COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Your Mental Health

As trauma therapists, we’ve seen the impact of COVID-19 and quarantining first hand. And we’ve even felt the impacts ourselves. From spending more time than usual at home, to hearing statements like these more than we ever thought we would:

“How’s your quarantine coming?

“How are you holding up with all of this craziness?”

“Do you like my new facemask? My grandma made it.”

“Hey, do you know what day the store stocks toilet paper?”

It’s odd… isn’t it? That these statements are our new normal. Most of us have been stuck at home for almost two months now and the end may be near in Dallas, but the fear that comes with that can be debilitating. We all have so many questions that go unanswered and yet have so much time to dwell on the unknown.

Maybe for some of you, this quarantine has been a great time to catch up on things, get that extra workout in, and spend more time with your loved ones.

For others, it may not seem so pleasant.

This may be the first time that you’ve truly felt out of control, you don’t know what’s coming next and the idea of staying in the house another day seems almost unbearable. You want your freedom back, you want your routine back, and frankly, you just want your life to feel like your own again. For some people, COVID-19 is amping up their anxiety. For some, their response is manifesting as depression. For others, it’s activating past experiences of trauma and feeling out of control. 

Today we’re going to dive into some difficulties that some of you may be going through during this pandemic and we’ll explore some coping strategies to help you get through COVID-19.

Common responses to COVID-19

Although there are some people that are enjoying this quarantine, the majority of people are starting to feel it wear themselves down. It seems that the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. Anxiety is spiking. Depression is louder than ever. Social isolation is tough.

But… no matter what you feel, you’re not alone in this and your feelings are valid.

Most people have never been through an experience like this before and it can be difficult to know how to respond. So let’s take a look at some of the difficulties you may be experiencing right now:

1) Social Isolation

We are naturally social beings. Yes, even you introverted ones need people too. Most of you will say that being with people gives you energy, makes you feel loved, and keeps you more active.

This may be the longest you’ve gone without seeing friends or relatives and it’s starting to take a toll.

Going without your loved ones may be causing you to feel sad, lonely, and maybe even a bit lost.

2) Anxiety

Maybe you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time and this quarantine is making it more difficult to maintain balance. Or maybe you’ve never had any history of anxiety and yet you find yourself feeling restless and worrisome with uncontrollable thoughts. These anxious feelings are normal in times like these.

Feeling out of control is scary and if we only knew what came next it would put your mind at ease. But we don’t, and the thought of the unknown is keeping you up at night.

3) Dreams and nightmares

This is a common response to any sort of crisis. You are constantly hearing about the negativities coming from COVID-19, you have so much time to dwell on it, and it has impacted your everyday life immensely.

Being surrounded by talk of COVID-19 and the stress that comes with it can definitely lead to vivid dreams and scary nightmares. In a way, it can be an outlet for your mind to try and process the craziness of your everyday life.

Dreams and nightmares can also come about when you are feeling a lack of control in your life. You may be feeling tired, exhausted, and stressed with a yearning for peace again.

4) Drinking more than your normal

When people drink, they typically do it because they want to “loosen up” or even let go and feel less in control. So it makes complete sense that in the middle of a pandemic you start drinking more. Drinking may be your way of coping with some of the worries you have around this pandemic.

Or it can be less about your worries and more about things like.. you’re in the house… a lot, you don’t have to stress about early mornings with the kids, and…you’re probably bored. It’s important to make sure that your increase in drinking doesn’t become your only outlet for your fear or boredom.

Although all of these responses to COVID-19 are difficult to be dealing with, they’re all valid. It’s hard to feel alone and it’s difficult to feel like you’re not in control of your life.

Waking up to nightmares and strange dreams can be challenging when you feel like your everyday life is already a nightmare. And drinking may be fun in the moment, but maybe when you wake up you realize your worries haven’t gone away.

So what are some healthy ways to help you cope during this pandemic?

Coping mechanisms for COVID-19

1) Focus on what you can control

It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the things that are going wrong right now. Whether it be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, a lack of proper materials, or the current state of the economy, they can overwhelm us when we dwell on them too long.

One way to help ease your worry is to focus on what you can control. This is actually a wonderful strategy for anxiety management.

There is a little exercise that can help you put things into perspective for you. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a big circle in the middle. Inside the circle, begin writing things that you are in control of. This can be your daily routine, what you eat, your attitude, etc.

On the outside of the circle, you will write down things that are out of your control. This can include any of the unknown things like when everything will open back up, what the weather will be, how many more people are going to be affected, etc.

