Elderly Abuse: The Sad Reality

Last week a member of the SAGE community (and a dear friend) reached out to ask for prayers. In the past few years, her father has developed a condition that rapidly induces dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Sadly, a fight over both his care and money has broken out among family members and taken a lot from her. She could use our prayers as she fights those in his life looking to profit off of the situation.

After having discussions with her and reflecting on my own grandparents, I thought that a deeper dive into Elderly Abuse was something we could tackle here in the SAGE community.  I was shocked to find that elderly abuse was more common in those who had both suffered abuse in their lives and those who perpetrated it.    

So lets take a closer look…

The Stats

According to the National Council on Aging, up to 5 million older Americans are abused every year!  Can you guess what the estimated annual monetary loss in the US is?  An INSANE 36 BILLION DOLLARS.  That’s right BILLION.  Elderly abuse costs seniors billions of dollars.

Why is it only an ‘estimate’?  Good question.  The reason these numbers are only estimates is because elder abuse often goes unreported. Elder Abuse is classified into many categories.  It is easy for abuse to go undetected and therefore unreported.  Only an estimated 1 in 24 cases are actually reported.

Contributing Factors

There are a lot of risk factors for elder abuse, but the biggest culprits are social isolation and mental impairment due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

My grandmother was blessed, depending on her mood, to live until she was 95. During her last few years, she needed more assistance than my mother could physically handle so we found an assisted living facility nearby to help with care.  My mom went every day and there was a steady stream of visitors to keep Grandma occupied, but it was still hard.  While she retained most of her faculties and carried on lively conversation, she found it difficult to connect with other residents, leading her to isolate in her room.

Even with all the visitors and staff I know she struggled with being alone.  Her freedoms to move about like she pleased were gone.  Most of her friends had passed away and she found it difficult to carry on conversations with many of the other residents.

Although she didn’t always show it, I know my grandma was happy to have our family and friends as consistent visitors.  She would comment on the number of residents who said their children were too busy or who were simply alone.  Its sad to realize how true this is for so many elderly people in the United States. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into Social Isolation.

Social Isolation

In the book, Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults, The National Academy of Sciences describes social isolation as “the objective state of having few social relationships or infrequent social contact with others.” They define loneliness as “the subjective feeling of being isolated.”  The book went on to site seniors who lacked a friend group, church community or a link to the outside world as the most vulnerable.  To add insult to injury older adults who are socially isolated had an increased risk of mortality.  It is suggested in the book that healthcare systems can play a bigger role in creating community among the elderly as a form of treatment/potential disease prevention.  Society should be able to help with that as well.

When I was in high school my church started a youth volunteer program at the local assisted living center where we would help take the residents from their rooms to the chapel every Sunday.  We would sit with a group of a few seniors and help them manage their hymnal and follow along as needed.  This wasn’t a particularity exciting way for a teenager to spend an afternoon but looking back I see how special that was.  Some residents wanted to tell you all about their lives and how their week was.  Others never said a word.  I can’t help thinking what a difference it would make if more of us spent time with them.  We could lift the loneliness, if only for a few minutes.

It is important to note that not everyone over 65 is lonely or experiencing social isolation, however, it is one of the biggest risk factors to elder abuse and mortality.  Maybe we can make a difference.

Immigration/Ethnic Differences

While researching this article I came across a study out of Canada that provided a look into elder abuse among immigrant communities titled Elder Abuse Risk Factors: Perceptions Among Older Chinese, Korean, Punjabi and Tamil Immigrants to Toronto.

The article explained that migration to a new country often changes the family dynamic.  The younger generation is expected to take on different roles such as cultural liaison, interpreter, and caretaker.  The study argued that migrant parents are more reliant on their children now than they would have been if they stayed in their home country. If the children and family are unwilling to play that role, this increases the risk for elder abuse or neglect. It is also important to highlight that many older immigrants do not qualify for social programs like Social Security or Medicare. 

The study went on to ask members of each community what the biggest issue was, in their opinion. For the Korean community the most prevalent risk factors were social isolation, financial dependance on family and lack of English.  However, for the Chinese population financial dependence, physical dependence and emotional dependence were the biggest concerns. For the Tamil population, English proficiency was the biggest issue and for Punjabi it was social isolation.

Regardless of ethnicity, we owe it to all elder communities to make sure they are protected later in life.

Now let’s talk about Types of Abuse

Physical and Sexual Abuse of the Elderly

Elderly physical abuse is defined as an illness, pain or injury caused by hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning.  Elder sexual abuse is defined as forced or unwanted sexual interaction when the victim is over 65 years old.

We never ever want to hear these kinds of stories, but they happen and it’s important to talk about it in hopes of stopping future abuses.  According to the CDC, from 2002 to 2016 more than 643,000 older adults were treated for abuse in the ER and there were over 19,000 homicides that resulted.  Men had a higher rate of hospitalization compared to women and men in minority groups were more likely to be victims of a homicide. 

As far as sexual abuse goes, most cases are left unreported, about 70%.  You might be surprised to learn that most of the sexual abuse is by a family member and/or primary caregiver.  The victim often does not report because either they don’t have the mental capacity or they fear they won’t be believed.  The lack of options and outside support leave the elderly extremely vulnerable.

If any elder abuse is suspected the best course of action is to call adult protective services.  To find more information and local resources visit the National Adult Protective Services website.

Abandonment

For some of us we cannot fathom abandoning a loved one in need.  But it happens and according to the CDC the largest risk factors as to why a spouse, child or other family member might choose abandonment is past family conflict.   Often this includes past alcohol or drug use by either party, past disruptive behavior, and inadequate coping skills by one or both parties.  Childhood trauma both inflicted by and perpetrated by the parent is also a cause of abandonment.

