Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For

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Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For by Shahida Arabi

Dating an emotional predator, a narcissist, a sociopath or anyone else who has the potential to be an abusive or toxic influence in your life is a devastating emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. Although many abusers tend to unfold and reveal their true selves long after they’ve already reeled their victims in, there are some key signs to look out for when dating someone that can foreshadow their future behavior.

The great thing about dating is that you are not committing to a relationship, so you can use this process as a way to find out more about a potential partner, and if necessary, cut ties should he or she turn out to have abusive traits without investing further in the relationship.

Here are some signs to look out for.

1) A need for control.  Abusers want to control and manipulate their victims, so they will find covert ways to maintain control over you psychologically. They can maintain this control in a diverse number of ways:

Excessive contact. Although many people don’t realize this, excessive flattery and attention from a charming manipulator is actually a form of control because it keeps you dependent on their praise. If you find yourself being bombarded with text messages, voicemails, calls and e-mails on an hourly basis in the early stages of dating, keep a lookout for other signs.

It might seem incredible that someone is so besotted with you after just one date, but it’s actually a red flag for dubious behavior and unwarranted attachment. It’s not normal to be in contact with someone 24/7 especially if you’ve only gone on a couple of dates with them. No one has the time to “check in” constantly with someone they’re “just” dating.

This form of contact is perfect for abusers to “check in” with you to see what you are up to, to make sure that you are suitably “hooked” to their attention, and is a form of “idealization” which will place you on a pedestal that at first, seems irresistible. Of course, if you’re familiar with the vicious abuse cycle of narcissists which include idealization, devaluation and discard, you’ll know that you’ll soon be thrust off the pedestal.

An unhealthy response to rejection or boundaries. Unlike dating partners who are simply excited to see you again and express their interest with polite enthusiasm, toxic partners will get considerably upset if you choose not to respond to them right away or if you resist their idealization by giving yourself necessary space. They won’t wait for your response, either: they will continue to persist and pursue you with an unhealthy level of attention without knowing much about you. This level of attentiveness is not actually “flattering” even though it may appear so initially – it’s downright creepy and dangerous. It reveals a sense of entitlement to your time and presence without regard for your personal preferences, desires or needs.

When you place boundaries with a potentially toxic partner, they will be sure to step over them. If you say no to coming home with them on a first date, for example, they may still continue pestering you despite knowing your reluctance. When your “no” always seems like a negotiation to someone you’re dating, beware. This means you’re in the presence of someone who does not respect your right to make your own choices and maintain your boundaries or values.

Physical aggression. As perpetual boundary-breakers, abusers can also overstep the physical space of their victims. This type of behavior may not come out until months into a relationship, but sometimes abusers can be physically aggressive with you just a few dates in. Grabbing you too harshly, pushing you during an argument or conflict, violating your personal boundaries in any way, pressuring you for sex, touching you inappropriately without consent is a red flag that must be heeded.  It’s a sign that things will only get worse in the future.

This physical aggression may happen under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, so you’re not quite sure what to make of it except that you feel threatened and unsafe. Don’t attempt to justify this if it happens with or without the involvement of alcohol – alcohol may lower inhibitions, but it doesn’t cause personality transplants. It’s very likely that the abuser is revealing his or her true behavior even while claiming that the “drink” made him or her do it.

Mistreatment of others. Even if the abuser idealizes you quite convincingly in the early stages of dating, you may witness his or her behavior towards others as a red flag of future behavior. For example, is he or she rude to the waiter or waitress on your date? Does he or she get excessively angry if another person flirts with you, talks to you or hits on you in front of them? How about the way they talk about others? If they call their ex a “crazy psychopath” and include a whole range of expletives about their annoying coworker, recognize that these are toxic temper issues which you will eventually be on the receiving end of.

Demonstration of unwarranted anger is an incredibly important tactic that abusers use to 1) preserve their self-image and their ego, 2) project blame onto others, 3) take back control by recreating a “version of events” that makes them look superior and saintly and 4) evoke fear and intimidate others into doing what they want.

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    Photo Credit: Fotolia/Barrington

2) Addicted to provoking you. 

Covert manipulators are quite gifted at provocation. As they learn more about you, they are investigating your weak spots and catering their comments towards what they know will hurt you the most. Knowing you’re triggered by their comments gives them a sadistic sense of satisfaction that alleviates their secret sense of inferiority and strokes their delusions of grandeur, control and aptitude. Having control over your emotions also gives them the power to effectively manipulate you and convince you that you don’t deserve any better.

