Category Archives: Trauma Wellness-Relationships

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.

Save Your Best Behavior for The One You Love

victorian-coupleThis is the final posting in my series on relationship skills for people who experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. The table of contents for the series can be found here: Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma

One night, many years ago, David (my late husband) and I were fighting about something. I don’t even remember what it was. I can still see the living room, and easily remember how full of rage and frustration I felt.

He carefully told me that he couldn’t talk about this subject right now, and walked away from me. Well, that did it! I followed him around the house harping on him. I told him plainly how unfair it was that he would be the person to decide what and when we talked about things.

Sounds reasonable, right?

I was so angry. This reminded me of all the unbalanced relationships I had experienced in my life. And if we only look at this from my point of view, well, I’d be RIGHT.

He may have told me several times how unable to dialogue he was. I didn’t hear him. In my rageful state, I didn’t care to hear him. Finally, he stopped, turned around and shook me.

You might be fooled into thinking that this is an article about his abusive behavior. It is not. It is about my abusive behavior.

How can this be? After all, he is the one who shook me!

In the wonderful world of our fantasies, all people would have grown up loved and nourished, in safety and without abuse. At the very least, our imagination leads us to believe that everyone but us grew up without these problems. That, of course, is not the case.

David was like me. He was severely abused in childhood. Also, he was the man I loved. He deserved the same care and concern I expected for myself.

I watched this repeatedly in relationship coaching sessions with clients. They’d be thoughtful, considerate, giving and emotionally generous with strangers, co-workers, bosses and others.

Then they would come home and completely let go of their self control. Indulge in thoughtless actions. Ignore their partner. Disregard their partner’s needs entirely. Make plans without consulting the one they loved. Speak rudely to them.

It was as if they believed they were supposed to be able to completely let go around their partner. It’s not true.

It is difficult to balance an article like this with the reality of authentic abusive relationships. What makes my story and my marriage to David NOT an abusive relationship? I think the difference may come from what happened next.

At the time, I was so upset. Sure that I had married an abusive man; I began to think rapidly of where I could go. I heard echoes of all the books and talks I had heard on the topic of abuse in a family. Instead, I went into the other room and cried.

Later, I do not remember how much later, we talked about this. He heard me out, all my upset and listened carefully to what I had to say. And here is what he told me.

“Laura, I walked away from you because I felt violent,” David said. (Remember I followed him, battering him with my words and making sure he heard what I had to say.)

Then he continued with a deeper understanding of how his violent childhood and early childhood living had affected him.

He was struggling, he told me, to live a normal life with me. But he didn’t have many skills. Where he grew up, all arguments were solved by the biggest, baddest, and strongest individual. All confrontations were solved with violence.

Then he explained that when he said, “I can’t talk about this right now,” that is exactly what he meant.

He didn’t mean what I heard which was, “I hold all the control, and decide when you get to talk.”

He didn’t mean, “I don’t care about your feelings. I’ll talk to you in my own good time.”

Or any of the other stories I made up in my head in my rage.

Then he asked me to never, ever push him past his point of self-control like that. And he made a commitment to let me know when he was again able to dialogue. Then we would talk about the issues.

I did. He did. And we did. For the rest of our marriage, that is how we solved problems. Sometimes, it was me who needed time to get clarity. Other times, it was David. Over the years, the time it took us to calm down, think clearly and be able to talk shortened radically.

I thought deeply about what he told me. I felt ashamed that in my selfish need to talk right now, I had violated him. I had considered my needs, wants and wishes above his. And I had totally forgotten that he was as hurt inside as I was.

I had never, ever thought of myself as abusive. After all, I am a NICE person! I am the victim, the fragile one. However, the reaction I often had against my sense of self as victim led me to behave abusively. This does not excuse David from his bad behavior. Not one bit.

It is simply that if we were ever going to be able to live together successfully, we both would have to grow and change.

I was terribly sorry I had injured him. When I looked at it, I had injured him every bit as badly with my thoughtlessness as he had when he shook me. We forgave each other. And it was equal. This is the way loving people treat each other.

Actions like mine are common in people who were abused or traumatized. Instead, it is critically important for you to make the one you love the most precious person in your life. They deserve your care and concern, good manners, thoughtful actions and love.

We forget that the other person is as real as we are. We know we hurt, we are sure they don’t. It is almost as if they don’t exist. In our need to stop our upset, we treat the one we love as if they were cardboard cutouts. Our behavior is subtle, and so it is not obvious to us that we are part of the problem.

