I’m Not Crazy! Overcoming the Stigma Around Therapy

“In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” ~ Johnny Carson

Therapist Help

Imagine the following scenario: You go running and roll your ankle. You hear a pop and are in great pain. It turns black and blue and swells quickly. You are concerned it is broken or seriously torn, but you fear going to the doctor for help. What will your neighbors say? Will they gossip about how weak you are for not just “getting through it” or figuring it out on your own? You decide to avoid the doctor, take some Tylenol, hobble around like nothing is wrong, and hope it will just go away on its own.

This example might seem foolish to you…why would you not go to the doctor?! It may seem downright silly to not get help when help is needed!  Likewise, when a person encounters trauma, addiction, abuse, or mental illness, it is of legitimate concern and often necessitates professional help like therapy. In the exact same way a broken or sprained ankle often requires the attention of a doctor, many mental health issues require professional help. And there is nothing wrong with that! 

Recently I had a client look me in the face and say, “I don’t belong here.” She felt she should not be in my office sitting on my couch getting help from a licensed therapist because she was not crazy. She had a fulfilling career, many dear friends, and owned lots of expensive things. She did not believe she fit the image, she had in her head, of someone who needed therapy. In short, she thought therapy was for people that outwardly looked like they did not have their life together and she was not one of them. It hurts my heart to hear the shame she, and other clients have felt for being brave and seeking help. 

When studying roadblocks to receiving therapy, Patrick Corrigan and Andrea Bink (2016) had participants report fear of being stigmatized was the leading factor for avoiding treatment. Participants feared they would be treated differently by their friends and coworkers, that they would encounter rejection or discrimination as a result of seeking out mental health treatment.  Most participants would hide their psychiatric status from coworkers, friends, and even family to avoid being the victim of stigma. Thankfully, in recent years–due in large part to social media attention around the stigma around mental health and therapy–it has become much more socially acceptable to receive mental health care. It is not uncommon to hear about celebrities and prominent figures seeing a therapist; many of them highly recommend it for every- and anyone! I applaud these men and women for using their influence to break the mold and speak up on the many benefits of therapy!

The latest statistics show that the amount of people seeking and receiving mental health support is increasing! In 2018, 47.6 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness…that is 1 in 5 adults! Thankfully, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 and 64.1% of U.S. adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in the same year. 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016. Millions of Americans experience mental health challenges each year and millions are receiving help by medical and mental health professionals!

Going to therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you are smart. Would you sit at home, alone, and let your broken ankle “do its thing” without getting help? No. You would make the proper appointments and follow the advice of the professionals so you could soon be running again. My hope, my plea, my job is to help my clients find lasting healing.  The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years people will struggle with an emotional “broken ankle” before getting help. Ouch! You do not need to suffer any longer. Make the call–get in to see a therapist today.

I felt sad for the client of mine, and any others who share her sentiments. Just because you receive mental health attention does not mean you are crazy. Just the other day a client, who begrudgingly started therapy at the insistence of their spouse, recently told their new employer that they thought everyone should go to therapy, after they experienced the personal benefits of therapy. While I acknowledge you may believe that going to therapy means you are weak, crazy, limited, hopeless, etc–these stigmatic ideas could not be farther from the truth. I know my clients: THEY ARE BRAVE. They are good people who see their worth. My clients–and those who seek help in other ways–are my heroes and I will always and forever shout that from the rooftops! We need to do away with any and all stigmas that therapy is just for broken, crazy people. It could not be farther from the truth! 

If you have been letting your emotional broken ankle heal on its own because you have felt you do not “belong” in therapy, the time to act is now. Allow a licensed, qualified, experienced therapist, to help you. Emotional health, healing and happiness are possible. Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville,Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Q&A: Why Did I Become A Therapist?

“We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth!” -Melissa Cluff 


Many of us evaluate the previous year to decide what we want to continue to do in the new year and what we want to do differently. One of the new things I want to do is spend time answering some of the  common questions that clients and potential clients ask me. I thought I would start by answering one of my most frequently asked questions–one that is a little more personal: Why did I become a therapist?

First, let me introduce myself. Although I was not born in Texas, I consider myself a Texan.  The fact that Texans had a lot of pride did not hit me until I went to Brigham Young University and saw many Texas flags proudly displayed in dorm rooms. In case you were wondering, I have never used a Texas flag as a decoration, and I also do not own a cowboy hat! I grew up in a large family and it has continued to grow with the addition of in-laws and nieces and nephews. Texas is where I was raised and it is where I returned after receiving my Masters degree from Oklahoma State University. When I am not working in my private practice, I enjoy traveling, hiking, working out, family time, and attending concerts and musicals. 

