Balancing All the Above: Damage Control and Maintenance (last of series)

Damage Control

There are times when I know that I need to take a step back, shut down shop, and figure out how to fix things. At this point, things are already a mess. Like after an extended period of sleep deprivation, naps just don’t do the trick anymore. Something is going to have to be rescheduled or cancelled, because you can’t run on empty forever.

Maintenance

Maintenance is great but it can feel like a lot of effort when you first get started. There was a time when I didn’t really have any sort of strategic approach to life (not that it’s all organized now) and the idea of maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle seemed like too much effort. There are so many things that you can maintain – exercise routines, mental health and wellness practices, school performance, job performance, relationships etc. etc. etc. But over time, the payoff of maintenance has slowly been winning me over.  I’ve begun to switch things around so that maintenance is becoming the way that I approach life. The more regular and consistent your maintenance efforts become, the less effortful they are to maintain.

Damage control was previously my approach to mental health. For instance, I would use mindfulness exercises to clear my mind, but only when my ability to think clearly was seriously degraded. Slowly, I learned that continually practicing these exercises actually prevents me from reaching that point so often. I still do damage control, but I also do maintenance, and that is working really well for me. I don’t view damage control in a negative light, because the reality is that from time to time, things do become a mess. It’s okay to have to clean up.

But my goal is to engage in damage control less, not just because my life is running smoothly, but because I am handling life circumstances in a more efficient way. The progression isn’t always consistent across life. In some areas, I have become efficient enough to mostly require maintenance. In others, damage control is needed more often because the situation is new or [quite frankly] I just haven’t learned how to handle it well yet.

All of the above strategies have been useful at some point in my life. I often forget that other people are involved in the same processes as I am. I may be considering what I should do when someone has crossed my boundaries, while not realizing that I have crossed someone else’s. The process of self-improvement isn’t perfect and the goal of self-improvement isn’t perfection. The goal is to gain knowledge and experience, so that you can practice doing right by yourself and others. When something is balanced, it is equal. When you try to balance something, you try to keep it from falling. The latter is the type of balance I am talking about. And when something does fall, use whichever skills are appropriate in that instance and try to balance it again.

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Balancing all of the Above: Boundaries and Walls

A wall is a serious structure. You can’t just walk through them. Boundaries may be meant seriously, but they are not always taken seriously. While walls are obvious, the markings of a boundary are not always clear and often open to interpretation. It can be pretty easy to just disregard a boundary. Each, however, is useful for maintaining a certain level of separation and safety.

Walls

Walls are meant to block out the outside, and protect the inside. A window lets light in, and a door can let people in, but walls are impermeable. A wall is a serious structure, but people can put walls up in a hurry. I think there are situations in which it is important to put walls up, but this requires careful consideration and planning. Why am I putting this wall up? What do I want it to block out? Something like a restraining order qualifies as a wall. Although it is not always easy to build and maintain walls, it may be necessary for a short or extended period of time.

Boundaries

“You can come this far, but no further.”

Boundaries are a great tool. They allow you to value yourself and teach others how you would like to be treated. Creating boundaries is as simple as drawing a line in the sand. So they can be easily adjusted. It’s important to watch for those who try to adjust your boundaries without your say so. Take time to consider what each instance of boundary crossing means to you. It may or may not be intentional. You may dislike it, or it could cause you to reconsider just where you want your boundary to lie. They can be readjusted numerous times and also require a fair bit of determination to maintain, so boundary setting and management are valuable, lifelong skills.

 

It’s my thought that there are few instances in life where it’s fully feasible to put up a true wall. It may only be possible for a period of time. It might not be possible to put up a wall, even when necessary. When you do build a wall, make sure you have doors and windows in the appropriate places. Don’t isolate yourself.  Determining which boundaries are actually helpful and meaningful to you will take some time. Boundaries are hard to get right, for those setting them and for those encountering them, so don’t be too hard on yourself. With practice, you’ll get better at navigating your own, and others.

Balancing all of the Above: Navigation and Avoidance

“I bet you’ll never do that again.”

You might hear a phrase like this when something you’ve been involved with goes wrong. But a lesson learned can mean a number of different things. There are some things that I would not like to try again. There are others I would not try in the same way again. I seek advice from trusted people around me, and choose what to learn from each situation. Life doesn’t just teach us lessons. We can decide what to learn from it.

