Childhood trauma scars the brain and boosts depression risk

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Childhood trauma such as neglectful parenting causes physical scarring to the brain and increases the risk of severe depression, a new study has found.

For the first time, scientists have linked changes in the structure of the brain both to traumatic early-years experiences and poor mental health in later life.

Published in the Lancet, the study found a “significant” link between adults who had experienced maltreatment as children with a smaller insular cortex, part of the brain believed to help regulate emotion.

It focused particularly on a phenomenon known as “limbic scarring”, which previous research has hinted is linked to stress.

It involved 110 patients admitted to hospital with major depressive disorder who were then monitored for relapses over the following two years.

They were subjected to a detailed childhood trauma questionnaire, which retrospectively assessed historical incidents of physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect and sexual abuse.

The patients were then given MRI brain scans, which looked for changes to brain structure.

Dr Nils Opel from the University of Münster, Germany, who led the research, said: “Given the impact of the insular cortex on brain functions such as emotional awareness, it’s possible that the changes we saw make patients less responsive to conventional treatments.

“Future psychiatric research should therefore explore how our findings could be translated into special attention, care and treatment that could improve patient outcomes.”

The findings suggest that the reduction in the area of the insular cortex due to limbic scarring could make a future relapse more likely, and that childhood maltreatment is one of the strongest risk factors for major depression.

All participants in the current study, aged 18 to 60 years, had been admitted to hospital following a diagnosis of major depression and were receiving inpatient treatment.

What is Mental Abuse?

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Brenda knew something was wrong in her marriage to Bill, but she was unable to put her finger on what. She felt like she was abused but he never hit her, so she minimized and even dismissed any warning indicators that something else was off. She was intentionally exploited by her husband; endured regular insults and rejection, alternating with affirmation; and felt manipulated into doing or saying something out of character.

Abuse is not just physical. There are many other forms of abuse, such as sexual, financial, emotional, mental, and verbal. While some of the other forms of abuse are obvious, mental abuse can be difficult to spot and explain. Abuse can happen in a home between spouses, from a parent to a child, in social situations between friends, and even at work from a boss to an employee. The sex of the abuser or the victim is irrelevant. Abusers can be both male and female.

It starts simply with a casual comment about anything: color of the wall, dishes in the sink, or the car needing maintenance. The remark is taken out of context by the abuser. The abuser misperceives their spouse’s remark as disapproval of them in some way. No matter how hard the spouse tries to explain that wasn’t their intention, it doesn’t work. The abuser calls them a liar and is off on a tirade, which ends in the spouse feeling like they are losing their mind.

Here are eight typical mental abuse tactics using Brenda’s experiences with Bill as an example.

  1. Rage – One minute everything is fine and then out of nowhere, Bill would unleash in a rage. In a fit of intense, furious anger he startled and shocked Brenda into compliance or silence. Brenda would do whatever he demanded just to reduce the intensity of his rage or make it stop. Over time, she would learn his triggers to avoid his rages. He would not take responsibility for his reactions, instead, he blamed her for losing it.
  2. Gaslighting – Bill would lie about what Brenda did in the past, making her doubt her memory, perception, and even sanity. He claimed and gave evidence of her past wrong behavior further causing doubt. As this continued, she began to question what she said a minute ago. She even thought she was losing her mind. Bill used this to further take advantage of her.
  3. The Stare – This is an intense stare lasting 1-2 minutes to longer durations with no feeling behind it. At times, it would feel creepy. Bill did this to scare Brenda into submission and frequently mixed it with the silent treatment. Bill would even do this at social gatherings giving her “the look” which meant he was upset about something she said, who she was talking to, how long she was talking, or even her not giving him enough attention.
  4. Silent Treatment – Bill would punish by ignoring Brenda. Then he let her “off the hook” by demanding an apology even though she wasn’t to blame for whatever upset him. This was done to modify her behavior. Bill also had a history of cutting others out of his life permanently over small things. Brenda learned to fear the silent treatment as a worse experience than a rage.
  5. Projection – Bill dumped his issues onto Brenda as if she were the one doing it. For instance, he would accuse her of lying when he lied. Or he made her feel guilty for doing something wrong when he did the act. This created confusion for Brenda. She started to feel as though she was the unhealthy extension of everything he didn’t like about himself. She struggled to see where he ended and she began.
  6. Twisting – When Bill was confronted by Brenda or another person, he would twist it around to blame Brenda for his actions. He would not accept responsibility for his behavior and instead insisted that Brenda apologizes to him. He was relentless in his demands that it was Brenda’s fault. When she resisted or fought back, he would add other abusive behavior such as verbal assaults or threats until she was no longer able to take it and succumbed to his demands.
  7. Manipulation – A favorite manipulation tactic for Bill was to make Brenda fear the worst, such as abandonment, infidelity, or rejection. Knowing of Brenda’s abandonment as a child, he played on that fear to manipulate her into doing what he wanted. Even in instances where she would normally reply “No,” he used her fears as a control tactic to get her to agree to do something she wouldn’t. It didn’t take long before Brenda could not recognize herself as she allowed him to manipulate her into doing things she never wanted to experience.
  8. Victim Card – When all else failed, Bill resorted to playing the victim card. He would claim that his feelings were being hurt and it was Brenda’s job to make him feel better. Sometimes, he would bring up things from his past and accuse Brenda of triggering uncomfortable feelings and then demand that she take responsibility. This was designed to gain sympathy and further control her behavior.

