Mental Health Recovery

Is Your Passive Aggressive Behavior Harming Your Relationships?

Passive aggressive behavior has no place in a healthy relationship. Building healthy relationships is an important building block in recovery. More often than not, relationships suffer greatly due to the negative behaviors associated with addiction and mental illness. Passive aggressive behavior is defined as a pattern of indirectly expressing frustration or anger, using things like sarcasm, avoidance, procrastination, and stubbornness. The habituated patterns of passive resistance in response to one’s responsibilities or to requests from authority figures are problematic. Passive aggressive behavior creates tension and breeds resentment.


These are some examples of passive aggressive behavior:

1: You don’t speak your truth. For example, someone asks for your opinion and your response is one thing, but your behavior is another: your exuberant, “I love it!” doesn’t match your disinterested approach or attitude.

2: You are duplicitous:  you feel one way but act another. For example, you show a sweet demeanor, but inside you are boiling.

3: You are a perpetual victim: everyone is doing something TO you. See #1. If you speak your truth, this victimization can cease.

4: You never give a straight answer.

5: You procrastinate and make others wait, giving endless excuses. This is your way of passively controlling a situation, but it will leave you friendless and/or unemployed.


Recognizing that you may be engaging in some or all of this behavior is the first step. You can change! Working on relationships and cultivating healthy interactions with others takes a firm commitment. You have to want to shift your behavior. Direct communication earns respect from others, and builds a sense of self-respect within. It makes a huge difference in the way you are perceived by others and in the way you see yourself.

Passive aggressive behavior doesn’t vanish overnight. So, while you are doing this work, try and be patient. You will have to learn to face your fears and begin saying what you mean, regardless of what others think; you will have to take responsibility for your actions and cease blaming others; you will have to shift the way you see yourself in relationship with others. You will have to become willing to be honest — all of the time.

What you have to say matters. People want to hear you, and they want to understand the way you feel. Passive aggression has no place in a healthy relationship. When you say what you mean, and mean what you say, you cultivate trust, and that, friends, is a key factor in a healthy relationship.

Bullying Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Stopping Bullying and Supporting the Bullied

Bullying is the systematic maltreatment of an individual by another individual or group of individuals as a means of exerting power to intimidate or harm someone that is perceived as weak. The innate powerlessness that is felt by the one being bullied is profound. Feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness are just a few emotional reactions to bullying. Often times, the shame and fear prevent these kids from speaking out, for fear of retaliation or not being believed.


In Hara Estroff Marano’s article “Bully Pulpit” in Psychology Today, she says: “Bullying is not garden-variety aggression: It is a deliberate attempt to cause harm to those of lesser power.”  Kids are beginning the long process of learning to stand up for themselves, understanding right from wrong, and developing accountability. However, by 8 years old, kids do begin to understand the power that they have, or the lack thereof. In truth, the social pecking order begins early. As kids find their way as individuals, some may realize they are different from some of the kids in their peer group. Being different or not like everyone else doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be accepted, though. Unfortunately, the bullies don’t always agree and are prone to viewing difference as a sign of weakness.


Children who are bullied don’t always tell teachers or parents that they are targets of bullying, and it’s not uncommon for someone being bullied to feel helpless in his or her endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, it can feel like there is great risk in asking for help. The bully makes sure those they bully live in perpetual fear of retaliation. Sometimes, proving one is being bullied is often difficult, and the issues fall into a he-said-she-said cycle. As parents and teachers, we have to play the role of detective and investigate all facets of the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.


The following are some indications that your child may be a victim of bullying:

  • Becoming moody or short tempered.
  • Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
  • Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
  • Returning to bedwetting.
  • Beginning to have nightmares.
  • Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Having insomnia, anxiety.
  • Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
  • Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
  • Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.


If you notice your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, it’s important to honor your child by lending them your ear and your respect. It’s frightening to talk about being bullied, and if we as parents can sit and listen fully, without judgment, the likelihood of our child or children opening up is better. Second, parents must intervene on a larger scale in order to stop the bullying behavior in its tracks.