Debasing comments about your personality, your looks, your line of work, what you should wear, who you should hang out with, are all inappropriate, especially when just getting to know someone. If you find yourself frequently confronted with these so-called “helpful” comments in the first few dates, be wary. Nobody should be trying to “change” you immediately when they’re just getting to know you, and if they are, this is a recipe for chaos.

These provocative comments might be disguised as constructive criticism or “just jokes,” but you can distinguish them because they are often comments laced with condescension rather than compassion and consideration. Harsh teasing that serves no other purpose but to ignite your anger or annoyance, put you down and insult you is different from playful teasing which is used to flirt and build rapport with a partner.

Sarcasm. Beware of the tactics of the covert sarcastic put-down. Sarcasm is one of the mighty weapons in an abuser’s arsenal. Emotional predators enjoy invalidating your thoughts, opinions and emotions by making frequent sarcastic remarks that shame you into never questioning them again. Since sarcasm isn’t often considered “abusive” by society, abusers use it as a way to escape accountability for their harsh, condescending tone and belittling behavior. They become more and more condescending in their approach to sarcasm over the course of the relationship – what was once a “playful” sarcastic comment now becomes frequent emotional terrorism that questions your right to have an opinion that challenges theirs.

Efforts at making you jealous. If your date consistently brings up past romantic partners, looks at other women frequently on your dates (while furtively checking to see if you’re observing them while doing so), and talks about having a romantic “type” that is quite far from your description, run.

A healthy partner will strive to make you feel secure and cherished, not insecure and doubtful. This could be a form of toxic triangulation in which an abusive partner attempts to create an image of desirability while demeaning your merits so that you are encouraged to compete for his or her attention.

The silent treatment. Abusers may retreat into silence if you question their authority or bring up their mistreatment. This may provoke you into pursuing them even more, in order to try to coerce them into “validating” your emotions and admit that they are in the wrong. Unfortunately, you’re only giving them more power by doing this. They will eventually come around, but only after you’ve vented at them and eventually apologized for being too “harsh” even when you have doing nothing wrong but express yourself.

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Image Source: Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney

3) Inconsistent character and behavior.

The most skilled abusers will save the “hot and cold” tactics for when they enter long-term relationships, but other abusers may give you a sample of this even within the first month of dating. They do so by the following:

Projection and Gaslighting. Narcissistic dating partners and other toxic people are also proficient at gaslighting and projection, techniques they use to convince society that their victims are the crazy ones and to convince their victims that their reality is inaccurate. The effects of this type of manipulation are incredibly lethal on victims long-term, so it is important to note signs early on in the dating process so that you can detach more quickly from the different type of reality these toxic partners are likely to impose upon you. Gaslighting and projection are very clever tactics that allow toxic dating partners to simultaneously shift the blame of their own characteristics onto you while also enabling them to escape accountability for their hypocrisy, deceit and otherwise unsavory behavior.

If you find yourself feeling at unease about something a dating partner did or said and later denied, minimized or projected onto you, remember that narcissists enjoy calling others “crazy.” It’s a common word they’ll use to describe any valid emotional reaction victims have to their shady and inconsistent behavior. It is gaslighting in its simplest form but over time becomes a complex type of psychological torture in which the victim starts to mistrust his or her perceptions of the covert abuse and feels unable to trust his or own reality. Stonewalling (shutting down a conversation even before it’s begun), silent treatments  and devaluation soon follows in order to maintain control. Narcissists can easily maintain the illusion of their false self whenever their behavior is called out and discredit their victims so that the covert abuse is never recognized or addressed without the dire consequences of you walking on eggshells.

To understand the difference between a partner who provides you constructive criticism or simply disagrees with you and a partner who routinely projects their own qualities and gaslights you, look closely at their actions rather than their words. Does it appear that the person you are dating often accuses you of the same characteristics, traits or actions that they themselves seem guilty of committing? Do they call you a hypocrite when they are the ones who often contradict their proposed beliefs? When you call them out on being rude, do they bring up something irrelevant you did in response, in order to shift the topic back to you instead?

For example, you may meet narcissistic partners who, in the beginning, are very possessive of you, track where you go and who you are with, seem to check up on you 24/7 and call you out if you ever dare to show signs of flirtation or interacting with another man. Yet the moment you ever call out signs of potential infidelity on their part or question any lies that don’t quite add up, they may unleash their narcissistic rage and gaslight you into thinking you are the jealous, possessive one and tell you that you’re  getting too heavily invested in the relationship too soon – minimizing the fact that they had been putting you under survellience from the very beginning.