Avoidance

Avoidance isn’t always bad. Take time to consider the situation carefully and identify possible reasons for the negative outcome. You may choose not to do something again and that is okay. For instance, some people realize that a certain type of job is stressful to the point that it negatively impacts their physical and mental health. Deciding not to enter into a job like this again may be a very healthy decision.

Navigation

You may return to the exact same situation you were in. Now, you will have to navigate it. Navigating a situation involves knowing what resources would be helpful and which resources are available. Who do you need to support you? How can the knowledge you have gained from past experiences help you make different, more effective choices? How much time do you need, and how much time is available before returning to the situation?

Neither is fundamentally right or wrong. The skill of navigation will grow in importance, and so will avoidance. It can be equally as tempting to completely avoid one situation that we really shouldn’t, while wanting to jump back into another situation, thinking we are ready to handle it. Even if I choose to avoid a situation, it’s still important to reflect on it and learn what I can. And returning to a negative situation doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t learned my lesson. Sometimes it’s not safe to take your boat out on the water due to the current. Other times, with the right skills and support, you can navigate it.

Gone like Magic 2 – Transformed Anxiety

(Anxiety Series)

In the first magic blog I described how a full work schedule resulted in the disappearance of my low moods, at a time when I felt depressed virtually all of the time. Because I experienced low energy and motivation, I was surprised how constant engagement with people or some task made me feel less depressed, not more tired. However, once the job was over, I felt depressed again. Since then I have learned more about how activity and engagement are helpful in combating depression or low moods.

Recently I discovered something else that changed like magic. Last semester I was volunteering with an organization. I felt a lot of anxiety at that time, which influenced every part of my life including my volunteer experience. However, this position was different from other work/volunteer positions because I found meaning in many of the tasks I was completing. On the eve of my volunteer shift, or as I traveled, thinking about the project that I was going to work on resulted in something that I have never experienced before. My anxious energy transformed into excited and happy energy. If I remember correctly from my high school physics classes, all energy is just energy. It is only different because it shifts. For instance, potential energy doesn’t disappear when a ball drops. It simply becomes kinetic energy. Until this time, my anxious energy had only felt pure and potent.

My recent experience made me think of model and actress Naomi Campbell, who said that she always felt some nervousness before going on the runway, and that modelling was still exciting for her. This was interesting to me because I had only associated nervousness with dread, not enjoyment. She has said many times that she still loves modelling and the day that she doesn’t, we will not see her modelling anymore. Perhaps the fact that she enjoys modelling so much allows her energy to shift from nervousness to excitement.

Excitement about the tasks I would perform that day did not make my anxiety disappear. I still felt nervous of course, but the rest of the energy became positive rather than negative anticipation. It took me a while to recognize what was meaningful and exciting about the work I was doing, and that was when I experienced the shift in my energy. Let me tell you, it felt like a magic at the time. I was amazed because it had never happened before. I had only focused on reducing or eliminating anxiety. I have experienced positive anticipatory energy towards many activities, but I don’t remember it being transformed from or mixed with anxiety.  I had not considered the possibility of shifting it. It makes me feel grateful to be gifted with another method of improving my experience with anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience, so I hope that I can continue to learn how to shift my energy and gain more control over my mental health.

Why I think Anxiety has been Good to Me: My Experience with Depression and Anxiety

(Anxiety Series)

My first year of university was when my anxiety levels first got out of hand. A lot of good things were happening, but many difficulties arose and I was facing pressure to remain in a program I very much wanted to leave. My anxiety levels became overwhelming because of school, and anticipation of this anxiety caused me to become very sad and eventually depressed. The doctor told me I could try medication and/or counselling and I chose counselling.

Sometime later, I was given a temporary diagnosis which included major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. Normal activities were very difficult at that time. School seemed to require so much energy and I found little enjoyment in anything I did. I was used to low moods because I had always experienced them as a child, although not to that extreme. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point, but the levels that I was experiencing were very unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me. The physical manifestations of anxiety were probably the most surprising and worry inducing.

At the time, I think I dreaded the anxiety more than the depression, but I see now that my anxiety could be considered useful. When I was deeply depressed, I couldn’t feel joy or happiness. I had a hard time feeling in general. Therefore I had no motivation because there was nothing to look forward to. Everything began to lose meaning. Had I been depressed only, I likely would have given up on a lot of things, including school. Anxiety made me fear consequences while depression made consequences lose value. Anxiety made me study, go to class, church, because I couldn’t be comfortable lying in bed with chest pains and loud, racing heartbeats. Anxious thoughts made me escape into texts books, rather than staying miserable with my own thoughts. Anxiety made me plan for a future I didn’t even want. As terrible as it was, I can see that anxiety was what pushed me forward at that time in my life.

