Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How to set Boundaries to Avoid the "Holiday Blues" by: Dwight Bain

A recent USA Today poll asked this question,

“Which best fits your holiday emotional state?”  
Relaxed -       18%
Joyful -           31%
Stressed -      27%
Depressed -   24%

Why do people feel so overloaded with additional problems during the holidays? I believe the majority of the pressure they feel is from trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of a ‘perfect’ Christmas.  
Remember Clark W. Griswald from the movie ‘Christmas Vacation?’ He is the laughable, but best illustration of a guy who tries to do everything right, only to have literally everything go wrong. (Plot Spoiler Alert) Dysfunctional relatives, one blown bulb derailing all of the decorations, the Christmas tree goes up in flames, the turkey is dry, the check for the swimming pool is set to bounce, add in a crazy cousin kidnapping the hateful boss, while the dog destroys the house chasing a rabid squirrel and a senile senior citizen sings the national anthem; basically the whole 9 yards of Christmas chaos.  

The movie makes us laugh because there are elements that hold true in many holiday customs that everyone follows. Traditions that may not have much to do with faith, or even common sense, but that still become a passionate pursuit for millions of people desperately seeking the perfect holiday. Holiday stress doesn’t create perfection or peace, but it does take the focus off the simple message of the Christ child to put it onto a thousand other things that don’t have much to do with the peace of the Christmas season at all.   The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Day will cause people to feel really good or really bad without much room in the middle. The focus of this special report is for those in-between to not slide into the holiday blues and lose the true joy Christmas was meant to bring.  

Making the Holiday’s more Miserable  

The holidays can make depressed people feel sadder, people with addictions to have more cravings, worried people turn into a bundle of nerves and sadly it’s the time of year that many give up on their mental and physical health because they are just too "busy" to take care of themselves. The solution is not to ignore Thanksgiving or Christmas but rather to realize it is imperative to set holiday boundaries.   People may not understand the words “holiday boundary” but Psychologist Henry Cloud calls it "a line during the holiday’s that marks a limit for everyone". He believes that depression, cravings for substances and anxiety symptoms all worsen between Thanksgiving and New Years Day because people are unable to say "no" to all of the extra demands on their time, money, and energy. 

Bottom line- the holidays don’t bring gifts to some people, this season just brings more problems.   Why? many times it's because  they don't want to offend or hurt the feelings of their family and friends, so they keep silent and tolerate situations or endure guilt-ridden obligations that only occur during the holidays. Sometimes that silent tolerance makes a complex situation much worse, while all of this dysfunction steals the real joy the holidays were meant to bring.  

It is essential to take care of yourself by having the courage to set boundaries   You can set limits on spending because it’s not necessary to try to stimulate the entire economy by buying gifts for every relative, neighbor and postman in your neighborhood. It is okay to say “No” and remember that giving your "presence" is often a much more thoughtful gift than just sending "presents."   Did you know the average American will gain 6 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years? That’s a pound per week! You are allowed to say “No” to overeating or over drinking at holiday parties and you are allowed to keep a healthy lifestyle pattern with exercise and especially sleep. Many people starve themselves of sleep by trying to decorate, wrap or travel 20 hours per day. It is dangerous to be sleep deprived and can be life threatening when drinking and driving. Holiday boundaries can keep you and your family safe when you enforce them.   

How to break the pattern of Holiday Blues   Have you ever watched someone have a “melt down” during the holidays?  If you aren’t familiar with this phrase, it means to be so totally stressed you can’t think or function normally. So, back to understanding why people ‘melt down during the holidays’ since this self-destructive process steals motivation and makes life miserable. It makes no sense. Why would people make impulsive choices during the Christmas season that only makes their life worse? Even more important is to stop the cycle before it steals energy and creativity to move into the New Year with strength. Here is a blueprint to show how ignoring basic boundaries can lead to a bad case of the holiday blues. Good news, once you figure out the formula you can learn to do the opposite, which will allow you to enjoy every day of the holiday season, instead of feeling miserable while enduring it.  

