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At the start of any romantic relationship, everything is fresh, new, and exciting. We tend to idealize the person we are dating, feeling that they can do no wrong and would never do anything to hurt us, ever! Sound familiar? It’s because these feelings get the best of us and many times, these idealized traits can very well be true (with hints of reality that we won’t always agree and/or be “lovey-dovey” 24/7). However, sometimes we may start to notice that we have polar opposite experiences in our relationship, depending on the day…never knowing what’s to come. We have some days where we are honeymooning followed by days of emotional turmoil. When we start seeing this pattern continue over time in the relationship, it’s time to start thinking about whether we may be dealing with a partner who is emotionally manipulating you, whether they even realize what they’re doing or not.

Of course, it can be very difficult to tell if you have a manipulative partner and even more difficult to admit this to ourselves once we see all the clear signs that this could be true. Oftentimes, we may see that our partners are incredibly loving, affectionate, and make us feel like we are the most important thing on this planet. It’s a wonderful feeling, something to be cherished, and oftentimes we become addicted to the feelings of elation that come with this affection from our partner. Then, maybe there’s some kind of disagreement where we are then ignored, avoided, and made to feel that we are a burden. Often, we are made to feel that we are in the wrong, confused, or not paying enough attention. The constant cycle of honeymoon phases followed by conflicts, anger and confusion makes it difficult to know whether we are genuinely in the wrong or if we are being manipulated.

How can you tell if your partner is being manipulative?

There are many signs of manipulation that one can show if we know what to look for in our interactions with not just our romantic partners, but anyone in our lives. Here, we will go over just a few of the big manipulating skills that we often see in romantic relationships that maybe you’ve noticed too. 

First, there’s gaslighting. Do you ever notice that you become more confused and feel like you’re losing your mind in your relationship? Your partner may make you doubt yourself constantly and that you are always in the wrong. An example may be that your version of events often differs from theirs and they make you believe that you are confused or maybe even accuse you of lying and/or being manipulative.

Another tactic is called stonewalling.  When your partner and yourself have a disagreement,  do you find that you are then being ignored and avoided for several hours, maybe even a day or two? This is called stonewalling and manipulators use this tactic to make you feel emotionally isolated, it’s all your fault, and that you are the problem.

Also, you may notice that there are ever changing and unclear boundaries in your relationship. Manipulators will often change the rules and flip the script on you to fit their own agenda. They are flexible in the way they represent themselves to you and others around them to ultimately get what they want from whoever they can, which would mean manipulating a lot of people throughout their lives.

Do you notice that you are always painted to be the monster while your partner is the victim to your constant wrongdoings? Maybe your partner is always saying that they are being wronged somehow without having any willingness to look at their own behaviors. Maybe they are unwilling to reflect on how their actions may impact your relationship.  They want sympathy and the best way to get it is to make you feel bad and that this is all your fault. An example may be that your partner tells you that they are drinking excessively because of the stress you bring them.

Maybe you have also noticed that there are elements of blaming language and sarcasm interwoven into your regular interactions with your partner, whether they are positive, negative, or neutral conversations. When manipulative partners use sarcasm and/or blaming language, they may downplay your problems, feelings, and make you feel like you are just being dramatic and/or overreacting. They may even make a joke of the issues and your feelings. Infuriating, right? 

What to do once I see the signs of manipulation:

If you determine that your partner is manipulating you, it is essential to first develop and solidify strong boundaries for yourself. Talk with your partner about some of the behaviors you notice from them in a calm and neutral manner. Do not use blaming language and avoid any angry tones or raising your voice. Knowing what your own values and expectations are in your relationship will help you hold boundaries and immediately address any manipulative behavior as they happen.

When one partner notices emotional manipulation, they are hurt but still in love and often will look into anything they can to remedy the relationship. They may ask, would couples counseling help? Well, it could potentially help, but not always. A couples counselor could help to highlight behaviors from both parties in a relationship that may be maladaptive and contributing to emotional tensions and conflicts. Afterwards, they would likely discuss conflict resolution skills to promote transparency and constant constructive communication between both parties. Sometimes if the manipulative partner is not willing to acknowledge their behaviors and how they impact the relationship,  individual counseling may be recommended.  However, manipulators are not always willing to make change because their manipulating ways work to their benefit, so why change? Often in these circumstances, couples counseling could be beneficial in that the ever-rising conflicts are highlighted so that the manipulated partner may gain additional insight and strength to leave this toxic relationship.