Financial Abuse

Sadly, in many cases the fight over money takes center stage.  Money can be very stressful and figuring out what money goes where and to whom can often put elderly persons into dire straits.  Children and spouses are forced to decipher an algorithm of assets that they were never meant to understand.  What are the bank records? Who needs to be paid? Where does the money go?

Then you have the family members who misuse funds for their own gain.  If the elderly person has any type of memory issue, this is extremely concerning as they are no longer in control of their day-to-day bills.  Money could be spent elsewhere, and they would never know and suddenly they don’t have enough money left for basic care.  Financial Abuse is almost always perpetuated by a child or spouse.

Although its never easy, planning for your future with a lawyer or accountant can help eliminate potential financial abuse in old age.

Neglect and Self-Neglect

Neglect is defined by the CDC as a failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs i.e., food, water, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. There is debate about the definition of Self Neglect but the NIH defines it as the ‘inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care.” Unfortunately, elder Self Neglect is a growing problem in the United States. 

Think about all the elderly people out there who don’t have family or don’t have family who is willing to help care for them. Perhaps family doesn’t have the ability to care for them or the mental capacity to find appropriate help.  As you can imagine, social isolation only contributes to the problem of self neglect so check in on your elderly loved ones if you can.  Neglect and Self Neglect are easy to slip into and hard to correct.

Conclusion

If you made it all the way to the conclusion, thanks, I know this is a very hard topic to discuss.  There are so many different types of abusive relationships and part of our mission at SAGE is to educate without judgement.  Some of you, like my friend, may be fighting for your loved one’s safety and security.  Others may be dealing with fractured and broken relationship with an elderly parent and reckoning with past abuses.  This article was simply intended to highlight elderly abuses in hopes of making a difference.

If you would like some more information or to volunteer, check out the American Society on Aging at https://www.asaging.org/

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about 1:1 Mentorship

Understanding Chakras

If you’re new to meditation you may get nervous or confused when you hear people talking about chakras. I feel you. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about these energy centers and their colors and exploring how to use them make life better. In fact, at one point in my early 20s, I convinced myself that  my orange chakra was blocked and that’s why I couldn’t get a boyfriend. A magazine told me so; so I figured it had to be true. Eventually though, I gave up and decided chakras weren’t my thing.

Fast forward to my 30s. After leaving an abusive relationship, I found my thoughts returning to chakras. I wanted to add them to my self-healing toolbox. I found that tuning into my chakras gave me direction, pointing me to the parts that were hurting or needed attention. 

In our Guided Meditations, you’ll learn to picture the structure of each chakra along your spine just by closing your eyes, relaxing your mind, and becoming more in tune with your own body. But, until then, here’s a quick overview to make you feel more comfortable:

Chakras are the energy centers in our bodies. Some people believe there are as many as 114, but we’re going to focus on the seven primary chakras along your spine. 

Root

The root chakra is red. It’s located where your tailbone meets your sit bone and serves as our foundation to the earth.

Sacral

The sacral chakra is orange. The sacral chakra sits just below your belly button. It’s responsible for  our connection to others, including our sexuality.

Solar Plexus

This chakra is yellow. The Solar Plexus is located in your upper abdomen.  When you say things like, “I feel it in my gut” you are referring to your Solar Plexus Chakra.  This chakra is all about self-esteem and self-assurance.

Heart

The heart chakra is green. If that confuses you, you’re not alone. You’ll find the heart chakra exactly where you’d expect to: in your chest. It, of course, is all about love. 

Throat

The throat chakra is blue.  This chakra represents verbal communication. This is an important chakra to focus on as you work to verbalize your feelings. 

Third Eye

This chakra is purple.  People, including me, often get nervous when you talk about this one.  However, despite its creepy name, the third eye chakra is simply about our own intuition and wisdom. This chakra is located between the eyes.

Crown

This chakra color is up to you. I mean it!  Mine has always been a white gold. Some people have a light silver or a light purple. The crown represents your spiritual side. Your connection to the world. Pure joy.

To learn about unblocking and balancing your chakras, join a Guided Meditation.

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about 1:1 Mentorship

Trauma, Stress and the Body

Today on the Sage Advice Podcast, my friend Rachael M Belliveau LMT (Moonstone Healing Arts and True Bleu Healing Arts of Richmond, Virginia) spoke to us about the effects of stress and trauma on the body.  As Rachel mentioned our body is broken up into the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  Both are part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which covers all the involuntary functions of the body.  The PNS restores the body to its calm state and prevents it from over exertion.  The SNS refers to how the body perceives and responds to a threat.

Trauma and the Body 

When we talk about abuse, we are not only talking about physical or sexual abuse, we are also talking about various forms of emotional and verbal abuse.  In any abusive relationship, the body has a response.  In physical abuse the wounds are easier to see and the fight or flight response is typically immediate.  With mental forms of abuse, however, there is a perceived threat, now or in the future, that can cause the same fight or flight response.  Let’s take a closer look into how our body responds to real or perceived threats.

What is Fight, Flight or Freeze?

As mentioned above, the Fight or Flight response is the body’s response to a dangerous situation.  Over the past decade or so researchers have added a third type of response, freeze.  The website Anxiety Canada, refers to Fight, Flight or Freeze as the F3 (kind of makes it sound like a superpower).  F3 has been instilled in humans since the beginning of time.  It is our biological defense system and is intended to keep us alive.   If you’re confused at all about F3, just remember back to when you have been afraid.  What did you do?  How do you handle haunted houses, for example?  Some people scream and flee, others may stay and fight.  Simply put, F3 is our brains mode of self preservation. 

What is Freeze?

