Category Archives: Relationship Coaching

Gaslighting 101: Changing the Subject

rock-cliff-high-tableau-mountain-731140I sometimes become haunted by news stories. Usually stories of injustice and abuse. Of course, I do. They’re close to my home. They touch my heart and remind me of what I clawed my way out of.

It’s not good for me to focus so strongly on negativity. I’d be better off becoming obsessed with meditation. Maybe I should be re-reading a book from my treasure trove of positive thinking books. Yet here I am, with more fodder for my writing. Obsession leaves no room for any other actions.

At any rate, I am consumed by the news detailing the latest public figure accused of sexual harassment/sexual abuse/child molestation. My intense scrutiny comes at the reactions to the people speaking out and telling their stories. I see gaslighting in the reporting and I saw gaslighting in response to my most recent posting, Telling Your Story: Gaslighting and Mystified Oppression.

Gaslighting takes many forms. One is to re-frame the subject. Re-framing is simply a fancy word for changing the subject. In this case, many are attempting to change the discussion from one of abuse into one of politics.

Gaslighting is often fascinating when I can get some distance from the exchange. You can look to logical fallacies as one explanation of gaslighting. Logical fallacies are errors in logic and thinking.

As I go back through the list of logical fallacies, there are so many in the reactions to my writing. And when someone is illogical, there is no discussion. All of these are attempts to change the subject and throw a lot of dust around the issue.

Several men wrote hostile responses in regard to my previous blog post on this subject. They resembled political commentary. Raging about politics, attempting to turn the speak outs from people speaking their truth into leftist politics versus right-wing politics. I explained my position in my return response.

Frankly, this caused some degree of rage in response. Rage is a common comeback to you when you don’t give in to gaslighting. It’s interesting. When one technique didn’t work, was a second and third. Attacking my logic, my politics and then my character. This is what is known as an ad hominem logical fallacy.

People are not communicating. They might respond from something deep inside them. Or they might be attempting to derail you from your side of the conversation. At any rate, they are not responding to reality.

None of which applies to the fact (The FACT) that women and men are speaking out about the wrong done to them by people with some power over them.

Just in case you wondered, speaking out is not political. It’s personal.

Okay, there are some who say the personal is political. If so, this is not red versus blue. One group of people want to keep the world safe for predators to roam. We can call them, the pro-abuse party. And the other side wants to make the world unsafe for predators to roam. We can call them, the anti-abuse party.

And right smack dab in the middle are those who want the space to speak out and tell their truth. Not your truth. Not my truth. Not the truth of the news media. Their personal truth.

All right, I’m being too literal. There are gaslighters who want to protect themselves from the consequences of their behavior. Others want to protect some idea, some prestige, some power or something. Your truth threatens to take something they value away from them. That’s not political, it’s personal.

The second gaslighting response was a legalistic one. It’s still an attempt to re-frame the discussion. Change the subject. “If he did it.” “All claims of harassment/abuse should be investigated.” “And whoever did wrong should be punished.”

There is a threat implicit in this. Here is the threat. If you speak your truth, you will be investigated. And if we can find any fault in your story, you will be punished.

Just so you know, if anyone investigates you long and hard enough, they will find something wrong. None of us are perfect. You might yell at your spouse or fart in the living room. Whatever. Public scrutiny is terrifying.

When I responded to this man’s thoughts, he behaved much like the first man. He became enraged and attacked me. He threw in concepts like “personal responsibility” without context.

Whose responsibility? The victim or the perpetrator. Then he attacked my logic, my motives, my character, my whatevers. Ad hominem. If you have no argument, attack the person. Or create confusion.

People are telling truths that happened years, even decades ago. There is no legal remedy here. No one is going to be arrested, charged, tried and sent to jail. That labels this a bogus argument, meant to derail the conversation.

How can a victim be the responsible party? This too is gaslighting. Blandly talking about abuse as if there is equal blame to excuse the actions of the guilty party. This is called a false equivalence because these two behaviors are not in any way equal.

I’m reminded of another recent news story that I think demonstrates personal responsibility. It’s the story of the air force and the church shooter. The air force failed somehow when the reports on the Texas killer never made it to the federal database. This database might have prevented that gunman from buying a gun. We won’t ever know since people seem to be able to get guns when they really want to.