The point of this exercise is to help you see the things that you can focus on. It may be important for you to know what’s going on in the world and with the community around you, and it’s great that you want to be informed! However, there’s a difference between knowing and dwelling. When you dwell on the knowledge you begin to worry about things that are out of your control.

When you’re worried about something out of your inner circle of control try letting it go and picking something within your circle that you can work on. This can help bring a sense of control to your life.

 2) Make a routine

As much as you may love a vacation for a week when you can just go with the flow and not stress about anything, there’s a point where you want to have structure again. And that’s exactly how many people are feeling now.

Humans are naturally routined creatures. Have you ever walked into a new class where there wasn’t assigned seating so the choice of an uncomfortable plastic chair was all yours?

Maybe you’re the front row, raise your hand type of student, or the back row, texting in class one. Either way, what happens the next time you go back to that class?

You pick the same seat. Sometimes you even feel like it’s YOURS…

“How dare Becky think she can take my spot the third week into courses!”


That’s because routines give us control.

They calm your anxiety by helping you know what’s coming next, and they give your mind space to work on other things since you’re decreasing the number of decisions to be made.

This is exactly why making a routine for yourself now may be the answer to your worries.

Insider tip: this is also FANTASTIC for you moms and dads with children. You can create weekly schedules or day-to-day ones to help your youngins have some structure. Maybe less screen time and more say… quiet time? Chores? The possibilities are endless.

3) Exercise or Pick up Hobbies

The benefits of exercising in times like these are immense. You can add it to your daily routine to make you feel more productive, you can experience the rush of endorphins to make you feel positive, and you can be proud that you’re staying disciplined in the midst of the unknown.

You can get a good workout at home in just 20 minutes a day. There’s HIIT cardio or circuit training to help get your heart rate up by doing simple body movements.

20 minutes of this and you’ll be ready to take your second morning nap. Even going outside and walking for 20 minutes can help you feel better! And it’s also a great way to get the whole family involved.

If exercising isn’t your thing or maybe you’ve already been getting your daily sweat in (good job to you!) then another easy thing to add to your routine is a new hobby.

Maybe it’s time to take out those crochet needles, blow off the dust on that piano, or get to smashing the glass for your stone mosaics.

Whatever it is, getting creative and trying out new things can make the mundane of everyday life seem a bit more manageable and even more enjoyable.

4) Journal and Meditate

With all of your new hobbies and your exciting new routine, it can be easy to try and cover up the things that have been making you worry. Of course, as therapists, we’re not condoning ignoring your feelings…

On the next trip to the store get yourself one of those $1 notebooks. Something that can strictly be used for your thoughts and feelings. Now, this isn’t going to be a notebook that gets slid under the couch and forgotten about. This is a special notebook. Do you know why it’s so special?

Cause you’re actually going to use it.

I want you to write anything you find yourself worrying about, any dreams you have, anything that causes your anxiety to spike or that triggers you.

Writing it all down and getting the thoughts out of your head can help you process what you’re feeling. It can help you work through those feelings to help you understand what’s causing them.

And of course, pairing that journaling with meditation may benefit you more than you know. The amygdala in your brain helps to regulate emotions and deals with emotions around fear. And scientific evidence is now suggesting that meditation helps to calm your amygdala.

This means that your consistent meditation can help give you a sense of peace and control over your fleeting thoughts. And it can also be a way for you to decrease the activity of your amygdala leading to higher levels of relaxation.

This quarantine hasn’t been easy for most of you. Maybe you thought you’d really enjoy all of this time being at home, but it’s actually been way harder than you expected. Maybe this experience has been triggering for you, and you’ve been feeling like you have no control of your life anymore.

I’m hoping these coping mechanisms can help make this pandemic a bit easier, but if you’re still feeling the negative impact of this pandemic and want to explore those feelings together, please reach out to us. We’re ready to start this journey with you.

Are you looking for a therapist in Dallas, TX for anxiety, depression, or trauma counseling? Check out our specialty page to learn more about what we offer and to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

Making Sense of Your Trauma

Making Sense of Your Trauma

Did you know that there are different types of trauma?

I know right… Why can’t things just be simple? Why does there have to be tall, grande, and venti when small, medium, and large have been working out so great?

I agree, we definitely could’ve stayed with small, medium, and large… However, when it comes to trauma it is important to be a bit more specific. Are you experiencing Big T trauma or Little T trauma?

Wait… What about PTSD? How do you know if you’re experiencing that?

Keep an eye out for that post later on…

Knowing the difference between these types of traumas can not only help you understand what you’ve been experiencing but also help you find ways to cope and work through your feelings.