Growing up I thought I would become a teacher since I liked to boss around my younger brothers and enjoyed helping my mother with her pre-k lesson plans. In high school, someone close to me shared that they had a positive experience in therapy and that I reminded them of their therapist. That comment was the catalyst for me to seriously think about counseling as a career option and I enrolled in AP Psychology. Around that same time, I noticed that I felt drawn to the people who I knew were experiencing pain. For example, I yearned to reach out to the siblings of a student who had committed suicide, and to a football player who had been involved in a car accident where the other driver, a fellow student, had died. I wanted to go up to them and say something, but I did not know what to say or if what I had to say would be received since I did not know them.

In college, I decided to pursue becoming a therapist; I felt the “call” to be a resource for those that carry seen and unseen pain. I majored in Psychology and was on the path to getting a PhD, since I thought that was the only route to provide counseling. During my Sophomore/Junior year, I discovered MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy), which was a newer field, and learned that I would be able to see clients after earning a Master’s degree. I was thrilled with this information! Relationships were something that I wanted to focus on in therapy and becoming a LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) would prepare me well and support my desired direction. 

Graduate school was difficult and I had to put more effort into it than I have ever had to put into anything previously. Luckily, I knew that grad school was the means to my desired end of becoming a marriage and family therapist; I pushed forward and graduated in 2007 with boxes of well-worn, 3-inch binders stuffed with annotated articles, and textbooks. I knew everything I needed to know…or so I thought! 

It quickly became evident, in my first counseling job, that I needed further training–namely in the areas of sex addiction and the related trauma. When I had saved enough money, I pursued my certification to become a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing). Those certifications increased my confidence that I could be a reliable resource for people in pain. I have continued to seek out training in areas that would help me better serve my clients, and that are of interest to me. Although I never loved school, I have loved pursuing higher education through additional certifications and training opportunities.

I have been in the field of marriage and family therapy since 2005 and my passion for it continues to grow! One of my most cherished roles, as a therapist, is helping the people in my office see that they are lovable and have worth. A paycheck, job promotion, or waist size does not give a person more worth; an addiction, a struggle with mental health, or strained relationship does not take away from a person’s worth. We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth! 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share why I became a therapist. If you have a question for me, email me at melissa@cluffcounseling.com.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Re-Spark the Flame: Affection

“Sometimes a partner withdraws affection because he or she is struggling with stress, mental health issues, illness, or trauma, and they are inwardly focused and stop paying attention to you.” ~ Brian Jory

In most romantic relationships, physical chemistry usually starts out hot and heavy. The relationship is novel and exciting, and affection and physical touch are likely constant. But as time passes, that consistent craving for intimacy may start to taper off. What can you do if you find your relationship having less heat that you would like? 

By the time you come to the realization that your partner is not affectionate anymore, it may seem like it happened all of a sudden. In reality, the affection has been slowly disappearing for quite a while.  Physical intimacy, like daily kisses, may turn into every few days, hugs happen only when forced, and even sex becomes less and less regular. Relationships naturally go through stages; moving out of the honeymoon stage when your partner and intimacy is all you think about is normal and okay. You and your partner can be completely in love while not having sex every night or touching constantly. 

Why does decrease of affection happen in relationships? There are several reasons; naturally, adding children to the equation can result in a lessening of affection as the demands of childcare become consuming. Another reason is work and financial stressors that emotionally drain you or your partner. Additionally, it is sometimes easy to take your relationship or your partner for granted as other things demand your attention. Many people deal with illness, mental health issues, and all sorts of self-esteem matters that simply require greater amounts of attention than before. Some may become obsessed with a hobby. Others can be abusing alcohol or drugs. Others still are depressed and do not know it. So if your partner’s affection for you has decreased, please do not immediately take it personally or think your partner is being unfaithful.

