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5 Signs Your Relationship is Toxic


Toxic relationships seem to be at the forefront of some people’s minds as I meet with individuals. It seems like many are suddenly awakened to the reality of the status of their relationships and are weighing whether their relationships are healthy or toxic. Toxic activity is harder to identify than some other types of behaviors in poor relationships because the words of the individual doing you harm do not match with the actions of the person doing you harm. Relationships such as these can be confusing because it is hard to define unhealthy behaviors when there is no physical abuse, dramatic events, and other forms of gross misconduct. I liken toxic relationships to a food allergy such as peanuts. When suffering from a food allergy, there are times you cannot get the oxygen flow you need and feel like you will choke to death. Sometimes you cannot control exposure to the allergy, but you will do all you can to limit the exposure because you know the affected outcome could be fatal. Unfortunately, many people have not learned to identify the nature of their relationship as toxic. It feels like being around individuals who are toxic to you drain the life out of you, but many times we do not identify it as the person that is causing the reaction. Many times we equate our feelings to our own issues and not the other person. Both food allergies and toxic relationships share similar negative traits listed below:

1. You make decisions out of fear of the outcome.

Many times people with a food allergy will choose to not eat food for fear of losing their ability to breathe. When you are in a toxic relationship, you choose your activities based on how it will negatively impact your relationship. You fear the toxic individual’s negative response to whatever you do, who you invite, and their response to you during the activity so you carefully choose your time spent with or without the toxic individual.

2. You find yourself unable to respond in a healthy way to a toxic individual’s accusations because nothing you say is validated as truth.

Sometimes when we have had a food allergy reaction, we cannot get relief from the symptoms in our own home and have to make a trip to the emergency room to get the treatment they need to relieve their constricted airways. Nothing done in the home for the allergy is changing the body’s airflow. Toxic relationships can make you feel as if there is nothing that you do or say that will change that person’s perspective of you because no matter what is done, you are always to blame. Many times the only way you can free yourself from the blame and shame of the relationship is to seek the help of someone outside of your relationship, such as a counselor or trusted adviser.

3. You feel the life is drained out of you after spending time with the person.

Toxic relationships slowly drain the life out of you like a toxic poison. What was once a life-giving relationship is slowly transformed into a relationship that sucks the emotional life and well being out of you. Sometimes seasons in life can cause the nature of relationships to change, and you need to plan accordingly. The same is true with food allergies. We can suddenly begin to experience allergy symptoms that were not previously present. The food allergy develops over time.

4. You feel weaker than you used to be, and that is reflected in the depression and lack of confidence you now experience in your personal life.

Toxic relationships cause you to doubt yourself because the toxic individual rarely apologizes, frequently blame shifts and acts as if you are victimizing them. If a person is regularly told confusing messages that are not consistent with how they view themselves, or how other people view them, that confused individual will do one of two things: a. Become hyper-vigilant and anxious with their interactions with others as a means of trying to stave off a bad relationship experience, or b. Become more passive and depressive because they feel as if nothing they do or say will impact how things are felt by others or how they feel about themselves. This can be similar to how a food allergy sufferer can experience their ailment: hyper-vigilant and anxious to contain the problem or too passive or powerless in their self-monitoring because they feel like whatever they do will not be enough to stave off the reaction.

5. You are expected to be giving, be loving and respect the boundaries of the other individual, but they fail to do the same for you.

Food allergies can suddenly develop in an individual and are no respecter of persons, but people who you give a lot of your time and energy should be. Do not let another person tell you that you are not worth good and do not push aside the needs you have in the interest of another. No relationship is healthy when one person does the majority of the giving, and the other does not. Entitlement can sneak into our relationships when you are giving, and the other party is not, and entitlement is the birthplace of disrespectful, rude, and uncompassionate behaviors.

Beloved, there is no reason you should be allowing a toxic relationship to continue to steal your life from you. You are of value, and you should not be allowing people to hold important places in your life who are stealing life from you. The important persons in your life should be life giving and honoring.
Isaiah 43:4 The Message (MSG)

When You’re Between a Rock and a Hard Place
43 1-4 But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.