This post is going to give you a bit of insight on two different types of traumas. And it’s even going to give you a few tips from us trauma therapists about what can help.

What is a Little T Trauma?

The word ‘Little’ is definitely not meant to minimize the type of trauma that you’ve been through. Little T traumas involve stressful events that don’t necessarily threaten our lives per se, but they can certainly overwhelm our system.

Has a pet died? Have you gone through a breakup? Have you had ongoing financial stress? Maybe you’re dealing with a relentlessly critical employer. Have you experienced chronic insults or slights from a family member, friend, or partner?

These things may not be life-threatening in and of themselves, but they can be threatening to your emotional state and mental peace. Every person deals with situations differently. Some try to brush off a relationship like it was nothing. While others are laying under the bed (yes under) stuffing their face with the newest flavor from their best friends Ben & Jerry.

These events do affect everyone differently, but they can still be the cause of significant emotional damage. You may have been reading those scenarios and been thinking that they’re just simple parts of life…

And you’re right. But the thing is, if not dealt with, they can lead to bigger emotional struggles. Especially if you’ve experienced more than one Little T Trauma at a time or the Little T trauma is chronic. When you don’t deal with the situation, all of the feelings associated with your Little T Trauma begin to add up and impact your life even more.

Maybe you’re going through these situations or have gone through them feeling like you have to look “tough.” Or you may even be feeling shame that you’re so bent up about them..

It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to be sad and it’s good to allow yourself to feel. Don’t simply brush them off. Instead, allow yourself to work through those difficult emotions and express them.

What is a Big T Trauma?

Have you ever experienced something that left you feeling completely helpless?

Maybe it was a car accident that left you more shook up than you were expecting, or even left you with bodily harm. You can’t get that image out of your head. Maybe it was that night where saying “no” wasn’t respected. The night you experienced sexual assault and you still can’t believe it happened to you. It may have been a huge natural disaster that left your home destroyed, and you haven’t felt safe since.

Did you notice what all of these scenarios have in common?

They all put your physical, psychological, and emotional self at risk. And they can all leave you feeling absolutely helpless. Like your life is somehow out of your control. You couldn’t control that awful situation so you begin trying to avoid anything like it.

Some people will never drive a car again, relying solely on trains and buses. Maybe you’ve decided to never date or avoid relationships all together because that person you thought you could trust violated you. Others go the opposite way and engage in lots of unsafe sex with the illusion of taking back control. Regardless, the way that you deal with your Big T Trauma can lead to the type of avoidance that affects your everyday life and even your daily functioning.

Avoidance may seem like the answer. Staying away from everything that even hints at the reminder of that traumatic event. This way you don’t have to ever experience those feelings of helplessness again… Right?


Have you ever done the mental game where someone says, “Don’t think about a polar bear?” And then of course what’s the one thing you can’t stop thinking about… a polar bear! Well, this same thing happens when you try to avoid your Big T Trauma.

The problem is, even when you try to forget about it, your body doesn’t let you. You may have nightmares and flashbacks that you can’t shake. Or you may even have physical symptoms that are your body’s way of saying, “Pay attention to me. I need to deal with this!”

Those feelings of helplessness, of shame, or maybe even guilt from not being able to do something about it can’t be covered up. Put an elephant in a room, cover it with a giant blanket, and you’re still going to know an elephant is there. The blanket of avoidance simply doesn’t work.

I couldn’t exactly find an elephant with a blanket on, so this cute pug (above!) will have to do.

Okay. Back to business.

Of course, working through the traumatic experience and the feelings that are involved is scary! You have to be vulnerable and open. You may even have to cry… (Don’t worry, we think crying is great).

But honestly, you may not even realize how your Big T Trauma has been affecting you. All you know is that you should try to work through it because you’re not quite sure if you’ve been dealing with it in the “right” way (which is, of course, different for everyone).

The best advice is to simply not avoid your Big T Trauma experience. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.

How should you deal with your trauma?

As I mentioned, not avoiding your trauma is important. Allowing yourself to experience emotions is an important step in working through your trauma whether it be Little T or Big T.

These are a few of the things that can help you:

1) Meditate

Have you ever tried meditating? I know, it sounds like it’s the next big wave on the scene right now, but all of the studies are pointing to how beneficial it can be for your mental state. And it definitely doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice if that’s not your thing.

Meditating can help you not only be aware of the thoughts going in and out of your mind but also help with controlling the negative thoughts around the traumatic situation that you’ve experienced. That’s not too bad for only 10 minutes of focus a day.

