My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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Understanding Anger in Men

Does he have an anger problem?

Anger can be a confusing emotion to understand. Does he really mean the things he says and does when he’s angry? How do you know when his anger is justifiable or becoming a problem?

couple on bench

Anger is a normal response to frustration, stress, disappointment or hurt. Anger is necessary to our human experience- it alerts us to injustice and motivates us to take action. Anger is useful in protecting others and self when in danger. But unchecked anger can be the root cause of chaos, mayhem, road rage, domestic violence, child abuse, and mass genocides. Anger is such a powerful emotion, it is worth the time to understand it’s role in the lives of the men we love.

  • Anger is Secondary. It’s important to understand anger as a secondary emotion, instead of primary. Anger may feel and look like primary feeling, but it’s not. Anger is always secondary, and is caused by hurt first. We become angry when we sense a betrayal or put-down or dismissal. Different things can trigger anger for different people, however the stimulus felt is always a perceived hurt.
  • Anger is a response to overwhelming feelings of pain and threat. All people experience overwhelming feelings from time to time, but it is how we behave with our anger that really counts. The kind of anger that intimidates, threatens, violates, insults and manipulates is never justified or ok. Figuring out how to recognize and manage anger in a healthy way is always the goal.
  • Often women who love angry men make excuses for their partner’s anger. They say, “Well, he’s under a lot of stress at work,” or “That’s the way he was raised,” or “It’s just part of his personality.” Women sometimes feel so afraid of their partner’s angry outbursts, they do anything to avoid upsetting him. This leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

In my 15 years counseling couples and individuals, I have found that there are two types of men with anger issues: one type that experiences shame and regret over his angry outbursts, and one that doesn’t. Both types of men can be abusive with their anger, but only one will care enough to do something about it.

The Repentant Type

The man who regrets his angry outbursts will not only apologize for the things he has said or done, but will also take consistent action to change. Repentance is a humble acknowledgement and deep sorrow of the hurt that was caused and a total change of heart. Evidence of this change is consistently seen by behavior changes. This often occurs through some sort of intervention, like confessing to other supportive people, seeking counseling or psychiatric treatment (not as scary as it sounds, btw), etc. The turn-around is measurable and sustainable. This type usually has something else going on underneath like unresolved grief, PTSD, or many other things that I’ll address in the next blog called, What’s Really Underneath His Anger.

The Non-Repentant Type

The man who uses his anger as a weapon of control, however is unlikely to feel truly sorry about his anger or the pain it causes. He may be unwilling to empathize with the hurt others feel, or even acknowledge he is responsible for it. The Non-Repentant Type may say that he is sorry, but he uses this apology to buy time or manipulate others to get what he wants. His behavior doesn’t show consistent markers for humility, responsibility, mood modification or desire for change.

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So what can be done? If you are a woman who loves a man with an anger problem, you may be asking if you can do anything to change things. Yes, you can. The first step is getting the help you need to be safe and you can click here for info. The second is getting the help you need to set appropriate boundaries, and you can click here for info.

If the man you love has anger issues, you may feel scared- like you’re walking around on egg shells hoping you don’t say or do something to upset him. This is no way to live. The truth is, that he will feel much better once he addresses his anger issues, and you will feel much better too. Anger doesn’t have to rule your household. You can have peace again.

What if he is unwilling to get help? This may be where you are at right now. You know that if you were to ask him to get help for his anger problems, he will become upset, defensive, blaming or worse… threatening. If this is you, I can understand why you have delayed in setting boundaries with him. However, things will never get better unless you get the help that you need and stop living in fear.

Nest week, I’ll be covering the problems that masquerade as anger, giving you a better understanding of what is really going on down inside the people you love.

Your Life Changing Moment

Have you ever had a moment of enlightenment when all of a sudden, the world seems to make sense? The marry-go-round stops. Your vision clears. The noise silences. And you knew something for sure. Like, for sure, for sure. There are a few times in life that we can all point to, where a word spoken at the right time simply transforms our life. It’s the light bulb moment. It’s the angels singing. It’s the come-to-Jesus-moment. It’s enlightenment.

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My bible study (btw, I like to pronounce bible like a southern woman… bobble study…) has been studying truth- things like core beliefs and how truth makes a difference in our lives. We sound like philosophers pontificating. We seriously need port, cigars and an MDiv to make us official.

Even if you’re not religious, you probably know the interchange between Jesus and Pilate before he was sentenced to death by cross. They talked about this very issue. When Jesus was taken to this Roman Governor’s Palace for questioning, Jesus said to Pilate, “…the reason I was born and came into this world was to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Then Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?”