Once mental abuse is realized, a decision needs to be made. Are you going to continue in the relationship or leave? Whatever you choose, do it with an awareness of what is happening, the trauma this invokes, and methods to counteract the mental abuse tactics.

When A Sociopath Meets An INFJ

 

an INFJ personality and a sociopath embrace
Sociopathy is otherwise known as antisocial personality disorder. Codependency is also called relationship addiction. An INFJ is one of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types. So what do these three things have in common?

A person with an INFJ personality is first and foremost an introvert. This means he or she often prefers staying in to going out, and solitude to socializing. This can make things difficult when the INFJ wants to meet someone new. The thought of making small talk with a group of unfamiliar people can be enough to make an introvert scrap the idea of forming a romantic relationship altogether.

Enter the sociopath. The term conjures images of people like John Gacy, Ted Bundy, or Jeffrey Dahmer. But not every sociopath is a serial killer. Sociopaths share common traits like failing to conform to the rules of society and deceitfulness, but they are also intelligent, charismatic, and charming. Their intelligence allows them to engage in deep conversations about abstract concepts, something INFJs crave with their whole being. The sociopath is a master at manipulation and will attempt to play on the INFJ’s emotions until he successfully charms her into a relationship that he can exploit to his full advantage.

(Please note: I’m using the pronouns “he” and “she” only as an example. Both sociopaths and INFJs can be any gender. And, although this article explores the relationship between the INFJ and the sociopath, INFJs are not the only Myers-Briggs personality type who may become entangled with sociopaths.)

Let’s take a look at how a relationship between an INFJ and a sociopath might unfold, plus why INFJs may keep trying to save the relationship long after others would call it quits.

(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)

The INFJ and the Sociopath in a Relationship

The INFJ is caring and empathetic. Her life’s mission is to help other people solve problems, so when the sociopath tells her that his landlord unfairly evicted him from his apartment, the INFJ is quick to offer him a place to stay. The sociopath may spin an elaborate tale that plays on the INFJ’s sympathies. The more solutions that the INFJ offers, the wilder the sociopath’s story becomes until it seems that there is no other solution than to have the sociopath move in permanently.

When the sociopath says that moving has put a strain on him financially, the INFJ’s selfless nature may move her to reach into her wallet to lend him money. Then the sociopath gets into a car accident. It seems that the insurance company has raised his rates, so the master manipulator once again spins the situation to his advantage. He tells the INFJ that if she covers him under her insurance, not only will it be cheaper for him, but she will also get a multi-car discount. The INFJ has high levels of empathy, so she is once again eager to help. She may not see that the sociopath is creating a situation that takes responsibilities away from him, and puts them on her.

By the time the sociopath has failed to kick in his share of the car insurance payment, the INFJ has also seen other irresponsible and deceitful behaviors. Kind and caring, the INFJ may not give the sociopath an ultimatum. Instead, she seeks to find the reason for the sociopath’s irresponsibility. She believes that if she can make a connection between the cause of the sociopath’s behavior, and a solution to his problem, she can come up with a plan to fix the situation.

Sociopaths engage in risky behaviors with no concern for the consequences they bring. So it’s not surprising that many sociopaths have problems with drugs and alcohol. The INFJ may liken his substance abuse to an illness, because this reasoning aligns with her empathetic nature. The INFJ’s passion and devotion to causes may lead her to put all her energy into finding a cure for the sociopath’s illness.

Supportive Caretaker vs. Codependent Enabler

This is where the actions of the well-intentioned INFJ begin to walk the fine line between supportive caretaker and codependent enabler. Codependency is a term for a dysfunctional relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, immaturity, or irresponsibility. The codependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of the person who is “sick.”

And this comes at a huge cost. When codependents place other people’s health, welfare, and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self. The Extroverted Feeling function (Fe) of the INFJ allows her to tune her behavior to the needs of the sociopath, so the more changes the INFJ implements in an effort to help the sociopath, the more codependent the relationship becomes.

The INFJ enjoys seeing a project to completion. Unfortunately for the INFJ, her efforts to cure the sociopath’s addiction will never be complete. Addiction is a symptom of antisocial personality disorder, and there is no cure for the disorder itself. As with any form of substance abuse, the addict has to want to change, and since a sociopath has no regard for the risks associated with drug abuse, it is unlikely that finding a solution to the problem is something that he will actively seek.

The harder the INFJ pushes for sobriety, the more hostile, irritable, agitated, and aggressive the sociopath will become. When the INFJ asks him where he’s been, he may criticize her for being paranoid. When she denies him access to her money, he may chastise her for being too controlling. When she refuses to cover for his indiscretions, he may complain that she’s not being supportive. For the INFJ who seeks to please others, the constant conflict can become almost unbearable, and she may do just about anything to keep the peace.

The INFJ’s Breaking Point

Fortunately for the INFJ, she also has a breaking point. When her need for personal growth, emotional intimacy, and shared values have been met with deception, betrayal, and hurt, she will react with an explosion of negative emotions. Her natural problem-solving abilities will eventually turn to solving a new issue; how to escape from the codependent relationship with the sociopath.

The INFJ will realize that putting out a hundred sparks will not stop her house from burning unless she does something about the giant bonfire in the middle of the living room. She may react by lashing out at the sociopath, or cutting him out of her life completely — what’s referred to as “the INFJ door slam.

Often the catalyst for this change comes from realizing that the codependent relationship is having an adverse affect on others in the INFJ’s life. Being a devoted and caring parent, the INFJ will be quick to stop any action that threatens the safety of her children even if it means upsetting the sociopath that has taken so much of her time and energy.