Instead of gaslighting, excuse-making, or defensive posturing, an air force spokesperson took ownership of this. Admitted a mistake and vowed to find out how it happened. I’ve noticed this topic disappeared from the news. Taking responsibility. The Air Force, in this situation, shows how it’s done.

There are public figures responding in a variety of ways. One deflection is to mention going to treatment. What treatment? For what? Sexual addiction? Alcohol? Drugs? That’s not remorse, that’s cover your ass. It’s not even appropriate to the circumstance. Some admit it and disappear from the story. Many are facing real consequences after years of criminal behavior.

That’s a good thing, even for those public figures I liked. Real consequences maybe mean that fewer people might think it’s okay to act like that.

I hope no one manages to stop the tsunami of people telling their truths. Hearing them gives me a sense of rightness and hope. That there might be fewer new victims if these speak outs continue. And are not shut down, put away, or stopped by gaslighting.

Gaslighting fails here.

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©2016-17 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.                    Privacy Policy


Sex Addiction

Benjamin_West_-_The_Cave_of_Despair_-_Google_Art_ProjectPeople who do not approve of sex and free sexual expression often confuse a wide range of sexual pleasures with addiction. This is especially true for behaviors that might be a little exotic.

It is not so. This is not addiction. Instead, sexual addiction is a compulsive behavior that leaves the addict in a state of total degradation and absolutely no satisfaction.

If this group of addictive behaviors did not include despicable behaviors targeting unwilling victims, these afflicted would be sad. I’d feel bad for them. But it does involve harming others.

I, in no way, shape, or form, condone sexual crime. My experience and work have always been with and for the victims of sex crimes. I studied the behaviors of sex addicts to gain information for my clients.

In this article, we will not be discussing sex. We will be discussing addiction. Remember that in the disease model of addiction, first, we have heredity. A sex addict can look at the history of his or her family and see quite a few relatives with one or more addictive diseases.

This leaves the future sex addict with a high vulnerability to any addictive disease. Personal history and unique biology lead the sex addict to experience sex in a manner that is different from most people.

This is very important to grasp. For the potential sex addict, sex acts of varying sorts, initially leave him or her feeling dynamic, powerful, important, free of life’s problems, and infinitely capable. In this addiction, sex and the behaviors around sex function like a drug. This is the allergy to the chemical or chemicals produced by sexual behaviors.

Some people worry that the good feelings they get from sex, intimacy, and touch ARE an addiction. They can be. But they also can be just plain fun. Addiction has more to it than fun and your body’s reactions to sex, affection, and touch.

As with all addictive behaviors and diseases, you have the issue of tolerance. It is here that problems begin and you get into serious trouble, eventually as perpetrators with the legal system.

Tolerance means that acts and behaviors that gave you your original high stop working. You lose those blissful feelings that they achieved in the past. You develop a tolerance to your behavior of choice. It takes more and different to achieve the high you seek.

You can visualize tolerance from the following image. Fifty years ago, in one of my college psychology classes, the professor was showing us how rats are trained to press a certain bar to obtain food. The rats learn repeatedly that they will be fed their ration of food by pressing that bar. When the food is withdrawn, the rat doesn’t get it. In this analogy, tolerance is equal to no food for the rat and no high for the addict.

So, the rats press the bar over and over again. Then this poor rat presses the bar faster and faster and faster in a true personification of compulsive behavior.

This is today’s metaphor for the fact of progression. Once any addict reaches the point of tolerance, it takes more and more of his or her drug of choice to reach the same high. More and more compulsive behavior. Like all addicts, sex addicts increase their acts or the riskiness of these acts until you leave the relative safety of legal behavior and their own moral code.

Then you face personal consequences that increase over time. Social, family, relationship, employment, spiritual and legal consequences all increase as their disease progresses.

As with all addiction, sex addiction comes with a built-in defensive system designed to keep you imprisoned in your own destruction. Sex addicts daydream grandiose fantasies of success, baldly deny reality, treat the other people around them very badly, blame others for their behavior, joke about their situation, intellectualize, and rationalize both their behavior and their life situation.

Sex Addicts Anonymous says that a sex addict experiences the following:

  • “Powerlessness over addictive sexual behavior.”
  • “Resulting unmanageability of his/her life.”
  • “Feelings of shame, pain, and self-loathing.”
  • “Failed promises and attempts to stop acting out.”
  • “Preoccupation with sex leading to ritual.”
  • “Progressive worsening of negative consequences”

Once, early in my counseling practice, my local police department invited me to sign a contract to treat child victims of sex crimes in our city. As part of this contract, one specific police officer demanded that I have at least two sessions with a perpetrator of sex crimes. This grandfather, a multigenerational perpetrator, insisted that he was the victim and wished to only talk about his childhood. He was in complete denial of his situation and the impact of his behaviors on his daughter and granddaughter.