I hated being anxious, and I still do when the symptoms are more severe, but depression alone would have stopped everything. It’s funny because I think the depression came as a result of prolonged anxiety. My mind and body probably had had enough of being so on edge. But the anxiety continued to interrupt all the effects of depression, just enough to keep me from sinking into a pit that I couldn’t get out of. I like to think my brain was doing the best it could to bring balance to a completely unbalanced situation. The level of anxiety that I experienced was serious and could have led to other issues if not addressed, but I am able to see the value in it as well. The pain wasn’t pointless. Now that I am in healthier condition, that level of anxiety has no positive effect. I also rarely experience that level of anxiety now.  But I believe that at that time, in those conditions, despite all the pain it caused me, my anxiety was good to me.

Gone Like Magic

Like Magic – that’s how I used to describe any positive effect had an unexpected cause. So when my stomach is soothed by eating mango ice-cream after being stuffed with sushi, it’s like magic. A couple of years ago, and prior to taking a job as a live-in summer camp counselor, I was struggling to manage varying degrees of anxiety and depression. The duration of the camp was 3-4 weeks, and I thought it would be difficult for me since I would have little time to myself. However, after a week, while I continued to feel anxious, feelings of depression had virtually disappeared. This was particularly surprising because during that time in my life, I struggled more with depression than anxiety, so its absence was highly noticeable. I had little time alone, but quite a bit of leisure time. We definitely were not overworked.

So depression was gone like magic, but as far as I remember, it came back like clockwork once the camp was over. My time at the camp and a few other similar experiences have taught me a lot about how depression works for me and the most effective ways that I can manage it. Recently, I was telling my doctor that I had begun to realize how some of my normal thinking patterns and behaviours – which I previously thought were helpful – actually compound the symptoms of depression. As I discuss in another blog, once I begin to head into a deep depression, these thoughts and behaviours actually prolong that experience. Working at the camp made a difference because, from morning till night, my thoughts were oriented outward rather than inward.

To be clear, I’m not saying that depression is a symptom or product of self-centered thinking. I’m saying that for me, feeling depressed caused me to self-isolate, which meant most of my thoughts were focused on myself. When someone is injured, the pain is legitimate. Once the injury has been addressed, excessive focus on it will only compound the pain of the experience. In the same way, the pain of depression is legitimate. But focusing outward, at least for me, has been massively helpful in making my experience less painful and more manageable.

I still do feel depressed at times, but when I get stuck in a depressed state it lasts for a week at the most and not months. Everyone’s experience with depression is different and what works well for me now would have had a different effect when depression was constant and not recurring like it is now. I also didn’t know that my depression would become less severe. I actually thought it would stay that way or get worse, not realizing how much of an impact my environment was having on me. So while I didn’t have much hope for a positive outcome, I did have important tools which helped me to improve myself while the dynamics of my environment slowly began to change. I’m grateful to God for giving me the willingness to find ways to do better, even when I didn’t know how to feel better. I suppose the phrasing I use now makes my actions sound commendable, but at the time I experienced it as a desperate search for pain relief. However, I am intentionally recognizing how valuable it actually was. I’m also grateful for persistence, which allowed me to stop and avoid maladaptive coping behaviours that would have blocked the benefits of the improvements I eventually made.

I’m equally grateful for the changes in my environment, as long as they took to emerge. Once they began to match up with the changes I was making on the inside, I was able to reap benefits I hadn’t even expected. Until recently, I didn’t realize the extent to which environmental factors were diminishing the fruits of my efforts. The eventual effects have been great, but I had no idea they were coming. They just showed up – like magic.

Depression for Me: A Brief Description

When I was deeply depressed it felt like my world was shrinking, and the real world was receding. Now that I am not depressed, my own experience is difficult for me to identify with. The low moods I experience now don’t compare. Being deep in depression was like being in a parallel world. I will describe a little bit of the worst of my depression.

Nothing really feels real. I feel like I should take off my gloves, but I don’t have any on. I want to push harder or move closer, but there’s nothing more I can do. I feel as if there’s something between my fingertips and anything they touch. I rub my fingertips together, but nothing comes off.