The concept of fight or flight was presented in the 1920s after research studies into anxiety and the brain were conducted.   More recently scientists have added the freeze response.  As is explained in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry (ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2489204) :

            “freezing—or tonic immobility—may overwhelm other competing action tendencies…Similar to the flight/fight responses, a freeze response is believed to have adapted value.  In the context of predatory attack, some animals will freeze or “play dead.”

The article goes on to describe the loss of motor function, as well as vocal abilities.  It is also somewhat perplexing to compare oneself to a dead animal but in the end, we are all animals, and our responses are often biological in nature. While the freezing response has garnered far less attention than its counterparts fight and flight, there is one area in which freezing has received much attention, cases PTSD and Rape.

            “One exception is the PTSD/rape literature wherein several studies have described rape induced paralysis that appears to share many of the features of tonic immobility (Galliano, Noble, Travis & Puechl, 1993; Mezey & Taylor, 1998; Scaer, 2001; Suarez & Gallup, 1977).  This literature suggests that a relatively high percentage of rape victims feel paralyzed and unable to act despite no loss of consciousness during the assault (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1976; Heidt, Marx & Forsyth, 2005).  Since fear, predation, contact and restraint are common in both rape and the induction of tonic immobility in animals, it has been concluded that these phenomena are essentially isomorphic (Suarez & Gallup, 1979).”

Stress, Anxiety and the F3

What happens if our F3 survival instinct is triggered but there is no present threat or danger to our physical body?  As we learn more about anxiety from a scientific perspective it becomes clearer that anxiety can cause are body to enter its F3 mode when there is little to no physical threat of danger.  Being in a physically abusive relationship puts you in very real danger, there is no argument there, but verbal abuse or stalking cases can cause immense levels of anxiety and have been known to trigger the F3 response inside the body.

When I say inside the body, I mean that sometimes our muscles and/or our musculoskeletal parts can feel the effects of stress and anxiety before our conscious thoughts get there.  Our muscles can hold trauma and memories, just like our minds.  Think about a time where you have been in constant and sustained stress.  Did your muscles stiffen up?  Did you suddenly develop tension headaches or migraines?  These can be signs that your body is holding on to something your brain is not ready to deal with yet.

Dealing with emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse is extremely stressful and taxing on the mind, body and soul.  It is important to listen to all three components.  Of course, no one can live completely stress free but often we neglect what our soul or common sense tells us.  It can be easy to turn a blind eye but when the pain becomes physical, it is hard to ignore.

What happens to the body?

When you are in an abusive relationship the chronic tension begins to affect you physically.  You might have constant shoulder pain where you never had it before.  You may be carrying stress in your feet when they have never bothered you.  The barrage of insults and attacks wear on your body as much as they wear on your soul.

According to the Cleveland Clinic when your body enters the F3 mode, or stress response, the following can happen:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • You are pale or have flushed skin
  • Blunt pain response is compromised (aka pain is delayed)
  • Diluted pupils
  • You are on edge
  • Memories can be affected
  • You are tense and trembling
  • Your bladder might be affected

Do you remember the last time you were cut off in traffic and had to slam on the brakes?  Do you remember the instant panic and frustration you felt?  That is exactly what it feels like to start fight, flight or freeze.

Can you imagine having that same feeling for days, months or even years?  Intense isn’t it.  That is what a lot of abuse survivors feel both when they are in the relationship and when they are trying to leave

How Can I Help Myself?

  1. Time: Did you ever notice that once you were finally done with a stressful project you got sick? My body experienced what I called the ‘rubber band effect’ after leaving my abusive relationship. My body was so happy to release all that pent up cortisol and serotonin that I ended up feeling sore and sick to my stomach for days. Once you remove yourself from the stressful situation, it still takes time for your mind and body to build back up.  The more removed from your relationship you are, the less chronic stress your body will have to endure.
  2. Exercise: For some people exercise is their lifeline.  Running can be therapy and moving your muscles is always a good boost for mental health.  To be honest though, for me exercise was an additional stressor.  I decided not to put more pressure on myself to be in the gym and that made me feel better.  After a few months I took up a hot yoga and it was perfect for my mind body and soul.  Remember whatever you decide to do, that’s ok.
  3. Talking: Whether you talk with friends and family, a SAGE mentor, participate in a group and/or find a specialized therapist, talking about your feelings to an understanding ear can help ease stress. Plus, you learn better coping skills and have supportive people around. 
  4. Massage: Massage can be beneficial for the mind, body and soul.  If you haven’t listened to the podcast with Rachael, you can find it here.  There are so many different types of massage and energy work that can help you relax and work muscles.
  5. Meditation: Guided meditation helped me get reacquainted with my inner self, that’s why I run the guided meditation class. It was essential to helping me learn what I needed and where to focus my healing.  Frankly, it helped me find myself again. At the very least, taking a quiet moment in a comforting place can be all you need to reset and refocus.   

Whichever way you find healing just remember these two things; that the fastest healer doesn’t win and what works for one person may not work for you.  Healing takes time, energy and effort but someday you will find yourself again only this time you will be a stronger, wiser and happier you.   

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about Guided Meditation.

Gaslighting: History and Basics

Gaslighter, denier

Doin anything to get your ass farther

Gaslighter, big timer

Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

                                                                                                     –Gaslighter, The Chicks

On Episode 4 of the SAGE Advice podcast, we focus on the topic of gaslighting.  As emotional abuse and manipulation becomes a more mainstream conversation, gaslighting has taken center stage.  However, there is a lot of misinformation out there so we are going to examine the roots of the term gaslight, how it feels to be gaslit and how regain your sense of self.