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When the INFJ has had enough, her otherwise warm and caring nature can turn cold and distant. Her interactions with the sociopath may become blunt and judgmental. This dark side of the INFJ personalitysurfaces when she can no longer tolerate the emotional pain of the toxic relationship.

To the sociopath, it may seem like this behavior has come out of nowhere, but for the INFJ, it comes after intense contemplation of the many wrongs that have exhausted her patience. Though leaving a toxic and abusive relationship comes with its own challenges, the dark side of the INFJ is stubborn and intense. She will turn her attention towards a future where the sociopath no longer controls her emotions. Drawing on her Introverted Intuition, she will process what she has learned from this relationship and will finally have the closure that she seeks.

Are You in a Relationship with a Sociopath?

Antisocial personality disorder can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional, but as with any condition, there are signs and symptoms to watch for, such as:

  • Sociopaths are fast talkers. They will switch back and forth between charm and threats to get what they want from you.
  • They do not take responsibility for their actions. They will place blame on everyone but themselves.
  • They will play the part of the victim and try to exploit your sympathy.

While these are some common signs, the easiest way to tell if you are dealing with a sociopath is to focus on their behavior rather than their words. The sociopath may tell you that they care about you, but if they were unable to speak, would their actions let you know? If the answer is no, you might be in a relationship with a sociopath. So what do you do about it?

  • End the relationship. Antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult disorders to treat because the sociopath has to want to change. The disorder itself makes them unable to see that they are the problem. Trust me on this; as much as you’d like to, you can’t fix them!
  • Leave. If you share a residence, it’s better to get out now and cut your losses. Stay with a friend or relative until you can secure a permanent place without the sociopath’s name on the lease. If the sociopath lives in your home, be prepared to have a law enforcement officer escort them off the premises, and file a restraining order if needed.
  • If you are in a situation that requires you to still associate with the sociopath, such as when children are involved, try to keep communication to only what is necessary. Use text messaging instead of phone calls whenever possible.
  • If you must communicate with the sociopath, do so calmly and without passion. The sociopath will most likely try to provoke you into an argument or debate that will toy with your emotions. Do not engage! The best way to discourage them is to not play their game.
  • Seek help. When you are ready to leave, the sociopath will play the victim. They will try to convince others that you have treated them unfairly. The more people who know your side of the story, the more difficult it will be for them to drag your name through the mud. Seek support from friends, family, law enforcement, and legal help when necessary. Find a support group for survivors of sociopaths and narcissists or speak to a mental health counselor about your feelings.

If you think you may be dealing with codependency, or need help escaping an abusive relationship, call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Child Abuse May Change Brain Structure And Make Depression Worse

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A study of over a hundred people’s brains suggests that abuse during childhood is linked to changes in brain structure that may make depression more severe in later life.

Nils Opel at the University of Münster, Germany, and his colleagues scanned the brains of 110 adults hospitalised for major depressive disorder and asked them about the severity of their depression and whether they had experienced neglect or emotional, sexual or physical abuse during childhood.

Statistical analysis revealed that those who experienced childhood abuse were more likely to have a smaller insular cortex – a brain region involved in emotional awareness.

Over the following two years, 75 of the adults experienced another bout of depression. The team found that those who had both a history of childhood abuse and a smaller insular cortex were more likely to have a relapse.

“This is pointing to a mechanism: that childhood trauma leads to brain structure alterations, and these lead to recurrence of depression and worse outcomes,” says Opel.

The findings suggest that people with depression who experienced abuse as children could need specialised treatment, he says.

Brain changes can be reversible, says Opel, and the team is planning to test which types of therapies might work best for this group.

Journal reference: Lancet Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30044-6

7 Reasons Girls Stay In Toxic Relationships When They Should Get The Hell Out

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1. He apologized. He said he was sorry. He promised he was never going to make the same mistake again. Even though it’s not the first time he screwed up, he seemed genuinely upset about hurting you this time. His apology seemed authentic this time. You love him, so you want to see the best in him. You want to believe him. You want to give him a second chance.

2. You have a long, complicated history. You’ve invested hours, months, years into this relationship. You fought to get this far, so you don’t want to give up on him now. You don’t want all of your hard work to be for nothing. Besides, you are a ride or die. You won’t walk away when there is something, anything, you can do to try to make the relationship work. You are willing to sacrifice for him. You are willing to put your happiness and mental health aside because you stubbornly want this relationship to work out, even if you’re the only one putting in effort.

3. You don’t want to admit he’s changed. You don’t like the way he’s been treating you lately — but it doesn’t matter. You still see him as the good guy you first met. You know he has a soft heart. You know he has a kind soul. You aren’t sure why he’s been treating you so terribly lately, but you are holding onto the hope he will change back into the guy you first fell in love with a long time ago. You know he’s in there somewhere.

4. You blame alcohol for his actions. He’s not himself when he’s drinking or smoking or shooting up. He’s fine when he’s sober. He’s nice when he’s sober. You love him when he’s sober. You don’t want to blame him for things he doesn’t even remember doing. You don’t want to leave him when he never actually meant to hurt you.

5. You think the single life would be too hard to adjust to. You don’t want to find a new place to live. You don’t want to split your belongings. You don’t want to change your entire lifestyle. You’re used to him, used to the arguments, used to the pain. You can handle it for a little longer.

6. You blame yourself for his actions. When he gets angry with you, you see his point. You know how frustrating you can be. You can’t blame him for screaming at you, cursing at you, hitting you. You consider yourself unlovable, so you are happy he sticks around at all. You are happy you’ve found someone who can deal with you. That’s what you keep telling yourself.