It’s important to note that for some people, mindful meditation can have very positive effects as mentioned above. But for some, it may lead to further emotional distress. Start slow and see if meditating works well for you

2) Go have fun!

You’re probably thinking, “What… that’s your solution?” I know, I know. It sounds way too simple, but I thought you liked simple… Remember the small, medium, and large thing?

Really though, allowing yourself to enjoy time with friends, family, or even spending time by yourself can help remind you that there’s joy in the present (even while you’re working through your trauma).

Remember the things that set your soul on fire, the ones that give you joy, and go do them. Even going on a walk in nature can have more of a positive impact on your mental health than you’d expect.

3) Talk with a trauma therapist

You already knew this one was coming, didn’t you?

Imagine your electricity gets shut off. You know you paid the bill on time, you know you didn’t blow a fuse from using your microwave while blow-drying your hair. So what do you do next?

Call up your local pizza shop since you can’t heat up that three-day old Chinese food? Maybe… But only if you’re not seeing the big picture. Yeah, your microwave isn’t working but everything else in your comfy living situation is being affected too.  And it’s no different when it comes to your mental health.

We all know you should call an electrician when your electricity goes out. You can sit there and dwell on your daily pizza eating habits, but you’ll be baking in the 1000 degree heat of a Texas summer in no time. Not to mention no lights, no charging your cell phone, no tv… the list goes on and on.

So with your mental health, you can sit there and focus on your daily routine. Getting to work on time (Or at least close enough to being on time), taking out the dog when she needs to go, making sure you’ve eaten. But you’re forgetting about the big picture.

The big picture is your overall mental health. Being able to experience joy, not constantly trying to avoid the thoughts and feelings surrounding the traumatic experience that you’ve had, and being able to feel alive again.

But if you’re trying to throw an avoidance blanket over your traumatic experience, and just let it be… You may start to see how these traumatic events begin to affect every single area of your life. No matter how hard you try to not think about it.

Don’t just focus on your microwave. Your feelings need to be embraced. Whether it’s a Little T Trauma or a Big T Trauma, you’re allowed to feel. You’re allowed to work through it. You deserve to feel safe and empowered.

If you want to see how a trauma therapist can help, please give us a call. We’d love to hear from you. And I promise we won’t only talk about animals and food.


Childhood Trauma Counseling

Are you looking for a therapist in Dallas, TX for childhood trauma counseling? Check out our specialty page to learn more about childhood trauma and to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

So Let’s Talk About The Bachelorette

So Let’s Talk About The Bachelorette

Maybe you’re fascinated by The Bachelorette.  Maybe you love the drama.  Maybe you have never watched.  I fall into the fascinated category.  The more seasons I have seen, the more I anticipate manipulations behind the scenes and understand the ability for editing to alter narratives.  Even outside of the Bachelorette, I am fascinated by how media can have us rooting for relationships and actions that we might not root for in real life.  How quickly someone can change from a hero to a villain!  This show could write books on that alone.  Actually, a previous contestant, Sharleen Joynt (Flare and All The Pretty Pandas blog), does wonders breaking down some of these issues on blogs each week.

So why am I writing my first blog post on this?  Well, this season showed something different than ever before.  It demonstrated how incredibly effective manipulation and gaslighting can be in a relationship.  It showed that despite someone noticing red flags, the “crazy-making” that comes with gaslighting can still work.

Moreover, it showed how spirituality can be another weapon or tool that makes it harder to leave controlling or manipulative relationships. If you watch the show, you probably already know who I’m talking about.

I think this is a conversation worth having, because I think what happened on screens across America happens in relationships across America.

The Rundown

Full disclosure: The Bachelorette is a heavily-edited reality TV show where one person starts dating a group of 25 to 30 men to find a husband.  This show films for around 6 weeks.  Contestants have no access to the outside world or their support systems. The men are fully stocked with alcohol. Conversations (with leading questions) focus primarily on the person they are there to fall in love with, the bachelorette.  The drama pot is constantly stirred.  If you don’t actually see someone saying a sentence on screen, that could mean that sentence was not said in that context it was shown. The words may have been spliced together to make a sentence they never actually said.  Thus, I am not here to diagnose anyone. Rather, I am here to talk about what the clips showed and what happened next.

Let’s begin this journey!

Luke P. introduces himself to the Bachelor world through an introduction video noting the importance of his faith and desire to meet Hannah.  They had an immediate connection.  In fact, she gave him the First Impression Rose. Of all the men she met, she had an instant connection with him.  We find out later that their spiritual connection is what bonded them so quickly in the beginning.