I rub my eyes to make them focus, but they don’t. I feel like I’m viewing the whole world through a lens and not my own two eyes. I close my eyes and open them. I try again, this time closing them more tightly. Everything still looks strange.

Time proceeds in a strange manner and moves much too slowly. I move slowly too. I think in layers and I speak slowly.

I’m slow to start my day. Simple choices are burdensome and normal tasks become overwhelming. There’s nothing I want to accomplish, and I have no more ideas on how to get what I want – which is to feel normal like before. I’m very very tired in every way possible. The tiredness is sticky and no matter what I do – more or less – I can’t shake it.

It’s like being in a world where the sun is a bright, sterile white, not yellow. Everything light looks white and everything rich in colour ranges from grey to black. The sun’s light is not warm, it’s just bright. Too bright. A lifeless white.

This description focuses on some of the experiential aspects of depression. I don’t touch on many other aspects of depression, such as hopelessness, because it’s very unpleasant for me to remember and describe. At the time that I experienced major depression, I didn’t know that I would get better and I don’t think anyone told me I would. Counselling provided me with many tools to cope and improve, but I wasn’t sure if and when they would work. I’m glad I stuck around to find out because I’m in a much better place now. I still struggle but it’s nowhere near as painful. Most importantly, I can feel happiness and joy, which is what makes life feel worth living.

It Didn’t Work so I Stopped

A brief look at the interaction between my experience with depression and anxiety and a few of my coping behaviours

Childhood to Grade 8

I experienced low moods and excessive worry as a child, but it was nowhere near as frequent or impactful as it later became. Fear and shame were also familiar feelings. The outward effects of these experiences were normalized as part of my behaviour. My family acknowledged this to the extent that they understood me to characteristically exhibit problematic behaviours. It was not recognized that I was exhibiting characteristic behaviours that were problematic for me and symptomatic of broader, underlying issues. I was often in a “bad mood” and my mother would complain about how easily my moods shifted. Anger was another emotion that hallmarked my childhood. I was considered obstinate and badly behaved, but I had a strong sense of loyalty to myself when I was young. I would tell myself that I was right and they were wrong, but couldn’t quite avoid the shame that stemmed from issues deeper than my own behaviour. My parents had very strict rules for how my sibling and I were to behave in public, and I was very socially anxious by the age of twelve or so. Outside my home I was mostly quiet and well-behaved.

To cope with my emotions I listened to sad and, less frequently, aggressive music. I preferred gloomy weather and spent a lot of time alone. I separated myself from my family to avoid conflict and felt isolated from kids my age. My siblings and I were all home-schooled until high school and we lived in a rural community so I had relatively few opportunities to interact with kids my age. Sometimes we would be enrolled in activities, but seeing our friends once in a week was considered enough.

Last Years of High school, First Years of University

A lot of worry and pressure had built up during my last years of high school. By the time I was enrolled in University and being pressured to stay in a program I had originally chosen but wanted to leave, I was having difficulty managing feelings of depression and anxiety. I kept this from my friends and had difficulty communicating it to my family for a couple of reasons.

They didn’t believe that I was struggling with my mental health or were simply silent on the subject and had little knowledge about mental health in general. We didn’t have a good relationship at that time, and I also found it difficult to explain what I was experiencing or what they could do to support me. Against my family’s advice I sought help through the school’s services and was able to make better sense of what I was going through. Looking back, I don’t believe I would be able to accomplish anything I have now, had I not sought help then.

When I was younger, I was punished for expressing anger, as this was the privilege of the parents. I hated it, but apparently at some point I internalized that rule. In order to avoid expressing my anger to others, I turned it towards myself, thinking that this option lacked negative repercussions. Somehow I had lost my sense of self-loyalty and this led to thinking patterns that sometimes disturbing, even to me.

I was filled with many emotions but couldn’t seem to experience any of them coherently. I listened to emotional or sad music in an effort to feel more connected to myself. I didn’t realize that while it served my need to feel connected, it was actually prolonging cycles of depression and anxiety. Gloomy weather had a profound effect on my mood and for the first time, I didn’t like it.  I also felt disconnected from objects in the physical world and this made me feel disoriented and hopeless. It was like there was an invisible barrier between my hands and anything they touched, and I felt like I was viewing everything with a camera lens and not my own eyes. At that time I still felt that spending time away from others was helpful, because it was very difficult to make myself appear happy enough to interact.

