014: How to Recognize Toxic Behavior (from the Start) with Stephanie Sarkis, PhD

Stephanie Sarkis

When we think of abusive relationships, our minds often jump to physical violence. But a more subtle form of abuse that’s harder to recognize is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs in toxic relationships and includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This type of abuse may not get recognized at the start of a relationship and can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, or even like you’re in the wrong.

Toxic relationships, whether it’s with a partner, parent, friend, or co-worker, can be tricky to identify. How do you know if you are in a toxic relationship? Podcast guest, Stephanie Sarkis is a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, gaslighting, narcissistic abuse, and ADHD, who helps us sort out this question and much more. 

In this episode, Stephanie walks us through the different stages of toxic behavior, where it originates, and who’s most vulnerable. She offers red flags of toxic workplaces, actions toxic people take to manipulate others, and how to deal with them. Finally, Stephanie gives advice on how to handle the holidays with toxic family members.

Key Highlights:
  • Emotional abuse seems like an invisible form of abuse and many of us aren’t as well versed in recognizing it. 
  • Toxic people may prey on people in certain circumstances, such as those who are grieving (you don’t feel like yourself, not thinking clearly), those with medical conditions, and those in helping professions (more likely to accept a wide range of behaviors). 
  • There are different stages of toxic behavior: (1) love bombing (you’re the best, push for and secure commitment), (2) devaluing, (3) verbal abuse, and (4) physical abuse.
  • Physical abuse is using or abusing someone’s physical body to get power and control over them. An example is blocking an exit so someone can’t leave or backing someone against a wall.
  • Toxic behavior comes from two types of people – (1) some are just born with bad brain wiring (they get a dopamine boost from manipulating people); (2) people who grew up with parents who had toxic behavior.
  • Red flags of a job interview – saying “everyone here is family”, triangulating (talking about others), and love bombing (see above). 
  • Ways to deal with toxic people: walking away – go no contact (if no kids involved), low contact (if kids, using a co-parenting app that keeps a record of everything), find a family law attorney, and know your rights.
  • Five holiday strategies for dealing with toxic family members – (1) set a time limit, (2) have a separate gathering, (3) have someone you trust to come with you, (4) use the grey rock method, responding in the most bland way possible when someone tries to bait you or say “I’m confused why…”, and (5) using the broken record technique (give the same response over and over).
Links Mentioned:

Stephanie’s dog Connor’s Instagram page @ConnorTheBritt

11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting

Talking Brains podcast

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Full Bio:

Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD NCC DCMHS LMHC, is a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, gaslighting, narcissistic abuse, and ADHD. She is the author of eight books and one workbook, including Healing From Toxic Relationships: 10 Essential Steps to Recover from Gaslighting, Narcissism, and Emotional Abuse and Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free.

Dr. Sarkis is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, American Mental Health Counselors Association Diplomate (Clinical Mental Health Specialist in Child and Adolescent Counseling), and a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family and Circuit Mediator.  She has been in private practice for 20 years.  She is a senior contributor for Forbes online and is also a contributor to Psychology Today.  She is the host of the Talking Brains podcast and is based in Tampa Bay, Florida. 

You can visit her website at www.stephanie

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