The Movie

Gaslight was released as a movie both in 1940 and 1944, the later starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.  The movie was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, originally created in 1938.  Needless to say, the concept of gaslighting has been around for centuries. The better we educate ourselves against emotional abuse and manipulation, the closer we are to ending the cycle. 

Gaslight is a psychological thriller about a young woman, Paula, whose wealthy Aunt is murdered. Paula is sent to live in Italy where she trains to become an opera singer.  Years later, she returns to London with her new husband, Gregory, to live in her aunt’s old house.  To quote the movie, Paula was “slowly and systematically being driven out of her mind.”

The Con

Gregory was not who he pretended to be and as Paula grew closer to finding his true identity, he launched a campaign to make her feel that she was going mad.  The campaign began soon after they returned to London and moved into the home of her murdered Aunt. Paula found a letter her Aunt wrote days before her murder naming a possible attacker and Gregory was immediately enraged, snatched the letter from her hand and spent his time convincing Paula that the letter never existed.  You read that right, he spent his time making her think she never found a letter and made it all up.  He convinced her that she was going mad, even providing ‘evidence’ that her mother had gone insane as well.  Servants and friends were all in on the con and helped Gregory with his devious plans. 

To ensure his plan was effective, Gregory spent every day confusing his bride.  This is where the gaslights come into play.  The movie is set in the Edwardian Age (1901-1910) and gas lights were used to illuminate houses and streetlamps.  Paula noticed that the lights would suddenly dim, and random footsteps could be heard coming from the attic. Gregory assured her that there were no footsteps, and the gaslights never dimmed.  One morning Paula couldn’t find the broach she set on her nightstand and Gregory told her she never had a broach. Another time she searched for a painting that he asked to see but it was nowhere to be found until magically it was right where he told her to look; a place she already looked several times.

The Truth

A policeman investigating the death of her aunt came to visit Paula when Gregory was away and proved to her the Gregory was a con man and she was being driven out of her mind on purpose.  Unfortunately, upon his return Gregory attempted to convince Paula that the policeman was all a dream.  The housekeeper even affirmed that no man had ever come to the house. At the end of the movie (spoiler) Paula discovers all of Gregory’s secrets in the attic.  When he left for work every day what Gregory really did was climb on the roof, enter the attic and play games with Paula’s mind.  The broach, the painting, the letters; they were all hidden in the attic and part of his master plan to take her money.

Watching Gaslight is a powerful look into psychological warfare.  It is an extreme example of manipulation and how love and trust can be weaponized against us.  Gaslighting starts with the small white lies or the seemingly innocent deceptions that most of us would brush aside; attributed to a mistake.  Over time lies grow more elaborate and intense; designed to make us question our own sanity and sense of who we are.  This conversation is one that needs to be had.  Gaslighting is very scary and very dangerous for the intended target.

What happens next?

At the end of the 1940 version of Gaslight, Bella (as Paula is called in this version) walks out onto her veranda after she has learned the truth and the police have taken her husband away.  She breathes a heavy sigh of relief as she stares up at the gaslight street lamps that line the road.  For me, that was perhaps the most powerful moment of the movie.  We talk a lot about the acts of the offender and the cunning manipulation makes for powerful cinema but watching Bella as she was finally free was the most powerful experience for me.

As someone who has experienced gaslighting in a relationship, I wonder how she will put herself back together.  Will she truly be ok?  The mental torture that she endured is not something that one easily gets through.  The heavy sigh of relief that the ordeal was finally over is only the beginning of another story.  There are years of her life that need to be processed.  There are even more lies that are yet to be uncovered.  There is pain that needs to be healed.  All of that takes time and lots of emotional energy. 

Tips and Tricks

There isn’t a secret or a magic pill you can take to erase the damage that gaslighting does to your mind.  It is psychological warfare and extreme manipulation.  We do have, however, some words of advice on how to start rebuilding:

  • Begin journaling your feelings, recording things as they happen. This will help keep you on task and in reality
  • Take caution with who you trust, not everyone has good or pure intentions.  Its ok to keep your circle small
  • Put your needs first in your healing process. You need to spend time with you, don’t let people make you feel otherwise
  • Talk to a specialized mental health professional, if you can
  • Strengthen your intuition to learn to trust yourself again. I found guided meditation and yoga to be the most helpful for me
  • Dig in The Dirt (keep scrolling)

Dig in The Dirt

You didn’t read that wrong, my last piece of advice is to dig in the dirt.  In fact, hug a tree while you’re at it.  Grounding ourselves into the earth and what is real can be the most healing of all.  The earth is a constant in all of our lives.  Taking time to nurture a vegetable garden or grow beautiful flowers from a tiny seed can bring you back to what is important.  Focusing on the little things, being in nature; those are excellent ways to get yourself grounded and back in focus.

When I bought my house, there was a lot of work to be done.  Most work I couldn’t do by myself but what I could do, I did.  The process of turning something broken into something beautiful was a very therapeutic exercise for me.  One major project that I could do myself was to make my back yard beautiful.  When I started there were only patches of grass beside dirt and debris.  Ivy and weeds littered the yard and had dug their roots fairly deep. For that reason, I started with the grass, covering it all in tarps designed to kill the weeds and enrich the soil.  Turns out I used the wrong tarps and thus began the journey of pulling all the weeds by hand. 

Yes, I pulled every single weed in my yard by hand.  It was a monumental task yet at the same time digging in the dirt brought me a sense of calm.  There is a whole ecosystem beneath the surface that we forget exists.  In a way my work was not only helping me but also helping all the creatures that live in the soil and on the trees.  After the weeds were pulled and the grass seed was sown, I moved onto the plants.  I chose plants that bloom beautiful colors, that attract the birds and that bring a sense of happiness to the space. Now when I sit outside, I look at all that I have created and smile at all the animals that come to visit on a daily basis.  It was something so small, something so simple that helped me recover my mind and clarify my soul.