If Love Always Leaves a Mark Than Lack of Love Leaves Key Holes

I have been grieving loss this week on many levels as I grieve with a friend whose teenage son suddenly died, and I went to see the movie The Shack. It was hard to separate out the pain of my friend from that of the main character as they had both experienced the sudden loss of a child. I was struck by many statements made throughout the movie regarding love, but one statement struck the counselor part of me, “Love always leaves a significant mark.” I agree that love does leave a mark, but it made me also I think of how a lack of loving, nurturing relationships also leaves marks; actually, it leaves key holes. The holes we have cannot necessarily be visible until one analytically looks at the areas of our lives where we keep making the same mistakes over and over. For example, maybe I cannot say no because a lack of love left a hole; a lack of love to the valuing of me was what I received, and I choose to value others over self because I lack the ability to love self. That hole of protective love and nurture may have extended to inappropriate and abusive relationships with family members and friends. On the opposite side of the coin, a child who was enabled to be self-focused by parents who refused to set loving boundaries for that child in ways such as nonexistent boundaries or abusive boundaries will grow to be an adult who continually makes selfish choices and leaves a trail of relationship tears. It is as if the hole was a keyhole that was supposed to receive a love key and remains locked up until the key of love is released into that hole. Leaving a significant mark of love is no small thing. It requires purposeful choices in our daily living to love people in ways we may have never experienced growing up, and how does one make those changes when they don’t even know where the hole is located in their life. God says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” When we seek wisdom, God says he will give it to us, but many times we do not ask God where the holes in our lives are located and where to find the help that will help fill in that hole. I challenge you today to ask God where the lack of love and nurture in your life have created holes in your life and to begin to ask him what his wisdom is for you to begin to fill in that hole. If you are tired of cycling, he has answers to fill the holes lack of love has created. They may not be answers you like, but he has answers. He wants to leave a mark of love on your life.

Romans 15:13New International Version (NIV)
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!


Everyone has that one friend who is always going to be late, will cancel plans at the last minute, or says they will do something that you know will never happen. Maybe that person is you because of issues from your past that you have never dealt with thus far. I have to admit, there was a time when I would agree to do things I did not want to do, but I would follow through with doing what I didn’t want to do, As a result, I would be frustrated, exhausted, and drained. I feared people’s rejection and would honor what they needed more than honoring what I needed. I had to build my core emotional strength via learning to face down hard truths and learn to give myself time to process information in my head before I could begin to say no to people without feeling shameful. Which response is your most common response?
1. Do you not do what you say you are going to do because you felt controlled as a child, and so you make excuses for what you are not doing to not feel controlled?
2. Do you allow too much into your life, in turn, cannot meet your expectations?
3. Do you agree to something and then when something better comes along, choose self over honorable behavior and cancel the first agreement?
Each of the above makes those we with whom we have relationship feel invalidated and experience a variety of other feelings. If we want to be honorable people who feel safe to those around us, we must start dealing with the relationship sabotaging choices we make with others. Your self-worth is tied to how you treat self and others, and we need to recognize that we are choosing to damage our integrity by repeatedly doing a behavior that makes us feel unsafe to others. If you want to be respected, you need to follow through with actions, not words and if you want to feel powerful, you may need to explore why you give away your power. Being a person of integrity is a powerful thing that creates a line of truth in our life of right and wrong ways to treat self and others. If we cannot walk the line, it’s important to understand why we cannot.

Ecclesiastes 5:4 New International Version (NIV)
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

Minimizing Nightmares


Nightmares are not quite as frightening to me as when I was a child, but I still do not like the effects they have on me as an adult. I can wake up in a bad mood, anxious, agitated, etc., if I do not process the dream as I head into my day. When I was a child, my recurring nightmare was being on a conveyor belt headed toward the belt drop off, and a witch, who looked like the wicked witch of Oz, floating above me would cackle above my head waiting for me to drop off the end. It was a horrible nightmare as a child, and I certainly did not have the skills I have today to know what to do to deal with that sense of powerlessness that dreams evoke. However, I still wake up disturbed on the matter, and I have to do extra self-care to move my emotional state toward feeling powerful again. Here are my tools for dealing with bad dreams because adults still have bad dreams, too.
1. I am careful what I watch on television because visual images can stimulate my brain to evoke more of the same. Science suggests that electronic images can disturb our sleep if we watch TV or go on the internet one hour before sleep.
2. I have a regular bedtime routine that includes peaceful relaxation at a specific time each night. An atmosphere of peace lowers my stimulation levels and creates a more restful sleep. I find reading relaxing, and I make sure I read something peaceful before sleep.
3. I fill my mind with good imagery. Science suggests daydreaming can influence what type of dreams I have. If I imagine myself to be powerless, I will, in turn, have powerless dreams, but if I daydream about being powerful and peaceful, I am likely to have peaceful dreams. I had the witch dream and another dream over and over as a child because I would think about it a lot before I went to sleep. My grandmother taught me to write stories in my head and the more I wrote stories in my head, the less the nightmare returned.
4. I pray and meditate on good things before going to sleep, so my mind is filled with good things before I go to sleep.
5. If I have a nightmare, I tell someone the dream when I can do so because getting it out of my head seems to clear it out of me faster than letting it rest in there.
6. If I have a recurrent nightmare, I talk about it with one of my therapist friends so as to process what the themes are presenting in the dream. My personal belief system is that God can talk to me in my sleep, but if it is a nightmare, what is the spiritual system that is trying to influence me?
7. I choose to not give the dream power over the rest of my day by making conscious choices to play positive, upbeat music, meditate on positive, upbeat things and choosing to find joy in my morning. I will not allow the dream to take my power, so I make choices that will invite power into my emotions including praying.