We see Hannah and Luke click in their first conversations and sparks of instant physical attraction fly.  She wants men to be bold and he boldly professes he is falling in love with her on their first group date.  Hannah shares “he is saying everything [her] heart needs him to say.”  This doesn’t last long though.  By the next week, Hannah communicates she is picking up on some things that are making her uncomfortable with Luke. She voices, “I’m either falling in love with Luke or Luke is making me go crazy.”

Let’s talk about red flags

Red flags are not in and of themselves necessarily bad or negative, but when they are present it is often time to get more information to ensure it is a healthy, supportive, and empowering relationship.  The more the red flags, the more likely the relationship is not healthy and power is not distributed equitably.  Luke’s red flag rundown includes quick involvement/seriousness to a relationship, jealousy, controlling behavior, blaming other’s for one’s problems or feelings, rigid gender roles, being disrespectful to others, and not respecting boundaries.

Though Luke P. quickly professes he is falling in love, we come to learn that love is contingent on whether she complies with his expectations and wants in a relationship.  It’s not really about her, it’s more about the idea of her.  He displays physical aggression with the other men.  Any time he begins a conflict, he finds a way to shift the focus to someone else.  He regularly blames the other person involved, comes to Hannah before anyone else, and lies about what occurred.  This season shows back to back footage of Luke saying something then taking it back, then saying he never said that in the first place, and ultimately landing on being “misunderstood.”


His confidence and assuredness in statements such as, “I would never lie to you,” “I will never control you,” and “I would never condemn or judge you” can make it hard to realize that it is exactly what he is doing in the moment.  It is utterly confusing and has someone questioning themselves and their reality when their partner displays this behavior.

Among all the drama and conversation around Hannah and Luke, there is an additional missing piece that I see people attempting to name, call out, or identify in this season; it is spiritual abuse.  Spiritual abuse is simply using spirituality or religion to control or manipulate someone.

Diving Deeper into Spiritual Abuse

Spirituality and religion are shown on this season more than ever before.  Viewers see numerous conversations with Luke discussing his past of “chasing sex” and sin to ultimately finding God.  In true Bachelorette fashion, he is filmed sharing his bad-boy to changed-man testimony while taking a hot steamy shower and displaying his muscular, un-clothed body.  Beyond that intro video, Luke shares his testimony with Hannah, takes her to his Bible study, and both are prayed over by the group.  His beliefs are clearly important to him and a large part of his life.

There is nothing wrong with Luke having his own set of beliefs and wanting a partner to have the same or similar beliefs.  However, when someone imposes their beliefs on others or uses those beliefs as a way to manipuluate or judge someone’s behaviors, the motive changes from “let’s find out if we’re a match” to one of control. Luke actively uses techniques of gaslighting and manipulation and uses them under the guise of spirituality and spiritual connection.

Luke tells Hannah directly that he disapproves of her choices around her sexuality using Christian scripture and language.  He appears to somewhat mock other past Bachelors/Bachelorettes talking about exploring their physical intimacy with someone while identifying as Christian.  He gives an ultimatum saying if she has had sex with any other contestants that he would want to leave immediately.  At this point, I will remind you, we are talking about a reality dating show filled with sexual innuendos around overnight dates.

Luke proceeds to disregard Hannah’s feelings, thoughts, and boundaries in the name of his faith and heart.  This is a tactic that some employ intentionally and some unintentionally. Although we don’t know his motives here, what the viewer sees is that Hannah’s feelings and wishes are consistently disregarded. He demonstrates that his beliefs are more important than hers. His strong spiritual beliefs entitle him to disregard her boundaries and words.  For example, he tells her he loves her flaws while acknowledging he is not aware of any of his own.  He tells her he will be there for her “boneheaded” mistakes or “slip-ups,” but never takes responsibility for the harm he causes others.  When she tells him she does not want to marry him, he insists she is wrong.  She asks him to leave; he refuses.  When he finally does leave, he pivots and asks to pray for her before he goes, only to come back again, showing more disregard for her wishes. He then professes she acted “out of character.”

Subtle and not-so-subtle manipulations 

Using “shoulds” and ignoring boundaries matters.  If I said you should not _fill in the blank_, it is safe to assume judgment will come if I have violated the stated expectation.  People’s word choice, tone, and inflection matter. Luke’s hometown date was telling in a subtle way.  When asked about if Hannah is worth all of it by his Dad, Luke shares that Hannah is “worth it,” and how he has seen more sides of her than others because of their spiritual connection. His Dad goes on to say if she is “worth it” then she is “worthy of him.”  Worth comes from having the same spiritual beliefs and views.  What happens wiht those who differ from his beliefs?