Personally, I felt like I was in need of a long shower after that conversation. There was nothing sexy, appealing, desirable, admirable, or compassionate in his behavior.

This was an article discussing sexual addiction. If you are questioning your sexual behaviors, there are several twelve step recovery programs. Sex Addicts Anonymous has a website where you can read more and find out about meetings.

If you have been in a relationship with a sex addict, life coaching can help you change your relationship pattern. That way you can experience love, touch, intimacy, and sex without being harmed.

Like all addictions, life coaching can only help sex addicts AFTER they have ceased sexual acting out and worked a 12-step program. This means that they have a sponsor, are actively involved in meetings, worked steps and live a life incompatible with addiction.

Contact me to change your relationship patterns:


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma

I was madly in love with my late husband for the 27 years we were together. He was an outrageous person, yet he taught me most of what I know about helping people with their relationships.

Loving relationships for adults who were abused as children require a greater degree of personal responsibility. Today’s article in this series uses my experiences to show you how to apply these ideas to your relationships.

This third article in this Relationship Skills Series shows you how to put up one boundary between your relationship and your history. Then you and your loved one can discuss the issues that are bothering you.

People who have experienced abuse or traumas often have pain inside them that can destroy important loving relationships. Read an article that describes what you can do about it

Everyone who has experienced a trauma has flashbacks. Read an article that explains what flashbacks are and how they affect your relationships.

You deserve to be loved and to love others! Today’s article is designed to help you put a real barrier between your old experiences and your current loving experiences.

Is your passion the result of true love or are you in an addictive relationship? Read the differences to help you assess your relationship.

Sometimes, we often unknowingly hurt the person we love the most. This is frequently true for people who have experienced abuse or trauma. In this article, I explain this process and show you how to stop it.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Is It Love or Is It Addiction?

This is part seven of a series of articles on relationships specifically written for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. You can view the entire list of articles here: Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma

victorian-couple-rvin0064When I was 26 years old, I fell madly in ‘love’ with the man I will name Sam. This is not his real name. I have never dated anyone named Sam.

At the time, I thought him to be the great love of my life. I romanticized about him constantly. Addictive in nature, I indulged in that gooey type of fantasy as I mentally built our future. I wished, hoped and dreamed of us. It seemed like I breathed in his essence.

I felt lots of emotional torment. I wanted to see him and be with him constantly. Even when there was no outward upset, inside me there was lots of drama and excitement. It felt like being with Sam would make me whole and complete…fill me up emotionally and fix me somehow.

That’s addiction. It is not real. Nor is it an authentic relationship. It does not involve genuine intimacy.

When we `broke up’, I was heartbroken. I mourned and grieved and felt totally devastated for a long time. This was so absolutely painful; it became a springboard to personal growth. The pattern of my lifetime emotional growth began at that time. I didn’t think this at that time, but the motivation to grow was Sam’s priceless gift to me.

Finally, I began to date others and learn from each experience. Then I met David, the real first love of my life. We were together for 27 years until he passed away. While this was a better relationship in that David loved me back, I made sacrifices to keep him happy that were not healthy for me. We were married for 10 years when he fell off a cliff. He was severely and dramatically physically injured.

That relationship started out healthy for us but became addictive to me over time. In the caretaker role, I resorted to old behaviors to cope. It took me years to find my footing after the died.

The Fantasy

An addictive fantasy has roses, music, and starry skies sweeping you off your feet. Most addictive relationships begin with a view of romance more like the movies than real life. You will never argue, disagree, or have the human failings of normal people. People do not fart, belch, need showers or have bad breath. They don’t cheat on you, spend too much money or have emotional problems. You see one another as an ideal. This is the person of your secret dreams.

It was a rude shock when I realized many months later that I did not even know what `Sam’ actually looked like. On the other hand, I was always aware of David’s failings. He was definitely aware of mine! An authentic relationship knows your partner for the person they are.