Good question, right? What is truth, anyway?

Simply put, Truth is aligning your thoughts with Reality. Reality is the picture you take on your iPhone listed as “Original”- with no filter. Our experiences, addictions, traumas, and belief systems see reality with different filters. Looking at life with a warped filter affects how we think, behave and relate to others. But seeing reality filter-less makes life a whole lot clearer.

Enemies of Reality

  • Denial– the refusal to believe something is true even when substantial evidence proves it. Denial is especially favored in relationships where the truth seems too hard to accept.
  • Pride– believing that being right, best, brightest or biggest is more important than being honest with self, God and others.
  • Shame– the belief that the pain of being wrong, weak or less-than is too crushing and must be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of truth.

 light at the end of the tunnel

The Psychology of Enlightenment

  • First Comes the Light: The light is sometimes so bright, it blinds. It might even hurt, like a sunny day without sun glasses. I’ve been in a room with someone I love, hashing out a problem, when the truth of what he/she says feels like lightening hitting. The truth is, I said or did something that was wrong and hurt my loved-one. When I come to the realization that I was the one who caused the problem,  I can’t argue my way out of it. I can’t excuse it or justify it. It is just true. It is just reality. I would be foolish not to accept it. I don’t have to like it. And it never feels good. If I’m a first-adopter of this truth, I tuck my tail without much growling, and I ask for forgiveness. If I’m slow, however, I sulk and mope and argue and then come around to the shuffling-feet-muttering-I’m-sorry- you-were-right-I’m-gonna-work-on-that stance.

Living in reality, and accepting my part in it, might mean swallowing my pride, but that is better than being foolish. Can I get an Amen?

  • Second Comes the Power: Once I have accepted reality, and my part in it, I am able to move forward in power. Years ago, my counselor said to me, “You haven’t forgiven your dad, yet.” Incredulous, I listed all the ways she was wrong (denial) because I couldn’t stand to be less-than a good Christian girl (pride) and because being a bad Christian girl would be too heavy a burden to bear (shame.) Once my counselor pressed me a little further (over the course of a month), pointing out the signs of my unforgiveness, I realized she was right (denial lifted) and I realized I was the one with the problem (pride turned to humility) and my problem was normal (shame turned to acceptance.)

Once I could identify the burden I was feeling, I all of a sudden, had the power to do something about it. Enlightenment delivers energy that empowers its adopters for transformation.

  • Third Comes the Freedom: Accepting reality is always a humbling experience. Sometimes we have to apologize or admit we were wrong. Sometimes we have to change course or ask for help. It’s hard. But it’s the only way to empowered and free-living. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Once I accepted my problem of unforgiveness, and I felt empowered to change it, I then became burden free. All that was left was acceptance and peace. In the matter of a few days, the burden I had carried for 20 years was shifted into empowered freedom, all because I aligned myself with the reality of my problem. The truth. I don’t mean that I didn’t have healing work to do, or communication work to do with my dad. I did. But, I had a totally new perspective and power on HOW to heal and communicate. Aligning yourself with the truth of your situation never results in a crushing defeat. Instead, it results in ultimate peace, and an -it’s-going-to-be-ok faith.

light unto my path

Telling the Truth

I’ve been on the other side of Truth Telling too. A woman can tell her story with crafted niceties explaining her marital problems. She may say they have a communication issue, or just don’t see eye to eye. She is obviously in a good deal of pain but feels hopeless she can do anything about it. The more she goes on, I hear troubling phrases like, “he has a temper,” and “not always truthful,” and “I don’t seem to do anything right.” And the more she talks, the more I feel a knowing in my heart and my head that there is more to the story, that something is going on that she is not admitting. I ask a few more pointed questions about what exactly she is experiencing at home. She gives half-admissions, which are enough for me to know the truth. And at the end of our time together, I softly say to her, and sometimes with tears, “My friend, your husband is abusing you. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

And then the flood gates open and she is hearing the truth spoken out loud that she has always know but was too afraid to admit. Denial is broken. She weeps because for the first time in a long time, she has aligned herself with the truth, and the truth is slowly setting her free. The truth is weakening the deception of “everything is fine,” and opening her to the possibility that God has a different plan. A better plan. A plan of healing and loving, and no harm.

Once she accepts the reality that she is a victim of financial/sexual/physical/emotional/psychological abuse (women who come out of abusive relationships can usually identify abuse in each of these areas) she can have the power to change her situation.

Sitting in a room when this kind of lightening strikes is the reward of my work. There is nothing like it on earth. That moment when time stops, eyes lock, and two souls are bound by the truth that settles down over the room. That’s when I feel God.