Be careful – the projection and gaslighting of narcissists is so adept, so sneaky, so conniving, and so utterly convincing, that you are often led to apologize for being alive at all.

Superficial charm. I cannot count the endless number of abusers I have met who begin their ploys with superficial charm accompanied by self-absorption and an actual lack of empathy or substance. You can begin to spot how superficial their demeanors are once you’ve had some practice in identifying nonverbal gestures, nuances in facial expressions and tone of voice. Skilled predators are quite charming and you can easily learn to see through this by observing the way they exaggerate how they feel about you and their glib ways of showing you that they “care” when they really don’t.

For example, hearing “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else,” on a first or second date is not only premature, it’s most likely a lie to impress you. When this charm is paired with actions that don’t align with the abuser’s words, like the fact that this person never actually asks you about your interests or passions despite being so “enamored” with you, you’ll soon realize these are just shallow ways of getting into your head (and most likely your bed).

Pathological lying. Do you catch the person in frequent lies or stories that simply don’t add up? Do they “drip-feed” you information so that the full story eventually unravels over time? A girl he hung out with was once just a “female friend,” and now suddenly he mentions that he used to date her. A man she sees for Sunday brunch is “just” a colleague, but then you find out that it’s an ex-husband. It’s true that everyone reserves some crucial information on the first few dates for later and everyone makes mistakes or tells “white lies” to preserve their self-image occasionally. However, if these lies seem to be chronically common, it’s not a healthy pattern to start off a relationship with. Disclosure, honesty and open communication are foreign words to the abuser, who lives in a world of falsehoods.

Frequent disappearances. In the beginning, the person you were dating was constantly on top of you, bombarding you with calls and texts. Suddenly, they disappear for days, only to come back again as if nothing ever happened. These disappearances, which are often staged without convincing explanations, are a way of managing your expectations and making you “pine” for contact.

Attitude changes towards you. Abusers engage in “splitting,” emotional polarization in the ways they view you. You’re either “the one” when you’re meeting their needs or you’re suddenly the villain if you disappoint them in any way or threaten their fragile sense of superiority. Beware of this “hot and cold” behavior, because it’s another tactic to manage your expectations and keep you on your toes. Even if you don’t even like the person, if you tend to be the people-pleasing type, you might fall into the trap of attempting to avoid rejection and win their favor. It’s “reverse psychology” at its finest.

Intermittent reinforcement. This is a psychological tactic that provokes you into trying to please them, even if the abuser is mistreating you. The abuser gets to have you on your “best behavior” without changing his or her own behavior. Abusers love giving “crumbs” after they’ve already seduced their victims with the idea of the whole loaf of bread. You might find yourself on the receiving end of praise, flattery, attention one day, only to be given cold silence the day after.  Occasionally you will get the same idealization that you received on the first few dates, but more likely, you will get a mixture of hot and cold, leaving you uncertain about the fate of the relationship.

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TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PREDATORS IN DATING: 

If you notice any of these red flags after the first few dates or within the first few months of dating, do not proceed. Since within the first few dates you are usually presented with a person’s best behavior, you can be sure that things will not get any better. You cannot fix this person and you run the risk of emotionally investing in someone who is  out to deliberately harm you.

Be careful: if you choose to reject an abuser outright, it may infuriate them or he or she may use “pity ploys” or angry harassment to convince you should go out with them again. Going No Contact if someone is bothering you, harassing you or making you feel uncomfortable in any way is a better tactic. Block their number and any other means they might use to communicate with you. If they’ve been disrespectful, they don’t deserve a polite response.

Should they continue to harass you, document the evidence and tell them you will take legal action if necessary. If you’re trying online dating, make sure you block the predator from the site you are using after you document their messages by using screenshots.

Tread lightly when you’re dating someone new. Don’t give out personal information like your address, home telephone number or other means of reaching you besides a cell phone number. If possible, use an alternative like a Google Voice number or other text messaging app while still getting to know someone. You must put your safety and privacy first.

Resist projection and gaslighting. Stick to what you know to be true. Do not allow your toxic dating partner to minimize or deny things he or she may have said or done. When a dating partner attempts to gaslight you or project qualities onto you, know that this is a clear red flag of emotional infancy that will not be suitable for a long-term relationship. It is helpful to keep a journal during your dating process to note any inconsistencies, red flags, emotions and/or gut feelings that may arise. You will want to refer to this journal often in order to keep grounded in your own perceptions and inner sense of truth.