The Blueprint for ‘Holiday blues’  

First understand there really is a process to create a “Holiday Meltdown” experience where life goes from bad to worse. It follows a series of predictable steps. People suffering from the Holiday blues have conditioned themselves to follow a pattern of behavior that makes every day of the Christmas season chaotic and potentially every holiday tradition a catastrophe.  They never allow themselves to relax and count blessings during the holidays because their total focus is on pleasing others. They don’t actually have good days, just less miserable ones where nothing goes right because they usually are looking for the worst possible scenario. It’s like the old saying, “Cheer up- things could get worse. So I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.”  

If the only things you are searching for are more problems this time of year then you can be sure that you will find more than enough to stay stressed out and afraid. Here are the basics of the ‘holiday blues’ which I have mapped out in a reverse blueprint process and remember the more elements of this blueprint you have in place between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, the worse you will feel and the worse your decisions will be- guaranteed.  

Spiritual Strategies to create Significant Emptiness and build the Blues-  

1)    Ignore God and anything that would inspire you to see beyond yourself. No Bible reading, no prayer, no journaling or meditation about the blessings of your life, which would stimulate gratitude. Avoid any type of function that takes you out of your own world or that might make you aware of the greater needs in the rest of the world. Even though you are doing many religious things, mostly focus on yourself while ignoring everyone else, especially the poor.  

2)    Skip going to any peaceful church or concert where you might find quiet inspiration to focus on hectic shopping malls. Make sure to skip any activity that places you around positive or prayerful people. This includes helping the homeless or reaching out to other families who may be facing tough times this Christmas. As long as you stay focused on yourself and your problems you can feel empty, afraid and alone which will worsen the Holiday Blues.   

Media Noise to block the real Message of the Season  

1)    Focus on the evening news and current events, especially big tragedies or world events you can’t do anything about. This approach is guaranteed to discourage you with negative media messages which often are full of depressing images that discourage from exposure to a continual flood of bad news. This focus on bad news can speed feeling a big case of Holiday Blues by making you afraid to even be alive.

2)    Make Hollywood celebrities your main focus, especially if they have multi-million dollar lifestyles that you could never hope to obtain. Keep up with the drama of every tiny detail of their lives; in fact spend more time studying what is happening in the lives of famous strangers this Christmas than you do in understanding what is happening in your own family life.  

Physical Steps to Fuel the Holiday Blues  

1)    Ignore your own health. You can do this faster by neglecting to get enough sleep. Push your body to the limits and never sit still to take quiet times to just sit and rest. Follow the rule that ‘burning out is better than rusting out.’ (Forgetting that either way- you are out)  

2)    Stay idle. Sit still and watch TV or the Internet; but never exercise or move around. In fact, stay inside most of the time and never allow yourself to see sunshine or feel the wind on your face over the holiday break. Nature is to be considered evil because being outside often reminds people of the beauty of creation. Use amusing entertainment to replace all forms of physical fitness.  

3)    Eat anything you want, especially large portions of comfort food like cakes, pies, candy and cookies followed by soda with lots of sugar and caffeine. Remember the rule - the worse the food is for you, the worse you will feel.  Avoid anything healthy or nutritious if you want to suffer for months with the Holiday Blues.  

Emotional and Financial Methods to make it worse  

1)    Keep all your fears inside and never take time to release pressure in healthy ways. No journaling, no mapping out insecurities on paper to prevent feeling panic. And make sure to never set goals that would give you a positive point of view in facing the future. Stuff your stress to ruin your day and make you a mess by trying to use money to manage mood in you and your family.  

2)    Don’t ever set a holiday budget or create a realistic financial spending plan for gifts– in fact, just let your financial obligations pile up until you feel like you are drowning in debt and financial fears come January. Not having any idea where you stand financially is sure to make you feel worse and prolong the Holiday Blues well into the springtime.  

3)    Never tell anyone what keeps you up at night, in fact, avoid any coach, counselor, pastor, menror, family member, co-worker or friend who might be a safe person who could help you process your fears to find greater strength. Go it alone to improve your chances of feeling miserable as a martyr.      