7. You are lying to yourself. You are making excuses. You are covering for him. You are telling yourself what you want to hear.

But you need to leave. It doesn’t matter if he apologized. It doesn’t matter if you have a history. It doesn’t matter if he used to treat you well. It doesn’t matter if he’s different when he drinks. It doesn’t matter if you get under his skin. It doesn’t matter if it will be difficult to live without him. You need to leave.

How to Be There for Someone Who Survived a Horrible Trauma

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A recent series of tragic deaths has underscored how traumatic events can claim lives years after the fact. Three people affected by mass shootings—the father of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 and two students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018—have died of apparent suicides.
In the wake of these incomprehensible losses, it’s clearer than ever that trauma can lead to years-long suffering. If somebody you love has survived a traumatic event, be it public (like a natural disaster or terrorist attack) or private (such as a sexual assault), you may not be sure how best to be there for them on this journey. While survivors can have very different responses to trauma, interpersonal support is one of the core pieces of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Here, several trauma counselors and one trauma survivor explain how to help a friend or family member who has been through something horrible. Exactly what they need from you will depend on your relationship and evolve throughout their recovery, but the suggestions below are a good place to start.

1. Validate their trauma.
“Acknowledge that what has happened to them is terrible,” Daniel A. Nelson, M.D., advisory board member of the USC National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB) and medical director of the Child Psychiatry Unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tells SELF.
You can do this by saying something like, “This is a truly horrible thing that has happened. I can see you’re in an incredible amount of pain.”

It might feel like you’re saying something obvious, but this affirmation can be reassuring. “It’s about articulating that you see they are in pain and that you are OK with holding that pain,” Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D., a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist in private practice and adjunct professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University, tells SELF.
This was helpful for Manya C., 53, who was sitting in the bleachers across the street from where the first of two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in 2013. She appreciated when people confirmed that it really was a devastating event. “Just letting me know that they [understood] that … was validating,” Manya, who advocates for and speaks about those who are psychologically impacted by trauma, tells SELF.
2. Listen.
You might feel a natural urge to fill the silence when you want to help but don’t know what to say, says Dr. Nelson, who has counseled survivors of traumatic events including the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the September 11 terror attacks, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. This typically comes out of wanting to “fix” the situation, Dr. Nelson says.

But you can’t “fix” someone’s trauma, especially not by talking non-stop. It’s better to be present as they work through their feelings. “It’s really hard to mess up if you’re just intent on listening,” Dr. Nelson says.
Manya remembers breaking down sobbing, seemingly out of nowhere, while at dinner with a friend a few weeks after the bombing. Her friend remained calm and stayed with her until she was done crying before asking Manya where her tears were coming from. “She didn’t tell me, ‘Don’t cry,’ or offer me advice. She just listened and was present,” Manya recalls.

3. Admit that you don’t understand.
Survivors are often reluctant to open up because they’re afraid a loved one will not have the emotional capacity to understand, says Marshall Woods, who has counseled active military personnel and their families in the Middle East and natural disaster survivors through the American Red Cross. Unless you’ve been through a very similar trauma, you don’t get it. And that’s fine. What matters most is that you’ll be there anyway.
Say something like, “I cannot begin to imagine what you’re going through right now, but I am here for you whenever you are having a hard time.” This kind of statement acknowledges the reality—that you don’t understand—while reinforcing your willingness to be there. “It’s a piece of security that can really help them feel safe,” Marshall Woods says.

Manya remembers how helpful it was when a friend expressed this. “Hearing her honestly say, ‘I don’t know what to do to help you, but I’m here’ was huge for me,” Manya says. “I didn’t know what I needed either. But I knew she was there to listen, and that started a really great conversation.”

4. Accept if they don’t want to talk.
It’s not unusual for survivors to prefer not to talk about their feelings, even with some of the people closest to them. Discussing trauma with someone who doesn’t understand can be draining. “There are things I don’t have to say to a survivor, for example, because they get it—things I would have to explain to a friend,” Manya explains.

While it’s OK (and encouraged) to ask if your loved one feels like speaking, respect that they may not want to, Dr. Nelson says. Part of being a good support system is being there for them regardless of how much they will or won’t share.
If your loved one is still navigating how much they’re comfortable sharing, Marshall Woods recommends figuring out a verbal or non-verbal cue they can give you to back off when they need space, no questions asked.

5. Keep checking in.
Survivors often get a lot of support immediately after the traumatic event, but attention from the media, the public, and loved ones tends to dwindle soon after. “It feels like other people have gone on living their lives normally as if the trauma has not even happened, when it’s still very much alive for them,” Marshall Woods explains.

Let the person you love know that you’re still continuing to think of them by checking in accordingly. “Knowing that someone has their eyes on them can be a real source of support and security,” Marshall Woods says. She also suggests offering to sit in silence with the person if they don’t feel like talking but don’t want to be alone.
Manya’s family members called her every day for longer than she expected after the attack. The conversations weren’t long, but the constant reminder of their presence and concern was comforting. “It meant a lot to me just to get those calls,” she says.

6. Offer to help limit news coverage.
If your loved one has been through a highly publicized trauma, such as a mass shooting, the early deluge of media coverage may continually retraumatize them. If you think they’re having this problem, you can ask if they want help limiting their media exposure. You can do this by changing their news alerts and muting certain hashtags or words on Twitter, for instance. This helps some people feel safer throughout the recovery process, Marshall Woods says.
But it’s possible your friend may want to stay up with the news coverage because it helps them feel less alone. “They [may be] grateful that people are taking notice of the pain they’re experiencing and that people are grieving with them,” Marshall Woods explains. So, even if your friend is visibly upset by news stories about what happened, keep in mind that this may be a part of their healing process.