It would be lovely if we could completely control bad dreams from happening, but we can certainly create habits that inhibit them from occurring or from having power over us. When we are children, we are dependent upon our parents to help us create a powerful environment, but when we are adults we choose what we give power in our life.

Psalm 4:8 (NIV) In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Recently, a rare bird has been spotted in my neighborhood and neighbors have spent the last weeks hosting hundreds of bird watchers from all over the United States and Canada. Over 900 visitors have visited and signed the guestbook, and neighbors are all a little confused over the fascination that would cause someone to travel thousands of miles to view a bird. I have to admire their passion that drives them to spend time and money to seek out that which fulfills their dreams. How are you at investing in your dreams for your future? Do you spend time and energy on moving toward your dreams or do you just wish you could move toward your dreams? For most people, they know what their dreams are, but they don’t know what keeps them powerless and unmoving. Powerlessness can be likened to an invisible chasm in which you don’t know where it starts and you don’t know where it stops. Therefore, you wait until the fog clears to get a better view only to realize that the only way you are going to get a clearer view is to change your perspective. You need to go higher above the fog line by inviting the higher power of God into your sight line, or go deeper below the surface you are standing on and get below the fog line. Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do for ourselves is to understand what is the below the fog line; the aspects of our past and that of our parents that keep us from walking forward. I usually do a family genogram with people during our first information gathering session where I draw out the family tree on the whiteboard for people to see the feeds from their past that get into their sight line. Rare is the person that doesn’t see something that they never saw before as their history it is now in their sight line on the whiteboard. Rare is the person that does not have fog removed from their eyes when they seek to understand their past from a different perspective. Sometimes one just needs to see things below the fog line to get clarity on how to move forward. In my case, one of my empowerments came from understanding how repeated patterns of treatment from my abusive grandmother caused me to interact with my world, bond with my world, share in my world,etc. When I came to see that much of my perfectionism was tied to the beatings and verbal abuse I received for mistakes I made as a child, I could finally learn to take the fog of perfectionism out of my sight line. Before digging deeper and going below the fog line, I knew I was a people pleaser, and I knew God did not want me to live there, but there was trauma tied to mistakes that needed to be rooted out so that trauma responses were not fogging up my sight line. God wants us to achieve our dreams. He desires to us to flourish and grow because he is the one who created us. He is cheering us on to walk in power and authority and move toward our dreams, but we may have to look at some things from our past that are hidden below the surface so that we can clearly see how to walk forward.

Psalm 20:4 “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”
Psalm 33:11 “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
Psalm 37:4-5 “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

A Full Vase is Harder to Break than an Empty Vase


Recently, one of my clients made the statement, “a full vase is harder break than an empty vase, ” and I was again humbled to sit in the presence of genius. I sit with and walk with clients who have wisdom but have never had the keys handed to them to unlock all that is within them, and that day was one of those days. I, in turn, scribbled that phrase down to later come back to it and asked permission to blog about it because I like to meditate on phrases that catch my attention. I have no idea whether this fact is true in the world of science, but it is certainly true in the world of emotions. When we have filled ourselves with life-giving water, we are harder to break than when we are empty, and that is why we need to constantly be refilling ourselves where the stress of life has drained us. Jesus says he is water in John 4:14 and that he will fill us up when we fill ourselves spiritually by prayer, meditation and reading his words, but how else do you need to fill your vase so you don’t break easily? Life is stressful, and if all we do is pour out water on others and tasks, we are likely to have more stressed out/out-of-control moments in which we feel like we are breaking. I can remember one season in my life when I was caring for two preschoolers and was volunteering in many other positions, in which was a lot of pouring out of me and not a lot of pouring into me. Life was downright hard, and I remember being very frustrated with my reactions to people because I felt out of control; yes, the therapist is sharing that she felt out of control. Getting ourselves to the full position is not an easy process. Many times clients tell me that they do not have the energy to go out with friends or take a long bath, but the reality is you do not have a choice if you don’t want to “break easily.” When does the benefit of being full outweigh the cost of being empty? When we learn we are worth giving care to self instead of giving ourselves the punishment and lack of value we grew up with in our childhood, and when we learn that the care of self is just as valuable to God as the care of others is to him, then we will choose to fill ourselves with life. The choice to value self will only occur on a consistent basis when we change our perception of self and we can change that perception when we begin to embrace how our creator really views us. How does the creator view you?
This is Ephesians 3;18-19 in the passion translation;
Then, as my spiritual strength increases, I will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences – the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Jesus, the Messiah in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is His love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement, beyond academic knowledge – this extravagant love pours into me until I am filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!