Before you get completely irate with me, this does not mean that you become phony, or a doormat. It simply means that if you love someone, you treat them like you do. You treat the person you love like they are someone you love. Not like you’d treat strangers.

If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please share in the comments below.

I’d love to hear what you are thinking.

Contact me to learn how to treat the one you love like you really love them.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Or use the form on the Contact Mee page.

©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.

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.

Intimate Relationships: What Just Happened?

This is part five of my series on relationship skills for people who have experienced abuse and/or trauma. You can find the rest of this series on my blog.

Flashbacks, misunderstandings, and your history

There was an Ann Lander’s newspaper column I used to hand out in my classes on this subject. Ann printed a dream someone sent her, then she asked her readers to respond with their explanations. Wow, what happened sure was fascinating!

Some people wrote her with painfully judgmental comments. Mean-spirited. I guess there was trolling even before the Internet. Other replies reeked of sexual innuendo. Some responses that were just off the wall!

None of them had any relationship to reality. Instead of interpreting a dream, people were telling the readers of that column about themselves. In their letters, thinking they were describing someone else, they told us how they thought and what their motives were. They unknowingly expressed their personal and deeply held emotional issues.

It’s a defense mechanism discussed by Anna Freud and is known as projection.

This happens all the time in relationships. It doesn’t matter if it’s a close and intimate encounter or a brief nothing brush of two people simply in the same physical or Internet space for a moment.

In the absence of information, people fill in the blanks with what is in their very own personal histories. I think this makes a lot of sense. We interpret our lives based upon what we know. In my thinking, this is a minor and subtle form of a flashback.

As a flashback, it seems easier to see and understand than the more vivid ones that are shown in television movies.

Flashbacks can take a variety of forms.

People who have experienced painful life events have both subtle and severe flashbacks. Those of us with histories of child abuse and horrid traumas re-live our traumas all the time. This is not a deliberate or willful action. It happens out of our conscious awareness. We don’t know that we are doing this.

I believe that this is your mind’s attempt to heal itself. Your being is attempting to expel an experience that is hurtful to you.

We think about what happened. We dream (nightmares) of what happened. We live our lives as if these terrible experiences are happening right now. Again, this can be subtle or very dramatic. Some people react to conversations in ways that are just a little bit off responding to meanings that were not intended. You might see your memories as a photograph in your mind. Then there are the physical reactions where you feel as though your trauma is currently happening this very moment.

Anything that even vaguely resembles your original painful life event(s) can trigger a flashback episode. A time of year, song on the radio, driving down a certain street, or someone’s tone of voice are all examples of the sort of thing that can trigger a flashback.

Flashbacks and Loving Relationships

Understanding flashbacks is vital to being able to see how they affect your loving relationships. The very acts of loving and being loved can and do trigger flashbacks. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. After all, if you were abused by your parents, guardians or family members, love is a trigger for you. If you were sexually assaulted, battered in relationship or betrayed by someone you love, again-love itself becomes a trigger for you.

Now you are out of the harmful situation. You are grown. It’s a year or more after the assault. Or you left the person who hurt you deeply.

You have met someone delightful and fallen in love. Wonderfully, they love you in return. This situation is enough to trigger both subtle and not so subtle flashback episodes.

It seems out of the blue, but now you feel abused and unsafe. You become absolutely convinced that your partner is abusive. They resemble your parents. Or your other family members. Or your out of family perpetrator. You are on edge and wait to be betrayed or assaulted. You react to a lot of what they say and are often angry or frightened.

At that moment, you really do not know if your partner is dangerous to you or not. You cannot tell whether or not they are abusive. You wonder if they hurt you on purpose. And you are utterly convinced they did. And pretty sure they enjoyed it!

Some people run away from all relationships because of this. Other people strike back, becoming too well defended. Then others just withdraw from all intimacy. No matter what you do you are in danger of ruining the vital nurturing intimacy you are building with the one you love.

No matter how you take care of yourself, you can ruin your relationship. That’s healthy if the relationship is dangerous or abusive. But it harms you if it’s not.

What do you do? How do you prevent your history from depriving you of a loving relationship? How do you find out the difference? Sort the dangerous from the safe?

What to Do?

I am going to give you a place to start here. Learning how to get relatively unstuck from your past is much more involved than I can write in one article. At this point, I just want you to know that your flashbacks can color how you look at and interpret the actions of your partner. That’s the beginning. To realize that you might be reacting from your past.