It’s magic. It’s love. It’s grace.

light on the journey

Actions Steps toward Enlightenment

  • Be open to honest feedback – instead of being defensive or overly sensitive, seek out honest feedback and take what is useful.
  • Let go of sacred cows– inventory the reasons why you keep your filter on, and see what destructive people, habits, thought patterns need to go.
  • Test your Belief System– you might be believing something wonky about yourself, God, or the world around you. Give some effort in determining what you believe and the effects of your belief system on your life.
  • Talk to Somebody– not just anybody, but somebody helpful and trustworthy. Letting other people know what you’re going through solidifies the truth in your own heart.

He is Awful to Me, But I Still Stay: What to do if This is You

Do you recognize that your guy is not being good to you, but you just don’t feel you can leave?  Many women feel this way. They feel trapped between two bad options, 1)leave him and possibly make things worse, or 2) Stay and live in misery. Is this you? Maybe you’ve tried marriage counseling and waited patiently for things to change. Maybe you recognized that you were part of the problem (which is always the case) so you worked on breaking your own co-dependent patterns, but you don’t see him working on his stuff. Maybe he’s made promises he isn’t keeping, or the same old abusive or addictive behavior keeps coming back.

 

But you decide to stay anyway.

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What your friends and family say…

Your friends ask you, Why are you still with him? You don’t deserve the way he treats you!

And you nod and say things like, “I know, I know, but…”

Your mom shakes her head and says, “Sweetie, you shouldn’t put up with this.”

And you nod and say, “I know, I know, but…”

You DO know that he should treat you better, but you DON’T know if you deserve better. Your self esteem has taken a hit over all these years.

So you stay. And stay and stay.

For all the women who are staying, I hear you. Once you get home from coffee with your friend, and hang up the phone with your mom, you start silently answering her questions. They probably go something like this:

Why You Stay

  • The kids. You tell yourself that you can put up with anything to keep an “intact home.” You don’t want your kids to go through a divorce. You know that his punishing silence, his verbal abuse, and his coldness will have a negative affect on them, but you just can’t see how divorce would be any better.
  • I’m not ready. Oh My Laundry, if I knew the secret to readiness, I would sell it on e-Bay. But I don’t’. Every woman must decide when she is ready for something different, something better, something true and pure and holy and good. I know that I have repeated the same old broken cycle over and over again in my own life. All people do this. I will keep on doing this until one day I say to myself, “I’ve had enough. No matter what it costs me, I’m not repeating this again.” Like the prodigal son having a come-to-Jesus-moment, the switch is flipped and I’m ready for change. I’m not sure how many cycles you will have to repeat before your come-to-Jesus-moment, but I know for certain, when you are ready, it will happen.
  • Things will get worse. You say to yourself, “If I start saying no, enough is enough, and stop- he’ll make things worse for me.” You’ve always known this.  That’s why you quieted your voice and needs long ago. Intuitively, you have known that if you started speaking up for yourself, following through on your boundaries, and acting as if you really mattered, he was going to pull an even bigger stunt that would trump your boundaries and fulfill your greatest fear of abandonment.
  • I can’t make it on my own. You say to yourself that you’ve become so dependent on him financially and emotionally, that you just can’t see how you could make it on your own. You think to yourself that independence would be impossible to sustain.
  • I Still See Hope: There are times that the dream of him changing blinds reality. Even though evidence shows otherwise, you want to believe that there is still hope that he will change. That he will really love you the way you need.

 amy's coffee

I am not writing this to talk you out of staying in a destructive relationship. Those kind of lectures just make a person feel guilty and week. GUILTY and WEAK, you are not! Through my work with women in destructive relationships, they must go through many cycles of deciding to stay-leave-stay-try-stay-pray- before they feel spiritually and physically released from their destructive relationship. I’m writing this to give you some coping strategies while you stay.

  • Pray. Everyday. No, don’t pray for your marriage. You’ve done that already. That’s a tired old record with a scratch. Pray everyday to have the mind of Christ. To be aligned with God’s word. To see God’s path and make bold steps to follow it. To be strengthened in hope, in faith, in love. Pray to cast out the worry, fear, self doubt and depression. Pray for spiritual and psychological protection. You ain’t got time for depression and abuse anymore.
  • Get Active. Feeling physically strong goes a long way to help feel emotionally strong too. Any act of kindness or effort toward yourself makes a difference, no matter how big or small. Walk, bike, swim, lift weights, join a class.
  • Read books on Co-dependency, Love addiction, and destructive marriages. Recognizing some of your own patterns and reactivity will help you make better choices in the heat of the moment. You know you can’t change him, but you can become the smartest, strongest, and best version of yourself possible.
  • Pray. Oh yeah, did I mention that already? Well, this time, ask your friends to pray for you too. There are spiritual things, behind the curtain of this material world that will not change unless your peeps pray for you. Call your praying friends to start praying specifically for the things you need. Asking friends for support is essential.
  • Invest in Your Own Thing. While you stay, make sure you are giving priority to your life, career, kids, and/or future. Get that extra education you need, go for that promotion, retrain and retool. Do something that broadens your world and your impact in it. Investing in yourself and your future gives you necessary power to re-infuse that syphoned-off self esteem.