  • Contact school administration to ensure that they are aware that bullying is happening in their school. They need to take necessary steps to stop it.
  • Get informed!
  • Find out what anti-bullying programs are available in your area and contact them for support.
  • Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? If not, see if you can form a coalition of parents and administrators who are as concerned as you are and create some solid guidelines for addressing bullying


Please don’t punish or shame the child who is being bullied. It’s not their fault. Asking questions like that start with, “You should have,” or “Why didn’t you,” implies blame and judgment. A bullied child (all children, really) needs compassion and understanding, particularly from their parents. Home has to be a safe space for them to land. They need to be encouraged to be exactly who they are and they need to know that you, their parent, loves them and sees them and accepts them no matter what. They need to learn that walking away is far braver than engaging in negative interactions with a bully. And they need to know that walking away is not a sign of weakness but a sign of great courage.


“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams


Bullies may seem like they prevail, but over time, their feigned popularity and social pull wavers as those in their peer groups tire of the bullying antics. The bully’s aggression “lowers their social desirability,” thrusting them toward other likeminded, deviant kids.


David Schwartz, associate professor of psychology at USC is quoted in the same article, “Bully Pulpit,” as saying, ” “Victimization is not about the child, it is about what the peer group is doing. The only promising interventions are based on activating the bystanders.” In other words, those on the sidelines need to speak up and out. If we are silent when bullying is going on, we are complicit in the bullying behavior. Bullying can be stopped and the sooner the behavior is recognized, the sooner an intervention can occur.

Parenting Recovery

5 Challenging Teen Behaviors: Parenting With Awareness

Parenting a teenager is no walk in the park.

Embarrassing parents – swan duckling (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

They are hard-wired to defy, irritate, be irritated,rebel,question, and be dramatic; what better way for a human being to learn how to be authentically who they are, right? As a parent, however, those adolescent behaviors can be frustrating and overwhelming. A key component to working with this behavior is creating good boundaries. Setting really clear boundaries shows teens they are safe.


Here are 5 challenging teen behaviors and suggestions for healthy parenting responses:


1:  Oh the Drama! Everyone is horrible and out to get them, life is full of “he said,” “she said” problems and absolute statements like, “Mom! You just don’t UNDERSTAND!”

Parents, this is a great opportunity for mirroring. While you know that the world isn’t out to get your teen, learning how to respond to them kindly is important for their emotional safety. With mirroring, your job is not to analyze or sympathize but to reflect back what was said. In doing so, you are saying to your teen, “I see you,” something teens often don’t feel from adults but desperately need. Being “seen” is something vital to building self-awareness and confidence. They need to know they are being seen and heard without being judged. Here’s an example of mirroring:

Teen: “School was horrible, everyone’s a jerk,”

You: “I hear today was difficult at school.”

In this example, you are actively listening instead of analyzing the problem or trying to fix it. Sometimes, kids just need to vent.


2: “I hate you!” “You’re ruining my life!” “Why don’t you let me do ANYTHING?!”

In adolescence, teens are continuing to individuate. They are trying to find out who they are as individuals — separate from who their parents are. As a result, teens attempt to pull away from the familiarity and safety of their familial setting in order to find their own authenticity, and often times they do this harshly. This is not easy to watch and it is harder still not to take the behavior personally. However, this doesn’t mean parents become doormats for their kids or receptacles for abusive behavior. Create boundaries and disallow abusive language or violent behavior while continuing to support the process of discovering oneself. Your job as the parent is to remain calm amidst the storm: A:  adolescence is temporary, and B: your parents survived. Ensure you are getting time for yourself and for self-care. Remember, if you are an empty well for yourself, you are an empty well for your child.


3: Not THAT friend.

Rest assured, there will come a time where you will feel with absolute certainty that one of your teen’s friends is questionable. Before you toss this friend to the wolves, ask yourself why this kid is so triggering for you. Are you reminded of something? Do you see yourself in this child? Are the parents troublesome? Do you have information your child doesn’t have about the family? Understanding why we’re reacting the way we are can be profoundly helpful. It may prevent us from projecting our fears onto the innocent. This also presents an opportunity to open up a dialogue with your teen about safe friends, safe behaviors, as well as to talk about the red flags for dangerous behavior. After that discussion or series of discussions, if a friend is truly dangerous, you have to set firm boundaries. Sometimes arming your teen with knowledge will allow them to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing themselves. However, sometimes, it won’t and it will encourage a teen to rebel further. In this case, you may have to set firmer boundaries or take more drastic measures. You are at the helm of the parenting ship and it remains your responsibility to create and maintain safe boundaries for your teen and your family.


4: “You’re so embarrassing!”