If you feel you are in a relationship with a partner who is emotionally manipulating you, talking to someone about what’s going on, whether it be a therapist or trusted loved one, this can help you have additional objective insight into what is happening so you can make the best choice regarding next steps for your own wellness and what next steps you’d like  to take in your romantic relationship. Much easier said than done, but you can do it. You have the strength, wisdom, and resilience. You’ve got this. 

Jackie Martinez, LMSW (NY), LCSW (NC)

Ah, the new year. We all think it – “new year, new me!”. We can be so eager to identify one or more resolutions. We always say, “this year is going to be different,” and we start off with a strong motivation until that dreaded crash about three weeks into January.

Some of the most popular resolutions include: exercising more, losing weight, getting organized, living life to the fullest or feeling happy, mastering a new hobby, budgeting, quitting smoking, traveling more, and spending more time with friends and family. While these are all admirable goals in and of themselves, the problem is that they are broad, vague, and unrealistic. For instance, exactly how does one plan to lose weight? Is it realistic to commit to going to the gym every day while having a strict low-carb diet? No. How does someone plan to budget? Does this mean paying for only necessities, and if so, what defines a necessity? Is it fair to say no to a night out with friends because that could break the goal?

The most important factor in making and keeping a resolution is to be realistic, balanced, and fair. No, someone will not lose three dress sizes in one month. No, they will not go to the gym every day. Yes, they will give in to temptation — they will eat that Boston cream donut in the break room at work. Yes, they will end up buying something “on impulse” simply because they want it.

Now let’s change the “they” in the above paragraphs to “I.” Go back and read the paragraphs again. Reflect on what these sentences mean to you, if anything, when in the first-person.

Do they sound realistic, balanced, and fair? No.

In other words… Be nice to yourself. You are not a failure for a slip-up. You’re human, with your ups and downs, just like everyone else. Imperfection is okay. No one – absolutely no one – is motivated 100% of the time. Even Olympians struggle to maintain motivation. If you’d like additional resources of New Years Resolutions, click here.

Motivation Operates in Cycles

It is normal to experience the highs and lows of motivation. Instead of thinking, “why can’t I be motivated all of the time?” consider that some motivation is far better than none. That episode of motivation, no matter how fleeting it may seem, can still help you achieve your goals. Embrace it.

I used to struggle with not being able to uphold my motivation for long periods. I became frustrated at myself when I was doing something unproductive. Then I realized that the “something unproductive” was the very thing I needed to do to help recharge my emotional battery – to get me to feel inspired to get back on track with my goal.

Motivation operates in cycles, designed with peaks and troughs. It is not linear. Once you can begin to picture those highs and lows of motivation, moving away from the mentality that it is a straight-line to success, you work toward achievement of your goal (or you can at least readjust the goal to be a realistic one!).

The Phases of Motivation

The New Year before my wedding in October, much like so many other brides, I made it one of my resolutions to look a certain way for my wedding. I was determined to lose some of that weight I gained from too many snacks during all-nighters writing papers in graduate school.

I wanted to be reasonable with myself. I knew there was no way I was going to fit into a certain dress size, but I did know I could at least buy a dress in my real size and get it brought in if I lost weight. So, I did that.

I also downloaded Noom, a weight loss app with skills from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Daily, Noom drops short tips and suggestions to aid someone as they work toward weight loss. Early in the program, they introduced me to the Motivation Model, which changed my mindset. I began to be much more patient, loving, and kindhearted toward myself, addressing those nagging negative beliefs that were chewing away at me.

Let us use an example. Say you want to save 10% of your paycheck going forward. This is an illustration of what your motivation will look like throughout the journey:

No photo description available.
Photo credit: Noom’s Facebook page.

As you can see, the Motivation Model has peaks and troughs; it is not straight nor linear.

The following names of each phase come from the model by Noom. However, keep in mind it applies to all reasons for motivation, not only weight loss. It is a universal model, and I am certain there are other products that have the same model but simply with different names.

Phase 1: The Hype

This is the most exciting phase. This is the phase where you think, “I got this! I am going to achieve these resolutions!” and jump in with a complete, undeniable motivation. This is where you can feel caught in the momentum, determined that their first time saving 10% of your paycheck will be the norm going forward.

This is where you will experience the honeymoon – when motivation is at its most extreme. This is when we have that unstoppable, almost grandiose sense of motivation. We are in a blissful ignorance. We think we need to feel that motivated all the time.

Phase 2: The Plummet

This is the painful, dreaded crash that happens after the honeymoon. This is the part of the cycle where people have a bump in the road, thinking they are a failure, and may fall into an old habit. This is the part where we feel extremely judgmental toward ourselves, thinking we will never be able to get back on track with our resolutions.