Thus, the first step is to take ownership of your feelings and reactions. You start the long process of learning when your reactions are from your past, and when they are from your present. This doesn’t mean blame. You are not at fault for this. Flashbacks stem from a natural process that happens to all people who have been traumatized.

This often seems too simple. And from one perspective, it is. From another perspective, taking ownership requires a great deal of effort.

Then there is the emotional pain. Learning to live in your own skin, feeling your own feelings and personal history is painful. This requires determination and a desire to live within loving relationships.

The second step is to get acquainted with what it feels like to be you in a flashback. For me, it feels as though I am slightly like a robot. Physically, my body feels heavy and my muscles are tight. Emotionally, I feel compulsive and like I absolutely must take action this very moment. I often feel very young because I’m living my past in my present.

To gain this knowledge I had to practice what is now called mindfulness. First I imagined I placed a little piece of myself on my shoulder and began to observe my behavior. For this purpose behavior included my thoughts, feelings and my actions.

I journaled. A lot. All the time. I kept pen and paper [this was before computers] near me at all times. And I wrote what I saw myself think, what I imagined my feelings were, and what I did. When examining my actions, I tried to be objective like a scientist or “Joe Friday” in Dragnet, an old television show: “Just the facts, Ma’am!”

The moment you recognize you are reacting from your past, you come back to the present. You are able to react to the present event. Over time, you become acquainted with yourself and your flashbacks. You can recognize potentially triggering conversations and interactions. You will be able to plan solutions to them. Knowing more about yourself in this way will allow you to talk about them with your partner(s). This is the beginning of taking charge of them.

Then, if you wish, you can process the painful feelings from your traumas. I journaled more because I had the idea that I wanted to clean the entire events out of my being. I allowed myself to cry. Often and much. Then, I would do a history of every time I felt similar feelings. I saw these series of events as if they were beads on a chain. What those beads did is show me my patterns of reacting to people and events.

Slowly I became in charge of my behavior. I wasn’t as controlled by the events and people of my past.

I count that as a win. I hope you win too.

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

What to Do About the Pain of Intimacy

This is part four of my series on relationship skills for people who have experienced abuse and/or trauma. You can find the rest of this series on my blog.

Intimacy Pain

Samantha and Paul loved each other but managed to argued constantly. They attended sessions regularly to learn new communication skills. They wanted to find new and constructive ways of relating to each other. Yet, in every session, they fought like cats and dogs, snarling and arguing about anything and everything. And nothing.

Each week we would talk and they would eventually get to a place where they were communicating. As soon as they hit that point of intimacy, either Paul or Samantha would bring up some old insignificant issue that would trigger an argument. They were off and running again.

This is common. People do that. They regularly defeat the intimacy they fiercely want. Sometimes this is the result of intimacy pain.


Intimacy is the connectedness of two people who are separate individuals. Intimacy between two people who love each other is a wondrous and exhilarating event. Intimacy is one way of being fully alive. When we connect with other people, we are completely ourselves in the present moment.

If I was physically in front of you, I’d hold my hands out with them parallel to one another. Close but not touching. That’s intimacy. Too far apart, that’s distance and no intimacy. Too far apart, there is nothing happening between the people involved. Too close together, and that’s known as being enmeshed. People become intertwined, entangled with each other and lose their identities.

The goal with intimacy is just close enough to make contact and connection but still hold on to your identity. When you reach that, conversations become satisfying and fulfilling. The relationship will grow. When you cannot, your relationships are stunted and unsatisfying.

At the same time, feeling alive in this way also means you are more fully in touch with yourself. You feel your feelings. You feel love, sometimes ecstasy. But you also feel all your other feelings too Unfortunately, you get the beauty with the unpleasant. The bliss and the agony.

Inner Pain

Some, maybe many people carry pain inside themselves. Possibly there was a destructive relationship early in life. Perhaps there was abuse. Some parents have addictions and create all manner of chaotic problems for their children. Then there is bullying. Other people experienced dramatic events that hurt them in their core. I can create a long list for us, but that’s not the purpose of this writing. Not all the horrid things that happen to people are abuse. Some are tragedies. Awful life events happen. Sometimes they happen when we are too young to make sense out of them.

People then grow up with a raw wound in the center of their being. Such that when you connect with another person, one feeling you feel is that hurt place in your core. In this case, intimacy hurts.

Remember when you were a kid and skinned your knee? This is one current metaphor for the pain we carry inside as a result of our personal histories. It exists. It is not our fault. The effect intimacy has upon the pain people carry is similar to the act of putting on your blue jeans over that recently skinned knee. As a kid, you wanted to go out and play anyway, so you got dressed again. And you put up with that icky pain the jeans created in your knee. That icky pain is similar to what I label `intimacy pain’.