Whatever the case is for you and your partner, just know this: You can get the spark back! Below I have listed several suggestions that I use with my clients, as well as suggestions from other relationship professionals. These suggestions have been written as if the reader is the one whose partner has rescinded affection. Regardless of whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the loss of affection, here–in no particular order–are several suggestions I would make to turn up the heat a little bit:

  1. Talk. The first thing is to talk about how the lack of affection feels to you. “Do you feel abandoned because of the recent (or not so recent) loss of affection in your relationship? Do you miss their touch or kind words? Express your own feelings rather than blame your partner. This shows that you respect their reason for pulling away from you and are willing to consider their feelings. Blaming them for pulling away may only drive them farther away.
  2. Looks department. It is a special thing to not feel like you always have to look your best about your partner. Your relationship is safe; you feel loved no matter what you wear or look like. However, if you are trying to re-spark affection, upping your game in the looks department every so often might do just the trick. Curling your hair or putting on extra cologne may take you back to the glorious dating days when affection was second nature.  Attraction is easy in the beginning of a relationship because it is all new and exciting, but as a relationship matures, you need to work at it and keep adding fuel to the fire of attraction to keep it burning strong.
  3. Identify Love Languages. I have written at length about Love Languages (links included in the references section below) because I believe they are a powerful key to strengthen any relationship. Know how your partner receives love. Speak his/her love language. 
  4. Give genuine compliments. It is so easy to be critical when you have been in a relationship for awhile. Oftentimes the bad is easier to see than the good, and you have to make an added effort to recognize your partner’s strengths. Though you may assume your partner knows things you like about him/her, I invite you to verbalize these positives to them. Remind your partner why you love him/her by giving sincere compliments. This is a sure way to break down walls and foster closeness!
  5. Express gratitude. In a similar vein, do not assume your partner knows how grateful you are for him/her. Express your gratitude for all he/she does!
  6. Initiate affection. If you are feeling distant from your lover, I recommend getting close…physically. Sit close. Hold hands. Rub his back. Kiss her cheek. There are so many ways to be affectionate without having sex; intimacy can exist without sex, and sex can exist without intimacy. Go back to your dating days when that physical closeness and constant contact was something you sought out. 
  7. Keep promises. It is hard for me to want to be close or vulnerable with anyone if I am questioning their priorities or loyalty. If you are like me, you want to know that you can trust your partner with your affection. Be worthy of that affection by following through, keeping your word, and being honest. 

Loss of affection in a relationship is not the end of the world or your relationship. The good thing about realizing your partner is not affectionate anymore is that it can be fixed. Talk about your feelings, consider getting “dolled up” every so often, speak your partner’s love language, give compliments, express gratitude, initiate affection and keep your word. The final suggestion I have for boosting affection and connection in a relationship would be to seek help from a therapist. I am trained in and passionate about healing relationships and will be your relationship’s number one advocate. Do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule a session!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Self-Care is a Family Matter

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” –Michael J. Fox

When you think of self-care, you might envision yourself with cucumbers on your face getting a massage. Or maybe you think of axe throwing, running several miles, or playing an instrument for fun. Self-care has been in the limelight with endorsements from celebrities and other influencers on their social media accounts. Self-care is important because it helps you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others, it produces positive feelings, improves confidence and self-esteem…the benefits to practicing self-care are endless (additional sources on the benefits of self-care are included below). But what about family self-care? What are you doing to make sure your family wellbeing is maintained and functioning optimally?

At the end of September, I wrote about fun family activities to get everyone involved in the nationwide holiday Family Health and Fitness Day. When practiced individually, self care can benefit you and I emotionally, spiritually, mentally, practically and socially. In like manner, when implementing on family self-care strategies, it will greatly benefit you to focus on each of these areas; it will keep your family healthy, happy, and united. The following are some suggestions for each of those areas:

Emotional:

  • Watch a move
  • Write each other positive notes
  • Discuss each others’ talents/gifts
  • Verbalize and talk about feelings
  • Draw self-portraits
  • Say, “I love you”
  • Spend time writing
  • Try a new craft

Spiritual

  • Write a gratitude list
  • Go outside
  • Talk about forgiveness
  • Write thank you notes
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Plant a tree
  • Practice positive self-talk

Mental

  • Read together
  • Draw or write stories
  • Meditate
  • Find shapes in clouds
  • Practice belly breaths
  • Go on a walk to find new things
  • Make vision boards
  • Try Headspace for Kids
  • Create mandalas
  • Make mindfulness jars
  • Mind strength games like “Memory”

Practical

  • Clean up
  • Declutter old toys
  • Assign chores
  • Make a grocery list
  • Learn about money
  • Make a weekly budget check-in
  • Make a weekly cleaning check-in
  • Do homework/study
  • Establish a morning/evening routine

Social

  • Play in the park
  • Call or visit relatives
  • Have family dinner
  • Play boardgames
  • Host a sleepover
  • Invite friends over
  • Plan a BBQ
  • Join a team
  • Organize a food drive
  • Discuss friendship and how to be a friend