Recovering from manipulation and gaslighting is not easy and it is not fast.  Take it slow and find calm among the storms.  You are a powerful being and a strong mind.  Your comeback will show just how strong you can be. 

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about 1:1 Mentorship

How to Be an A+ Supporter

How to Be an A+ Supporter

It occurred to me, while creating what would eventually become SAGE, that there wasn’t an outlet for those of you who are supporting someone either in an abusive relationship, or fresh out of one.  If we’re being completely honest, I was inspired to include support systems because of Al-Anon.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Al-Anon is a support group for families and loved ones of alcoholics. 

As a child my grandmother went to Al-Anon meetings weekly and although we rarely talked about it, I knew having this group of people was a lifechanging outlet for her.  She was surrounded by people who knew exactly what it was like to have a loved one destroyed by alcoholism.  A few years ago, I found myself compelled to attend an Al-Anon meeting and what I found was a group of people who were supportive, knowledgeable, and nonjudgmental.  It was a safe space regardless of what level of impact the particular alcoholic had on your life.

When we created the SAGE group workshops, we wanted to make sure to include a place for supporters where they can educate themselves, build connection and hopefully feel more confident in how to move forward.  In episode 3 of The SAGE Advice Podcast, we spoke to Eva about how to be an A+ supporter.  Eva was instrumental in helping me work through my own emotions both in and out of my abusive relationship. It’s important to become a safe place for your loved one and to help them work through their emotions.

To help the supporters out there, we at SAGE have put together ideas about How to Be an A+ Supporter:

No One Knows When They’re Done, But Them

In Episode 6 of the SAGE Advice podcast, coming March 2, 2021, we talk in depth about the realities of leaving an abusive relationship.  The general consensus is that the average person leaves seven times before it sticks, however that statistic could be significantly higher.  Victims often leave for days or even years and still get sucked back into the relationship.  Abusive relationships are very powerful and should not be underestimated.

There was a scene in the miniseries Dear John where the mother and daughter went to a hotel after the mom, Debra, left her husband.  The daughter stayed with her mother for awhile and made sure that she was settled in.  She was so relieved her mom had finally left the toxic, abusive relationship she was in and her mom finally saw John as the liar he was.  The daughter had dinner plans and the mom assured her she would be fine, so the daughter left for her date.  I instantly got a pit in my stomach.

If I could say one thing to the daughter it would be,

“Are you insane! Don’t LEAVE her!  She is so confused, she still loves him, she thinks she is strong BUT she is lying, and she doesn’t even know it!! Stay with her, hide her phone, cancel your plans!” 

Those first few hours/days/weeks will be crucial for a supporter.  Whatever you do, try to prevent your loved one from talking to or communicating with the abusive partner.  During my victim’s advocacy sessions, they told me “Don’t see him.  Don’t talk to him.  Definitely don’t look him in the eyes.”  Advocates know the true power of an abusive relationship and they know that even one look can have damaging effects.  Communication makes it that much more likely that your loved one will return to the relationship.

My friends held me accountable but if we’re being honest, I cracked a few times.  He got to me and I got sucked right back in.  However, I knew enough to confess to my friends, and they helped me talk through it.  I was so used to keeping secrets for him, it was hard to keep myself accountable.  But telling someone was how I got through the first few months.  THIS is why it is so important for supporters to provide a safe place to land.

Aggressive is Not the Answer

“You can’t understand chaos!”-Eva, Episode 3 SAGE Advice

The key to an abuser’s success is chaos.  To a supporter the chaos can be overwhelming so imagine what its like for your loved one to live with the ups and downs day after day, hour after hour.  You may listen to the frustration it causes from time to time, but you’re not in it.  If you’re tired of listening to the stories, imagine how tired your loved one must be.

The easy answer is to just sit back and say, ‘leave already!’ and sometimes that is absolutely the appropriate response.  But a lot of times it will have the reverse effect.  You will be seen as aggressive, that is not the place you want to be.  Trust me. 

Does your loved one really need more than one angry, aggressive person in their lives?  Do they really need to feel like they have nowhere to turn?  What your friend or loved one needs is a safe place to land.  You both need to learn how to set boundaries and how to have good communication that ensures that they know you are a safe place to land, even if they don’t say it.

Cling on Effect

“The more we have to defend our partner, the more committed we are to them”- Eva. Episode 3

This is a very tough problem to navigate for a friend or family member of a person who is in an abusive or toxic relationship.  It is human nature for you to want to protect your loved ones when you sense something isn’t right.  But it is also human nature that makes us defend our partner when they are being attacked.  Can you honestly say it ever went well when you criticized a loved one’s partner? 

The more you push them to leave, the more they will want to stay.  That action feeds directly into the abuser’s playbook.  They will be able to twist your words and actions to prove that they are the only one who is caring, loving, and understanding.  Its a cautionary tale.  The next time you think addressing the situation with judgment and anger is the right path, stop.  Figure out how to come to the table with love. Ask questions that give your loved one space to think.  Stop asking questions that are accusatory in nature.

One of my closest friends and I had a very honest conversation about this after I left.  I was staying with her and she asked me one day why I didn’t feel like I could open up to her during my relationship. While I was in the relationship, it was obvious that she hated my boyfriend.  She had every right to hate him, he was a jerk to her.  It was an awkward place for me to be. I spent most of my time trying to keep my ex from getting mad so I tried to keep her separate and I didn’t share anything with her.  I didn’t want her to hate him more than she already did, so I kept it to myself.  I was happy that she and I had that conversation because not only was it an eye-opening moment for me, it was eye opening for my friend as well. 