How do successful people find new energy for the New Year? 

Can you relate to feeling overwhelmed, undervalued, empty, lonely, unloved, stressed, depressed or afraid during the holidays? Then you have likely followed the ‘Blueprint Holiday Blues; (BHB), but don’t feel bad because most people have some degree of trying to please others which drives them toward tolerating irresponsible behavior instead of confronting it and holding the other people accountable. This is why so many people can relate to the Blueprint for Holiday Blues.   Some of my worst holidays were spent with a dark cloud of moodiness overhead that I made worse by following the blueprint for holiday blues. I was too focused on me, myself and I instead of honestly looking at the challenges directly and seeking outside help to cope.  

Successful people have learned to identify the ‘blueprint for holiday blues’ so they can make rapid adjustments to feel better fast. The real problem is when you feel so exhausted and beat up by unrealistic schedules that tomorrow look’s worse than yesterday and forget about New Year Resolutions!

So what about you -do you wake up refreshed this time of year with positive energy to face a new day or do you live exhausted and ‘stressed out’ day after day?    Moving from being ‘Freaked Out’ to Feeling Good Again   Successful people take positive action to break the pattern that creates ‘holiday blues’. Everyone faces challenges and tough days but some face them with strength by doing the opposite of the formula listed above. I’ve seen people try it both ways, and ruin some day of their life because of being so moody. Thankfully if you have healthy people around you they can confront you with verbal boundaries so you can change. People who say, ‘snap out of it’, ‘get on track’, ‘you were meant for more than this and Christmas is bigger than your pity-party right now.’  

Do you have someone who comes alongside to challenge you with positive steps to break the ‘holiday blues’ process? On your worst days do you go it alone, or allow safe people to come close and help? If you don’t have those people know that my purpose in life is to add value to others, so until you believe in you, I’ll believe in you. God placed you on this planet for greater things than you could ever imagine!   Please let today be the day you break the ‘holiday blues’ process to really embrace feeling good.

No matter what you are facing today, you will face it better by doing the opposite of the blueprint listed above so you can develop spiritual, emotional, financial and physical strength. You really do have the power to change and make today better. Choose to set some boundaries and break the cycle and when you do, tell others what you learned so they can break out of the ‘holiday blues’ too.    

About the author- Dwight Bain helps people re-write their story through the power of positive change. He is a respected author, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 who leads others to solve crisis events and manage major change.   

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint. "Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2014), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"            

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Managing Conflict in the Workplace

by: Cara Griffin-Locker, IMH
We all have a desire and need for a sense of control.  Having control gives us power and helps us predict and manage events in the world around us. However, the need and desire for control can be unsatisfying and eventually lead us to conflict with others. This is especially common in the workplace. How does one get control? They take it, makes decisions and then start to give commands. This is usually when conflict arises. Conflict occurs when others also seek control and the result is often a vicious cycle of fighting for power.  Ultimately, the greater the desire to control, the greater the fear of losing it. Unless we live as a hermit we cannot do everything ourselves. So how do we manage control conflicts in the workplace? Here are some helpful tips that you can utilize when faced with obstacles that create dilemmas.

1)      Define acceptable behavior- Having a definition of what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Create a framework for decision making and clearly define job descriptions so that people know what is expected of them. Also, establish a chain of command for effective communication. Clearly and publicly make it known what will not be tolerated.

2)      Hit conflict head on- While you can’t always prevent conflicts, seek out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervene in a just and decisive fashion. This will likely help prevent certain conflicts from arising. If a conflict does come about, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.

3)      Understanding the “what is in it for me” factor- It is critical to understand others’ motivations prior to voicing an opinion. To help avoid conflict, focus on those around you and their objectives.  If you approach conflict from this perspective you will find few obstacles will stand in your way when it comes to resolving conflict.

4)      The Importance Factor- Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. If the issue is vital enough to create conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication.