Obsession means that the relationship is like a narcotic. In the beginning, it makes you feel fantastic. High, even. The world glows, the sun shines, and rainbows are everywhere. To some extent, all new relationships begin like that. The new relationship glow that says all will forever be well. For relationship addicts, that glow fills some inner deep hole inside themselves. And the relationship changes to a drug that “fixes” you rather than authentic intimacy.

With Sam, I was constantly mentally thinking about him, imagining our time together, reviewing past times we enjoyed together and planning new interactions with him. I had difficulty thinking of anything else. At work and with other people, he was the center of my mind.

Lack of Self-Control

In all addictions, there is the compulsion that requires you act on your addictive needs to get your analgesic. In an addictive relationship, you find yourself compelled to take actions you might sense will harm you. Make embarrassing phone calls or cancel important plans just to be with them.

With Sam, I stayed up extremely late in order to spend time with him. Because of my early morning employment, I regularly operated on about 3 hours of sleep. When we broke up, I drove by his living space, called him, called his sister’s house and totally embarrassed myself. I couldn’t stop myself without great effort.

Giving That Harms You

In an addictive relationship, the person has become a drug to you instead of a person. Because of this, most people will do just about anything to keep their opiate partner near them, healthy, and paying the necessary attention. Some people call this co-dependency and that is an accurate label. So are the labels relationship addiction and love addiction.

While our relationship didn’t start out that way, I became relationship addicted again in the actions of taking care of my late husband, David. He was severely injured and in excruciating pain. I bought him anything he wanted. I spent money I didn’t have just to make him smile. When he took actions that justified leaving him, I stayed and took care of him anyway. I gave him time and energy I needed for myself. By the time he died, I was an exhausted shell of a person.

Inability to End the Relationship

Just like a person who is addicted to a substance, giving up your relationship seems totally out of the question. It feels like it might be similar to cutting off your own arm…without anesthesia. Most people need extra help to do so.

In my case, Bob left me and David passed away. Could I have found the strength to do so on my own? I’ll never know. I will know that the fantasies and obsessions remained with me for a long time while I worked to move on and heal myself.


In addictive relationships, you often have mad, passionate sex. Exciting and enticing, the sex makes it seem there is a great amount of intimacy. However, this is only sex. Unfortunately, sex in this real world can only, at best, take up a small portion of your life.

Genuine intimacy occurs when two people stand slightly apart from one another and connect. True intimacy involves communication. This doesn’t happen in your hearts and flowers fantasy. You need a valid knowledge of your partner’s being to dialogue.


There is more than one type of honesty in relationships: literal honesty and emotional honesty. With addictive relationships, you often have lots of drama with the obvious lack of literal honesty.

More importantly, emotional honesty is absent. You both want so badly to fulfill your fantasies that you lie to one another. You tell each other whatever you think the object of your desires wants to hear. You both say anything and everything to hold on to the fantasy.

This leaves out the total possibility of ever knowing who your partner is, how they feel, what they want and their genuine needs. In this way, real intimacy is impossible.

When I met `Sam’, I didn’t hear him when he said to me, “I love you as much as I am capable of loving anyone.” A few breaths later, he confided, “I am not capable being in a relationship.” I only heard that second sentence in retrospect. All the drama and excitement that followed started with my unwillingness to realize he didn’t match my fantasies one iota! That’s addiction.

Realistic Expectations

In an addictive relationship, you have unrealistic expectations. Many of these are not conscious. People think that the object of their obsession can solve all their emotional problems and fix what is wrong in his or her life. It seems as though they can fill you up and make up for all your life’s disappointments and injuries.

This is not the case. Real love is deep and satisfying. It provides a respite from life’s woes and a safe place to cocoon. Real love is rich and worthwhile, but it doesn’t fix everything in your life. You both still have all your problems.

Contact me to reach for new and intimate relationships.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Online Dating: How to Know When Someone is Lying to You

truth-lieWe all know what dishonesty is. Unfortunately, we usually know after the fact. After we’ve learned we’ve just been had. If we are lucky, the price for that learning is embarrassment and regret. If we’re not so lucky, the price can be misery and death. And everything in between. Loss of money, reputation, friends, status, as well as your sense of safety.

Researchers call this deception. That word just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s too bland. Just for kicks I went to the thesaurus and found some other words. Words that give me the sense of feeling around being lied to.

Feel free to add your own words to this list in the comments section here.