It’s so tempting to hug and show affection to your teen, especially if you come from a family that is demonstrative with their expressions of love. But nothing is more embarrassing to a teen than having their overenthusiastic parent insist upon squishing their son or daughter in front of their friends. In fact, it’s mortifying. So, as much as you hate to do it, try and curb your enthusiasm, at least while you’re in public. The overarching message: love your teen but don’t show it. Ew.


5: “Put the phone DOWN!”

Oh, technology, what would we do without you? Everything has been made so much easier because of the advances in this area, and we are at a place in our culture where we depend upon it for efficiency. As I’ve mentioned in another post, we have unfortunately taken this tool for connection and unfortunately become terribly disconnected. To help families reconnect, I suggest setting some rules aka boundaries around phone use. Limit phone use (texting and calls) until homework is done and ask everyone to turn them off at dinner.  Make a commitment to connect in real time, it’s invaluable for opening the heart.


Our teens are growing up and becoming the best humans they can be. Our job as parents is to nurture them into the big shoes of adulthood. We have to do our best not to take their sharp twills to heart, to honor them as individuals, and to provide them with support, boundaries, and encouragement. Parenting teens can be extraordinarily challenging, especially if there is substance abuse or mental illness involved. If the latter is the case, please seek help. You don’t have to trudge the parenting path alone.

Mental Health Parenting

Splitting: Mom Said I Could!

Two proud zebras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Psychology, Splitting refers to black and white thinking and is according to Wikipedia “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.” According to Dr. George Simon, PhD., it is “an unconscious ego defense mechanism by which a fairly complex entity cannot be accepted into consciousness in its entirety because it contains aspects that are both acceptable to a person as well as unacceptable.” It is a common defense mechanism in people suffering from personality disorders, whose modus operandi is endless patterns of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships.


For the purpose of this particular blog, however, I am addressing the behavioral issue of splitting we most commonly see amongst kids in relation to authority figures. I’m referring to the common use of the phrase, which is used loosely in reference to kids and teens attempting to separate their parents with the intention of getting what they want. The behavior is similar in that it is an attempt to create a “good guy/bad guy” scenario. Splitting is an often misused term, and even I am misusing it in this blog as I am not referring to its true psychological meaning. This divisionary behavior is what we refer to as “staff splitting” and is loosely used by parents and staff members in the culture of treatment environments.

“No” is difficult to hear for most of us. It evokes a sense of disappointment and perhaps even a sense of loss. If we’re being honest with ourselves, none of us really likes a “no.” It’s difficult to accept such an answer to a request, as it tends to be attached to the outcome. When we can’t accept an answer we’ve been given, then our request is, in fact, a demand. Driven by the cravings of selfishness, our perspective can become skewed and we will often search out the justification we need for indulgent and often unhealthy behavior. Here is where we begin the search for the answer or answers we want, intent on defying the one we have been given. Kids tend to do this all the time, which is what we refer to as “splitting.” It typically looks like this: “But Mom lets me,” or “Dad said it was OK.” It’s a way for kids to find control in a situation that feels unacceptable to them, or to avoid feelings of dissatisfaction.


Not all kids behave in this way, however. The more aggressive personality types are more prone to this behavior, and they lean toward bullying one parent or staff member as they attempt to get what they want. Some key things to remember are:

  • Firm boundaries
  • Clear communication
  • Clear set of rules and expectations
  • No is a complete sentence.
  • Maybe isn’t an option.
    • Remember, backing out of a “No” is far easier than backing out of a “Yes.

No one said raising kids was easy. Remember, it didn’t come with a manual! The individuation process is smelly and rude and full of adventures and testing of limits. As the adults in this scenario, we have to try and remember what it was like. We also pushed boundaries (some of us pushed harder than others –ahem), but, once we lose it, the scale tips in the wrong direction. It is our responsibility to stay grounded.


If you are dealing with a legitimate psychological situation where the truest form of splitting is an issue, I encourage you to seek the appropriate care. You can find more information on splitting here and here. If you need help with mental health issues, please contact us; we are here to help.

Parenting Recovery

Wise Speech: A Behavior Worth Modeling

Our speech is a powerful tool: What we say and how we say it can have a profound effect on whomever we’re talking to. If we are kind, it can change the trajectory of the conversation; likewise, rudeness and thoughtless speech can wreak havoc. Part of recovery is changing our actions and our interactions with others. When we speak wisely, we nurture healthy relationships with others, and create a safe haven for ourselves as well as for those around us. The times when it’s really difficult are when someone is being unkind to us.