Let’s look at what happens after the show.  Luke has apologized, but not for his actions.  He says he would not change anything.  He made a Twitter account the night the episode aired and he confronts Hannah on his expectations around her sexuality.  He then tweets directly at her about how they view faith differently, with a presumption that one view is more correct than the other.

Look at how he has switched the narrative! He is shifting the conversation away from his lies, harsh words, and behaviors to focusing the story on their differing beliefs. Unfortunately, he continues to shame Hannah around her faith not matching or conforming to his expectations of what faith should look like.  Luke presents himself as a martyr for righteousness, a victim of the network or producer’s edits.

This is not a conversation about whether it is okay to have one’s own beliefs… it’s a conversation about how people can abuse or hurt others with their beliefs, intentionally or not. Many are rallying around him and his right to believe what he believes and expect the same from a partner.  Here is the thing though, expectations are set together in relationships through open communication and exploration.  Often what was depicted on the show were expectations being set by one party, judgment when those expectations weren’t met, and then denial that any hurtful things were ever said.  As Hannah told Luke directly, the words he chose to communicate his expectations were “not okay.”  And Hannah gets it!  She sees it for what it is, but it took her time to get there and there was understandably confusion along the way.

Prioritizing one person’s wants, desires and expectations in a relationship over another’s creates a power differential that can be incredibly harmful and regularly leads to abuse or intimate partner violence.  Mingling this kind of control with spiritual/religious expectations can be harmful in a nuanced way, impacting one’s sense of their spiritual identity or connection.  Let’s name what we are seeing as spiritual abuse and focus the conversation on what it needs to focus on – calling out harm and promoting health.

Hannah mentioned she ignored or put aside red flags for her feelings.  Ultimately she listened to her intuition, made the decision to eliminate Luke P from the runnings.  I am hopeful that she will continue to listen to her intuition and express her faith in the way she chooses.

For more information on spiritual abuse in relationships:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Spiritual Abuse

Genesis Women’s Shelter Blog: Spiritual Abuse

Are you looking for a counselor for spiritual abuse in Dallas, TX? Check out our speciatly page on spiritual abuse counseling to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

Four Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse

Four Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse


In a previous post, we explored some definitions of spiritual abuse. My own research upon writing my doctoral dissertation yielded the following conceptual characteristics of spiritual abuse:

1) Abuse of Power

Abuse of power is when someone (or “someones” – could be family members, religious leaders, teachers, etc.) in a position of power or authority over another person inappropriately uses their power in a detrimental or exploitative way. The person being powered-over may or may not be aware of the abuse of power. In fact, often the abuse of power is so engrained in the culture of the group that it’s viewed as acceptable, encouraged, or even holy. Here are some examples of abuses of power:

  • A religious leader might use their position to lay guilt on someone for not donating money or tithing to the causes, church, or group
  • A leader might position themselves to grant permission or forbid certain life choices regarding career, marriage, or education
  • A parent might force a child to adhere to strict religious rules or practices that are unhealthy for the child
  • When someone claims they know what God wants someone else to do and uses manipulation or persuasion to control another person

2) Suppression of Expression

Think about how you feel when you’ve disagreed with someone, but couldn’t say or do anything about it. You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you know something isn’t quite right, but speaking out feels like it costs more than not? This is suppression of expression. It happens when our thoughts, feelings, reactions, and doubts are unwelcomed at the least or dangerous at most and we do everything we possibly can to keep them inside. Keeping these thoughts and feelings trapped inside will often manifest as bodily sensations. Some people experience headaches, stomach or GI issues, or other aches or tension as a result of suppressing their thoughts and feelings. Over time, this suppression can become extremely confusing, particularly when we remain in an environment in which expressing our true thoughts and feelings is unwelcome. Here are some examples of suppression of expression:

  • Disagreeing with a religious leader or doctrine (women in leadership, full inclusion and affirmation for LGBTQ+ people, beliefs about abortion, hell, etc.) and not being free to share or dialogue about it
  • Not wanting to do something, but doing it anyway (childcare duties, volunteering, etc.)
  • Feeling called to a certain profession, leadership role, or other life choice and not doing it because it goes against the practices of your church or ministry