This is the part where you did not save 10% of your paycheck. You had a draining day. The boss was hard on you, you got in an argument with your spouse, your child had a temper tantrum. To cope, you went online-shopping and bought some things you wanted but did not need.

You may think the following:
“This sucks. This is way harder than I thought it’d be.”
“Maybe I can’t do this.”

This is all normal! This is okay! It is all part of the journey. Simply acknowledge you had a slip up and continue along.

Trough 1: The Lapse

This is the most difficult part. This is where you will feel at your lowest in your progress with your resolutions. This is where you are most likely to give up, state you will never get better, give in to those negative core beliefs, and just go back to how you used to be.

“This is way harder than I thought it’d be” degenerates into “this is impossible.”
“Maybe I can’t do this” becomes “I won’t do this. I give up.”

This is the time when clients tell their therapists they have given up on their resolutions and goals. They are convinced things cannot get better.

But this phase can and will pass. Just believe in yourself!

To get through this phase, do something. Do something that will help you feel one step closer to your resolutions and goals, even if it is very minimal. If this feels like too much, use a visualization meditation to imagine you have achieved your goal. Visualization can be a powerful psychological trick to boost confidence.

Also, have some gratitude for The Lapse. Sure, it does not feel good being there, but it is not a crisis. It is an opportunity to be introspective, to dive into yourself to figure out what is effective for you when you are not doing well, so you can prepare to do better in the future. It is the time for wisdom.

It gets better.

Phase 3: The Slips and Surges

Phase 3 is the steadier phase, where going at a rabbit’s pace slows down to that of a turtle. You know the saying, “slow and steady wins the race.” In this phase, the highs and lows are easier to tackle. The highs are no longer mountainous like the honeymoon, and the lows are no longer like a great ravine. You will still feel those highs and lows, and yes, they are permanent. But that is exactly to be expected. It is normal.

You will have some days that are better than others. Perhaps one day, your boss says you did an amazing job leading the team project. Maybe that ongoing argument with your spouse is turning more so into manageable disagreements. Maybe your child is learning to use coping skills rather than have meltdowns.

There will be the bad days too, of course. You’re late for work because you got a flat tire – and it is the same day as an important business meeting. Maybe you get a phone call from your child’s teacher because he is having problems in math. Perhaps after weeks of you and your spouse working hard on effective communication, an argument happens again.

This is how motivation operates. It reflects the highs and lows of life – all the good and the bad, the celebrations and the tribulations, the gains and losses.

Once you accept that the slips and surges will happen, you can be mindful. You can think to yourself:

“Today I really will only spend my money on what I need.”
“Honestly, today really was a hard day. It’s okay if I indulge a little bit. But tomorrow I will be back on track.”

And it will also allow you to be more freeing and forgiving toward yourself… “You know, it really is okay if I go out with my friends on Fridays. It’s not going to ruin my goal if I let myself have some fun. If anything, it will probably motivate me to continue my journey.”


1. Our motivation operates in cycles. We will have highs and lows.
2. Be fair to yourself. Be mindful; reflect on what you can learn during the highs and lows. Know they will all pass.
3. When in a low, do one small thing rather than nothing at all.

– Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG

In couples counseling, many cite communication issues as being at the forefront of relationship challenges. Giving/receiving the silent treatment, experiencing defensiveness, criticizing one another, and feeling misunderstood by your partner are a few signs that communication issues are present in a relationship. Every person has a different communication style based on several factors, including upbringing, personality, previous relationships, and beliefs regarding self and others. While communication styles can be varied, there are some common threads that unite effective communication.

Here is a list of 4 simple strategies to improve communication with your partner. Notice I said YOUR communication; not necessarily their communication with you. You cannot change others; you can only change yourself. However, in implementing these steps, you are ensuring that you are expressing your needs in a healthy manner.

Step One: Actively Listen

Sounds simple. However, it is easier said than done. Rather than listening, oftentimes we are waiting for our turn to talk. We may be nodding our heads, but inside we are formulating our responses, or in some cases, rebuttals. A lot of information can be missed by doing this. We hear what we think the other person is saying based on past experiences and not what is being said. You can improve your listening skills by pausing, exhibiting open and relaxed body posture, avoiding interrupting, reflecting back what the other person has said, and asking questions for clarification. Make it easier to actively listen by eliminating any distractions from the environment.

Step Two: Foster Empathy

Humans are self-centered by nature. We see things from our point of view day in and day out, so putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and viewing things from their perspective takes work. Fostering empathy often allows you to see a situation more clearly, it allows you to broaden your perspective and reduce anger, which has been proven to cloud logic and reasoning. This does not mean making excuses for their behavior. You are simply acknowledging that everyone has their own emotional and behavioral reactions that may differ from your own. From this place of understanding, validation, and acknowledgement, positive change can be made.