7. Avoid clichés.
Looking for a silver lining can be great in many situations. The aftermath of a trauma usually isn’t one of them. “When someone is feeling this pain, you need to meet them there,” Marshall Woods says. “You want them to feel better now, but that is not the reality of where they are.”

Urging your friend to be optimistic or not “dwell” on the tragedy communicates that you’re not accepting how they’re feeling. What you mean as an expression of hope (“Things will get better!”) can come off as a dismissal of their suffering and make them feel misunderstood. “Usually when the individual hears something like that, they think ‘You’re trying to fix me, and you don’t know the first thing about what’s wrong,’” Dr. Nelson explains.

8. Help them find mental health support.
If you’re concerned for your loved one’s well-being—like if they are struggling to eat, get out of bed, go to work, or otherwise function months after the event—you can offer to help connect them with some professional resources like a therapist or support group, Dr. Nelson says. (Even if they are currently receiving mental health treatment, if it doesn’t seem effective, you may be able to help them find a better option.)
This is also a good idea if you begin to feel overwhelmed with the level of support they need from you. “Sometimes it’s really hard to hear these stories,” Dr. Nelson says, “and it’s important to have the proper tools to metabolize it.” Friends and family of survivors can even experience secondary trauma, according to SAMHSA. It’s OK to be mindful of your limits and communicate those needs in a compassionate way.
In that situation, Dr. Nelson suggests saying something like, “What you’re telling me sounds like it really deserves the appropriate level of support, and it may be more than I know what to do with. I would love to know you’re with somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Can we hit pause and work on finding you that help?”

9. Be patient.
The aftermath of trauma is complex, evolving, and inscrutable at times—not just to outsiders, but also to the people who are in it. “Trauma generally is an experience of something that is so chaotic that our brains really struggle to … make meaning out of what has happened,” Marshall Woods explains.

Be prepared for emotions to be intense and fluctuating, Dr. Nelson says. Also keep in mind that your loved one may struggle to understand why they are feeling the way they are, or to even know what it is they’re feeling. This was Manya’s experience in the first few months after the bombing, before she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “At the time, ‘I was thinking I should be better, I shouldn’t feel like this,’” she says.
You can’t speed up the recovery process for your loved one, but you can remain a steady, patient, and adaptable source of love throughout. “It can be a rollercoaster,” says Manya. “But people should understand it’s normal to feel this way and that they can heal.”

Healing From A Toxic Relationship Won’t Happen Overnight

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Healing from a toxic relationship takes time. It takes effort. You have to make the conscious decision to change, to better yourself, to put your past in the past.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to accept your ex is in your past. You have to delete their number from your phone. You have to avoid the urge to reach out to them when you are drunk, when you are lonely, when you are scared you’ve made a mistake by leaving them. You have to remind yourself they are out of your world for a reason. You have to remind yourself you are better off without them weighing you down.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for accepting such poor treatment. Forgive yourself for staying for such a long time. Forgive yourself for growing distant from family and friends who were only trying to help you. Forgive yourself for ignoring the red flags, ignoring your gut.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to grow comfortable with the idea of being alone. You have to accept the single life is better than life with an abusive ex. You have to get used to being on your own. You cannot rebound with the first person who treats you better than your ex treated you. You cannot jump into a new relationship without working on ridding yourself of the baggage your last relationship brought you. You cannot assume a brand new relationship is the only thing that will make you feel better. You cannot let yourself believe happiness and relationship status are linked.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to raise your standards. You have to rediscover your self-worth. You have to practice self-care. You have to treat your mental health as a priority. You have to realize you are someone worthy of love and respect. You have to promise yourself you are not going to take crap from anyone anymore. You have to recognize what you deserve. You have to fight for what you deserve.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to remain patient. You have to remember results are not going to be seen overnight. It’s going to take a while to trust again. It’s going to take a while to love again. Your struggles are valid and so are your emotions. No matter how long your healing takes, you cannot give up on yourself. You cannot swear off of relationships. You cannot hide yourself away. You cannot assume you are unlovable and will never be happy again.

Even if it’s hard to believe right now, you are going to heal from this heartbreak. You are going to reach a place where you feel confident and strong again. You are going to mean it when you say you are okay. You just have to have faith in yourself. You are more resilient than you think

This May Be The Best Way To Help Kids Who’ve Been Through Trauma

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Why do some children who experience trauma seem to recover naturally over time whereas others develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and even depression? A new studypublished in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry has identified one key factor: seeing their own emotional reaction as “not normal.”

Researchers assessed over 200 kids between ages 8 and 17 who’d experienced a traumatic event, such as a car crash, assault, or medical emergency. They interviewed the kids twice, once two to four weeks after the event and again two months after the event, asking them questions about how they’ve been coping with what happened. The kids also completed a survey about what their general emotional well-being and cognitive skills were like before the event had ever happened.

What does a “normal” healing process look like?

The study found PTSD symptoms were actually pretty common earlier in the recovery process, at the two- to four-week mark. “Symptoms of PTSD can be a common reaction to trauma in children and teenagers,” said Richard Meiser-Stedman, a clinical psychology professor at the University of East Anglia in England who led the study, in a news release. “These can include distressing symptoms like intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. Health professionals steer away from diagnosing it in the first month after a trauma because, rather than being a disorder, it’s a completely normal response. … These initial reactions are driven by high levels of fear and confusion during the trauma.”