Keep your eyes open. Be willing and open to recognizing both the bad and the good. While we all want to see the best in people, it’s important not to also gaslight ourselves into denying or minimizing the signs that someone is not compatible with us. The signs will always be there, and even if they don’t present themselves quite as visibly, your gut instinct will tell you when something is not quite right.

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Have you noticed any of these signs while dating a toxic person? Do you have any other signs that should be added to this list? Comment below and share your thoughts!

Copyright © 2014-2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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Since writing this post in 2014, I’ve started a new monthly online coaching program for survivors and have a new book available for pre-order.

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Pre-order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare Also be sure to check out my first book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care.

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Looking for a lighter read? I’ve got just the thing for you. Here are two mini e-guides that tell you everything you need to know about narcissistic abuse! All proceeds from the Fifty Shades of Narcissism series are used to support this website and go towards supportive services for survivors.

SUDDENLY   Your Brain on Love, Sex and the Narcissist


About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. She graduated summa cum laude from NYU as an undergraduate student, where she studied Psychology and English Literature. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel. 

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

realdealThe ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must receive permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

I am very grateful for all of the feedback I received on my blog post, Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head. As you all know, narcissism and recovery from abuse are topics that are near and dear to my heart, and there is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling that you’ve helped someone in their healing, even in the smallest of ways. That’s why I’ve decided to continue the series on this blog called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies and  sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

My first post in this series can be found here: The Narcissism of Elliot Rodger – #YesAllWomen, Misogyny and Rape Culture

Now onto Part II!

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A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

For this post in the series, I’ll be exploring how technologies like the internet provide narcissists and those who have antisocial traits with easy access to victims and minimal effort. Cyberbullying and trolling are strategic ways for narcissists who lack adequate narcissistic supply or who are experiencing boredom to get a quick “fix” without being held accountable for their abuse. 

In the context of intimate relationships, survivors of narcissistic abuse may be stalked, harassed and cyberbullied for years even after the ending of the relationship, especially if they were the ones to discard the narcissist first. When a narcissist suffers from a narcissistic injury, this can lead to narcissistic rage. This rage is a result of  an injury to their ego when something or someone threatens their delusions of grandeur and “false self.” Since survivors often implement No Contact with their abusers, narcissistic abusers feel a loss of power and attempt to regain that power through tactics like provocation, hoovering and post-breakup triangulation techniques.

On a larger scale, narcissists and those who have antisocial traits employ similar manipulation tactics in cyberspace to provoke and harm complete strangers. A recent study showed that online trolls demonstrated high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke people in order to derive sick feelings of satisfaction that they apparently can’t get anywhere else.

Bullying in any form, especially anonymous bullying, can lead to devastating results. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and trolling leave such a terrible psychological impact that there is even a movement against anonymous comments sections on media outlets. Since there is little accountability for cyberbullies and the laws against it in each state may not protect victims entirely from emotional abuse, it often goes unchecked and unpunished. If cyberbullies are ever reprimanded, it is usually after the fact of a tragic suicide or in the event of publicity.

In the case of the recent death of Robin Williams, for example, people became outraged when they heard that trolls on social media outlets were harassing Robin Williams’ daughter and had caused her distress during a time of intense grief and loss. Usually, however, the sadism of these bullies goes unnoticed except for the people who have to endure the harassment.

THREE WAYS TO DISTINGUISH A SADISTIC CYBERBULLY FROM A PERSON WHO’S PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

1. Rather than engaging in healthy debate and respectful disagreement, cyberbullies and trolls distinguish themselves from normal people who disagree by staging personal attacks on character instead of providing evidence against the argument that they claim to have problems with. Instead of saying, “Research proves you wrong, here’s the source,” they’re more prone to verbal diarrhea which consists of insults, name-calling, word salad, circular logic and provocative overgeneralizations deliberately aimed to get a rise out of you. They may even bring up personal details or assume things about you that have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. They are, like many narcissists in intimate relationships, perpetual boundary-breakers.

2. They persist. Some cyberbullies give up eventually if they don’t get the response they were looking for, but others will keep hunting for more of a reaction and provoking you, even on multiple accounts. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they use the anonymity feature of cyberspace to employ triangulation techniques with their “fake” accounts to show “support” for – who else -themselves.