Step Three: Do Not Personalize

It is hard not to personalize someone’s actions when they affect you or even worse, they are directed AT you. However, how someone treats you reflects how they treat themselves. It has little to do with you, and everything to do with them. It is only personal if you make it personal. Do not let the words or actions of another determine how you feel about yourself. When you take yourself out of the equation, you can see things in a more neutral and realistic light, therefore moving you away from emotion and closer to logic.

Step Fourth: Use “I” Statements

The use of “I” statements helps decrease blaming while increasing self-awareness and personal responsibility. “You-statements” tend to cause the other person to feel defensive and/or shameful. An example of reframing a “you” statement to an “I” statement goes as follows: “You never listen to me” changed to “I am feeling alone and misunderstood; I want to know how I can communicate with you to gain a closer connection.” Reframing your language in this manner helps move toward a solution in a quicker and more meaningful way.

Remember, communication is not a one-way street!

These suggestions can be counter-intuitive. It also may be difficult to put these into practice if your partner is not receptive, or continues to communicate in a non-productive manner. However, by implementing these strategies, you can begin to empower yourself; ensuring you are communicating in the most effective manner possible to get your needs met.

If you find you have tried these strategies and are still having difficulty in your relationship, it may be time to try couples counseling. Couples counseling can be used as a great tool to address relationship issues before they escalate to causing irreversible damage. Contact our intake department to learn more.

Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

Losing a parent is a life-changing, profound experience that almost everyone will go through at least once. In fact, the death of a parent is one of the most common types of death, and as a society, we expect we will outlive our parents. As a result, while the grief that accompanies the death of a parent can quickly be recognized with the inundation of flowers and sympathy cards, this commonality seems to minimize the loss and makes us think we should “get over” it soon. The truth is, it can still be a tremendous loss – and this sense of “get over it” can make the healing even more difficult because it comes with guilt.

While the death of a parent regardless of one’s age is universally a colossal experience, the death of a mother or father as a young adult can be even more devastating because it is compounded with unique obstacles. For instance, there are milestones that the parent is expected to be present for, such as college graduations or weddings, and it can seem impossible for anyone else to fill that space. Plus, for young adults, this type of loss can be especially difficult because they are on the cusp of dependence versus independence. While they strive to depend on themselves, they still may turn to their parents for financial assistance, emotional support, or the wisdom of lived experience.

And we know this much: When a parent dies suddenly or expectedly, there is an absence – an emptiness, perhaps – that arrives with the realization someone so significant is gone. Regardless of the relationship dynamics, whether it was balanced and warm versus chaotic or cold, the death will have a huge impact.

Some beliefs among young adults who have dealt with the death of one or both parents

“I feel so alone and misunderstood.”

“My best friend says she ‘get its’ because she lost her grandma. But I lost my mom. It’s just not the same.”

“I will never feel loved that way again.”

“Everyone is telling me I need to ‘get over it’ and start living my life. But how am I supposed to move forward knowing I’ll never hear Mom’s voice ever again?”

“Dad’s gone. Who is going to walk me down the aisle?”

“I’m so sick and tired of my friends complaining about their silly problems! They have no idea what it’s like to be in this much pain!”

“I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I wanted so desperately to have a family of my own. Now that I’m pregnant, I should feel excited. But instead, I’m just thinking about that my baby will grow up without grandparents.”

“Thanksgiving is going to be weird this year. Dad always sat at the head of the table. He always carved the turkey. He always said grace. I just don’t even want to go.”

“Mom has been an absolute mess ever since Dad’s been gone. I want to help her, but she doesn’t seem to care that I’m hurting too. It feels like she’s gone too even though she’s here.”

“They say they’re ‘here for me’ but they’re not. No one wants to talk about Dad anymore now that the funeral’s over. If I say something, I’ll sound negative.”

“My friends have told me I need to start ‘living my life’ again. They’re sick of me being so mopey and depressed. I’ve noticed they’re pulling away from me. Now I feel like I’ve not only lost my parents, but even my own friends, the same people who said they’ll always be there for me no matter what.”

“I hate to admit it… I feel guilty saying it… but yeah, I’m jealous of my friends. While they’re looking forward to happy things like getting married or graduation, I’m taking care of my mother who is terminal. She’s going to die and that’s that.”

“It pisses me off when people tell me ‘She’s in a better place now.’ It invalidates how I’m feeling.”

Above: Me on my wedding day, trying to replicate my most favorite photograph of my mother on her wedding day in an effort to feel her presence again.