Isolation

“Love doesn’t Isolate!  If you have to cut off good friends and family to please your partner, you’re not in a relationship.” -Tony Gaskins

The Cling On conversation lends very well into a discussion on isolation.  One of the classic abuser tactics is to put wedges between you and your friends and family.  Abusers will insist on always being number 1 in your life.  It usually happens slowly at first.  The couple hangs out with friends and the abusive partner makes comments like, “Your friends seem pretty selfish, how could they treat you like that.”  Little notes or comments like this start to get in the victims head and are designed to make them question who has their back and who doesn’t. 

If someone told you to drop all your friends at the beginning of the relationship, you would tell them to hit the bricks.  However, love bombing can be so powerful at the beginning of a relationship that the victim might be isolating themselves in the name of young love, not realizing that it’s the beginning of abusive behavior. 

At its extreme, victims may find that they are years into a relationship and have very few friends or family that they can talk to. Again, this is all designed to keep them in the relationship and to make them feel like they have no place to go. 

As a supporter, it is your job to try the best you can to stay in your loved one’s life.  Don’t lecture and try to refrain from judgment.  Listen, without saying anything.  Become a safe place.  You can’t push them into leaving but you can be there to help them when they’re ready and they need to feel safe with you.

In Conclusion

We hope you learned a little more about how your loved one feels inside an abusive relationship and what you can do to help them.  We created the SAFE to also build a community of helpers.  It can be gut wrenching and lonely to watch your daughter, son or friend continue to live in an abusive relationship.  Instead of taking your anger, frustration and worry out on others, find some camaraderie here at SAGE.  The whole idea of the SAGE Community is to lean on each other and build relationships.  We don’t have to do it alone.

Learn More about The 30 DAY TRANSFORMATION program 

It just might be the answer you’re looking for. 

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about 1:1 Mentorship

Selfishness vs. Narcissism: How Can I Tell the Difference?

You hear the word “narcissist” a lot these days in contexts like this:

  • My husband didn’t check on the baby like he said he would, he is such a narcissist!
  •  My girlfriend is a total narcissist. She’s always posting selfies on Instagram or making TikTok videos. It’s so frustrating.
  • I couldn’t get a word in edgewise during that conversation with my father in law. His narcissism never ceases to amaze me.

It’s true, narcissism is on the rise in the United States and in other western countries but it’s also true that not every selfish person is a narcissist.  I’d argue that we’re using the term narcissist too casually and that can be dangerous. Dealing with a true narcissist is an incredibly toxic, negative and damaging experience.

We talk about narcissism a lot at SAGE because many abusers are narcissists. (And, interestingly, many of the people they abuse are empaths. To learn more about empathic personalities, read this SAGE article) So what is the difference between selfishness and true narcissism?

Selfishness Defined

Being selfish is a part of being narcissistic, but only a small part. Selfishness is defined as being excessively or exclusively concerned about yourself rather than considering the needs and wants of others. Being selfish is part of being human. It’s not hard to think of examples of our own selfishness. Maybe you didn’t listen to a friend’s story about her tough day because you were too focused on your own drama.  Perhaps you are so focused on your own professional success that you fail to celebrate the successes of your teammates. Normal people, when they catch themselves being selfish, apologize for their behavior and try to do better next time.  

Narcissism Defined

You may be familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus, the boy who was so obsessed with his image in a mirror that he couldn’t look away. Sounds a lot like social media addiction, doesn’t it? But there is a big difference between vanity and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  

The Mayo Clinic defines NPD as, “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” 

There is some debate in the medical community regarding whether people with personality disorders, including NPD, respond to talk therapy treatment.  Unfortunately talk therapy is also the only form of treatment most experts recommend. Some narcissists self-treat with alcohol, drugs or other destructive behaviors. It’s that self-treatment that sometimes lands them in a therapist’s office. 

As someone who survived an abusive relationship with a narcissist, I am highly skeptical that people with NPD can change or be cured. I also believe that the sooner you understand that, the faster you can learn how — and whether or not — you’re going to continue to invest in that relationship.

How to Recognize Narcissism

How can you tell if it’s selfishness or narcissism? According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissists often: 

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

If you’ve made it this far, chances are that you suspect that someone in your life is a narcissist or has narcissistic personality disorder. It is important to remember that NPD, like any other personality disorder, is a spectrum. There exists a wide range in severity of  “symptoms” including communication, reactivity, malice, anger and frustration. Narcissists may not exhibit every tendency on the above list, but I trust you to judge to what degree the narcissist in your life is negatively impacting themselves and those around them.  

Diagnosing NPD

NPD is extremely difficult to diagnose. Narcissists are often very intelligent, manipulative and excellent at lying. They crave attention so they’ve learned to present exactly what their audience wants to see. Even if you manage to get them to go to a therapist (which won’t be easy), they may manage to fool even the most well educated psychiatric professional. Remember, just because your narcissist doesn’t have a diagnosis, doesn’t mean they don’t have this disorder.  

The Irony of Narcissism

Think back to the definition of narcissism from the Mayo Clinic. So far, I’ve only shared the first half, which focused on the narcissist’s inflated sense of self. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic explains: “Behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

While a narcissist may at first appear to be successful and confident, to “have it all together,” within a very short amount of time that façade will start to crumble. They are desperately trying to hide their shortcomings, which often involves them lashing out at you and destroying your self-esteem and self-worth to elevate their own. This is dangerous behavior — don’t take it lightly. 