Many women who decide to stay in destructive relationships feel impossibly trapped- like no decision they make is the right one. Well, I want to encourage you, that if you’ve decided to stay, for now, that there are still things you can do to help yourself. Any effort you put into helping yourself, even if it feels small, will go a long way.

Abusive, narcissistic, destructive relationships are terribly difficult to survive, and impossible to sustain while maintaining your own mental health. However, until you decide enough is enough, use these tips to help yourself day to day.

 

Ten Secrets to Understanding Entrepreneur Depression: and What to do About Them

If you’re reading this, it’s because you or someone you love is a bright, talented, motivated person with big ideas… and possibly at risk for depression too. If you’re familiar with entrepreneurism, and the personality that often accompanies it, you’ll know that failures common to entrepreneurialism can cause depression. 

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Entrepreneurs often feel alone in their endeavors, their challenges, and yes, even their emotional ups and downs. They recognize they are a little different. They know they are not like the rest. They are a little more driven, a little more obsessed and a little less content than the average person.  However, every strength twins as a weakness. Every positive has it’s negative. And every driven, high performing, hard-working entrepreneur has a down side. Often that down side is depression. Here are the top 10 problems common to entrepreneurs that lead to depression, and steps to turn it around.

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Top 10 Problems Common to Entrepreneurs

1.      Feigned optimism. Entrepreneurs need others to believe in them for their ventures to succeed. Often, they don’t feel like they can show doubts, fears or insecurities because it will lead others to doubt. Hiding these feelings compounds them and makes them worse.

2.      Impossible Goal Conflict. Entrepreneurs feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They feel trapped into the impossible task of making investors, employees and family happy, often feeling like they fail at all three.

3.      Future Tripping: Entrepreneurs’ minds may frequently review all the worst-case scenarios, trying to find imaginary solutions to things that never actually happen. Resting, meditating or staying in the present actually feels lazy and unproductive to them. Unfortunately, future tripping is a fast track to a depression crash.

4.      Musterbation: Entrepreneurs often feel a sense of being over responsible for too many things and to too many people. These things are largely out of their control, but they try to control them anyway. Their impossible expectations of perfection sound like, “I must be my best,” and  “I must make the right decision,” and “I must not let them down.” They musterbate themselves into a hole, leaving little energy for creative problem solving.

5.      Rumination: Regret can be a real killer if it is not effectively used for forward learning. Entrepreneurs have to collect a few failures under their belt in order to qualify as real entrepreneurs, right? But belaboring those failures can negate their usefulness.

6.      Chronic Anxiety: Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat and is considered desirable as it primes your brain for peak performance. But Chronic, unresolved stress increases the stress hormone cortisol and affects brain functioning, and can increase the occurrence of mood disorders and physical illness. Entrepreneurs can go from one stressor to the next without taking necessary time to debrief.

7.      Risky Business: The challenge is what excites the entrepreneur, but an environment fraught with interminable risk of failure can haunt the most positive among us. Starting a new business often requires a serious amount of debt in the beginning. The pressure of being indebted can take entrepreneurs to their breaking point.

8.      PTSD. Seriously. I’m not even joking. Once an entrepreneur has tasted painful, dream wrecking failure, traumatic residue is left behind making current risk seem bigger, scarier and insurmountable. But the scale of the current problem is a lot less than the scale of the emotional reaction.

9.      Hypomanic Let Downs: Sometimes entrepreneurs’ ambitious, little-to-no-sleep, hyperactive, get-er-done high life comes down. Down off the high. Whether it’s after a launch, or after a great accomplishment or a less than fantastic result, the high ends in a low. They leave their team, they go home, and the let down is real.

10.   Isolation and Lack of support: It’s no surprise to an entrepreneur that it’s lonely at the top. And at the bottom too, for that matter. They feel like they don’t have a “trusted someone” to talk things over with, or who truly understands the pressure.

Well, that list was depressing.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know that the same passions that drive you, can consume you too. It’s necessary to put those passions outside of yourself just long enough to take care of yourself. Here’s how.