Maybe by reading this list you have thought of your own ideas for one or more of these areas. Figure out what works for you and your family; what leaves you feeling recharged, connected, and happy? Do those things. And do them regularly. Individual self-care is a daily effort; staying balanced and connected as a family is no different. Carve out time for your family, make it a priority, be consistent, make it fun, and you will find that family self-care is the answer you have been needing for your family. Should you find you need help in increasing your family togetherness, please contact me today to schedule a session. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Resources:

On Love and Affection: When PDA is Okay

“A healthy amount of PDA allows the couple to express their affection to each other, and also to the world. Best practices include using ‘on and off switches.’ Continual PDA loses its importance, and makes others uncomfortable.” ~ Susan Winter

How do you feel about public displays of affection? Are you the type of person that loves snuggling, holding hands or kissing your lover, no matter where you are and who might be watching? Or does the mere thought of holding hands in public give you actual anxiety? Odds are that you fall somewhere in the middle. It is completely natural and okay to want to be affectionate with someone you love. In fact, when you cuddle with someone you care about, oxytocin–the hormone that fosters feelings of love, bonding, and connection–is secreted, thus earning its nickname as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone. But even though PDA is normal and feels good, just keep in mind that there is a time, a place, and a limit for what is appropriate!

Falling in love is wonderful. When it happens, you may want the world to know. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, you are likely to always hold hands and exchanging loving glances. Most onlookers will admire your newfound love fondly. I have written before about how all human beings have an innate need to be loved and have meaningful physical interactions with others.  But there is such a thing as too much of a public display of affection while anyone/everyone is watching. Here is a safe, and slightly humorous, rule of thumb: Ask yourself if your grandmother would approve. 

Let’s talk about the specific ways to display affection and whether or not they are appropriate in public:

  • Kissing. There are certain times it is completely okay to kiss the person you love–such as when you are greeting someone or saying goodbye. However, long, drawn-out kissing in front of others can make them feel like they are involuntarily watching a scene from a RomCom. 
  • Touching. The resources at the end of this post were unanimous in saying that it is always okay to hold hands with someone. An arm draped around someone is okay when you are sitting or casually strolling through the park. It is never okay to touch anyone in a private area in public.
  • Groping. Groping is never acceptable in public. Certain gestures are even illegal in public.
  • Tasting and nibbling. Reminder: Your face is not a lollipop, and you are not a vampire, so experts kindly ask you to refrain from licking or biting the person you love in front of others.
  • Electronic Affection. You should never text, post, or communicate anything intimately personal in a public forum or on any social media platform. Not only can this make others uncomfortable, but you may also embarrass the person you love.

PDA is commonplace in many places –like during your engagement or wedding day, at farewells and homecomings, at the airport when one is about to be deployed, at the movies (especially romantic ones), on the dance floor, and when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. I would venture to say that if you stay within the boundaries for the above actions, PDA is welcomed pretty much anywhere. But remember to ask yourself if Grandma would approve of how you are expressing your affection!

Showing appropriate levels of PDA can be healthy for a relationship. Being affectionate in public strengthens your love, shows a level of comfort with your partner, and allows others to identify you as a unit. Additionally, if things are not perfect in your relationship, PDA might be a way to spark connection again. PDA is really an unconscious form of staying connected; a brief kiss on the cheek, a hand placed gently at the small of the back, and an exchanged glance can get the heart pounding. This might even be the healing touch that can lead to amends or forgiveness in a relationship.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that not everyone wants to receive PDA. I have written at length about love languages (see sources below) because I believe in them. The fact is that, for some people, physical touch is the last way they communicate or receive love. For these people, touching in public may be very unwelcomed! Certain factors like personality, general comfort in public, safety, and regard for others’ feelings play a role in how someone interacts with their significant other in social situations.  I highly encourage you and your partner to openly discuss to what degree you wish to give and receive touch in public, and then to respect those wishes. That might sound counterintuitive, or even scarier than simply reaching out to hold his/her hand, but figuring out someone’s PDA comfort level is an important step toward understanding their love languages. Unwelcome touching can potentially damage a relationship and push your partner away–especially where abuse or addiction is associated with PDA. 