3.  Stalking. When you do respond in a way they’re not accustomed to, they suffer a kind of narcissistic injury and resort to low blows and attacks. Some cyberbullies are satisfied when you give them a quick ego stroke, like a “You’re right” to their insult and go away. Others are much more malicious. When you give them radio silence or choose to report their harassing behavior, they come after you.

I’ve had cyberbullies follow me all the way onto personal social media accounts in an attempt to silence my voice on important issues or because they suffered a narcissistic injury when I didn’t respond. They weren’t persisting to try to respectfully get me to see their point of view, either – they were outright insulting me and making assumptions about me that had little to do with the topic at hand.

THREE WAYS TO HANDLE CYBERBULLIES AND TROLLS

1. Don’t engage or feed the trolls. Depending on the forum or website that you’re being harassed on, there may be an option for you to report harassment or block the person. This is especially useful for cyberbullies who are attacking you personally and taking a toll on your mental health. This is sort of like going No Contact – except, instead of someone you were in an intimate relationship with, you’re going NC on a stranger out to harm you. Find a way to remove them from your presence with the least amount of effort. They’re simply not worth the time and energy that it takes to stage a rebuttal. Remember: narcissists always need an audience and a source of supply. By removing yourself as a narcissistic source of supply, you refuse to give them the attention they’re looking for. By default, you win.

2. Be strategic about your privacy. Different forums and websites have different policies, so be strategic depending on what platform you’re using. Most social media platforms allow you to block or report anyone who’s harassing you, so take advantage of whatever you can do. Next, explore the privacy settings on whatever platform you’re using. If you feel comfortable and it’s available, take on the option that will enable you to share the least amount of information with the public. This will prevent cyberbullies and trolls on the hunt from finding out the personal details of your life. If you find it feasible, consider limiting the number of social media accounts you have so that you only use the ones you absolutely need for your professional and social life.

If you’re a blogger and are being trolled or cyberbullied, websites like WordPress take it one step further and allow you to see the IP address of the person commenting. This enables you to watch out for multiple “fake” accounts cyberbullies may be using to troll your blog or website and you can block one specific IP address from commenting on your blog altogether and just be done with it.

Should cyberbullies ever threaten you with physical harm, you can use this IP address to find out where the troll or cyberbully resides,  so you can report them with more accurate information. Simply copy/paste the IP address into a geolocation website like this one. This will yield identifying information that you can have in case the cyberbully or troll ever threatens you.

3. Refocus your energies on productive outlets. Trolls and cyberbullies will never have the final say on your self-worth or your abilities. Why? Because they’re literally spending their time trying to tear people down. Don’t you think that if they were fulfilled in their own lives, they’d find better things to do? Thankfully, you do have better things to do than to ruminate over the narcissists and sociopaths in cyberspace. You have a blog to run, a website to manage, a Twitter feed to update, a Facebook page to update, and a story to share.

Continue to use your voice and make it heard. Only engage with respectful people and save the debate for people who can disagree with you in a manner that’s not pathological. Let the cyberbullies motivate you to make waves for social change and to continue to speak out on behalf of the underdogs.

If you’re at any point feeling overwhelmed by these bullies, shut down the computer, unplug the devices, and tell someone, especially if you’re an adolescent reading this post. Stand up for yourself and do not let this go unchecked. Also help others who may be going through similar struggles. The more you spread awareness about this important issue, the more likely change can happen.

Important Note: If the cyberbully is someone you know, like a friend or former romantic partner, make sure you go No Contact with the person immediately, document any text messages or incriminating phone calls and report them to online service providers or law enforcement agencies if they violate your state’s anti-bullying laws. In that scenario, their anonymity no longer protects them from the consequences of their harassment.

Remember: bullies can be adolescents or adults. Though they all share the same mental age of five, they can be dangerous to us at any age group. Let’s take a stand against bullying and harassment in all forms – from text messages to forums, from social media to blogs. We do not deserve to be violated or disrespected – even online.

Stay safe and take care. Here are some additional resources for cyberbullying which may prove helpful to you:

Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Top Ten Tips for Teens Who Are Being Harassed Online

Reporting Cyberbullying from StopBullying.gov

How to Spot Blog Trolls and What to Do by Kristen Lamb

How to Stop Caring About Trolls and Get On With Your Life

Do you have any tips on how to handle cyberbullying or a story to share? Comment below and help other victims of abuse. 

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

How People-Pleasing Destroys Your Authentic Self

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How People-Pleasing Destroys Your Authentic Self by Shahida Arabi

ARE YOU A PEOPLE-PLEASER?