3) Conditionality

Conditionality can be thought of as a strings-attached transaction. It often flies in opposition to the unconditional love that many groups, churches, and families endorse. It can be particularly confusing when this is the case because of the hypocrisy inherent in a system that preaches unconditional love and yet places conditional demands on members. Conditional relationships with others, including with God, can result in a significant sense of unworthiness and shame. Here are some examples of conditionality:

  • Feeling like one has to give money or tithe in order to be a good person, go to heaven, or be accepted in the group
  • When someone is rejected or shunned from the group because they disagree with a doctrine or practice; the message is that they can belong only if they conform
  • When people feel the need to engage in religious practices (even if they don’t want to) such as tithing, fasting, daily devotionals, etc. and if they don’t the church – or even God – will disapprove of them

4) Spiritual Injury

Spiritual injury is the traumatic response to the characteristics involved in perpetrating spiritual abuse. Being a victim of a power abuses, being forced to suppress your thoughts and feelings, and being made to engage with conditional relationships for an extended period of time can negatively impact one’s spiritual connection. Often times it’s challenging to untangle the people perpetrating the abuse from the god that they claim to represent. Spiritual injury involves a lack of ability to connect with one’s spirituality because of the impact that the unhealthy/abusive person, people, or environment has had. Examples of spiritual injury include:

  • Being suspicious or mistrusting of any kind of church, religious leader, or spiritual group
  • Feeling scared to enter into a space of worship
  • Being triggered by songs, phrases, and language used by the unhealthy/abusive group
  • Feeling like you can’t trust yourself to identify safe/healthy spiritual people or environments because you have been hurt

Of course, these four characteristics often travel together…it can be difficult to know where one ends and another begins. For example, abuse of power meets conditionality when a highly esteemed leader in the church asks you to volunteer for something and then makes you feel like you are valuable only if you comply.

Spiritual abuse can happen on a continuum. Much like emotional and psychological abuse, it can be subtle or it can be overt. If you think you have experienced spiritual abuse, take some time to put words to what you have been through. You can journal about it, talk with a trusted friend about it, or seek counseling. If you are sensing this may be the case, listen to what your “gut” might be telling you about this.

If you determine you have been through spiritual abuse, please know that you can recover if you choose to. People can recover from spiritual and religious abuse and reclaim their life, even their spiritual life, if they choose to seek healing. It’s not often easy or simple. It quite often involves a great deal of grief, exploring and re-constructing your identity, re-examining all you have known and believed in and revered as sacred. And in this grief and pain there can be a cleansing, a freedom, a release.


Are you looking for a counselor for spiritual abuse in Dallas, TX? Check out our speciatly page on spiritual abuse counseling to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

Drama Triangle (Part 1)

Drama Triangle (Part 1)



Here at DTC, we work a lot with people seeking childhood trauma counseling. If you’re reading this blog, you may have experienced trauma yourself, or maybe you’re close to someone who has experienced trauma and you want a better way to understand them. That’s why today’s post on the drama triangle might give a helpful framework to help you better understand what happens in relationships when past unresolved trauma runs the show. I hope this is helpful for you to not only better understand what’s going on, but also gain some tools to stop the cycle and find a way out!

What is the Drama Triangle?

The drama triangle was a theory created by a therapist named Stephen Karpman to describe a pattern of drama-intense relationships in which people can get stuck. Also called the “trauma triangle,” this is a pattern of relating that I’ve noticed with many of my clients who experience trauma.  Essentially, the theory states that we can get stuck in a pattern of falling Victim, Rescuer, or Perpetrator/Persecutor in relationships with ourselves and others. (NOTE: please read this post with the ultimate empathy! Remember, realizing that you might fall into these patterns does not make you a bad or a “crazy” person. It just makes you a person who is working really hard to find a better solution!)

Who gets trapped in it?

Often people who have experienced trauma, especially complex trauma over the course of many years, feel stuck emotionally in their traumatic experiences. These individuals may find themselves in relationships with others who may draw them into these drama-triangle patterns so that they feel forced into taking one of the three roles. Or, because perspective can be tricky, they might view otherwise healthy (i.e., non-abusive) relationships as stuck in the triangle. Regardless, it’s a very helpless pattern.

I really like this model for a few reasons. One, its pretty easy to understand, and I’ve found that many of my clients with trauma and attachment issues find it pretty spot on in their lives. Two, a model like this gives a clearer path for a solution out solution (tune into Part Two on how to get out of this triangle!). Lets dive in to the details.