  • lie
  • deceit
  • double-dealing
  • fraud
  • cheat
  • treachery
  • crookedness
  • trick
  • sham
  • fake
  • con
  • catfishing
  • predator
  • abuse
  • jerk

When someone lies to you, they know that what they are telling you is not true. Last year I went to the academic literature and read everything I could find about lying online. There was so much information, it was difficult to digest. This is my attempt to make the information more accessible to you. More useful to anyone attempting to date online.

  • Their words and actions don’t match

The first hint that a liar will give you is that their words and online behaviors do not belong together. The word used for this is congruent which means align together or in harmony.

  • They leave things out

People leave things out. That’s a clue. Missing information. If you listen carefully, you can hear the gaps and holes in what they say.

  • They alter the truth in some way

People distort the truth. Making things bigger, smaller or different than they are. Often when this happens, what they are telling you just doesn’t make sense. The pieces don’t quite fit. It’s not logical. Their writings don’t fit together. The words and ideas in their writing don’t always belong together.

  • They are vague and unclear in their speech and writing.

When what we hear, see, or experience is vague and unclear, we fill in the blanks for the other person. This is a normal conversation trait. Liars use this to manipulate you because you are more likely to make a positive sense out of them than a negative one.

  • They act like they believe someone who is truthful will act

This you can see. Again, by looking carefully, you can tell because they cannot quite pull it off. Something is always out of sync.

  • They offer you your deepest heart’s desire

If you look carefully, they are offering you a fantasy of something you desire. Most people, however, once they hear this, they stop looking critically. They stop questioning. Most importantly, because they want this so badly, they don’t listen to their inner voice whispering, “danger, danger, this cannot be true.” The rule to use is one you’ve heard before. If it looks too good to be true it is.

  • They change the subject, don’t answer, create a distance, and stop writing to you for a while whenever it seems like you are getting close to the truth.

You can see this a bit easier online than in person. This is because there is a time lag between messages. They are self-monitoring. Self-monitoring takes time and creates a lag in time and space.

They are making sure that what they show you matches what they imagine you need to see to trust them. They want their lies to be consistent. They want to match their lies to your state of mind. And they want to make sure that their lies are getting the response from you that they desire. All that takes effort. And effort takes time.

  • Liars don’t reveal as much of themselves as most people online.

For me what the academics wrote was fascinating. They looked at the frequency of the words liars and people who are honest use. And liars don’t use words that refer to themselves as often as honest people do. These words are “I,” “me,” and “myself.”

  • Liars are more negative than honest people.

In profiles and conversations, you’ll see more angry statements. Liars tend to argue more often and point out other people. Even without an interaction, liars will defiantly make contrary statements about what someone else has said or written. In conversations, they usually say ‘‘no,’’ ‘‘not,’’ ‘‘never’’ more frequently than honest folk.

  • Their online dating profiles are shorter.

Liars, in general, use fewer words. They tell you less about themselves. Their thoughts seem simpler. When expressing emotion, they use more negative words.

  • Liars often get defensive.

When it seems like you are finding out their lie or lies, they might express mixed feelings about it. But usually, they argue and get defensive. Try to make you wrong somehow. They want to throw you off balance so you won’t pay attention to what you see, think, and feel.

  • Liars use simpler ideas and fewer words.

Liars have to remember the lies they have told you. One way they do that is to tell you less. Shorter sentences. Fewer words. Less complex ideas. And less new ideas. Much less personal information.

  • Liars use words that create barriers of time and space.

They don’t often put things into a time frame. They don’t use words like “tomorrow” or “yesterday.” They won’t give you a time that something happened or will happen. They won’t tell you when you will hear from them, for example.

  • Instead of thoughts or feelings, liars frequently talk about activity and actions.

They will tell you what they are going to do, not what they think about it. And not what they feel about it. Some writers have suggested that this is an attempt to distract you from seeing them more clearly.

  • Liars write or talk in a way that takes less personal responsibility.

They communicate in a way that makes them sound more helpless. Things happen to them and are done to them. They say, “you,” “your,” and “yours” instead of “me,” “my,” and “mine”.

  • Liars take charge of the pace and content of the conversation.

Most conversations have a rhythm and balance to them. People take turns. A liar controls this pace by aggressively interrupting, arguing ridiculous points, and questioning unimportant points. This keeps you from thinking and noticing what’s happening.

This writing is not the be all or end all of online safety. It’s simply one little piece of information in your safety toolbox.

I personally think the Internet is much more dangerous than when I was dating online 15 years ago. Even then we met people at a coffee shop or restaurant for a time limited interaction. We used safe calls with details of who we were meeting and where and when.