5)      View conflicts as opportunity- Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The 4 Rules of Fair Fighting: How to Work Things Out

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Do all couples fight? Over the years I’ve certainly seen plenty that do, and I’ve also have seen a fair share who claim they don’t or that they never saw their parents fight. It’s my proposition that pretty much all couples fight. I would wager that those who claim they don’t fight either are using a style called withdraw or alimentation as their form of fighting, or they don’t have enough of a relationship to even bother to fight. You see, fighting in marriage may be really bad stuff and may represent a road to the end – divorce is on its way. But, fighting in marriage may also represent two people who are really different, living in a fallen world, trying to get their needs met, express themselves and make their marriage work, all while under stress.

What if a lot of fighting in marriage isn’t really bad, it’s just badly managed?

What if often we aren’t really trying to be a jerk or bitch and we don’t hate the other person, but instead we are reacting to something our spouse did that hurt us and we are protecting ourselves? Or what if, sometimes, when things get intense, we don’t even understand why we react the way we do? There’s plenty there I could work with as a counselor, but for now I want to provide some help in terms of how to fight more fairly. Fighting fair can really help us to hold back on some of the bad stuff we’ll regret and that really matters. And fair fighting can help us to address some of our bad patterns, so that we can stop sabotaging the process and get to places where we can feel more heard and more understood by our spouse.

Fair fighting is about coming up with some rules for fighting; rules that you will both agree upon trying to uphold and will be willing to acknowledge when you break them. Each couple is different and you’ll need to come up with rules that fit your values. But I’m going to give you some that I believe need to be in there.

1.   Learn to utilize time outs.

For kids a time out is often viewed or used as a punishment, but for adults, time outs are valuable opportunities to cool down, to reflect, and get some distance from a situation that can bring clarity. Discuss together respectful ways to request a time out for yourself (time outs are not something you impose on your spouse – that would be using it like it is often used on a child). Discuss ahead of time an agreed upon usual time apart. You could even come up with a simple signal that you could use to indicate a request for a timeout, to prevent long discussions about the time out itself. And then – don’t forego coming back together to try again. This is not to be misused as a technique for avoidance of issues! So, when you feel the intensity going up and you might lose it or get mean, take that time out.

2.    Stay on the Issue

Couples tend to store up resentments, don’t they? Oh, maybe we didn’t intend to store it up at the time. Maybe we intended to just let it pass, or maybe we really were trying to be kind. But then a fight comes along and out comes that old issue I go back to or the one I had not brought up before. Bringing up past issues or adding to the issue just clouds up the current process.

3.   Replacing “You”s with “I”s


You never attack with “you” statements, do you? Because of course you know that stating things in accusatory and blaming ways will draw someone into a defensive stance – which isn’t very constructive for working through differences. “You” statements are the ones in which you say things “You can never let me finish, can you?” or “Why do you always have to…” What is going on is that we are trying to say something about ourselves, how we are feeling, what we are bothered about, and ask the other person about the way they have bothered us, but we skip over the part about how we feel about it. And yet, that is the important part. Let me help you out here. You are not going to get your spouse to change what they do without you expressing how it effects you, or what it means to you. There is not motivation to change without that. This kind of approach just doesn’t get you what you want. It increases the chance of hurt feelings and a cycle of attacking and defending.


4.   Agreeing to Disagree


If you’ve been married awhile, you know how there are some things that you just go round and round on and nothing ever changes. You probably feel like your spouse just doesn’t seem to care enough to change on this one, no matter how often and no matter how well you express your position on it. Good healthy couples have some of these. It is just because we are fundamentally different people with different genders, different backgrounds and different world views. It doesn’t mean they don’t love if they don’t see it your way on this, just as much as you’re not changing on the one they are stumped on. You can die fighting on these kinds of hills and it’s not worth it. Instead, acknowledge that it’s a personality difference and learn to laugh about it. Focus on the many things you think similarly on and rejoice that you are different and can learn and grow from having each other, even if you don’t change on this area.

Fighting fair matters. But it takes time and practice to learn it. So, don’t forget to be patient with yourself and one another and remember to own your stuff and make apologies when you blow it.

Now go for it!

