Therapist Blog


Relationships: Is yours toxic?

If you're questioning whether you are in a toxic relationship or not, here are some clear indicators that suggest that it is a toxic relationship:

  • Feeling as though they are to blame for the other person's actions
  • Having to walk around on eggshells to keep the other person happy
  • Not feeling comfortable expressing how they feel
  • Avoid all conflict with significant other
  • Engage in intense conflict often, expressing criticism or negatively about the person
  • Feel trapped in the relationship
  • Using a third party to communicate important things
  • Avoid setting boundaries with the other person
  • Experience difficulty respecting their own boundaries
  • Feeling jealousy often, over things the other person has, or if their partner is flirting with another person
  • Not feeling emotionally supported 
  • Persistent unreliability or predictability

After that, I imagine you'd be asking, can this be "fixed"? I tend to believe that most relationships can be mended if both people agree with the basic premise of respecting themselves and the other person. Working on things together cohesively, and having it be more than one person's effort to change things. 

Actionable steps might be:

  • Sitting and communicating using "I" statements, for example, "I feel angry when I am left out of decision making" 
  • Doing things together that you both enjoy
  • Telling the other person what you value about them
  • Stay in the present in conversations so to avoid having a laundry list of things your partner has done "wrong"
  • Reminding yourself that neither of you are perfect and forgiveness heals not only the relationship but also yourself

You may find that in your relationship you may both communicate that things need to change but it doesn't, or that one person wants it more. At that point increasing your awareness of what you want out of the relationship and life are key. Seeking help sooner rather than later may be of benefit, often when you are in the relationship you are the least objective. 

Talking to Your Child/Teen About Therapy

Here are some practical steps when talking to your child about attending therapy as well as when they start attending regularly.


1) Wait for the right moment


Ask your child/teen about the idea of attending therapy when they are calm and level headed. Raising this idea when your child has been experiencing negative emotions and behaviors can be a struggle as a parent, so if you ask in a moment of calm, it will help you child see it as actual help and less of a punishment or you telling them that there is something "wrong" with them, since that is not a positive message to receive as a child or really at any age. 


2) Identify the problem


Tell your child/teen what has you worried. Try, “Honey, I have witnessed you being sad and isolating recently,” or “Seems like you’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately.” This way they hear you in a way that demonstrates you've noticed a change in their behavior that is of concern to you.

3. Offer compassion


Tell your child/teen you sense that he/she has been struggling and you want to help. For example, say “Is it upsetting to you when you feel overwhelmed and want to hide?,” or “Nightmares can be really scary. No one likes to be scared.”


4) Explain therapy


Once you’ve identified the problem and offered compassion, tell your child you’ve found someone who can help. You might offer “Sometimes when children feel scared a lot of the time, it helps to go to a person whose job it is to help kids/teens understand their feelings and worries by talking about them and learning skills to help. We think if you met with her a few times it might help you understand why you’ve been having those nightmares. Then you won’t have to feel scared anymore.”


5) Don’t get discouraged


No matter how gentle you are, your child/teen may growl “There’s nothing wrong with me!” or “I don’t get nightmares anymore!” Remain calm and stay the course with an answer such as “Ok, if you and the therapist decide you’re not scared anymore Dad and I will be very happy. But we love you, and for now this is what we think is best.”


Once Therapy is Underway


6) Don’t “grill” your child after sessions


It’s a tall order, but resist the urge to ask for reports. Questions like “What did you and the therapist talk about today?” are likely to produce either silence or an answer designed to please you/tell you what you want to hear. Let your child’s/teens therapy be a private place, and use your meetings with the therapist to get and share information about how things are going.


7) Remind your child/teen that she has therapy as a resource, but don’t harp on it


When difficulties arise, there’s nothing wrong with gently suggesting that your child/teen talk about them in therapy. If your daughter/son is skipping class to hide you might say “You know, Honey, if you feel like talking with the therapist about what happened she might be able to help you with the problems you’re having in class.” But try not to bring therapy up too often, or your child/teen will feel you’re intruding or using her therapist as an ancillary parent/someone that can solve all of your child/teens problems. If there’s something you want the therapist to know, the best bet may be to get in touch directly. But inform your child/teen beforehand, so he/she won’t feel the adults are conspiring.


8) Don’t use therapy as a threat or form of discipline


A comment like “If you don’t start cooperating I’m going to have a talk with the therapist” is counterproductive and often threatening. Here’s a more effective approach: “Lately you seem angry whenever I ask you to follow directions, and we haven’t been able to talk about it. I don't enjoy fighting. I think it would be a good idea for us to talk to the therapist about ways we can get along better.”


If you need help talking to you child about therapy, you can also ask the therapist you're seeing to help facilitate the conversation as well.

Vulnerability Factors

In life we are constantly being presented with opportunities, whether we see them that way or not. Each of these opportunities allows us to make choices of how to behave, think and feel. Again, we may not think we have a choice in how we behave, think or feel, but we do. Our choices are effected by what are called Vulnerability Factors. If we are engaging in unhealthy behaviors, patterns of thought, or are in a toxic environment your ability to make healthy choices for yourself generally goes out the window, so those opportunities than look a whole heck of a lot like problems. Areas of vulnerability to look at are:

  • Physical illness
  • Unbalanced eating and sleeping
  • Injury
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Misuse of prescription drugs
  • Intense emotions being your baseline
  • Stressful relationships

If we learn to manage and regulate these Vulnerability Factors we can have a change of perspective from being situations as "problems" and a lot more like opportunities.

Utilizing coping skills, attending support groups and receiving counseling can all be ways for you to gain more awareness and skills to mange these Vulnerability Factors.

Eating Disorders, moving past the stigma...

Shame is an ugly, nasty, and happiness stealing emotion. There is little progress on the road to recovery if its plagued with shame, or stigma.

Shame can show up in two ways, external and internal.

External shame is this real or perceived lower status results in feeling worthless and thinking that you don’t have anything of value to offer the world. When others shame individuals the feeling of hopelessness and despair elevate in those already suffering.

What this looks like is: "You're fine, suck it up" or "Just eat something and get over yourself" or "I wish, I was that thin" or "I don't believe you have an actual problem, its all in your head" are just a few examples.

Internal shame is thisdeep rending of the soul that causes us to exclaim, “Why did I do that? I don’t have any self-control” or having other versions of negative self talk...

When anyone shames or stigmatizes themselves they move further from recovery and deeper into the trap of being sick.

Its the language that needs to change.

We can move from one side to the other by changing our word choice, changing our perspective, to start being vulnerable and have the courage to talk about topics that don't gloss over the issue but help face it.

It can start in therapy, in support groups with a close friend that understands. The change just has to start before anything gets better.

"I feel fat"... How hearing this has me feeling some kind of way

When I hear "body hate" verbiage, it has my skin crawling.

Tolerating hearing people say:

"My friend told me I am getting too round.."

"Does this dress make me look fat..."

"I am always trying to squeeze my body into..."

"I think I need to diet..."

"No pain, no gain..."


All of these statements continue the discussion and spread of body hate, fueling the negative self-talk in our heads, and depriving us from joy of where we are in that moment. Suddenly we become so body focused, we forget what other feelings we are experiences and the mind most likely goes straight to "what's wrong" with you. Its time to set boundaries, change the conversation.

The conversation can look like:

"I am valuable"

"I am important, in every size"

"My body is my own, and I will honor it"

"I feel strong and hopeful"

"I am me, and that is prefect"


If you can find yourself stating these things or others like it, these conversations that you'll overhear or maybe be a part of, will have less emotional and mental impact on you. You'll grow tolerant and may be able to change the conversation to something healthy.