Today, you need a lot more research on safety to protect your well-being. I hope that you do that research.

Here is a chart of the characteristics of an online liar.

The references I used for this writing are here.

For help staying safe while dating online, contact me for an appointment.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.


Checklist for Identifying Online Liars


You can read the explanations of each item in the full article here.

For help staying safe while dating online, contact me for an appointment.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Relationships: Meeting People Online

swanscygnus_olorFourteen or fifteen years ago, my now husband wrote me a private message on a dating website. I don’t remember the details exactly, but I do remember that I felt insulted by his message. Offended. Sniff! Nose in the air offended.

I wrote a polite response including my sense that he was either rude, insensitive or unsafe. He didn’t understand what I wrote because he was not an abusive person. He apologized anyway. I’ll be honest here, his message back to me was so very sincere that I was sorry I misunderstood him. I felt I owed him an apology.

And thus began the great love affair of my life. I’ll come back to this.

I get it. A lot of people are lonely and want to meet their future partner. I think that’s their dreams calling them. Wanting a life partner is a good dream. A great goal to wish for.

It’s just that they defeat themselves. Figuratively shooting themselves in the foot.

Self-defeat by rudeness and/or suspicion. Rejecting possibilities before they materialize in your world. You can work your way past this.

I know there are bad people in this world. Rapists, murderers, child molesters, and all manner of predators. But reacting to people who have done nothing to you as if they were a predator makes you a predator too.

Many of the arguments I see with people assume all manner of things about the other person. Much like what I assume about my husband’s first message to me.

If I had been rude or abusive when I misunderstood him, I’d have missed out on the biggest love affair of my life. It gives me chills.

Now, I’ll be honest here, there are simple ways to tell the difference between a predator and a person who made a mistake. I spent most of my professional life studying predators and counseling victims.

I’ll write about that soon.

Feel free to comment in the form below. I welcome comments and an exchange of ideas.

Contact me if you’d like to live your dream relationship.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Original photo by Bowen Pan. Edit by Cavit Erginsoy. (Edited version of Image:SwansCygnus olor.jpg) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Dream Your Life

If you can dream it.png

Contact me if you want to live your dreams:


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Is My Relationship Abusive?

This is part six of a series of articles on relationships specifically written for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. You can find the list of articles on my blog under the topic heading: Relationship Coaching for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma.

In my prior articles, I have explained that there are differences between flashbacks/feeling abused and being abused. I have also explained that there are differences between not getting what you want and being abused. In a later posting, I will be explaining what I believe loving relationships look like. This article describes how abusive people approach you and entangle you into their web of abuse. I describe simple actions you can take to assess a current relationship. And a few steps you might be able to take to gain freedom.

Abusive behavior can be explained as a continuum of outrageous actions. When I explain this, I usually use my hands and expand them equally outward like maybe I’ll begin doing jumping jacks. Then I mark off space like there are increments between them identifying all the ways people can abuse others. I start with con artists and embezzlers and move onward to battering, rape, and eventually murder. There are as many variants in between as there are people who harm others.

I call these people violence addicts because I believe they get some degree of drunkenness out of their actions. They get pleasure when they hurt you. They also fit the progressive pattern of addictive disease. People who abuse others reach a place where they need more violence and harm to achieve the same high from their actions.

All these abusive people all follow the same pattern in the beginning.

This is important because you can identify them by their actions. They start small and if you don’t stop them, they will escalate until you do. And abusive, intrusive people can easily be stopped at those early intrusions. Later on, life can become nightmarish when you need to bulldoze an abusive person out of your life.

They tentatively enter your boundaries by doing something at first that is only a little teeny tiny inappropriate. Boundaries are made up of that invisible space that exists around everyone.

You own this space even if you do not know it. Your boundary protects your physical, emotional and intellectual space. I usually tell people that the physical boundary around them is one arm’s length all around them. Besides that ownership of your body, your private emotional and intellectual space includes your thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, hopes and dreams. These belong only to you and you decide with whom and when you share these parts of yourself.