Even after the beginning stages of a relationship, PDA can help couples reaffirm their love and commitment to each other whether life is breezy or if it is a time of disconnect. All humans need reinforcement. If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship, please contact me to schedule a session. I am here to help. Remember that, when PDA is consensual, well-timed public displays of affection can provide a spark of hope and connection in relationships. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Reconnecting with Reality: 10 Tips to Kick A Phone Addiction

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A survey was recently conducted where participants were asked, “If you had to break a bone or break your phone what would you prefer?” The results were astounding: 46% percent of people would prefer to have a broken bone than a broken phone! Before the smartphone era, the average American spent just 18 minutes a day on the phone; today that figure is up to three hours. Three out of 24 hours of our day is being spent staring at a tiny screen…that is 1/8th of our day! Is that how we would prefer to spend our time or would we like to break that cycle and spend our valuable time on something more productive and satisfying?

The urge to pick up our devices is similar to other forms of behavioral addiction. Like gambling or shopping addiction, a small shot of dopamine is released in various regions of the brain through phone usage. That is what keeps us coming back for more, even when we know it is not in our best interest to do so. Instead of improving our lives, technology is actually getting in the way of us living and enjoying our lives. How can we overcome our addiction to distraction so we can focus on the things that actually matter? Here are ten practical suggestions we can implement immediately:

  1. Scheduled screen time. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, spend a quick minute checking your phone’s notifications and be done. Push back the alarm to go off every 30, 45, or 60 minutes. You can even ask for help and accountability from your friends and family; tell them you will not be responding to messages as frequently as you used to.
  2. Remove distractions from the home screen. Most of us have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc at the forefront of our screens. If we make those apps less accessible, we will not use them as much. Keep the apps that you want to encourage yourself to use (like those for reading or learning a new language) front and center, and banish anything you want to limit your time with to folders on your second page of apps (or if you have an Android phone, off the screen entirely).
  3. Disable push. An incredibly simple way to cut down on distractions is to turn off “push” notifications for as many apps as you can. Just head to Settings > Notifications to control your preferences. 
  4. Moon mode. On iPhones, there is a little icon of a moon if you swipe up to control brightness and wifi and whatnot. That little moon represents “do not disturb,” and it is kind of magical. It is a glorified silent mode, ideal for nighttime settings or undistracted time at work. Use DND and airplane mode to silence incoming distractions. 
  5. Use a filler. Instead of opening social media to scroll aimlessly, open a different app and be productive. Replace bad habits with good ones like learning a new language through Duolingo, creating flashcards for anything with Anki, self-reflection journaling with Vertellis, or using any number of apps to read or listen to a good book.
  6. Go old school. Many people use their phones as an alarm clock. But because the phone is easily within reach while in bed, many people find themselves scrolling right before bed and first thing in the morning. Cut that bad habit by reinstating your old-school alarm clock.
  7. “Alexa, do what my phone used to do for me.” You can ask these smart devices to play music for you, to check the weather, to read you a text,…the list goes on and on. Use Alexa instead of your screen!
  8. Grayscale. Time Well Spent, a nonprofit focused on changing our relationships to technology, recommends switching your phone to grayscale to make it less appealing. On an iPhone, find “Display Accommodations” and then turn on “Color Filters.” On a Samsung device, find “Vision” and then scroll down to “Grayscale.”
  9. Put it away. Unless there is an important phone call we are waiting for, we really do not need our phones within arms reach at all times. My dad leaves his phone on top of the refrigerator unless he needs it. Think about it–a smoker trying to kick the habit will still reach for a cigarette if it is sitting right in front of him. Ditto for phones; remove the temptation by stashing yours in your bag while at work or in a drawer when you want to have a real conversation at home.
  10. Don’t stop! Keep trying. Stay accountable. iPhones come with a built-in tracking system so we can see just how much time we have spent on any given app each day. There are also apps like Freedom, Moment, and Space that can help us see where we are spending our time and help us set limits. 

No doubt, Steve Jobs’ inventions, in the field of technology, have changed the world. But what most people do not know is he would not even let his children use an iPad. He told The New York Times, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.” Steve knew the power and addictive nature of these devices. So let’s be like Steve and limit our use of technology and break the cycle of addiction. The ten suggestions above can get us well on our way to getting off the phone and back to real life connection. If you are reading this on your phone, text or email someone you are thinking about. Let them know you care. Set a time to see them.  And then put the phone away.

(As always, if you find you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me today!)

Resources:


The Toll Lying Takes on Lovers

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain

Lying begins early in life. Children as young as two begin lying when they discover how powerful their words are. Lying can come naturally; you say your friend’s favorite shirt looks great, knowing how much she loves the ugly thing. You lie in job interviews to increase the chances of being hired. You lie to your children, promising ice cream later if they eat their meal first (although you have zero intention of following through). While this type of lying is relatively benign, prolonged lying can undermine the glue that holds relationships together…trust. Trust is the expectation that another person will not hurt you when you are vulnerable, and humans thrive on having meaningful relationships founded on mutual trust. Take that trust away and you have an unsteady relationship. 