The adult orphan syndrome following the death of a parent

For most people, they have known their parent(s) longer than anyone else in their lives. Whether the relationship was positive or negative, or there were additional issues like separation, parents still shape their children.

The identity of “son” or “daughter” is the first identity upon us all. Most people were cared for by their parents as they grew up, even if not done well, and their parents witnessed all the obstacles along the way – seeing all the rises and falls, all the happiness and despair, all the pulling in and pushing away for guidance.

By adulthood, we have formed far more identities while carrying over some from childhood. Yet the age never matters – we continue to be a son or daughter, the role carried from since the beginning.

To lose a parent thus brings about a role loss. When I lost both of my parents, I realized my first role – “I am a daughter” – was destroyed too. And my first sense of constancy, of a promise something will always endure, had died too. We all seem to realize we will likely outlive our parents, but the idea of them dying is so often shaken off until it happens. We see the relationship as permanent as the sun rising with every dawn.

Losing a parent in adulthood can bring about complicated emotions, one of them being abandonment. Even people who are very independent from their parents can still feel abandoned because the sense of constancy has been disrupted.

For young adults who were the main caregiver for an aging, disabled, or ill parent, the grief can be exacerbated since two roles are now lost: the role of being one’s child but also serving as their “parent.” It may also mean having to adopt new roles in the family going forward, such as needing to help the surviving parent with paying bills because they feel overwhelmed and that was always done by their spouse.

All of these issues are recognized by some researchers as what they call “adult orphan syndrome” in that the feelings of abandonment, confusion, role changes, lack of support, and idea of being alone are universal regardless of age. For some, the idea of being an orphan as an adult may sound insensitive to children who are orphaned, but it is not meant to compare or dull that pain – only meant to show that the feelings and complications can still exist.

It is interesting, too, that this type of loss has no such word in English. An orphan literally means a child whose parents are dead. A widow is a woman who lost her spouse; a widower a man who lost his spouse. Yet why not a word for those who lost a parent in adulthood?

Challenges faced by young adults experiencing parent loss

Although parent loss can be painful at any age, there are differences that are driven by our age brackets.

First of all, most young adults have parents who are alive and likely well. They may be mostly independent, but they know they can still rely on their parents when needed (obviously there are exceptions, but I am speaking in general). They and their friends will be “going home” for the holidays during college breaks to stay with their parents. They know their parents will be there at their commencement ceremonies, sharing in their joy for their successes. They excitingly call their parents when they get engaged, wanting them to be the very first people to know. Then during the engagement months, their parents are involved too, with the mother helping with choosing the dress and adorning her daughter on her wedding day, and the father walking her down the aisle. Parents, too, are also usually the first to learn when their child and the child’s partner are expecting a baby. And they are there for the baptism or other ceremonies, there for the birthday parties, the holidays, for help with childcare.

While these above milestones can still occur despite the death of one or both parents, it feels different. I will honestly admit I skipped my commencement ceremonies from college and graduate school (the pandemic did postpone the latter ceremony by a year, but regardless, I still did not go even when it was happening). I did not want to be “that person” who was there without their parents, that adult orphan. And while I was proud of myself, having been summa cum laude both times, I did not feel there were others to share in that sense of accomplishment.

I can also say that among my friends and family members, most of them do not understand what I have gone through as a parentless young adult. That is not subjective; it is factual. Some are fortunate to still have their parents. Others have lost their parents, but that was not until their mothers and fathers were in their geriatric years. My grandmother died at the advanced age of 93, an age considered a “life well lived.” My mother died at 57. While the adult orphan syndrome happens at any age, and pain is pain, it still does not feel the same. There is the lingering thought, “she should be here.”

Healing from parent loss as a young adult

The goal of bereavement therapy is not to “get back to normal.” That is impossible, for life has forever changed due to the death of the parent. The idea of having to “move on” is counterproductive, and in fact can make someone feel worse because they are burying the emotions they need to process. Instead, the goal after such a loss is to learn to redefine one’s life and to feel fulfilled despite the loss. It also not only the loss itself that must be explored, but also the update in roles, the severance of expectations, and all other things that come with death.

Losing one’s parent can unearth disturbing thoughts. It can make someone question their own mortality with the realization they too will die someday. They may think things like, “since Dad died at 45, that means I’ll die at 45 too” even if they realize that is irrational. Additionally, it can make one reflect on the importance of other relationships in their lives. One person may become closer to their siblings or friends, while others may distance themselves, and still others may decide to focus solely on their spouses and their children.