Generally speaking, though, the majority of the kids healed naturally over the course of the two months without any professional help or interventions.

How much social support they had in their lives and the presence of other life stressors didn’t actually affect their likelihood of having lingering PTSD symptoms. What did? It was the tendency to view their own response to the trauma as being abnormal, a sign of weakness, or a sign that they were “permanently damaged.” That self-judgment was the key predictor of PTSD.

“The young people who didn’t recover well, and who were heading down a chronic PTSD track two months after their trauma, were much more likely to be thinking negatively about their trauma and their reactions—they were ruminating about what happened to them,” Meiser-Stedman explained. “They perceived their symptoms as being a sign that something was seriously and permanently wrong with them, they didn’t trust other people as much, and they thought they couldn’t cope.”

That means one of the biggest ways we can support young people who are recovering from trauma is to normalize their pain. It’s vital to make sure they know that there is nothing wrong with feeling deeply distressed by what’s happened to them and that it will likely take some time before those emotions settle. Trauma certainly can change you, but it by no means “permanently damages” you.

The difference between ruminating and grieving.

Importantly, the study also found that “overthinking” the trauma was also linked to worse PTSD: “The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why,” Meiser-Stedman explained.

Past research has shown our minds generally have a tendency to ruminate on negative events, and that rumination can be disastrous for our mental health. The researchers were hesitant to give any recommendations related to how to process trauma since the risk of “overthinking” can lead to worse outcomes, but at the same time, not processing your pain at all is generally a ticket to growing up with unresolved emotional issues that lead to more reactivity, relationship problems, and poorer health as an adult.

Transformation coach Sheryl Paul offers a good way to understand the difference: Replaying scenes over and over from the negative events in our lives and thinking about why they happened isn’t necessarily the same as emotionally processing your trauma.

“Ruminating isn’t grieving. Thinking isn’t grieving,” she writes at mindbodygreen. “Grieving is an embodied experience that moves the pain out and through, whereas ruminating is a ‘head’ experience that keeps the pain stuck. Ruminating—that is, obsessively going around and around in your mind on one particular storyline, like thinking about what you or the other person did ‘wrong’—creates mental stagnation and prevents the grief from moving through you, thus preventing you from moving on.”

To help kids (or anyone) heal from trauma, make sure they know it’s OK to sit with their pain and feel it. They shouldn’t spend all their time dwelling on what happened—it’s important to be able to also resume life’s activities to be able to access a brighter mood again and reconnect with their other emotions—but normalizing the grieving process is absolutely necessary.

10 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissistic Personality

Author Article

We tend to use the word narcissist to describe a person who’s self-centered and short on empathy. But it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health condition that requires diagnosis by a mental health professional.

Still, people can exhibit some narcissistic characteristics without having NPD. These might include:

  • having an inflated sense of self
  • needing constant praise
  • taking advantage of others
  • not recognizing or caring about the needs of others

To make things more complicated, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are often very sensitive to criticism, despite their high self-esteem.

Here’s a look at some practical ways to deal with someone who has NPD or narcissistic tendencies — plus some tips for recognizing when it’s time to move on.

1. See them for who they really are

When they want to, those with narcissistic personalities are pretty good at turning on the charm. You might find yourself drawn to their grand ideas and promises. This can also make them particularly popular in work settings.

But before you get drawn in, watch how they treat people when they’re not “on stage.” If you catch them lying, manipulating, or blatantly disrespecting others, there’s no reason to believe they won’t do the same to you.

Despite what someone with a narcissistic personality may say, your wants and needs are likely unimportant to them. And if you try to bring up this issue, you may be met with resistance.

The first step in dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality is simply accepting that this is who they are — there’s not much you can do to change that.

2. Break the spell and stop focusing on them

When there’s a narcissistic personality in your orbit, attention seems to gravitate their way. That’s by design — whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in the spotlight.

You might soon find yourself buying into this tactic, pushing aside your own needs to keep them satisfied.

If you’re waiting for a break in their attention-seeking behavior, it may never come. No matter how much you adjust your life to suit to their needs, it’s never going to be enough.

If you must deal with a narcissistic personality, don’t allow them to infiltrate your sense of self or define your world. You matter, too. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths, desires, and goals.

Take charge and carve out some “me time.” Take care of yourself first and remember that it’s not your job to fix them.

3. Speak up for yourself

There are times when ignoring something or simply walking away is an appropriate response — pick your battles, right?

But a lot depends on the relationship. For example, dealing with a boss, parent, or spouse may call for different strategies than dealing with a co-worker, sibling, or child.

Some people with narcissistic personalities enjoy making others squirm. If that’s the case, try not to get visibly flustered or show annoyance, as that will only urge them to continue.

If it’s someone you’d like to keep close in your life, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Try to do this in a calm, gentle manner.

You must tell them how their words and conduct impact your life. Be specific and consistent about what’s not acceptable and how you expect to be treated. But prepare yourself for the fact that they may simply not understand — or care.

4. Set clear boundaries

A person with a narcissistic personality is often quite self-absorbed.

They might think they’re entitled to go where they want, snoop through your personal things, or tell you how you should feel. Maybe they give you unsolicited advice and take credit for things you’ve done. Or pressure you to talk about private things in a public setting.

They may also have little sense of personal space, so they tend to cross a lot of boundaries. More often than not, they don’t even see them. That’s why you have to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.