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So What Should You Do to Cope?

  1. The older, the wiser and the more seasoned among us would say, “Take a One-Day-at-a-Time approach.”
  2. Be honest about the way you’re feeling. You can be honest about your insecurities and still be strong. Seriously. It’s a thing.
  3. Instead of musterbating and ruminating, take a day to play. Do something enjoyable, for Pete’s sake. Remember, you’re not God so you don’t have to be perfect.
  4. Instead of anxiously asking yourself, “What if this happens,” or “what if that happens,” tell yourself, “Whatever happens, I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve done hard things before, I can do hard things again.”
  5. Anxiety kills creativity.  So instead of fueling chronic stress, treat it to a doctor’s visit.
  6. When in doubt, run it out. Remember physical exercise is your brain’s friend. And you like your brain. You want it to work well.
  7. Meditate. This is a skill that can be taught and learned, and can rejuvenate a tired mind.
  8. Self-worth doesn’t equal net worth. Be kind to yourself before you’re a success. Don’t make self-love conditional on your success.
  9. PTSD requires a skilled clinician to treat it well. Treatment doesn’t have to take months and months. Depending on the circumstance, PTSD can be treated relatively quickly.
  10. Reach out to others in similar boats. Tell your story, and let them tell theirs. Make sure you are actively involved with other people who have similar passions and experiences. Spending time together will help you recharge.

I’ve talked with brilliant, motivated, skilled people who, because of facing too many failures too many times, started to consider suicide as a way out. One man told me that his experience of bankruptcy felt so hopeless and humiliating, it drove him to consider ending his life. His thoughts truly scared him. He didn’t know he could drop so low, but he had. It was then, that he reached out to a counselor and some family members about how he was feeling. He took a bold step to get the help he needed. Today, he is running a very successful business and is just about ready to sell it for 20 times the amount he started with.

If you are an entrepreneur and have faced feelings of depression, I hope you know you are in good company.The world needs your creativity, your vibrancy and your stick-to-it-tive-ness. Don’t let another day go by without giving yourself the support you need.

When Couples Counseling Isn’t Working

We all know that communication is key to happy relationships. I teach interpersonal communication and conflict resolution classes and I know the positive impact communication can have in the couples counseling session. But what about the relationships that just refuse to improve? That no matter how many communication skills are learned, progress just isn’t made?

Some relationships are so entrenched in destructive patterns, that no manner of communication can fix them. When improved communication does not improve a relationship, I usually look to deeper reasons of toxicity.

When Communication Skills Don’t Work

Communication skills can solve a host of issues, help with understanding, improve problem solving and build relationships. But there are some things it can’t do. Communication, by itself, can not help a couple when…

  1. There’s a secret– sometimes relationships can not improve because one partner is keeping a secret. These secrets range from hiding an affair, a gambling addiction, a financial crisis, or an entire secret identity. If honesty and trustworthiness is not at the core of a relationship, it is doomed. Communication without full honesty is just lying to someone.
  2. There’s a lack of empathy– sometimes a partner simply can not or will not feel empathy for the other person. One partner refuses to put him/herself in the other person’s shoes because it makes him/her feel weak or vulnerable. This type of person can learn complex communication skills, but without compassion, the relationship will fail. Communication without empathy is just talking at someone.
  3. There’s a power imbalance– some relationships adopt a hierarchical structure where one person has more power than the other. This partner uses his/her hierarchical dominance to control the other person. Equal treatment, privileges, or priorities are not given to both partners. Communication without equality is just talking down to someone.
  4. There’s abuse– abuse comes in a lot of forms. Psychological, religious, financial, physical, sexual, emotional abuse occurs when one partner intimidates, harms, takes advantage of, or manipulates the other for personal gain, control or dominance. Communication without safety is just talking abusively.
  5. There’s apathy– some relationships consist of one highly motivated person and one apathetic person. The motivated person feels all talked out, and wants to see real action. However, if the conversations don’t result in tangible change, then communication is useless. Communication without follow through is pointless.
  6. There’s addiction– if addiction is present within the relationship (alcohol, prescription meds, marijuana, gambling, porn, etc.) counseling will offer little help until the addiction is addressed and treated. Communication without addiction-recovery is sickness.
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If you find yourself in a relationship where mere communication is not helping, then put your energies into becoming as healthy as possible. Make a commitment to yourself to invest in your emotional, spiritual and physical life. In the face of feeling the sorrow and anxiety of a difficult relationship, give yourself some nurture and friendship. Ask God to give you clarity and comfort.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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