Let’s classify what a lie is. I see it as intentionally deceiving someone, omitting important information or only telling half of the truth. A wife may lie about how much money she spent. A husband may lie about what really happened on his boys night out. The husband I referred to in my previous blog post on gaslighting lied to his wife about turning the lights down (thus creating an alternate reality). A lie can be about anything–from what a person said, to what someone did (or did not do); from whereabouts to motives to goals to grades. The bottom line about a lie is that the truth is purposely left out. 

If you have been lied to by your partner, you likely feel anger, shock, resentment, disappointment, sadness. The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. You might have a hard time saying it, but you also feel disrespected, humiliated…even violated. You have been because lying is a violation of your trust! Obviously, some lies are bigger and more devastating than others, but even small, little white lies that accumulate over time can make you feel like a punching bag.

Why do people lie?

According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a psychology instructor and clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health, misrepresentation and fibbing in relationships happens more often than you would think. Studies have shown that people lie frequently to those they care about most. Couples are telling each other little white lies all the time. But why? For starters, they have learned that telling the truth can sometimes start a fight. Although a little lie can avoid a fight temporarily, it is not worth the trust that is broken. Some people lie to save themselves from punishment or conflict, or to gain acceptance from a group or get something else they want. Others lie as a form of self-protection; they want to maintain their image or avoid blame or criticism. Sometimes it might just be easier and require less explanation to not give the full story.

You’ve been lied to. Now what? 

Let’s say you just found out that your significant other has been lying to you. You may wonder how to bring it up. Or if saying anything will even make a difference. Figuring out what the “right” thing to do in the moment is hard because you have been betrayed–which puts you on the defensive. Your instinct may be to lash out, or to humiliate them by calling them out on their lies. Although responding in these ways may give you temporary pleasure, they will not help in building the long-term trust you desire and deserve. Instead, try the following when responding to a partner who has been lying:

  1. Calmly point out the incongruity. Let them speak without becoming reactive and refrain from commentary until they have fully expressed themselves.
  2. Consider the why. Although you are understandably angry, instead try empathizing. See where your partner is coming from. People lie for a reason: insecurity, fear, shame, or because historically this was their way to survive and manage other past relationships. While none of this justifies the lie, trying to understand their perspective can help calm your own emotions and help you decide how best to proceed. 
  3. Establish boundaries. If you do choose to continue in the relationship, you have now established that lying is not acceptable.  Make it clear to your partner that you will only accept honesty. Encourage your partner to always tell the full truth, even if the truth may result in some hurt feelings (and then)…
  4. …Practice what you preach. Make honesty with your partner a conscious decision and a habit. Model the behavior you want your partner to exhibit. If you are ever tempted to fib or give an impartial truth (because many individuals tell small lies at time), don’t! Then give reason: “I am afraid you will be upset with me, but here is what I really think…” or, “It feels like it would be easier to lie to you, but the truth is…”; “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but since you asked, here is what I really think…” Talk it out. This will honor the boundaries you have established and create an open, safe environment. Hopefully this will inspire your partner to be truthful, too.
  5. Be consistent and patient. If your partner has been lying to you, remember that change is possible, but with time. Be patient with him/her and remember that consistent efforts to be truthful, even with the small things, will help telling the truth come more naturally. Continuing in this pattern will form a habit. When appropriate, remind your partner that the consequences of lying will never be worth the risk of being entirely truthful. For many people, finding a good, trusting relationship is a monumental life task. So if you have it, honor it, stick with it, be true to it, and be patient with it. 

Lies often start as self-preservation but generally turn to self-destruction. It is a fallacy to think that the consequences of telling the truth outweighs the risk of telling a lie; lies damage relationships. Research shows that small lies make it easier to tell bigger lies, which lead to more trouble. No matter the motive behind a lie, deceit is damaging to any relationship. Where lying creates distance and inauthenticity, telling the truth fosters trust and bonding, which strengthens relationships. So where trust has been lost, the most effective way for it to be regained is for the offender to understand the error of his ways, the vital need to be honest, and then to speak honestly, knowing you would rather have the ugly truth than a pretty lie. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is struggling to tell the truth , please do not hesitate to contact me personally. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Sticks and Stones Do Hurt…and So Can Words

Feeling insulted and damaged. Never measuring up. Walking on eggshells. These are just a few of many indicators of an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is the consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. I want to help you recognize this often seemingly invisible, yet very real type of abuse.