Now (Summer 2018)

I still don’t like overcast days, but they don’t affect me as much anymore. I can certainly appreciate them when the weather is super-hot and I’m spending time outside. I stopped listening to sad music for the most part. I understand this better know. Before, I was using it to evoke distinct and concrete emotions in response to feeling distanced from my own emotions and the physical world. It also made me feel a sort of connection, or emotional intimacy, in response to the loneliness that had begun in childhood. I used to do this especially when I felt myself becoming deeply depressed. I wanted my internal experience to match some element in the external world, which helped bring some sense of order.

I used to listen to sad music every night because I struggled to fall asleep. But as my experience with depression has changed, it no longer brings me any comfort at all. I see now that it only brings the anticipation of comfort because I relied on it for so many years. Only recently I realized that it had not only begun to make me feel sadder but apparently more anxious, because I would feel increased chest pains. After testing it out a few times, I was able to see how my coping behaviours were prolonging and in some cases creating states of depression and anxiety. Although they had been effective before, I could now lessen or completely avoid depressed or anxious cycles by discarding old habits. Although I still never go to sleep in silence, I listen to some form of speaking – tv shows, sermons, long YouTube tutorials – on low volume, which distracts me from anxious thoughts while still allowing me to fall asleep. I also avoid isolating myself when I feel overwhelmed by sadness or fear.

From this vantage point, the way that I engaged with my fear and sadness was effective, but it was never a good idea. Those habits were very natural for me and dated back to my childhood, so it was hard to see how it was harming me. As with anything, it’s important to be willing to try new approaches, to see what works and what doesn’t. Not all the old stuff has to go and not all the new stuff has to be accepted. But it’s important to give even uncomfortable changes a chance. Unfamiliar as they may seem, they could be for the better.

The Right Distractions are the Best

(Anxiety Series) – Late Summer 2018

Right now, distractions are a major part of my approach to coping with anxious and negative thinking. Of course it’s not the only thing. Improving relationships, changing what I eat, my faith, and community involvement have all been unbelievably impactful on my mental health. I can work on any of these aspects of my life throughout the week or day, but I also have distractions built into my daily routine. I used to worry about distracting myself to often, fearing it would prevent me from getting to the underlying cause of what I was experiencing. I didn’t want things to get worse without even noticing.

With that in mind, I avoid becoming so distracted that I begin to feel disconnected from myself. I received a lot of counselling for my mental health and at this point, I’m generally aware of my mood, how I’m feeling and what I need to do – if anything – to address it. However, I make an effort not to think too much about it. I no longer constantly check-in with myself like I did when I was first learning about my mental health. If I find myself experiencing low mood and little motivation for two weeks, that’s okay. I stick to my routine and do things that help pick up my mood. I let the weeks pass without worrying too much about when and if the low mood will go away. My chest hurts often, but that is okay, the doctor already ruled out heart issues. I avoid positioning my upper body in ways that increase the pressure on my chest, especially while sleeping, and am mindful of people and situations that stress me out.

Distraction works for me now, as opposed to before when I would feel depressed for long periods of time and constantly struggled with suicidal thinking*. I was always focused on trying to feel better. All throughout a day I would focus on avoiding the symptoms of my mental health issues. Recently, as my mental health improved, I realised that I would need to drop that tactic if I wanted to continue to get better. While it was somewhat effective before, it no longer fits my mental health needs in the present. I realized that I was trying to find some kind of enjoyment of self-improvement in every activity I was doing throughout the day, from the food I was eating to the music I was playing to the chores I was doing. In moderation this could have been positive, but the thoughts were too constant. I felt trapped in a mindset that was critically assessing the value of all my actions. Perhaps such a mindset feels normal for some, but I realized I personally didn’t like it. The goal of every activity was to adjust my mood. While I no longer struggled with constant anxiety and depression symptoms, I hadn’t considered adjusting my old strategies. As a result I was overly focused on my emotions and feelings and was mentally taxed by it.

So back to distractions – without denying what my situation is, I don’t pay it too much mind. My thoughts are most anxious when I’m tired, so I never go to sleep in silence. I focus more on school or work when I begin to feel depressed or anxious. I often don’t know why I feel sadder or more anxious at certain times compared to others, but trying to figure it out hasn’t been helpful for me. I now try to manage my mental health in a general rather than direct way. So I don’t practice mental health when I feel poorly – I make mental health part of my routine.