Such a loss can also be an inspiration to make newfound changes in one’s life – some for the better. For me, I was smacked with the realization of, “I must rely on myself. I am an adult” the moment my father died. This realization did not strike me when I moved out at age 19 to live across the country. It did not fall upon me on my wedding day. Hell, it did not even come up during the discussions with my husband about starting our own family. No, it really took him dying for me to have this fricken’ epiphany. Only a month after his death, I was on job interviews to have greater opportunities. Right now on the weekends, I am house-hunting with my husband rather than doing the same ol’, some ol’ things we did with our friends. We are trying to conceive.

I was already following a plant-based and low-alcohol lifestyle, but after my father died, I made the full commitment to being healthy. I make selective, nutritious choices, and I do not drink at all. A healthy lifestyle is my priority now, my sworn vow to myself, because I don’t want to die the way my parents did if I can help it. I want to live. One profound effect of the loss of one or both parents is the opportunity for positive changes.

The next step

Suffolk Family Therapy recognizes the aftermath of a death is a significant, life-altering process. Some of our clinicians specialize in grief and bereavement, including having specialized training in this important field. We offer individual therapy and group therapy for this topic. In fact, we are even starting a group called Millennials in Mourning, which is specifically for Millennials and older Zoomers who have experienced parental loss. It will be led by me, Valerie Smith!

Reach out today to learn how we can help you navigate through this challenge while building a brighter future.

About the author, Valerie Smith, LMSW
Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG, is a therapist, social worker, and certified forest therapy guide at Suffolk Family Therapy under the supervision of our clinical director, Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW. Valerie possesses a bachelor and master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University and Fordham University, both from which she graduated summa cum laude. Valerie is also a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), where she trained in the Rocky Mountains to master sensory-based, mindful activities through a biophilic perspective. Valerie is passionate about the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as holistic wellness. Valerie is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT, with experience in DBT-informed skills. She focuses her treatment on adolescent girls and young women with C-PTSD and PTSD. Additionally, she helps people with life-threatening disease and their caregivers. Finally, she works alongside those experiencing grief and bereavement, especially young adults who lost one or both of their parents/guardians.

For starters, someone’s own gender identity is a process that may come naturally to some, though for others it may not be as easy. Whether it be exploring your own gender identity, sexual orientation, or even just working through your own curiosities, everyone should have a support system to help them along the way. Here we will discuss LGBTQIA+, the different sexual orientations, gender identities, as well as how seeking therapy can support you in this process.


Firstly, here are gender definitions to become familiar with:

● Gender Expression – the outwards expression of gender, typically expressed/observed through people’s names, pronouns, clothing, behaviors, body characteristics, and more.
● Gender Identity – invisible to other people, one’s internal definition of their own gender. Some people may feel comfortable with the gender that they are given at birth, though others may not.
● Sex – oftentimes confused with one’s gender, but someone’s sex identity is more-so biological than anything else. Someone’s sex is the combination of body characteristics (hormones, chromosomes, reproductive organs, etc.), thus being more than just two sexes.

There is a wide range of gender identities that people fall under and identify with. It is crucial to validate the feelings of someone who may be uncomfortable with their gender identity, as it is a significant life event that causes stress. Whether you already know your own gender identity, or if you are currently exploring that area of your life, seeking support can be helpful!

Secondly, here are some LGBTQIA+ sexual orientations:

● Asexual – someone who experiences minimal to no sexual attraction, though may still experience romantic attraction.
● Bisexual – someone who experiences an attraction to others of the same gender as well as people of another gender.
● Gay – someone, typically a male, who experiences attraction to someone else of the same gender.
● Lesbian – a woman who is attracted to another woman, ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are sometimes interchangeable.
● Pansexual – someone who experiences an attraction towards another person regardless of their gender
● Queer – an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual or cisgendered.

Even though these are just a few definitions, there are many more sexual orientations that people feel attached to. Some people may question why there is a need for so many orientations or why there is a necessity to bring about awareness to this subject. However, it is so crucial to spread the word and to educate on these matters to increase the inclusivity of this community. Many people find plenty of comfort in connecting with one of the above, or many other, sexual orientations. Something as simple as “putting a label” to what one may be feeling can offer a sense of freedom as well as offer someone answers they didn’t have before.

Walking on the path of self-discovery at any stage of life can become too much for some to handle at times. Seeking mental health treatment is a great way to support yourself on this journey. Historically, the LGBTQIA+ community has faced discrimination as well as prejudice which is why our mission here at Suffolk Family Therapy is to be a guide for those who may need it. We believe that therapy should be a place of comfort and safety, therefore we will do our best to ensure that we offer the best support that we can. There’s no reason to change who you are, only a reason to find out who you truly are on the inside!

