that have occurred in the past. Regret and a growing sense of how little you matter to the fabric of everyday life with your friends and family may begin to fester. This often is accompanied by an increased or sudden onset of thoughts of death or dying.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “It might be better for everyone if I wasn’t around anymore.”
  • “It’s as if I didn’t exist now, no one even notices that I’m not around.”
  • “No one cares about me, and why should they, I’m a mess.”

A loss of interest interesting or pleasurable activities

It is common for people who are experiencing depression to experience a decreased or complete loss of interest in life. Things that once provided a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment no longer provide any satisfaction. Spending time with friends or family becomes more of a chore as isolation and solitude increase.

This often results in even greater feelings of worthlessness as one considers a possible reality where they are no longer tethered to the lives and activities of others they once identified as foundational to their sense of self.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares about me anyway.”
  • “I’m all alone.”
  • “They will be better off if I’m not there. They don’t want to spend time with me anyway.”

Hope Through Christian Counseling

If you are reading this and you are concerned that you are experiencing one or more of these changes in functioning, health, or lifestyle, it is important that you seek treatment to determine the underlying cause.

Many different issues can be at the root of the emotions that cause symptoms of depression. A number of counselors at Huntington Beach Christian Counseling work directly with individuals and families who struggle with depression.

Give us a call and we can meet with you today to help you find the path to a functional and enjoyable life once again.

ReferencesA. H. Weinberger, M. G. (2017, October). Trends in depression prevalence in the USA from 2005 to 2015: widening disparities in vulnerable groups. Psychological Medicine.

Bureau, U. C. (2016, July). Quick Facts United States. Retrieved from US Census: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217

SAMHSA. (2016). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from SAMHSA: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm#mde

Photos

“Depressed”, Courtesy of Anh Nnguyen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Eruption”, Courtesy of Yosh Ginsu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Alex Boyd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Ian Espinosa, Unsplash.com, CC0 License