When communication is unhealthy: Four red flag behaviors.

Communication in relationships can become strained in the face of arguments and disagreements. Because all healthy relationships contain conflict, it’s important to be aware of the signs that communication patterns have become unhealthy. Here’s four red flags to be on the lookout for to be sure that your communication patterns remain useful, respectful, and positive:

1. Name-Calling

Name-calling is one of the most damaging interpersonal behaviors that I routinely hear about in therapy, and one of the most common. For whatever reason, many of us seem to define abusive behavior as physical – the moment that a hand is raised or someone is touched, we feel comfortable labelling the behavior as abusive. We seem to struggle with the notion that language that is intended to degrade or belittle someone is also a form of abuse, and that abuse can be verbal and/or emotional, in addition to physical. Name-calling, put-downs, and shaming and dismissive language can cumulatively have very damaging effects on a person’s psyche.

There is no excuse for a partner or friend to name-call. It doesn’t matter if that’s how their parents spoke to one another, or if that’s how they talk with other friends, or if they struggle with anger management and sometimes just lose it. It’s an unacceptable behavior.

It can be useful to identify rules for arguments or disagreements in partnerships. “No name-calling” should be at the very top of this list, along with any specific trigger words, phrases, or actions that are below the belt or off the table.

2. Ignoring

There is a difference between intentionally taking space and ignoring someone. Taking a break in an argument, or taking some space for a couple hours after a fight to clear one’s head with the intention of returning to the conversation in a reasonable amount of time, are both healthy behaviors that are useful in conflict management. Conversely, ignoring a partner or friend’s phone calls for days after an argument or disagreement is not healthy or useful – it is manipulative and punitive.

Ignoring behaviors are often utilized as a power play – to wield power over the other by allowing them to wonder whether or not the problem will be repaired, or if their partner or friend might choose to leave the relationship or stop talking to them. It is an attempt by one party to feel in control of the situation by making the other party feel out of control or helpless. This is a deliberately hurtful behavior, and should be identified as such.

If you are in relationship with someone who ignores you for periods of time, and then resumes the relationship as though nothing has happened, I encourage you not to let the behavior slide – let them know this action is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated moving forward.

3. Yelling

I come from a large Italian family, so I’m very familiar with the whole “yelling-as-regular-communication” thing. That’s not what I’m referring to here. When I reference yelling, I mean in the context of an argument or disagreement, with an intention to drown out the other party. Yelling as intimidation. Yelling to communicate power or anger.

When small children are exposed to yelling, they are noticeably startled. This is because at its core, yelling communicates distress. We are programmed to respond to yelling with a fight, flight, or freeze response. We become anxious, or fearful, in the face of it.

Obviously, healthy relationships should not operate from a place of fear and anxiety. If voices begin to escalate, it’s a signal to take a break from the conversation, and return to it when all parties have calmed down and can speak at a level volume.

4. Physical Destruction

Physical destruction refers to physically acting out by damaging oneself or one’s environment or surroundings.

I don’t love the word “normal,” but I’m going to draw a hard line here. It is not “normal” to punch holes into the wall, to break one’s knuckles, to throw things, or to damage furniture when angry. These should not be considered acceptable ways to communicate anger or frustration. Physical destruction is scary to witness, and signals a loss of control over one’s aggression. It is always my recommendation to clients to remove themselves from the situation should a partner or friend become physically destructive or aggressive. Should a partner or friend act out physically during an argument, they may benefit from further help in the form of therapy or anger management support.

Healthy communication patterns are essential to maintaining wellness in a relationship. It is helpful to know when communication has become damaging due to the behaviors discussed above. If these behaviors are present in your relationship, it may be helpful to seek the support of a good individual or couples therapist.

Originally posted on my blog, Common Humanity, at Psych Central.com. To read more, visit https://blogs.psychcentral.com/common-humanity/


Useful Information

Some frequently asked questions and useful answers.

Online therapy works in the same way as in-office therapy, but is done online, similar to a Skype or FaceTime conversation. Clients are able to have sessions from home, work, or any other convenient location. We meet with clients using a HIPAA-compliant secure platform.

Online therapy allows you to work with us from the comfort of home, or any private location of your choosing. For some, the screen provides an added layer of comfort that makes the challenging work of being vulnerable in therapy a little easier.

Online therapy also creates the unique opportunity for you to work with us without the constraints of proximity! The practice was born in Keene, New Hampshire, but has since grown to service clients anywhere in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Online therapy is a great option for clients that travel for work, for college students that go home during the summertime and do not want a break in their sessions, and for anyone with a challenging or inconsistent day-to-day schedule. It is an excellent choice for clients seeking a therapist with a particular specialty that they are unable to find support for locally. Some of our clients report that online therapy makes the vulnerability element of therapy a bit less intimidating.

No. For some clients with more complex symptoms or safety concerns, having a local therapist that is readily available is important in case of crisis or the need for a higher level of care. Online therapy is also a challenge for clients that do not have access to a private, quiet space to be “in session” for the hour, or for those that do not have adequate internet connectivity.

There are several reasons why we don’t accept insurance. The most important are:

Confidentiality. Insurance companies require that your information be shared with them in order to pay for services. We prefer that clients’ information is kept as confidential as possible.

The pressure to diagnose. Insurance companies require that clients are given a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for therapy. We have found that many clients benefit from therapy, but do not meet criteria for a diagnosis. Not using insurance allows clients to access therapy without being given a mental health diagnosis.

Flexibility and freedom. Insurance companies dictate the length and number of sessions they will authorize, as well as when a client is no longer eligible for the benefits of therapy. Because we do not work with insurance panels, you and we can collaborate to determine your individual needs regarding session length, frequency of sessions, and when to terminate therapy.

While we do not accept insurance, many clients choose to submit receipts to their insurance companies to receive reimbursement via out-of-network benefits. We are happy to provide these receipts for you! Please check with your insurance company for details on your benefits.



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