Distractions don’t have to be enjoyable. They just have to occupy my thoughts and consume time. Balance has also been hugely important. I have to manage how much I get involved with to avoid tipping my mental health in the other direction. I know where I’m at but I don’t worry about it. I distract myself often and for me that is it okay. In fact, for me it works pretty great.

Emotional Abuse and All of Us

Valentine’s Series

What does Valentine’s Day mean to you? For me, any holiday that I celebrate is a good reminder of what is important to me. It’s a time to celebrate what I have been working hard to do all year. So I celebrate not only my efforts to love others but my efforts to love myself. I get very excited about the second accomplishment, because I had lost the ability to do this for a while. It’s still a struggle somethings, but like any other day, Valentine’s Day is nice chance to congratulate and encourage myself.

My negative experience showed me the importance of self-love, giving me a deeper understanding than I had before. I mentioned in the last blog that the whole experience was not characterized by emotional abuse. But a number of other negative factors, as well as personal issues, created a lot of stress in my life. It was more stressful than even I was aware. When it ended, I felt such a weight come off my shoulders, which surprised me. I had been successful in seeing the positives in everything, but to a fault. It contributed to my inability to see what was really going on and the effect it was having on me.

So What Did I Learn?

Boundaries

Be careful in setting these and make sure they are really meaningful to you. Once people see that they can get away with crossing your boundaries, it’s almost as bad (and in some cases worse) than not having them in the first place. It’s more fun to cross a boundary that has been set, so that makes people with shifting boundaries a target.

Boundary crossing is also serious, especially when enacted by someone in authority like a parent or employer. When someone in authority willingly disrespects a boundary, they are not only exerting their power, but robbing you of your own, putting you at a double disadvantage. I did not recognize boundary crossing for what it was, partially because I was continually asked but not forced to do things that made me uncomfortable. Going forward, I will pay greater respect to my own boundaries and be less concerned with how someone else feels about them. Others do not always know or need to know why certain boundaries are in place. When someone continually tries to convince you that you should be comfortable with something you are not, this is a warning sign.

Be realistic

Seeing the bright side is good, but it wasn’t useful when I tried to see everything that way. While I do believe that there is value in every experience, every challenge is not necessary. Just because I can grow from an experience, it doesn’t mean that I should stay in that situation. When trying to manage depression and anxiety in the past, it was helpful to attempt to appreciate the value in every negative that I was facing. I would also tell myself that things would be okay when I didn’t genuinely believe it. So I essentially lied to myself. Now that I am doing better, I can handle more truth. I also understand that it is important to hold truths in tension. I give myself permission to appreciate that yes, this situation is allowing me to grow in positive ways, and yes, this situation needs to end.

Test the Waters

Oprah always says her mentor told her to believe someone the first time they show you who they are, which is cool if they give you a chart detailing all of the relevant information. It’s not always clear though. Someone else said that you will find out who a person really is when you don’t give them what they want. That’s what I did, although it was very uncomfortable. I soon found out what I needed to know.

Reach Out

I did a pretty good job with this, but I see that it would have helped a lot if I reached out in other ways. Once I had a concrete issue to deal with, I felt it was acceptable to get an outside option. But while I was confused and trying to work through the foggy details of my own situation, I felt that my concerns should be kept private. I was under the mistaken impression that I would be introducing bias if I asked for outside opinions. I didn’t realize that neutrality wasn’t a realistic option. Once I stopped coming into contact with the person, I realized that my interactions and conversations with them biased my opinion in their favour. I see now how valuable it is to get outside opinions when you are conflicted about something.

Reaching out is not just useful when you experience emotional abuse. It’s also important when you feel you are causing emotional abuse. This goes with anything, so when you need help determining if someone is trustworthy or if you are taking advantage of someone’s trust, reach out for help. If you can find a safe person to discuss it with, it may be better than waiting for a distinct negative event to take place. Any one of us can abuse another, though it is difficult to admit. And it doesn’t have to be intentional to be harmful. Let’s all try to be healthy, not only by surrounding ourselves with emotionally safe people, but by being emotionally safe ourselves.

As difficult as it was, my experience was a gift. I would not have learned what I did by reading about it. Afterwards, hearing other people talk about stories of emotional abuse made more sense to me than some of the research. If you are experiencing something like this, hopefully the combination of my experience and the research can help you interpret what is going on. But remember that no matter who you take advice from, you still have the power to make your own decisions. Be honest with yourself and be caring to yourself. Make decisions that free you.