Destructive Coping Strategies

Many people confuse these difficulties with abuse. They feel pain and think their partner is deliberately doing something to them. Maybe. Sometimes that does happen. But maybe not. Sometimes just being close to another person hurts and requires some growing. Other people confuse their reactions with flashbacks, a return of their history into the present. Instead, they are unmet needs you have in the present that resulted from your past. A flashback is a reliving of a prior trauma…it is not based in your current life.

Lana thought all her pain was her husband, Ernest, was the cause of all her problems. Every time they were together, she found herself hurting inside. Her solution was to become very abusive herself, attempting to control his every word and action. I was unable to convince her that he wasn’t doing ‘it’ to her. They eventually divorced. Lana tried to become enmeshed with her husband, insisting that he feel and think like she did. That was her solution to intimacy pain.

Samantha and Paul mentioned above created distance for themselves by fighting all the time. That was their solution to pain.

Some people just give up on relationships. They say, simply, It hurts too much! One unconscious coping strategy is to wall yourself off a little. You become difficult to connect with, and your partner often doesn’t understand what is going on with you. You, on the other hand, have no clue as to why he or she is hurt or angry with you!

There are countless creative defenses people use to avoid their own pain. Really, there are as many of these as there are people in the world. These are all avoidance techniques, and avoidance is rarely positive. People start arguments, become distant and unavailable, seek out unavailable partners, lie, cheat and have affairs, take drugs, become workaholics, gamble, focus on their homes, cars, looks, diets, and so on and so on and so on.


The answer to this dilemma is to name it and claim it. The issues of personal responsibility have become fighting words for some people, but this is important here. The pain you carry is your own and it can run your life or not. This is one area of your life, however much it hurts, that requires you to be responsible for your own pain. You cannot achieve intimacy if you don’t.

You are not at fault for this difficulty. But you are responsible for how you deal with it. If you assume that the pain you feel is yours and not the other person’s fault, you can examine it. It’s safe to do this. If you examine your own feelings, you can see the other person more clearly. Then if they are in actuality harming you, it will be much easier for you to see. And you won’t be like Lana, pushing her husband away or controlling all the events and people in her life. Nor will you be like Paul, arguing about anything and nothing.

Here are some things you can do for yourself. They all take time, self-discipline and effort. Look inside yourself and ask yourself questions. Use a journal and write them out or mentally self-examine. You will cry and that will be good for you. Healing cries dissolve the pain.

  • What am I doing?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How is this related to my issues, as I know them?

If loving relationships are important to you, you will have to know that you carry some inner pain that does not belong to your partner. Then you can work on this pain so it doesn’t cause you to defeat the intimacy you seek.

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

How to Handle Being Gaslighted or When People Say or Write Mean Words about you.

gaslighting dignity

Years ago, I was stalked at work by a very intelligent sociopath. We were on the same working team. She contacked each person who worked with us telling them a clever lie about me. Each lie was different and created to appeal to the prejudices of that person.

This was gaslighting. Gaslighting involves a mental and emotional attack on your ability to see yourself and the people around you accurately. You stop being able to assess what is actually true or false. You don’t know who you can trust and who is dangerous to your well-being. You feel off balance and wounded inside you. Worse, you cannot tell where to go or what to do to help yourself.

It can be a direct attack where your adversary is speaking directly to you telling you lies about you, others in your life, or your existence itself. They can do things and create situations for you that keep you off balance. Or gaslighting can involve an indirect assault involving gossip and creating rumors about you out of whole cloth.

What I write might work a little bit if you live with them. But really, it will only help you get away from them with a lot of effort on your part. The reason is that as you work on yourself, they will only increase their efforts to harm you emotionally.

Somehow the gossip gets back to you and you hear it in little ongoing pieces. Drip, drip, drip of a poison in your world. I think your gaslighter makes sure you know what is happening. It feels like a runaway train is coming down the track at you. And you think you cannot escape it.

On that job, people began to say awful things to me. Whisper about me in groups. If I walked past a group of people, everyone stopped talking. Others would yell at me. It was a mob of hate.

Needless to say, going to work every single day was a nightmare. I began to doubt myself and question my ability to do my job. I began to critique myself in relationship to other people. I’d ask myself what I was doing to cause these people to actively hate me. Until I learned, by accident, what was happening.