Symptoms include but are not limited to: saying yes when you really mean no, allowing people to trample all over your boundaries on a weekly basis without asserting yourself, and “performing” character traits or behaviors that do not speak to your authentic self. Can cause high blood pressure and stewing resentment that festers for years until the “last straw,” at which point, sounds of an explosion erupt. You’re so tired of being Jekyll all the time you become the worst version of Hyde possible to let out all the steam that was simmering within all along.

Jokes aside, people-pleasing is becoming a sad epidemic in our lives, and it’s not just restricted to peer pressure among teenagers. We’ve all done it at some point, and some amount of people-pleasing might even be necessary in contexts like the workplace. However, people-pleasing can be a difficult habit to eradicate if being compliant is something we’ve been taught is necessary to avoid conflict.Think of children who grow up in abusive households: if they’re taught that whenever they displease authority figures they will be punished just for being themselves, they may be subconsciously programmed to navigate conflict similarly when it comes to future interpersonal relationships.

PEOPLE-PLEASING, ABUSE AND SELF-CARE

Adults can engage in people-pleasing to an unhealthy extent, to the point where they engage in friendships and relationships that don’t serve their needs, fail to walk away from toxic situations, and put on a “persona” rather than donning their true selves because they are afraid of what people will think of them. This can keep us in overdrive to meet the needs and wants of others, while failing to serve our own needs and wants. People-pleasing essentially deprives of us of the ability and the right to engage in healthy self-care.

People-pleasing of course becomes more complex in the context of abusive relationships where the dynamics are so toxic that it’s difficult for survivors to simply walk away when faced with cognitive dissonance, Stockholm syndrome and gaslighting. At this point, it’s no longer just people-pleasing but the misfortune of being caught in the midst of a vicious abuse cycle.

However, people-pleasing does make it easier to ignore red flags of abusive relationships at the very early stages especially with covert manipulators. We can also become conditioned to continually “please” if we’re used to walking on eggshells around our abuser. This is why knowing our own boundaries and values is extremely important in order to protect ourselves and listen to our intuition, especially when it’s screaming loudly at us. Minimizing people-pleasing is also vital in the process of going No Contact with our abusers.

Part of healing is reframing the way we think about pleasing others versus pleasing ourselves. Here’s a revolutionary thought: what if I told you that your needs and wants were just as important as the people you were desperately trying to please, if not more? What if I claimed that your entire existence – your goals, your dreams, your feelings, your thoughts were in some way valid and needed to be addressed? Just as valid as the friend you’re trying to impress or the parent whose approval you seek?

PEOPLE-PLEASING AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO REJECTION

We all seek approval at times and many of us fear rejection if we dare to show our authentic selves. By trying so hard to avoid rejection, we end up rejecting ourselves. The problem arises when this becomes a consistent habit and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation and codependency. When you’re not honoring your authentic self, you’re depriving others of the chance to see the real you, the right to judge you on your own merits and not the persona you perform.

Remember that rule on airplanes about parents putting on their oxygen masks before they put the oxygen mask on their children? Well there’s a simple reason for that – we have to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others. If we exhaust our own reserves to the point where we have nothing left, we won’t be helping others at all.

The first step to minimize people-pleasing is to radically accept the realities of how inevitable rejection is. We cannot and should not try to please everyone. Some people will like you. Some people will dislike you. Others will outright hate you for their own reasons and preferences. And guess what? That’s okay. You have the right to do it too. You don’t have to like everyone or approve of everyone either. You have your own preferences, judgments, biases, feelings and opinions of others too. Don’t be afraid of that, and don’t fear rejection. Instead, reject the rejecter and move forward with your life.

You cannot let people-pleasing detract from the real you – by working so hard to gain the approval of others, you inevitably risk losing yourself. You become a puppet led by the needs and wants of various puppeteers. In the most extreme cases, people-pleasing can cost you your mental health and years off of your life. So stop cheerleading bad behavior and start cultivating your authentic self!

TOOLS TO MINIMIZE PEOPLE-PLEASING

Start to minimize people-pleasing today by getting together a list of your top boundaries and values which you will not allow anyone to trespass in intimate relationships or friendships.

You can use this boundaries worksheet to write down ways in which your boundaries have been crossed in the past and the actions you can take to protect your boundaries in the future.

Here are also some recommended readings on boundaries, values and people-pleasing which I hope will be useful to you.