Conor Ohland, MHC-LP

Self love is a concept that was first promoted by the Beat Generation of the 1950s, and again in the early 1960s during what was known as the “Hippie Era.” self love has gained popularity in recent years due to psychological research finding it an essential component for positive mental health and well-being. Even despite its rise in popularity, self love can be a challenging concept for many, often confused with being egotistical, self-indulgent, or too “touchy feely”. Despite the many misconceptions regarding self love that exist, the truth of the matter is that self love is a critical part of recovering from mental health challenges. Without self love, it will be extremely difficult to believe you are worth implementing the healthy strategies will allow you to feel better. Here are some simple techniques that can assist you on your journey toward unconditional self love.

1. Engage in Self-Reflection.

We often spend much time and energy moving from one distraction to the next. Taking time out of our busy schedules for self-reflection is an important part of learning to love yourself unconditionally. After all, how can you truly love what you don’t know? Self-reflection can be very simple-taking 5 minutes of your day to sit quietly and assess how you are feeling, journaling, meditating, sitting in nature, or deep breathing. Anything that can stop the noise of your mind and connect you to the present moment can be a great way to get in touch with your true self and bring you closer to loving yourself.

2. Be Kind to Yourself.

Be mindful of the way you treat yourself. “Bring the mind, and the body will follow.” This is a common saying that holds true on the journey toward self love. Often this means going outside of our comfort zone and making positive decisions for ourselves despite not feeling that we deserve it. Increase your healthy intake-be it people, conversation, self-talk, food, exercise, or rest. Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend or loved one; with kindness, compassion, and patience. Although this may feel unnatural, by treating yourself this way you are proving that you are worthy of love and respect, and doing so consistently will allow this belief to sink in.

3. Forgive Your Mistakes.

You are human and are bound to make mistakes. If there is a name for what you did, someone else has done it. Giving yourself permission to be human is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Forgiveness is not an easy journey, however letting go of the past allows you room to become the person you are truly meant to be. Someone who forgives and loves themselves is also less likely to hurt others in the future. One strategy is writing down a letter of apology to those you’ve harmed, including yourself. You can make amends to others when enough time has passed, and to do so will not cause additional harm. Most of all, let go and remind yourself that you are much more than a few bad decisions.

4. Maintain Healthy Relationships.

People are not born hating themselves. Oftentimes, a lack of self love comes from life experiences/relationships that cause you to internalize the belief that you are not good enough or defective in some way. Take note of the relationships in your life and how they make you feel. Everyone is accountable for their own happiness; however, some individuals (due to their own flaws) can trigger feelings of unworthiness in us. Work on setting healthy boundaries with these people, and focus the majority of your attention and energy on pursuing relationships that allow you to feel safe, happy, and cared for.

5. Accepting Yourself as you are Right Now.

Everyone is a work in progress. It is easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll love myself when…” and fill in the blank with whatever goal or next level we want to reach. There is always going to be room for improvement, so don’t waste time putting off loving yourself. After all, achieving your goals will be a lot easier with the help of self love. Stop comparing yourself to others, or telling yourself you “should” be a certain way. You are exactly who you are meant to be at this moment. Embrace the journey.

Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

Many of my clients have difficulty living the life they want and need to feel truly happy. They struggle with expectations placed on them by others, feelings of guilt if they put themselves first and most days feel like they cannot catch their breathe. Trauma therapy can help you to end old patterns and put yourself first. Self-care isn’t selfish- I know it’s a clique but it is true. You need to take care of you to be your best self for your family, friends and career. If this is speaking to you, strap in- I have some Pro-tips for you.

1. Evaluate Your Values

What is most important to you? List 3 things. Could be family, honesty, integrity, compassion, trust etc. Then you need to start seeing if your actions actually align with your values. Those that do keep at them- those that don’t make an effort to change them. For example, if you choose “family, compassion and health” and you are offered an additional work shift. Is taking this shift detracting from your family time? Do you need a mental health break or day off to take care of you? If so say no. If it’s to help a colleague who is going through a rough time and you feel you have enough time on another day to take care of you and spend time with family and you want to honor that “compassion” value you can also say yes. Seeing how our actions are in align with our values helps us to begin living a life that makes us happy- not a life that is spent trying to appease or please others.

2. Set Some Boundaries

In set with setting those values is setting up some boundaries with those around us. When we have no boundaries- meaning we having difficulty saying no or often do things out of pleasing others even if it’s not what we want- we continue to feel exhausted, unhappy and overwhelmed. Boundaries despite what childhood may have taught you are actually healthy. Saying “No I’m sorry I can’t go out tonight”, “No I won’t be able to take on that extra project with my current workload as it stands”,or “I would appreciate if you refrained from “xyz” in front of my children” is the first step to reducing our triggers, reducing your stress load and giving yourself the time to focus on you and do what makes YOU happy.