I tried every conceivable different type of reaction to put out the fires of rage at me at work. I was nice and reasonable. I was firm. I tried aggression and confrontation. The more I tried to stop how they were treating me, the crazier I looked. So, my behavior fed her machinations. I gave this woman all my personal power. For a while.

  • In gaslighting, you cannot stop the other person.

This is the hard fact about abuse. It’s actually a hard fact about life. You really and truly cannot control other people. Unless you are willing to end up in prison for murder, what bad people do is out of your hands. This truth used to make me furious. Then one day, I realized I could take my power back from abusive people.

  • How you act in response to abuse tells the world who you are.

When someone gaslights you, it hurts like mad. And because you hurt, you react. You show your insides to the world. You reveal the hurt. If the gaslighter is very good at it, your hurt insides will look crazy.

Everyone has a bit of crazy inside them. I mean everyone. We’re human with histories made up of good and bad. Hit us hard enough in our hurt places, and we bleed crazy. They get their desired result which is to make you look irrational and out of control. Usually in public view.

No matter how awful, outrageous and ugly the other person acts, how you respond takes the attention off of them and puts it right smack dab on you. As wrong as the other person is, what you do shows people who you are. Unfortunately, the worse they have hurt you, the more you will look like the person they are telling the world that you are.

If you cannot control, stop or change what the other person is doing, what the hell can you do? Here is the answer. You gain control over your own actions. It is a slow and painful process, but it works every single time.

  • Deliberately turn your attention away from the chaos.

The desire to stop those involved in what is happening often feels like a compulsion. A compulsion in my own voice. You need something to drown out your own voice and the compulsion to look at what he is doing or saying. In my own life, I imagine it’s similar to what I had to do when I quit smoking. One day at a time. Ignoring the smell of smoke when others continued to smoke. Altering my habits and eliminating those places where there was a lot of smoking. And I simply didn’t buy a new pack of cigarettes or go into a store that sold them.

I see this image in my mind of turning my back on the actions of that person.

Forcing my body and attention to go elsewhere. Shut up. Close your mouth. Put down your pen. Stop looking at them or their friends on the Internet. Give your gaslighter no new information about you to work with. At first, this is very difficult. It requires self-discipline and effort.

I use personal affirmations and self-talk.

Here is an example of an affirmation for this: I fully and freely release you. I completely loose you and let you go. So far as I am concerned you have served your purpose in my life and I no longer need you. All things are over between us. it is done. It is finished forever. I am free.

And I say that over and over and over in my mind. It helps me not give in to the impulse to go back and look, talk about it to others, ask questions and so on.

I also use massive self-care.

When someone gaslights me, they are trying to steal my joy. Instead, I walk in the opposite direction toward the things and people in my life who feed me. This is called self-care.

If you dance, find a dance class. If you paint, pick up your brush. Call people you know who love you AND do not talk about the gaslighting. Talk instead about things that make your heart sing. If you write, write upbeat stuff. Every writer has lists of projects. Pick one that makes you happy. Go places that feed your spirit. Places that don’t involve the one who is gaslighting you. Do the things you usually love even if you are absolutely not in the mood.

Look at pretty things. Listen to music you love that does not remind you of them, but instead of happier times. Read upbeat books and novels with happy endings, preferably not romance novels if this person was a lover. Smells are good too. I bought a comforting scented shower gel to add to my good feelings.

Lastly, there are tasks you can perform in your life that bring you a sense of order. Small cleaning or sorting tasks can be very calming. You pick something small that needs to be organized, like your sock drawer. Or some small area of your home that needs cleaning like one window. And do that. These kinds of tasks take your mind off what’s bothering you and give you a sense or order in your life.

Gaslighters, like all abusers, don’t let go easily. They will continue to send out lures to draw you back in.

When you see the new temptation, name it as soon as possible. Everyone gets tricked once in a while. Once you know, stop responding. Go back to the beginning. Turn your back on the new trickery. Step up your self-care. Increase the things you do to feed yourself so you can continue their invisibility. This is hard to do.

  • Dignity wins. It kicks ass.

When you keep your behavior in check, you send out several messages to the world and the gaslighter. One, they are insignificant and do not matter. Two, you are not at all the person they say you are.

This makes them angry and the often escalate their actions. If you hold on to your dignity, they make themselves look bad. Then their actions tell the world who they are.

Dedicated to my friend, you know who you are.

I monitor posts for trolling.

If you would like to work on practical strategies to handle gaslighting or eliminate abuse from your experience, please contact me to make an appointment.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

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