21 Tips to Stop Being a People-Pleaser

10 Ways to Say No

12 Core Boundaries to Live By in Dating and Relationships

Five Ways to Build Healthy Boundaries

Different Types of Personal Boundaries

10 Ways to Practice Positive Rebellion

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care by Shahida Arabi and are copyrighted by law.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

Healing from Emotional Trauma: Do You Have Enough Time to Fulfill Your Destiny?

lucy-2014-movie-screenshot-digital

Photo Source: IndieWire

I recently watched the movie Lucy (2014) and the theme of time resonated with me deeply and powerfully. In this movie, the protagonist is able to access the maximum amount of her cerebral capacity and has only a limited period of time to tell the world the crucial information she has learned. The end of the movie raised a poignant question: what do we do with the finite time we have on this earth? Are we spending it wisely? And if not, what changes can we make to do so?

Time is traditionally used to inform us of appointments, allocate hours to work, and track our progress. We use time to remember to go to the doctor, to go to the office at a certain hour, to track our progress at work or school. We can use time for reflection as well as daily tasks: time motivates us meet an important deadline, but it also tells us that we’ve spent several years in a certain relationship, helps us to celebrate one-year anniversaries with significant others, and acts as a marker of investment and energy. If we feel we haven’t spent our time in a productive way, we feel our investment and energy had little return. We feel overwhelmed with regret and a sense of learned helplessness that threatens to disable us from making necessary changes in our lives.

Survivors of abuse and emotional trauma have a special and significant relationship with time. I’ve heard numerous stories that end with, “I can’t believe I wasted this amount of time on this person,” or, “These years of my life have been wasted!” It is a painful realization when we recognize that we’ve given our precious time and energy into something that deeply wounded us.

Sometimes it takes a horrifying diagnosis or the ending of a relationship to force us to reflect on the time we have left, but we can be mindful of the present right now, at this very instant.  Although we cannot go back in time to change the way we’ve spent it, it’s important that we stay mindful of the time that we still possess, in the here and now.

In order to spend our time more constructively, we must do the following:

Allocate more time for healing rather than ruminating. Excessive rumination may be the initial response to the  ending of an abusive relationship or after a significant trauma. Survivors of trauma may suffer from symptoms related to PTSD or acute stress disorder, like numbing, dissociative symptoms, recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance and intrusive thoughts. While it’s extremely important to be patient with ourselves and not rush the healing process, it’s also necessary to make active changes in our lives in order to make progress.

For the sake of our mental health,  addressing our painful emotions and assessing what happened is necessary to moving forward, and we eventually come to the stage where we have to set aside time for what is necessary to heal ourselves. That means being proactive by seeking out professional help, setting boundaries such as low or No Contact with an abusive ex-partner, maintaining a strong support network and engaging in self-care that nourishes our body, spirit and mind.

CHALLENGE: Set a “time limit” for excessive ruminations. If you find yourself ruminating for three hours a day over a particular situation for example, set the time limit to one hour and then spend the rest of the time doing something else like exercising, working on a project, watching a favorite television show, meeting with a friend to do something fun, or writing a poem.

You may still have distracting thoughts during that time, but at least you will be spending more time doing an activity that benefits you rather than spending more time than is necessary reevaluating scenarios that you’ve revisited too many times. Whenever these intrusive thoughts come up, try not to feed them. Step back, observe, and radically accept them, just as they are. Engage in pleasurable distractions or cross another thing off your to-do list. Allow yourself the right to feel all of your emotions, but do not get stuck and permit them to hold you back from enjoying your life.

It’s inevitable that we will think about the trauma and that we will have strong feelings about it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s a normal response to trauma. I make this suggestion to end excessive ruminations not to invalidate the legitimate feelings and thoughts about trauma that may surface, but to acknowledge that your time here on earth is precious and finite, and you want to spend it in a balanced way.

If you want to move forward, spending excess time overanalyzing situations rather than actively engaging with your life will only deter you from living your life the way it was meant to be led. You must spend some time assessing your trauma, but don’t forget to spend time healing from it as well. Take breaks to relax, work on your goals and live life. This goes back to maintaining that delicate balance between owning both our status as survivor as well as our agency.

Take the time to pursue your unique destiny. In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra speaks about the “law of dharma,” which is the unique destiny we’re meant to fulfill. Chopra argues that our “dharma,” our “purpose in life,” manifests best when tied to serving humanity and the larger world around us. We have to ask ourselves, how much time am I spending on cultivating this destiny? What do I do every day to serve humanity? Is my current job fulfilling me? Is there volunteer work or another line of work I can pursue to make better use of my talents? Is there a talent that I am wasting rather than sharing with my current efforts?