Why would the consequences matter to them? Because someone with a narcissistic personality typically starts to pay attention when things start affecting them personally.

Just make sure it’s not an idle threat. Talk about consequences only if you’re ready to carry them out as stated. Otherwise, they won’t believe you the next time.

FOR EXAMPLE

Say you have a co-worker who loves to park their big truck in a way that makes it hard for you to back out. Start by firmly asking them to make sure they leave you enough space. Then, state the consequences for not respecting your wishes.

For example, if you can’t safely back out, you’ll have their car towed. The key is to follow through and call the towing company the next time it happens.

5. Expect them to push back

If you stand up to someone with a narcissistic personality, you can expect them to respond.

Once you speak up and set boundaries, they may come back with some demands of their own. They may also try to manipulate you into feeling guilty or believing that you’re the one being unreasonable and controlling. They might make a play for sympathy.

Be prepared to stand your ground. If you take a step backward, they won’t take you seriously next time.

6. Remember that you’re not at fault

A person with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you. Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviors onto you or someone else.

You might be tempted to keep the peace by accepting blame, but you don’t have to belittle yourself to salvage their ego.

You know the truth. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

7. Find a support system

If you can’t avoid the person, try to build up your healthy relationships and support network of people. Spending too much time in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can leave you emotionally drained.

Rekindle old friendships and try to nurture new ones. Get together with family more often. If your social circle is smaller than you’d prefer, try taking a class to explore a new hobby. Get active in your community or volunteer for a local charity. Do something that allows you to meet more people you feel comfortable with.

WHAT IS A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP?

Spending a lot of time with someone who has a narcissistic personality can make it hard to remember what a healthy relationship even feels like.

Here’s a few signs to look for:

  • both people listen and make an effort to understand each other
  • both people acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility for them
  • both people feel like they can relax and be their true selves in front of the other
8. Insist on immediate action, not promises

People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises. They promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate. They promise to generally do better.

And they might even be sincere about these promises. But make no mistake about it: The promise is a means to an end for someone with a narcissistic personality.

Once they get what they want, the motivation is gone. You can’t count on their actions matching their words.

Ask for what you want and stand your ground. Insist that you’ll only fulfill their requests after they’ve fulfilled yours.

Don’t give in on this point. Consistency will help drive it home.

9. Understand that a narcissistic person may need professional help

People with NPD often don’t see a problem — at least not with themselves. As a result, it’s unlikely they’ll ever seek professional counseling.

But people with NPD frequently have other disorders, such as substance abuse, or other mental health or personality disorders. Having another disorder may be what prompts someone to seek help.

You can suggest that they reach out for professional help, but you can’t make them do it. It’s absolutely their responsibility, not yours.

And remember, while NPD is a mental health condition, it doesn’t excuse bad or abusive behavior.

10. Recognize when you need help

Regularly dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality can take a toll on your own mental and physical health.

If you have symptoms of anxietydepression, or unexplained physical ailments, see your primary care doctor first. Once you have a checkup, you can ask for referrals to other services, such as therapists and support groups.

Reach out to family and friends and call your support system into service. There’s no need to go it alone.

When to move on

Some people with a narcissistic personality can also be verbally or emotionally abusive.

Here are some signs of an abusive relationship:

  • name-calling, insults
  • patronizing, public humiliation
  • yelling, threatening
  • jealousy, accusations

Other warning signs to watch for in the other person include:

  • blaming you for everything that goes wrong
  • monitoring your movements or attempting to isolate you
  • telling you how you really feel or should feel
  • routinely projecting their shortcomings onto you
  • denying things that are obvious to you or attempting to gaslight you
  • trivializing your opinions and needs

But at what point is it time to throw in the towel? Every relationship has its ups and downs, right?

While this is true, it’s generally best to leave the relationship if:

  • you’re being verbally or emotionally abused
  • you feel manipulated and controlled
  • you’ve been physically abused or feel threatened
  • you feel isolated
  • the person with NPD or a narcissistic personality shows signs of mental illness or substance abuse, but won’t get help
  • your mental or physical health has been affected

Abuse Prevention: How To Turn Off The Gaslighters

Author Article

Gaslight was the play that made its writer Patrick Hamilton a very rich man. It opened in London in 1938 to exceptional reviews. Noël Coward was a fan. King George VI took his wife to see it. In 1940, it became a British film, followed four years later by the Hollywood version starring Ingrid Bergman. When domestic abuse was barely whispered, Hamilton shone a light on coercive control and marital manipulation. He caught it exactly.

The play is set in the upper-class house of Jack and Bella. She tiptoes around him. He’s kind, then cold. He flirts with women, but when Bella objects, she’s told she “reads meanings into everything”. He hides her things so she questions her sanity. At night, he secretly visits the top floor of the house, turning up the lights, causing the downstairs lights to dim (hence the title).

As a study in psychological abuse, it’s a devastatingly accurate picture. Eight decades on, gaslighting is the go-to term for a special sort of torture – the kind designed to discredit and disorient its victims, make them doubt what they know, distrust and turn against themselves.

Psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, author of Gaslighting, began to suspect that many of her patients were victims. She posted an article online – 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting – which went viral. Gaslighting was published in the US last October and Sarkis still receives multiple calls and emails each day from grateful readers. “People tell me the book saved their life,” says Sarkis. “The more we know about it, the less vulnerable we are.”