We have many more great resources on our website,

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Scared of School - Warning Signs of Bully Behavior and How to protect your Child

By: Dwight Bain

School should be one of the safest places instead of a scary place because of bully behavior. Yet the recent number of horrifying acts of violence from bullies toward shy and introverted kids has everyone concerned, from the President to local school and law enforcement officials. However, the most important group to take positive action to protect their kids at school is always their parents who are the most tuned in to the needs of their children. 

It is essential to know what to look for in protecting your child from the dangers of bully behavior.

Here are the classic warning signs of a child who is being victimized by bullies:

  • Talking about being scared to walk to school
  • Acting scared to ride on the school bus
  • Plead for you to drive them to school instead of ride the bus
  • Develop a phobia about going to school
  • Act sick on school mornings
  • Lie to avoid school.
  • Skip school
  • Failing in school work
  • Have mysterious broken or damaged books, backpacks or torn clothes
  • Always hungry, (from bullies taking lunches or lunch money)
  • Verbal changes, especially stammering or inability to express fears
  • Develop eating disorders, inability to eat or excessive over-eating
  • Discussing suicide or threats to harm themselves instead of going to school
  • Develop sleeping disorders, active night terrors or nightmares
  • Mysterious disappearance of personal possessions, (cellphones, ipads, etc)
  • Missing money or stealing money to bribe bullies
  • Silence about the major changes in their behavior
  • Mysterious appearance of bruises, cuts, scratches or broken bones
  • Passing on the pain by bullying younger siblings
  • Major changes in behavior, completely withdrawn or totally aggressive
  • Lies and deception to cover up all of the major changes in behavior

(If you aren’t sure how to spot the more dangerous warning signs from gangs, weapons, substance abuse or when a fight is going to erupt, there are a number of web links at the end of this article to give you greater insight of what to look for, and more importantly, what to do to keep your child safe).

Here are five key strategies you can use to protect your son or daughter from bully behavior at school or in the community.

1) Listen to your child’s fears and frustrations

Sadly many of the kids who felt like committing suicide to escape bully behavior held all of their fears and frustrations inside until they began a self-destructive cycle ending in their death. Bully behavior at school is not a new problem. However these days there are dangerous gangs and violent individuals in or around just about every school environment. Sometimes the bully violence comes from neighborhood gangs, but it’s far more likely that the threats, harassment, intimidation, fights or acts of violence will come from someone inside your child’s school. Student’s who use weapons against other students, like the Virginia Tech or Columbine shooters for example, often make threats long before acting on them. It is essential to listen to what is going on so you know how to respond.

Become more involved in talking about safety with your child, instead of just talking about academics or daily activities. Ask your kids direct questions and then really listen to their fears and frustrations about what’s happening around them at school. Keep the conversation age appropriate and allow your child to do most of the talking as you hear about their experiences with bullies or other situations that might have made them feel uncomfortable or afraid while at school, (Remember to change the conversation slightly depending on the ages of your kids and the pressures they may be facing at school, since it’s important to talk about safety to kids of all ages so they know what to do to stay safe while at school or away from their parents).

2) Get involved at their school & ask direct questions to teachers and administration
The greater the level of parental involvement the greater the chance that your child’s school will have less intimidation from bullies. When kids are involved in healthy after-school activities like sports, music, drama or scouting they are less likely to be in a dangerous situation, because everyone is engaged and involved, instead of bored or detached. Parents can spot and then quietly solve a lot of problems that may be in the ‘shadows’ by getting more involved in the lives of their children and encouraging greater involvement in healthy activities. Sometimes the easiest way to avoid becoming victimized by bully behavior is to be involved in activities with others instead of feeling insecure and isolated when threatening people or situations come along.

Kids need their parents to be involved in their lives at every age and life stage, either as classroom volunteers or to help with after school sports or extra-curricular activities. The extra support for your child builds a greater sense of connection and self worth since these activities are essential to develop important social skills and personal confidence. It also provides another set of ‘eyes and ears’ on the school campus to notice what pressures your child is facing from their peers.