CHALLENGE: Write down two or three talents or skills that you feel you haven’t used in a while, or haven’t used at all in public. Next to each one, write at least five things you can do to cultivate that talent. If possible, pay special attention to how that talent may serve others. These things can be big or small in the way they help others.

For example, if one of my hidden talents was photography, I could volunteer as a wedding photographer to capture the meaningful moments in my friends’ wedding or start a project that involves taking photographs for a social cause I care about. If my hidden talent was nutrition and fitness, I could volunteer to teach fitness classes at a local community center or start a YouTube channel to help people to change their diets and lifestyles. If I had a great sense of humor, I might use it to regularly brighten someone’s day or I might join an improv comedy group and participate in shows that entertain hundreds of people in need of their daily escape. If I had a passion for mental health and loved to write, I could start a self-help blog or write a self-help book (sound familiar?)

You get the picture. There are so many creative ways to use our talents and put them into use to serve humanity. In the midst of this exercise, you might even come across what you were meant to do all along. This is a better use of our time and it permits us to change the world rather than to focus on what we can’t change – the past.

Enjoy and be mindful of the present moment. Be grateful for what you still have now in the present moment. From basic things like food, shelter, our vision, our ability to walk, to good friends, a stable job and access to health care and education. Cultivating this habit of lifelong gratitude brings us to a place of mindfulness that is beneficial to our health and appreciation of life. Remember: time spent on remorse detracts from time spent savoring what we still have. Nothing lasts forever, so focus on what is still here.

CHALLENGE: Start to replace unhelpful thoughts and cognitive distortions about the past with positive statements about the present. Whenever judgmental statements like, “I shouldn’t have done this” or “I regret what happened,” arise, replace it with, “I am grateful to have survived and learned from this experience.”

If this is too difficult because of the extent of trauma you’ve endured, try to remind yourself of something you still have despite the trauma, like “I still have my health and that’s what’s most important” or “Now I have the freedom to pursue my dreams without interference.” Not all “alternative thoughts” will work to diffuse ruminations over the past, but making a significant effort towards a more positive attitude about your life experience will help you  become more resilient to obstacles in the long-run.

It is also helpful to keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for in this life. The more time you spend being grateful, the less time you spend being resentful and the more likely you’ll have an increased sense of perceived agency in your life. You’ll be more likely to see challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as dead ends, and more likely to constructively channel your life circumstances into life-changing awareness.

Put an end to toxic interactions and relationships.  These are the unreciprocral, unfulfilling interactions or relationships that leave you emotionally drained and exhausted. They include:  relationships that are past their expiration date, friendships that leave you feeling terribly about yourself, and other interactions with people who mistreat or disrespect you. This helps us to refocus our time on healthier, fulfilling relationships that will make us happier in the long-run.

Minimize the people-pleasing and cut ties with the people who don’t accept you for who you are and who don’t appreciate what you have to offer. This is necessary in order to make the most of our time and use it wisely.  Should you need to maintain contact for whatever reason (for example, this could be a family member who you’re forced to interact with on a weekly basis) it’s important to at least significantly reduce the time and energy you spend interacting with this person or ruminating over your interactions with them.

CHALLENGE: Think of a person in your life who you’ve spent unnecessary time with and energy on recently. What can you do to reduce or end the interaction? Is there a way you can set a boundary so they don’t contact you as often? Do you need to stand up to them and make it clear that you no longer want them in your life? Whatever you must do, do it now. Save yourself future pain and heartache of having to endure a relationship or friendship that isn’t serving you by ending it now or detaching from it. These unfulfilling interactions only hold us back from the destiny we’re meant to fulfill.

As survivors of trauma, our best bet is to keep moving forward and focus on our self-care and self-love. Only by doing so can we fulfill that destiny. As we learn to make better use of our time, we have to remember that healing is a lifelong journey. We may encounter several traumas on this journey, but recovery can be a productive process in that it makes us mindful of the time we’ve spent and the time we have left.

Every single one of us has something we can do to change the world while changing ourselves for the better. Whatever you may call it – destiny, dharma, mission or fate, start asking yourself today: what’s yours?

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

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Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book,The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This blog post is protected under DMCA against copyright infringement.

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This blog entry has been adapted from a chapter of this book and is copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.