Abusive behavior begins with a small, almost invisible intrusion into your privacy. Some examples are:

  • Speaking to you with inappropriate intimacy
  • Asking intrusive questions
  • Unasked for advice
  • Comments on your behavior
  • Inappropriate presents
  • Unasked for comments on your thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams
  • Unsolicited criticism
  • Putdowns
  • Uncomfortable staring
  • Touching you without your permission
  • Repeatedly asking you out after you have said, “No.”
  • Offering you something that is Too Good To Be True
  • Inappropriate comments on your Internet photos
  • Inappropropriate comments to or about you on social media

People who speak to you too intimately do things like call you “Honey” or some other endearment before you know them. You can easily recognize this with telemarketers. They call you; speak to you by first name with a familiarity that is inappropriate. Then they ask, “How are you today?” Another example might be that abusive people ask you questions about your home life or feelings on uncomfortable subject. If you respond, you have agreed to an increased intimacy level with a stranger.

Unasked for advice from a stranger might be someone walking by and telling you that dress does not suit you. Or someone you have never met telling you how to discipline your child in a store. Then there are those people who walk up to you and say, “Smile.”

A man you met once brings flowers to your work. Another example is that of a woman you met at the store bringing you lunch. These are inappropriate presents. Another is that of an expensive item long before the relationship has grown to that point.

A person at work begins to tell you how to think about your job, what to wear, and how to feel about your boss. Perhaps they tell you that you should or shouldn’t want a new job. These all occur before any authentic conversation with them about those subjects.

You don’t know them that well; they don’t know you and they have made assumptions of a closeness that doesn’t exist. Suddenly, a coworker is telling you how to do your job, how to think about it, and what you have a right to hope for. Comments that are intrusive can often be combined with criticism. This is unsuitable from anyone who is not in a supervisory position to you.

Some people just invade your space visually. Guaranteed to make anyone uncomfortable, staring is a form of attack. It’s designed as a visual power play and is a very obvious clue the person staring is someone to watch out for.

When abusive behavior graduates to people touching you, it leaves the world of subtle. Yet, abusive people are clever; they will touch you in such a way as to have ready excuses. One I always notice is those folks who put their arm around my shoulders when I am being introduced to them. I usually feel childlike and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, once this happens, and I move away, they have a ready answer of “what’s wrong with you?”

Putdowns are verbal violence. Also easy to see. People can mock what you say, what you are wearing, and everything and anything they manage to come up with.

Social media putdowns are also a form of violence. Be wary of people who are too friendly and those whose comments just feel wrong.

Then there are those who seem unable to take “no” for an answer. They are related to those who bring you untimely presents before there is a relationship. They seem unable to imagine that you have boundaries or the ability to decide for yourself who you want to spend time with.

There is a reason that abusive people are able to continuously find their victims. They offer you someone you deeply want. On the surface, it’s what you always dreamed of. However, if you take enough time to examine them and what they offer you, it’s Too Good To Be True. This means what they offer you is a fantasy and not possible in the real world.

Often people give out lists of what abusive relationships look like. But really, this is up to you to describe because it changes from person to person. What makes this difficult for people who have experienced abuse early in life or any form of trauma is that your boundaries were damaged by abuse or trauma. Child abuse survivors often were not allowed to develop healthy boundaries. So when someone who is abusive tests your boundaries with a small intrusion, you might not notice.

Often what happens, though, is that you do notice. Unfortunately, too many people learned to discount their perceptions of reality. This is not your FAULT. It is learned behavior for you to simply ignore what you are seeing. You do see or feel this very small invasion and threat to your well-being.

Then you say things to yourself that you learned early in life to cope with your abuse, like:

  •  I take things too seriously
  • I am such a complainer
  • Don’t be silly, they don’t mean anything by it.
  • What is the matter with me?
  • I am such a B….h or B…….d
  • There I go again, making a mountain out of a molehill!
  • I probably misunderstood.
  • I’m too sensitive
  • ______________________________Add your own to this list.

After they have tested you once, they become slightly more abusive or intrusive. Then they continue their infiltration into your space over and over. Unfortunately, you do not really acknowledge the abuse until it gets really bad. By then, it has become terribly difficult to get out of the relationship.

My recommendation is that you work on yourself when you think you are entangled in an abusive web. This works to help you decide if there is in fact abuse. And then it works to help you gather the strength to get yourself out of that situation.

If you are being harmed physically in an existing relationship, pay attention. If you feel emotionally hurt most of the time in your relationship, that too is a clue. One certain way to assess your relationship is to work on yourself. If you start out giving your partner the benefit of the doubt; then work on your issues, you will find clarity. One real clue is if they increase their harmful actions when you’ve been growing and giving them the benefit of the doubt. You change your behavior, don’t react as strongly and they increase their pressure on you. That, by itself, tells you who you are with.