The Mayo Clinic offers these examples of how a narcissist reacts to criticism or injuries to their self esteem:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation

My Experience With a Narcissist

Earlier I said that I don’t believe a narcissist can or will change.  Please know that this does not come from a place of negativity, but from my own experience.  I saw the good in the person I loved. I forgave the bad behavior and brushed off the hurtful words and insults. I believed him when he said he recognized his anger and would change but he never did. Somehow everything was my fault: if I only believed him more; if only I were a more supportive partner; if only I bought him expensive gifts; if only I forgot all the bad things he said to me. If I did all that he wouldn’t have to talk to me aggressively. He wouldn’t get so angry. 

Now I know that it is very hard for a narcissist to truly, deeply and honestly take responsibility for their actions and behavior the way we can. You must understand this.  They will never accept responsibility the way a healthy person would. That may sound harsh, but before you can affect real change, you have to accept that.

Next Steps

Only you know what to do with this knowledge. Only you know the intricacies of your situation. I needed time and encouragement to finally say, “Enough is enough.”  Your experience may be completely different or eerily similar.  You may think you can fix this but don’t focus on fixing the narcissist, focus on doing what’s best for you. What will make you happy? Lead with that and the rest will follow.

Want to hear my story? Listen to The SAGE Advice podcast — episode 1. 

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about Guided Meditation.

My Name is Empath, Nice to Meet You

My name is Erin, and I am an empath.  Only recently has the word Empath started to gain more notoriety and understanding.  As a kid, labels like overly sensitive and cry baby were likely attached to empaths on the playground.  I can’t tell you how many times I locked myself in the bathroom to cry for what I’m sure seemed like the littlest thing but we empaths are easily hurt on a very deep level.  In layman’s terms being an empath means you have the ability to feel the feelings of others as your own.

Being an empath is not an easy life.  At times it feels much more like a curse than a blessing.  My father, who I suspect has empathic tendencies, constantly muses that he is sought out by strangers at every party so they can share their deepest regrets and emotions with him.  I too am cursed with the gift of too-much-information (TMI) from strangers.  I can’t tell you how many times at cocktail parties’ people have begun a monologue of their lives that ends in tears, hugs and the inevitable statement, “I have no idea why I just told you all that, I met you five minutes ago!”  The empath is also a tad confused for their only question was, “Are you having a nice time?”  The empath also doesn’t know why you chose to tell them about your dog dying in 1978 or how your mother could be cruel at times but you chose to share none-the-less. 

What people fail to realize is that the empath will carry another person’s pain around for days until either it begins to wear off or the empath has learned to shield themselves.  Empaths will literally cry over someone else’s painful story or burdensome past and then wonder if there was something they could do to help.  The truth of the matter is that we will never see this person again and can’t help them because we will never speak to our second cousins, best friends, future mother in laws, sister…ever again.

Empathic Traits

If you have experienced these types of scenarios, maybe you too are an empath!  Dr. Judith Orioff MD has written extensively on being an empath and in 2016 she published an article examining The 10 Traits of Empathic PeopleHere are some of the highlights:

  1. Empaths are highly sensitive people, naturally giving, open and good listeners
  2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions, good and bad
  3. Many Empaths are introverted or prefer small groups – crowds zap their energy
  4. Empaths are highly intuitive and that’s how they experience the world, through that lens
  5. Empaths need alone time to recharge
  6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships; needing space to stay grounded
  7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires who zap their energy and peace of mind
  8. Empaths become replenished when surrounded by nature
  9. Empaths have highly tuned senses, getting easily frayed by too much noise or smell
  10. Empaths have huge hearts and sometimes give too much

(Suggested Reading: The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Dr Judith Orloff)

Like many of you, I identified with all the traits listed above but let’s take a deeper dive into #6 and #7, empaths can be overwhelmed in intimate relationships needing space to recharge and empaths are targets for energy vampires who zap their energy and peace of mind.  Take a second to think back to all of your previous relationships, looking at them through the filter of being an empath and what you have learned so far.  Then read on.

The Need for Space

I get it, you’ve found someone that you connect with and you want to spend all of your time together.  In my previous relationship, my ex wanted to spend all of his time at my house, and I didn’t object.  My house was a safe space where I recharged and centered myself.  Who wouldn’t want to be there?  Things were fine for a while; it was the beginning of the relationship and things were really good.  My house was a place of happiness and laughter and that still helped me to recharge, but that didn’t last forever.

When an empath is in a situation like this it won’t be long until we feel like our space is being invaded and our ability to recharge and center ourselves disappears.  There were times when my ex would ask if I needed to be alone. Sometimes I said yes but other times I would say it was fine, which it rarely was.  It was my fault for not recognizing that I did need time alone and my own personal space.  There was part of me that was a little scared to say no.  He’d shown me his space insecurity before and I wanted him to feel secure in our relationship. 

But there is also a dependency that forms when you see someone every day and that dependency can happen very quickly.  While controlling partners aren’t always abusive, often they are and dictating how much time you spend together or how little time you spend apart, can be a useful tool in getting what they want even if it’s not healthy for you. Some relationships can have healthy co-dependency, but others do not and its difficult to recognize what you truly feel when you lack a space of your own.  As an empath it’s essential to create a quiet space for yourself to recharge and get centered on a daily basis.

Energy Vampires

Next time someone walks into your home or office, notice the energy.  Empaths can feel the energy shift on a deep level even before their brain consciously recognizes it.  When your partner gets home from work, notice your energy level before and after they walk through the door.  Notice if you are suddenly tired or if you get a burst of energy and happiness.  This will tell you a lot about what your body is feeling even if your brain hasn’t caught up.