The definition of abuse is regularly or repeatedly treating a person with cruelty or violence. In discussing abuse, physical abuse (like shoving, cornering, breaking and throwing things) is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Emotional abuse is often devoid of physical violence; it is speech and/or behavior that’s controlling, punishing, or manipulative. This can include withholding love, communication, support, or money as indirect methods of exerting control and maintaining power. Emotional abuse might also look like someone controlling where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think. Spying, stalking, and invading your personal space or belongings is also abusive because it disregards personal boundaries.

You may be experiencing emotional abuse if someone wants to know what you are doing all the time or requires you to be in constant contact; demands passwords to your phone, email, and social media (digital abuse); acts jealous; frequently accuses you of cheating; prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family; tries to stop you from going to work or school; gets angry in a way that frightens you; controls your finances or how you spend your money; stops you from seeing a doctor; humiliates you in front of others; calls you insulting names; threatens to hurt you, people or pets you care about; threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing; threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you; says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”; decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat); etc.

The most common form of emotional abuse is verbal, though it often goes unrecognized because it can be subtle. A client recently told me that she remembered a session from years ago when I stopped her now ex-husband from telling her to shut-up as she tried to speak. She did not even hear him say that, but she remembered feeling her body tense up. Research has shown that there is so much more to verbal abuse than people realize; in fact, some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing it! Some forms of emotional/verbal use will undermine your self-esteem or make you feel inadequate as a way to establish hierarchy. 

Emotional and verbal abuse may be manifested outright or more insidiously in any of the following manners:

  • Using threats
  • Judging
  • Yelling
  • Patronizing
  • Criticizing
  • Lying
  • Blaming
  • Publicly embarrassing you
  • Ordering
  • Raging (showing violent, uncontrollable anger)
  • Belittling your accomplishments
  • Insulting your appearance
  • Digital spying
  • Tracking your whereabouts
  • Lecturing
  • Denying something you know is true (gaslighting)
  • Trivializing
  • Demanding respect (but not giving it)
  • Keeping you from socializing (isolating you)
  • Interrupting
  • Treating you like a child
  • Name-calling, even using derogatory pet- or nicknames
  • Disguising something hurtful or controlling by saying it in a loving, quiet voice, indirectly, or even concealed as a joke

Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is emotional and verbal abuse. There are innumerable signs of emotional abuse–unique to each couple and individual. If you fear you may be being emotionally or verbally abused, please seek help today. 

An emotionally abusive relationship can change you forever. You may feel powerless, controlled, worthless; you may question your memory, live in fear, change how you act to avoid upsetting your partner. Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. This is no way to live. Help is available and you DESERVE it. If you suspect your partner, family member or friend may be emotionally abusing you, contact a counselor, an advocate or a pastor for assistance. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website (thehotline.org) and chat online with someone right away. I will be posting a follow-up blog discussing what to do if you are in an emotionally abusive relationships in the future. Please, do not suffer through emotional abuse. You and your happiness matter. My door is wide open; allow me to help you! Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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When Someone Else Alters Your Reality: Gaslighting

Gaslighting:  The attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.

In 1938, Patrick Hamilton wrote a mystery thriller play called Gas Light, where a husband manipulates his adoring, trusting wife into believing she can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality. He does this by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, and then denying that the light changed when his wife points it out. From this the term “gaslighting” was born.

In the last few years, there has been attention around this term. Awareness has been heightened about gaslighting in the media, in politics, and in relationships. Also known as “crazy-making,” gaslighting leaves its victims questioning their very perception of reality.  I frequently see gaslighting in relationships where one of the partners battles an addiction; the supporting partner may suspect a relapse or regression, but the using partner may use gaslighting tactics to protect themselves by convincing the other that their instincts are wrong. My hope is to delve a little deeper into the specifics of gaslighting so my readers are better able to spot it and be armed against it. 

The phrase “to gaslight” refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society. Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the gaslighter a lot of power. Obtaining power and control is at the heart of gaslighting. 

In relationships, gaslighting typically happens very gradually; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is truly happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.

Gaslighting has several faces. The first is withholding–where the gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Second is countering–where the gaslighter questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. The third is blocking or diverting–where the gaslighter changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. The fourth is trivializing–when the gaslighter makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. And the final is forgetting or denial–when the gaslighter pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. 