When you find yourself in a situation where you are concerned about your response, ask yourself:


  • Is it useful?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it all of the above?


The 10th step asks us to “Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.” This step is part and parcel to paving our spiritual paths, teaching us that spiritual practice is tied to our connections with others. Those connections show us there is something greater than ourselves through connecting with community. When we are unkind, thoughtless, or dishonest with our speech, we disconnect from others, and disconnect ourselves from spiritual connection.


It behooves us to speak kindly, lest we endure the disdain of others. This is not an easy lesson to learn or an easy task to follow, especially in adolescence, where the brain is still developing and the process of individuation is in full force, all of which makes talking back, being rude, and being unskillful with speech par for the course.  How, then, can we effect change amongst the burgeoning minds of our youth? For starters, we need to treat those younger than us with the respect that we would like shown to us. I am not implying that we should become doormats, but I am asking that we practice wise speech and display positive behaviors as an example for our teens.


When we meet rudeness with rudeness, shortness with shortness, and aggravation with aggravation, we are giving our kids mixed messages–“do as I say, not as I do”– which just leads to resentment and frustration. If we want respect, we have to model respect; If we want kindness, we have to model kindness. It is our job to model positive behavior and fess up when we make mistakes. Kids will get it eventually, but it requires patience on our end and a fervent desire to model healthy behaviors.

Mental Health Recovery Spirituality

Acceptance: Recovery and Beyond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acceptance is a facet of recovery that challenges many of us. It can be the impetus for pushback and resistance regardless of how much sober/recovery time one has.  Initially, we begin by learning to accept the basics of recovery: our powerlessness, our mental health, and our addictions. As we progress, the areas in which we may need acceptance shift, or broaden, and the work continues. We may ask ourselves why we are not where we think we should be in our lives, and finding acceptance around that can be a thorny process. It means holding space for the fact that our addiction or mental illness more than likely postponed our hopes and expectations of being doctors or lawyers or from saving the world from zombies. Don’t worry; you can still do all of these things, though not on your original schedule. In fact, you may find yourself capable of doing a heck of a lot more!

Another difficulty for a some folks is the time and energy spent trying to please others. People-pleasing behaviors are pretty common when a lack of acceptance is involved. Behaviors like:

  • Shifting one’s reality—environment, opinions, friends, likes, dislikes–in order to please others.
  • Ignoring your own needs (see above)
  • Seeking approval from others in an effort to find happiness
  • Making others more important than yourself
  • Being inauthentic or a chameleon in order to “fit in”

Sure, accepting that we are enough as we are is not easy, especially at first. We ask for “spiritual progress not perfection,” right? However, we may be asking ourselves why we aren’t prettier, thinner, or more handsome, or why we don’t have better clothes or that cool car, or that guy or that girl. These thoughts are harmful, not helpful. As we create this ever-growing list of what we think we should have versus what we do have, we will come to find acceptance moving further and further away. Bottom line is, negative self-talk is terribly detrimental to the recovery process. It prevents us from being in the “here and now.” It prevents us from loving ourselves, which makes it more of a challenge to love others. It disallows us to accept love into our own lives. Our efforts to please others or subscribe to the expectations of others act as a filter that prevents change yet encourages codependence.

Acceptance takes time. It takes effort. It takes willingness. It is understanding that things are as they are: you pay your taxes, you obey the speed limit, you listen to your parents, you don’t drink and use, you practice self-care, you go to meetings and call your sponsor, and you take direction.

Surely, the challenges that lead to or distract from acceptance are many; in truth, writing it is even a bit nebulous because the concept is almost undefinable. Frankly, acceptance is best learned and discovered by simply beginning to take contrary actions that lead to letting go of old behaviors so we can be less reactive and more accepting in the face of adversity and discomfort.  To aptly quote Joseph Rogers, “It’s easier to work with the laws of the universe than to bash our heads against them.”

Feelings Recovery

Facing Our Shame

Science Fiction League (March 1958) … The Real You (July 6, 2011 / 4 Tammuz 5771) … (Photo credit: marsmet541)


A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety” 

2“A condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.”