In my personal experience, with several ex-boyfriends, I would get home after work, start cooking, be in a good mood and have lots of energy.  On more than one occasion I started yawning the second my partner reached the door. It was during my last relationship that I really started tracking my energy before and after he came through the door.  I knew immediately if he had a bad day at work or if he was going to pick a fight with me.  I knew all of this before he even said a word.  I knew all of this before I even laid eyes on him. 

So do an energy experiment of your own!  See what you’re like when you meet up with friend’s vs your significant other.  Notice the differences in energy you feel around different types of friends.  There were times when I would show up to a friend dinner completely exhausted and having a terrible day.  It wouldn’t take long for the energy of love and excitement from my friends to lift me up to a happier plane.  It is so important to surround yourself with people who bring you true happiness and love. Be careful who you choose to spend your time with and if you partner brings your energy down, it’s time to find someone who lifts you up. 

Intuition

We all have intuition, but it takes effort to really learn to listen to that intuition.  A lot of people have asked me, “what did your gut say about your previous relationship?”  While there was certainly a point where I knew it was time to go, there were other times my intuition was sending mixed messages or rather, I wasn’t receiving messages clearly. You could say there was interference in my spiritual channel.  As empaths, if we are disconnected from our intuition then it is almost impossible to see a clear path ahead. 

When we are in controlling or toxic relationships it can be hard to decipher what emotions are in fact our emotions and what emotions are our partners emotions.  The more time you can spend alone to process your thoughts and clear away the clutter, the more confident you will be in the path forward.  Just remember, toxic people and abusive relationships can cloud everything.  Its ok if you don’t know what your gut is saying right now but you can take steps to get yourself to a better place of understanding. 

Creating Boundaries

For Empaths, creating boundaries is very difficult because we tend to sacrifice our feelings for the feelings of others.  Unfortunately, that often makes us most vulnerable to abusers and those in our lives who use emotional manipulation to get what they want.  This could be romantic relationships, friendships or family-ships because emotional manipulation is not limited to just abusive intimate partner relationships.  Often families are the biggest culprits because they’ve spent the longest learning how to get you to do what they want, guilt. Guilt works overtime on an empath because, again, we can truly feel the anguish and heartache in everyone’s intention.  All it takes is one sob story, and you’ve got an inexperienced empath on the hook. 

Learning what your boundaries are and how to protect your energy is key to learning to live in positivity and happiness.  Knowing how much time you need to yourself, teaching yourself the difference between helping someone and being taken advantage of; these are all skills that come with time and practice.  If you need a counselor to help you identify your boundaries, don’t be afraid to seek help.  You aren’t just overly sensitive, you are a fighter, so it’s time to learn how to protect yourself.  Only a whole person can truly be of help to another.

Advice for Empaths

Having wrestled with these emotions for years now, I can’t stress enough how important it is to protect yourself from negative energy and toxicity. Sometimes that means cutting certain people from your life that aren’t serving your highest good.  Maybe that means turning your phone off and taking some time to relax in nature and recharge.  You can join a guided meditation class and work on building your intuition. Why not go to the beach or jump in the pond behind your house, water helps you reconnect with your inner self. 

Remember that you deserve a partner who is uplifting and positive.  No one is perfect all the time, including you, but when a partner comes from a place of genuine love you will feel energized and ready to take on the world.  Find the quiet place.  Learn how to recharge your mind, body and soul.  Build your armor and build your positivity. You are stronger than you think.

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about 1:1 Mentorship

Our Five Favorite Books

Please note: we participate in the associate program at Bookshop, so we earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases. We love Bookshop because it matches our small commission with a donation to independent bookstores.

I didn’t read many self-help books while I was in my abusive relationship because my boyfriend would have gotten suspicious and angry. He didn’t even like it when I wrote in my journal. The only one of these titles that I read while I was with him was Your Sacred Self, because it focused on meditation. I can’t recommend the book or the practice highly enough. 

I discovered authors Wayne Dyer and Gabby Bernstein on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation podcast, which I also recommend.  Emotional Blackmail and Should I Stay or Should I Go helped me process the verbal abuse I suffered. And, finally, I read Blue Mind because I’ve always felt calmer around water and I wanted to strengthen that mind-body connection. 

Emotional Blackmail: When The People In Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, And Guilt To Manipulate You
This book is a MUST for dealing with master manipulators.  The author Susan Forward PHD provides real world examples of emotional manipulation.  Everyone uses manipulation to get what they want, it’s human nature.  But at what point does that manipulation go too far?  Find out by reading Emotional Blackmail.
Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist
Ever wonder if you’re dealing with a narcissist?  In the very first chapter author Dr Ramani Durvasula PHD gives us a checklist to work from.  She then dives into the patterns and behaviors of those displaying narcissistic tendencies.  Can they really change?  See what Dr Durvasula thinks and then draw your own conclusions.
Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do
Water has been healing people for centuries.  Even prior to the modern age, the ancient egyptians heavily documented the soul cleaning and healing properties of water.  Do you ever just feel better sitting by the ocean? Well, there may be a science behind that. Explore more with Blue Mind.
The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith
If you’re not familiar with Gabby Bernstein, get familiar.  She is a master manifester and helps you open you soul to what you need.  The Universe Had Your Back is a great introductory book to manifestation or attracting what you want into your life.  Our biggest problem is fear we wont get everything we as for.  To find out more about how fear is holding you back, check out this book.
Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to Be Free
An oldie but a goodie.  Dr Wayne Dyer began writing about spirituality in the 80s when no one really knew what it was.  This book is great for learning to get in touch with your highest self through meditation. 

Do you have a book to recommend to the SAGE Community?

PODCAST

Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

1.800.799.SAFE | www.thehotline.org

SAY HELLO

Meet our founder, Erin.

NEED OTHER HELP?

Learn more about Guided Meditation.