If you see anything that makes you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to bring it up to your child’s teacher, school administrators or school safety officers. Also, if you are unsure about the safety at your child’s school to deal with more serious crisis events like school violence, then ask to see a copy of their critical incident preparation training guide, or school safety plan so you can review it with your son or daughter and then pass it along to help other parents as well.

3) Use national media events as springboards into serious discussions with your child and their friends

Much of the televised news reports about death by suicide to avoid school bullies is shocking to say the least, however, you can use news stories from the paper, television or an Internet news source to bring the facts of a national story out in the open to then ‘springboard’ into a more personal discussion with your son or daughter about how to deal with issues they might one day face on the local level at their school.

This can especially be important with older teens who may believe they are invincible to the harsh realities of violent and aggressive bullies who direct their rage toward innocent people in public places, especially schools. Something about seeing a group of crying teens gathered around a makeshift memorial to honor their fellow classmate who died tragically makes it more real… because it shows regular kids, just like them, who were victimized by dangerous bullies at or around school. Asking, “what would you do if you saw someone being bullied in a locker room?”, or “does anyone at your school make threats to hurt you, your teachers or other classmates?” are all ways to get directly involved in protecting your child, as well as preventing the next breaking news story about another school tragedy from happening on their school campus.

4) Have open family meetings about bully issues on a regular basis, don't go silent on this potentially life-threatening issue

Every family should have regular discussions on how they would need to respond to bully behavior. Education officials encourage parents to have a plan for their personal safety should bully behavior happen against them. Knowing what to do and then reviewing that plan monthly will remove a significant amount of panic because planning removes panic.

If your son or daughter received a threatening note or heard about an act of violence from a bully, do they know who to call to protect themselves? When your son or daughter has insight on what to do when facing a bully they are better equipped to manage their fears, instead of internalize them which can build up into self-destructive behavior. 

5) Pray for your children, for their friends, their class and their teachers
We can prepare our kids to know how to respond to bullies at their schools, but ultimately we can’t protect our kids from everything. Bullies can infiltrate just about any school setting. However, we know that God is bigger than any bully and that He is always a safe place to turn throughout the hours of the day when we can’t be there to guard our kids.

Many parents have the habit of praying for the safety and strength of their kids throughout day when they are apart. Why not give it a try so you can move from feeling scared about what you can’t do, to feeling secure in knowing that God always hears your prayers. Moving away from panic through prayer is a powerful way to get through any crisis and it’s a great practice to model for your kids. When your children learn to pray as their first step in dealing with pressure situations, they will have a remarkable power and peace in dealing with any situation, at school, work or in personal relationships as they grow into an adult. Prayer is a life skill that makes any situation easier to deal with, because you don’t have to carry your problems alone.

The bottom line is to take positive action to protect your child from experiencing more pain in the future from bullies at school, in the neighborhood or anywhere they may face tough people who want to intimidate them. Building your child’s confidence now will protect them for a lifetime.


For more detailed information about school bullies to review in preparing to talk to your kids visit:

US Department of Education

National Crime Prevention Council

For helpful resources to save time by solving other parenting challenges from a Faith based perspective visit: 

Most of all - never give up on staying connected and involved with your child's life. The more engaged you are, the more you can be their safe place against the challenges they will face in every grade. You never stop being a parent, and in protecting your children from bully behavior you are protecting them from a lifetime of pain..


Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2014), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"

About the author-
 Dwight Bain helps people re-write their story to find greater significance and success. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Help! My Spouse is a Bully!

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

You don’t have to be 12 and in middle school to be bullied. It can happen anywhere, even in your marriage. But what does spousal bullying look like? You recognize the feelings of intimidation and fear after a verbal exchange but they are also mixed in with feelings of guilt and shame. This confusing mix of emotions causes you to agree to things you normally would not. How does your spouse do this? How does a simple conversation leave you feeling beaten up while they look better than ever?

The methods of bullying a spouse are far more subtle then the playground bully. By understanding their tactic, you can be better prepared for a response. Hoping they will change will not work. Instead, change your response to them.