People are not born gaslighters like some are born introverts or extroverts. A gaslighter is a student of social learning, or nurture. They witness it, feel the effects of it, or happen upon it and see that it is a potent, effective tool. Although some individuals gaslight intentionally–like my previous example of an individual trying to cover up a relapse or slip, in their addiction, from a partner–others may not even know they are being manipulative. I have seen some people unknowingly gaslight because they lack self-awareness and/or simply think they are expressing themselves directly and saying it “like it is.” Whether intentional or unintentional, gaslighting leaves its victims discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. They also question their own perception, identity, and reality; thus, the gaslighter gains control.

The following are common signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You frequently apologize to your partner.
  • You cannot understand why–with so many apparently good things in your life–you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is–even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person–more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you cannot do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual or a group. But, as I always say, this is not a life sentence. If you have been or are a victim of gaslighting or believe that you have used gaslighting in relationships, you do not have to continue that pattern. Get help. Learn how to break the cycle and create healthy relationships. I am a trained, licensed therapist, and I am here to help. My door is always open! 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Magic of Saying No

“Whenever you say yes to something, it means you’re saying no to something else.” ~Susan Biali

We all feel badly when we have to say no to something or someone.  It is so much easier to say yes when people need help–even if it comes at personal expense. Though selfless service is necessary and admirable at times, there are other times where it is more applaudable to say no. Saying yes to everything means you will be spread too thin and will not able to get things done well or at all; it is physically impossible to take on something new without slacking on something else!  This post will focus on the magic of saying no in hopes of giving you the courage to say so when appropriate.

(Disclaimer, I am not specifically referring to saying no in relationships regarding boundaries and physical intimacy–though that topic is incredibly important. I will write about this specific subject in the future. Instead, I am referring to saying no instead of yes when asked to take on additional responsibilities that you simply cannot accommodate.)

Whether you have been asked to help watch a pet or child, pick something up, drop something off, or take on additional responsibilities at work, you have certainly been asked to help. Oftentimes it feels like yes is the only acceptable answer, even if it comes at great personal expense. Saying no means you could potentially hurt, anger or disappoint the person you are saying no to. You may fear appearing selfish, lazy, or uncaring. You want people to love (or at least like) you. So you inconvenience yourself and say yes.

However, saying no is actually a sign of strength because it shows that you know yourself and your limits. It allows you to give of yourself fully, within your limits, and not overextend or exhaust yourself. Having and maintaining personal boundaries can build important relationships by fostering honesty, openness and trust. (I am not suggesting you immediately decline an opportunity to help someone when asked. I believe in the power of service and have written several times about its power.) Saying yes when the answer should have been no only leads to frustration and resentment. Learning to say no can be a magical skill when used appropriately!

Now, let’s discuss the steps involved in the art of saying no:

Step one: Honor your time and priorities.

Time is an extremely precious commodity for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you must choose to spend your time wisely. Even if you do happen to have some extra time (which for most of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want or need to spend that time? Does it honor what is most important to you? Are your priorities in line? If you are asked to take on a new commitment that will cut into your valued family time, it may make saying no easier.

Step two: Take a moment + Raincheck

When someone asks for help, instead of giving an immediate (most likely affirmative) response on the spot, say that you need to check your calendar and will get back to him/her. If you end up needing to say no, maybe volunteer yourself to help in the future when you are more available. This can assure them that you are willing and want to help, but are unable to at the moment!

Step three: Do not apologize.

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. Your time is your time. How you choose to spend your time is your choice. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about safeguarding your precious, finite time!

Step four: SAY NO.

You may cringe at the very thought of saying the abrasive, n-o word to someone. That’s okay! There are many ways around this that will still get your point across. Let’s say your friend asks to borrow your car, and you are less than excited about the idea. Here are seven ways to assertively, yet diplomatically, decline:

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”  

Notice that all of these suggestions are “I” statements. This puts ownership on you and therefore makes it more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

Remember, saying no does not mean you are an uncaring, selfish person. It simply means you know and honor your time, priorities, and limits. Saying no protects you, earns the respect of others, and frees you to spend your time doing what is most important to you. It is actually quite magical! Setting skillful boundaries is an act of self-compassion. It is liberating and it is your right.

Next time you are asked to help someone, consider your priorities and how you wish to honor your time, pause before answering, offer a raincheck, do not apologize if you are busy and cannot feasibly rearrange things, and if necessary, say no. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to spend it wisely, sometimes it will be necessary to say no! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions, and click here if you would like to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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