In 2016, “gaslight” was declared the “most useful word” by the American Dialect Society and, in 2018, it was one of Oxford Dictionaries’ “words of the year”. In the UK, gaslighting within intimate relationships has become a crime under coercive control legislation, as well as a recurring plot point in popular culture. We see it in thrillers, like Girl on the Train, the heroine manipulated by her murderous ex. We see it in soaps – Helen Archer so tormented by her abusive partner, she consults her GP who prescribes medication. It’s even made reality TV – last year’s Love Island contestant Adam Collard was accused of gaslighting by Women’s Aid.

In the US, President Trump’s blend of lying, denying and intimidation has sparked cries of gaslighting from NBC to USA Today to Teen Vogue. Harvey Weinstein has been held up as another high-profile perpetrator.

So what gives gaslighting its dark power? Kate Abramson, philosophy professor at the University of Indiana, calls it the “deepest kind of moral wrong”.

“Imagine you’re going through the worst experience you’ve ever had,” she says, “and, at the same time, you’re being told it’s not happening.” So perhaps that’s some executive emerging from a hotel bathroom naked. At the same time, he’s saying: “We haven’t done anything!” When you’ve escaped, he bombards you with gifts while insisting “nothing happened”. He assures you that he’s done this with lots of women – he names many – they always end up “throwing themselves at me”.

“There aren’t many ways of interacting that manage to be simultaneously wrong in so many dimensions,” says Abramson. It’s not just the abuse, but the erasure of abuse as it happens. It’s the obliteration of another person’s perspective, insistence that it’s not the action that’s wrong, but their reaction. “If your judgment is ‘irrational’, you can no longer be a source of challenge,” says Abramson.

“We all question whether we’re right about something. Gaslighting takes that necessary quality for human interaction and uses it to undermine our ability to interact at all. And that’s dark.”

It’s now recognised as a common component of domestic abuse. “Freya”, an artist, was gaslighted by her ex-husband just as Bella was. He didn’t “hit” her to establish control – he isolated her and broke her. He sabotaged her work. “If I sketched in the day, he told me I was neglecting the children,” says Freya. “If I sketched in the evening, I was neglecting our marriage.” He froze out her friends, convincing her that they made passes at him (she discovered it was the other way round). She didn’t know who to trust. He repeated that she was “naive”, “too innocent” and “stupid”. “He’d tell our children that the only safe place was ‘Daddy’s arms as Mummy wasn’t doing a very good job’.”

At the same time, he hid things. “I was a nervous wreck and had lost a lot of weight, so my wedding rings kept slipping. I took them off to wash up,” Freya remembers. “One day, they disappeared from the microwave top and I was frantic. I knew I’d be in for it if I didn’t find them. He looked so calm and happy that weekend. I kept trying to hide my hands but on Sunday night, he kept asking. ‘Are you OK, you’ve looked a bit preoccupied? Have you lost anything?’ I denied it, then he dragged me downstairs and took me to a cupboard of champagne glasses we never use. The rings were inside a glass and he shouted that I was a liar and failure.”

Gaslighting also happens in the workplace. “A gaslighting colleague might whisper abuse when they walk by your desk, sabotage your work or take credit for it, give wrong times for meetings, ridicule you in front of others,” says Sarkis. And when it comes to political leaders, there can be no better example than Trump. When challenged, he viciously denigrates the challenger. (Words like “wacky”, “crazy” and “dopey” feature heavily in his Twitter feed.) His obsession with how things are perceived is standard gaslighting – his claims that “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”. Straight from the gaslighter’s handbook.

Except there isn’t one. So how do gaslighters learn their craft? Do they know they’re doing it? There’s no clear answer. It’s common among psychopaths and narcissists, but it could be that someone learned it from parents, or stumbled upon it as a strategy to thwart a challenge. Dr Robin Stern, whose 2007 book The Gaslight Effect was updated last year, says it’s not always sinister or conscious. “It might be that when you’re feeling wobbly, you’ve learned that destroying someone’s alternative perspective is a way of centring yourself in certainty.”

It’s also hard to make statements about gender. Stern has found that most of her patients and friends encountering it have been women – and UK studies of coercive control show it to be practised overwhelmingly by men. However, Sarkis has treated many male victims of female gaslighters – and Stern points out that teenage girls can be prime perpetrators. She gives the example of Odd Girl Out, the book by Rachel Simmons about bullying. A victim is blanked by former friends, but when she asks why, she’s told, “What are you talking about? You’re so sensitive!” Hopefully those girls grew out of it. A person might gaslight once or twice but when it’s repeated patterned behaviour, be very afraid.

“A gaslighter is someone who can’t bear other viewpoints,” says Abramson. “They need the way they see the world to be placed beyond dispute, and set out to destroy not just differing perspectives, but the source as well.” If you have one in your life, advises Sarkis, “the best thing you can do is get as far away as possible.”

How to spot a gaslighter

Their apologies are always conditional When someone says, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” that’s not an apology; the other person is not taking responsibility for their behaviour, they’re simply manipulating you. Gaslighters will only apologise if they are trying to get something out of you.

They use splitting Gaslighters love to pit people against each other. This is known as splitting. An example would be lying to one friend about another, saying a mutual friend had said something unflattering about them.

Gaslighters are the ultimate agitators and instigators The gaslighters will then watch comfortably from the sidelines, the very fight that they caused.

They’ll do anything to get in with you Gaslighters are good at buttering people up. As soon as you fulfil their needs, they drop their mask of niceness. Trust your gut. If the friendliness seems phoney, beware.

Extract from Gaslighting by Stephanie Sarkis (£14.99, Orion). Buy it for £13.19 at guardianbookshop.com

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