Shame is that biting, gnawing feeling in your gut after a lie or petty theft, or sexual indiscretion, drunken blackout, or drugged psychoses. It is the “what the hell did I just do?” feeling we face when we walk or crawl our way into recovery. It is often the impetus for doing the same thing over and over again once we get here. Recovery doesn’t magically make it go away.  Oh, in case you were hoping for exemption, shame is impervious to age, economic status, race, gender.  If anything, it is addiction and mental health’s close cousin.

According to John Bradshaw there are two types of shame: “innate shame” and “toxic/life-destroying shame.” Innate shame is what will allow you to have discretion BEFORE you do something. The toxic/life-destroying shame usually happens later, after the act, when you can’t take it back. This emotion is the greasy residue of your reckless behaviors. Toxic/life-destroying shame is what separates you from others and from yourself. I believe this is where addiction sinks its teeth and feeds into this vicious, emotive cycle.

When we are new in recovery, the shame is overwhelming. There is regret and then more regret. There is anger about the regret and then shame for feeling the anger. Feeling dizzy yet? Being new is a dizzying experience. When we are using, we respond to our shame by using more, drinking more, starving more, eating more, cutting more. Shame begets shame. In recovery, we have the propensity to do the same thing. This time, instead of drugs and alcohol, we turn to other vices. Perhaps it’s gambling, or sexual indiscretions, or the internet. The list goes on. The shame of our actions can therefore make it more difficult to get or stay sober. Again, we have to face the shame head on. But we can’t do it alone.

If you are in treatment, you are in a remarkable place to address this. Treatment provides a safe container for the focused, internal work necessary to learning about processing shame. It allows one to begin to break the patterns of behavior that feed toxic/life-destroying shame. You learn to create boundaries for yourself–sometimes that might mean limiting contact with individuals whose knee-jerk response is to automatically shame you.  When you’re in treatment, you can face shame without falling into the chasm of addiction or a weakened state of mental health. As I mentioned, we cannot overcome this debilitating faction of toxic shame alone: we need a community of others to support us. Being in treatment provides that initial, healing community of support.

To really dissect shame and look at its underbelly layer-by-layer would take thousands of words. It’s complicated, this shame business, because it is a natural emotion living in all of us. What we must begin to do is eradicate the harmful type of shame that drives us into the vicious cycle of addiction and negative behaviors. We will come to see the shaming behavior of others and be able to protect ourselves using healthy boundaries and a firm sense of self-love.  John Bradshaw addresses this issue eloquently in Healing the Shame that Binds You. He deconstructs shame and its many faces beautifully. Once we can stare it in the face, we can stop living in the hell of addiction and begin to love ourselves for who we really are.

“Hell, in my opinion, is never finding your true self and never living your own life or knowing who you are.”

John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You

Mental Health

Adolescent Treatment: Mind and Body As One

Image via Wikipedia

Since 2002, Visions has been in the forefront of providing adolescent treatment. Being well-versed in the characteristics of adolescent behaviors and cognitive development, it was only natural for us to refine our Mental Health Track in order to provide an optimal treatment model for teens. As we’ve seen time and time again, drugs and alcohol aren’t always the sole, causative factor in behavioral issues. Often times, there’s a mental-health component which needs to be addressed with the same skill and finesse used in the treatment of substance abuse.

It’s not easy being a teenager: for one, there’s the physical awkwardness, there’s the social constructs of trying to fit in and be liked, and there’s the desire to do well in school and meet the expectations of your parents. It’s tough. There’s no denying that. For some, it’s harder than others, and the pressure of “doing it all” is simply too much, which can present as the self-deprecating feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression, et cetera. Unfortunately, the environment of adolescence isn’t always conducive to one talking to their friends about these experiences without the fear of being stigmatized. Most of the time, one’s left trying to figure things out for themselves, and that never really works out well.

This October, Visions will light the path to a refined treatment model, addressing the complex issues relating to adolescent mental health. By thoroughly addressing and updating the mental-health component to our existing modalities, we will ultimately provide an environment which will allow teens struggling with mental-health issues to truly achieve physical and psychological health. The goal is to do so while also removing the stigma typically associated with mental-health issues.

We all come with the physiological footprints of our families. On occasion, we need help navigating those seas so we may begin to create new, emotionally sound paradigms in which to live our lives. Between successfully providing mental health, substance abuse, and family treatment, I believe we are well on our way to helping families achieve this goal.

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