I wish I had a formula for leaving an abusive relationship without harm. It helps if you still have other people in your life or have some resources. If you can gather support, it is easier on you. Some people need alternate living facilities, the police or social services. Once you identify you are in an abusive situation, get help.

But the truth is, it’s easier to avoid abusive situations than to leave it. Abusive people don’t let their victims go easily. They also don’t let you go without some degree of punishment. But that punishment ends. And you live on.

Contact me

For more information or if you’d like to make an appointment.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Visioning the Relationship You Want

A week or so ago, I spent considerable time looking over the different requirements for certification as a coach. One fact stuck in my brain. The Board Certified Coach credential explained that there are a narrow set of coaching skills a therapist needs to add to their repertoire. There is a vast difference in viewpoint, though.

This week I understood at depth that the difference comes from viewing a client as healthy, happy, strong, courageous and capable instead of a patient with a DSM psychiatric diagnosis. A client who has all their answers within them instead of a patient who needs my help to fix something broken.

I don’t know how I transitioned from a positive view of people into such a negative one. I’m glad to change back now. I know I needed to be seen and to see myself as whole, complete, capable of growth and accessing the good things in life. I needed to be believed in and to believe in myself. It’s important. A vital aspect of the foundation for growth.

This led me to begin mentally pulling my personal growth memories up from deep inside. Then relating them to what I am learning now. I learned a great deal about growth and change way before I entered graduate school.

When I was in my twenties I decided to enlarge my life. I wanted to be happy, have a stable sufficient income, friends, a satisfying career and a loving relationship. I moved a little over 2000 miles away from my family of origin. Looking back, I learned a lot of destructive beliefs about life from them. Particularly I took in an almost overwhelming amount of negative self-talk. This was in my way. A barrier, if you will.

Most of us have encountered negatives in our lives. It’s a part of growing up in the dog eat dog competitive world of childhood. Then there are the false beliefs some of us learned in our homes. Some 30% of all people included in a massive study by Natalie Sachs-Ericsson (2006) experienced some combination of childhood verbal abuse which led to vicious self-criticism or what I call negative self-talk.

In my twenties, I didn’t know much about changing my life. I mean, I desperately wanted more, but I had no idea how to do so. I had been in therapy since childhood, but never managed to make any headway through the extreme negativity I carried.

Then I met a woman who became my mentor and helped me find my way. Today I’d call her a life coach. I chose to work on dating and relationships first. She helped me formulate my own vision of possibilities. I didn’t have to dig out the negative beliefs. No. Instead, we envisioned what I deeply desired.

In the beginning, it was not very specific. Just a generic idea that the universe supports my growth and change. I could look outward at my life and see my very next activity in front of me.

Just so you know, this is not an easy process. Not like magic where I snap my fingers and my beliefs changed and then my life changed. Instead, it took determination and my consistent willingness to mentally return to the positive ideal every single time that negative voice surfaced. My mind might say, “it’s hopeless,” and I would have to counter that with the affirmation, “The universe supports my growth and change.”

I was and am a part of this process. I had to take risks. Of course, I did. In order to develop into the relationship I desired, I did have to go where people gathered. I’d just focus on the picture of what I envisioned; then, take whatever action came to mind next.

Then I examined whatever I experienced and attempted to wrest all the learning possible from it. See, if the universe is on my side, then life is giving me what I need to learn to grow into a life worth living.

Slowly we gravitated to the idea the there is the exact right relationship for me just waiting for me to grow into it. With a friendly universe, I could just deal with whatever developed in my path. And so I did.

This process took me 2 years of conversations, self-examination, activity, risks, and learning. This involved taking myself where other people gathered and self-examination, talking to other people and self-examination, dating and self-examination, and eventually getting married and self-examination.

So, as a life coach, I can blend what I learned in personal growth, what I learned in therapy school and what I am now learning in coaching school. It starts with a belief in a positive universe and a positive view of people. I can do this.

Contact me if you would like to make an appointment.

Contact me

If you’d like more information or want to make an appointment:


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.


Sachs-Ericsson, N., Verona, E., Joiner, T., & Preacher, K. J. (2006). Parental verbal abuse and the mediating role of self-criticism in adult internalizing disorders. Journal of affective disorders, 93(1), 71-78.