The victim

The Victim feels helpless, scared, and unsure how to take any power or control back into their lives. It’s pretty clear to understand how this identity developed: people who have experienced trauma are often victims of abuse and circumstances that were often way outside of their control. Naturally, this is not an easy state to stay in, so the Victim will often look for a Rescuer to swoop in (unless the Perpetrator gets to them first). While the victim wants to be helped and rescued, the problem is that relying 100% on others is a sure path towards continued helplessness and powerlessness. The victim is totally reliant on another person to get them out of their situation, which almost always will go awry.

The rescuer

The Rescuer is the savior of the bunch. The rescuer has lots of power and control, but frankly, they assume more control than they really have. The rescuer believes that if they just put themselves totally on the backburner, that they can save the day! Sometimes, the Victim will transform into the all-helpful and powerful Rescuer because it’s a really nice reprieve from feeling helpless and powerless. But the issue is that no one has full control over any situation, and it enables the Victim to stay powerless and continue to be not in control of their life. Therefore, the rescuer often feels incredibly helpless, thus moving back towards either the Victim or Perpetrator role.

The perpetrator/persecutor

The Perpetrator/Persecutor tends to be pretty harsh and critical. This is the internalization of the primary abuser from the past trauma. Often this role sits in lots of anger and defensiveness: “How dare you hurt me! I’ll hurt you back, and harder!” On one hand, this role can feel really safe! No one can get in and you’re protected. But on the other hand, this role can lead to lots of shame and regret, since anger not only doesn’t help the situation but often puts out farther out of reach of the love and support we’re really looking for. Helplessness arises again, and here we are back into another role to escape.

The downside

If you can’t already tell, none of these identities really leads to what a person ultimately wants: a sense of mastery and ability to handle the situation without feeling helpless. Staying in the triangle becomes a negative feedback loop, creating a chaotic sense of oneself and others, and therefore lots of depression and anxiety. It doesn’t allow for healthy relationships between two people where imperfection and flaws exist, and it sure doesn’t allow for true care and vulnerability to live.

I’m sure your next question is, ok… NOW WHAT?! If you relate to any of this, please stay tuned for Part Two: Stepping Out of the Triangle. I promise you, there is an alternative.

Are you looking for a therapist in Dallas, TX for childhood trauma counseling? Check out our specialty page to learn more about childhood trauma and to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!

Spiritual Abuse is Abuse

Spiritual Abuse is Abuse


We’ve all head of physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, and emotional abuse. Those terms tend to conjure up images in our minds: “battered women’s shelters,” the #metoo movement, self-defense classes, etc.

If we haven’t survived one (or more) of them ourselves, we all know someone or know someone who knows someone who is an abuse survivor. Our heart goes out to the victims as we can imagine how painful it must be to have survived such horrible life experiences. We’ve heard of the statistic that it takes seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. We’ve read the stories so poignantly shared on social media. We are moved as a culture to not be a bystander, but to speak up, to use our voices, to empower the disempowered.

However, when it comes to spiritual abuse, I often get a head tilt with a confused-eyed stare. “Spiritual abuse?” I can feel them asking. Wheels are spinning, but they haven’t quite found their track.

In short, spiritual abuse occurs when religion or spirituality is used in a way that is harmful to another person or group. Like other kinds of abuse, it can happen on a continuum. Although there is no perfect definition for such a broad and nuanced concept, here are some definitions offered by other authors that put a finger on the pulse of spiritual abuse.

“The mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support, or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment (Johnson & Van Vonderen, 1991)

“Denying other’s spiritual freedom through claiming that only one’s way to God is valid” (Linn, Linn & Linn, 1994)

“Spiritually abused individuals have received the message that their spirituality is defective as if there is something wrong with them” (Bhaktavatsala, 2001).

“Spiritual abuse, sometimes called religious abuse, results when individuals are deceived and or otherwise manipulated in ways that cause detrimental changes to core elements of the self, including one’s relationship to God, religious/philosophical beliefs, self-determination, and the capacity to think independently. Though often associated with cultic groups, spiritual abuse may also occur in mainstream denominations when pastors or others misuse their authority or when individuals violate the ethical boundaries of proselytizing or other kinds of influence situations.” (

These definitions are all antidotal – astute observations made by people with intimate knowledge of spiritual abuse. None are perfect and yet all capture an aspect of the experience.

In future posts, we will share more thoughts, research, and insights on spiritual abuse. We will explore characteristics of spiritual abuse, how to know if you have been spiritually abused, and ways to heal from spiritual abuse.

In the meantime, consider this: how would you define spiritual abuse?


Are you looking for a counselor for spiritual abuse in Dallas, TX? Check out our speciatly page on spiritual abuse counseling to see if one of our therapists might be a good fit for you!