  • Rage – This is an intense, furious anger that comes out of nowhere. It is intended to startle and shock you into immediate compliance. If you are a person who likes to “keep the peace,” this is a highly effective tactic. Most likely, your response is to immediately give in. This calms down the chaos and defuses the anger. While this idea works, it also leaves you feeling empty and defeated. Instead, view their rage as a two-year-old temper tantrum. Remain calm and don’t give in.
  • Gaslighting – The term originates from the 1938 play and 1944 film version called Gas Light. As the victim, you are given false information causing you to doubt your memory, perception, and even sanity. This is frequently done in a very calm, almost caring, manner. Naturally, you abandon your own perspective (because they must be right) and substitute it with theirs. In the end, a dependency is formed leaving you to feel like you can’t make a decision without them. If you have fallen prey to this tactic, remember that you make thousands of small decisions every day without them. Build your confidence from the good choices you do make.
  • The Stare – No explanation is needed when your spouse uses this tactic. Just the thought of their intense stare intimidates you. They don’t have to say a thing; you already know what they are thinking. But do you… This is a good time to practice assuming the best about your spouse. The next time you get “the look,” smile back and think something nice about them. (You might need to practice this in the mirror and have a couple of kind thoughts already planned out.) The change in your response will cause them to abandon this method for another.
  • Silent Treatment – This tactic is a one-two punch. The first punch is to ignore or cut you out of their life. As you feel the void they have left, you naturally try to reconcile. Then comes the second punch when they “let you off the hook” by demanding an apology even when you aren’t to blame. You can’t stop the first punch, as you never know when this will happen. But you can stop the second one by not conceding to their demands of an apology. Be prepared because once you take a stand, they are likely to rage in order to obtain compliance. Stand your ground, don’t give in.
  • Projection – Freud identified projection as a defense mechanism. Basically, your spouse dumps their issues onto you as if you were the one doing it, not them. Because you trust them, you look to see if what they said is true. Finding some small shred of truth, you accept full responsibility and completely let your spouse off the hook. They might even add that if you didn’t have this issue, neither would they. NOT TRUE. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Only accept responsibility for your behavior, not theirs.

Unfortunately there are many more tactics then the ones listed. These are just a couple to get you thinking more clearly about your situation. Try a different response next time. Don’t let your spouse bully you into compliance.

Back to School Bullying: A 5 Part Series on Parental Guidelines for Dealing with Bullying

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

You’re all excited for the new school year – the kids and so are the parents. They’re looking forward to friends, events and who knows, maybe even learning something cool. Parents are looking forward to getting the kids out of the house and seeing their kids grow and learn new things. However, no one is looking forward to dealing with a bullying situation. And yet, it happens. And I mean a lot. The website reports that 90% of all students in grades 4th through 8th have reported being a victim of bullying and cites that “Over 67% of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.” Bullying can be physical aggression or fighting, but also can be mocking, insults, threats, shaming ridicule, ostracizing a child, stealing from them and more. This first installment in the series will address dealing with physical and verbal types of bullying. Part two of the series will take a look at psychological bullying and also will delve into some more bold or direct ways of dealing with bullies. And then there’s the whole huge category of cyber bullying. I’ve dedicated part three of the series to addressing this particular type of bullying.  

Bullying comes in innumerable shapes and sizes. It’s going on all around us and many teachers and parents are unaware of it or worse yet, ignoring it. reports that, “1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.” I have, unfortunately, often heard that even when parents learn of the problem and go to the school, that the school’s response is very unsatisfying, from pretending to take action, to just plain doing nothing. I’ve dedicated the fourth part of the series on how to deal with the school in bullying situations. The fifth part of the series will involve mental health strategies for your family.

Let’s get started. I would like to outline some helpful strategies for kids, teens and parents for dealing with this pervasive and difficult social problem. Most of the strategies provided will be most applicable for kids above 3rd grade due to their cognitive and expressive requirements. Children younger than this would be best served by direct interventions by adults anyway. 

1.  Warning signs

It seems that the older kids get the less likely they are to report and talk about the bullying they are experiencing. Look for changes in behavior or demeanor:

o   Academic performance decreasing

o   Excuses to miss school or the bus

o   Increase of health issues or complaints (anxiety and stress can produce GI issues and lower one’s immune system)

o   Missing personal items or items torn

o   Sullen, withdrawn, depressed state

I absolutely must comment here on a terrifying issue that is growing in our country (and in others) – and that is teen suicide. Suicide has become the 3rd leading cause of death in the 10-24 age bracket ( There is a correlation between bullying and teen suicide, although other factors seem to be present as well. The point is that we must take issues of bullying and its effects on victims seriously. You’ll want to be aware of the signs and not take them lightly.

2.  Showing Wisdom

When you able to find out bullying is taking place, I think many parents would be drawn into emotionally intense responses of anger and plans to swiftly intervene. Let me encourage you to temper your responses for the sake of your child. Certainly express your concern and that you care and that you will help. But your demonstration of calm and wisdom at that time will model to your child strength and wisdom that they need to develop and will show that you are a capable and trustworthy advocate.


3.  Provide Guidance

Learn about the circumstances and situation of the bullying to structure a plan for your child to respond.


If the bullying is physical in nature:

o   Parent and Child report the incident(s) to the school and seek a meeting with school personnel. I’ll cover working with the school in part 4.

o   Coach the child to avoid situations or locations in which they would be alone – find a buddy.

o   Go through scenarios with your child, coaching them on their options:

§  Explain that you believe that your child can be strong and can address the bully – that they are just another child.

§  Approach #1 – if there are bystanders around – focus on the crowd instead of the bully and seek a comrade. Rehearse how he/she could draw a third party or parties into the interaction. “What do you think of this guy?” “Does everyone here approve of what he/she is doing to me or intending towards me?” “What if this was happening to you?” And even, “Hey, I could use a little help here, as this is really unfair.”

§  Go over it with them a number of times. By rehearsing it, you do more than just help them prepare for what to say, you are also reducing the intensity and fear and giving them a reason to have some confidence. “I have some idea on what I can do and I am not trapped and powerless.”

§  Consider preparing your child for a physical confrontation, including defense training. I’ll be providing more ideas on direct confrontations in part 2.

If the bullying is verbal in nature:

o   Assess the emotional effects on your child – how fearful or hopeless are they feeling?

o   Talk through with them how you believe in them – affirming what you see in their character.

o   Go through scenarios with your child:

§  Model to them ways they can address the bully. Explain that in the past kids were encouraged to just ignore bullies but that it didn’t work. Explain that they can win by choosing the middle ground between avoidance and retaliation – of being wise and savvy with their responses. Explain that if they just lose it emotionally that it will encourage the bully, because that was what they hoped to get out of you.

§  Assess with them the potential for the bully to become physical with them. Are they aware of this person being physical with others, or could they be bluffing? Talk about how a strong and emotionally neutral response is what is needed to deter the bully.

§  Review with them ways to respond and let them chose one to practice. The idea of these approaches is twofold, first, to show the bully that the child is not rattled by the bully (you aren’t getting me), and second, to show the bully that the child is a real person, not merely a tool they can use to gain notoriety. 

§  You could try simply to change the subject and ask them about themselves. “What did you think of that new movie that just came out?”

§  You could respond by pretending to be a good sport and act like they are simply being funny and then attempt humor – although not attacking or ridiculing humor. “Hey, that’s a good one. I am pretty skinny. Did you see the funny You Tube about…”

§  Another approach is to just confuse them by doing something unexpected. You’ll want to discuss together what to try so as to rule out expressions that would be perceived as directly taunting or mocking, although sarcasm can be useful.

 We’ve only just begun to cover the variety of ways that young people can be hurtful and malicious. Parents absolutely need to be equipped to guide their children through these challenges, because kids don’t have what they need to successfully navigate it on their own resources. But they can make it with your involvement!

Stay tuned for part 2, involving direct interventions with bullies and addressing psychological types of bullying. 

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