3. Let Go of the Guilt

Often times my clients struggle with boundaries because of the guilt they feel in saying no to others. They feel responsible to take on the problems of those around them. They are accustom to the role of “fixer”. Those around them, often family members but sometimes even colleagues or bosses sometimes push back on boundaries set and plead or ridicule them if they don’t get what they want. I’m not going to say setting boundaries is an easy task when you are accustom to saying “yes” to everything because your role has always been to put others before you. But I will say the more you stick to your boundaries, the less others push back over time. It helps to see if keeping those boundaries is in alignment with your values or the type of person you are aspiring to be. Simple answer my look like “yes, I value helping others”. With a closer look though it’s easy to see it is hard to be our best self for others when you are running on empty. As I often tell my trauma therapy clients, and as they say on the air plane “put your mask on first” before you help those around you. It also helps to make a list of the short term positive gain of letting others violate your boundary and the long term consequences. For example, lets say you have difficulty saying no at work and are constantly taking on additional tasks asked of you.

Short Term Positive of Not Holding My Boundary Long Term Consequences of Not Holding My Boundary
-Don’t feel guilty-I am overwhelmed and burning out
-My boss is happy-It’s hard to complete additional work assigned in my work hours so I am constantly bringing work home
-I get positive praise-I am working so hard that when I am done I have no energy to engage meaningfully with my husband and kids
-I feel taken advantage of and under appreciated
-My workload will never decrease if I do not voice concern with the disproportionate work I get in comparison to colleagues

After making this list you may decide to have a conversation with your boss and say “I would love to be able to help with that project but I already have 3 other projects I am currently working on. I will need to finish those first before I can take on any more. It’s important to me that the quality of my work meets the standard and I am afraid I won’t be able to complete all projects to our client’s expectations.” Starting an honest dialogue can help you feel more in control and will likely make you a better employee. Same with friends and family, when you are happier and more relaxed you can be your best self for your spouse, children, parents and friends. If this seems daunting, trauma therapy can surely help you work through your fears and doubts.

Need Help?

If this sounds daunting, you may need some extra support in navigating beginning to set boundaries and taking back control of your life. This is really common with clients who have trauma, are children of alcoholics, were parentified children (children that functioned more as parents), and those with low self-esteem and attachment difficulties (as they often fear boundaries will push others away). Trauma therapy can help! Just like my clients you can take back your life, begin to feel in control, less overwhelmed, more peaceful and joyful. You deserve happiness too. If you need the extra support in getting there give our office a call. We would love to help you on that journey.

Sending love & light,

Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW

Now more than ever, tension between those with differing political opinions is at an all time high. Challenges with the economy, a global pandemic, racial inequality, gun violence, and more-all of these issues have many looking toward a greater entity like our government help find a solution. Frustration, hopelessness, despair, and fear are prevalent, which has contributed to the intensity of the current political discord. What do you do when some of the strongest differences of beliefs and opinions are with your family and friends? Here are some strategies on how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love while respecting and preserving your mental health.

  1. Avoid the topic all together.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

There is no shame in knowing your triggers and doing your best to avoid them. Oftentimes, it is necessary to separate yourself until you are able to learn and incorporate the coping skills to manage your emotions when confronted with these troubling situations. This may not be a permanent solution; however, it can be a very valuable gift of self-compassion to know your emotional limitations. For some individuals you come across, it may never be a good idea to engage with them on this topic. Be brave enough to take a step back and avoid putting yourself in the line of fire to be hurt emotionally.  

  1. Be open-minded
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

Some of you may scoff at this suggestion, stating to yourself, “ME be open minded? THEY need to be open minded!” This is where the expression, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” comes into play. Try to understand why the person thinks the way they do before dismissing their believes as outlandish or illogical. Suspend your judgements, and instead embody an attitude of curiosity and understanding. This will decrease defensiveness in the conversation and increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say.

  1. Remain calm.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

As stated earlier, there are a number important issues at stake in the political sphere, which in turn can result in individuals being very passionate about their beliefs. This passion can easily turn to anger when not harnessed properly, or you come across someone with beliefs that you think are “part of the problem.” Anger clouds rational thought, and no productive discussion will occur when anger arises. Take deep breathes in and out through the nose. Do your best to keep your voice volume low and free of anger or sarcasm. Maintain non-confrontational body language through relaxed gestures, posture, and body movement. Even if the other person begins to escalate, if you remain calm it will most likely prevent the conversation from turning into an argument. Remind yourself, “This discussion is not worth my peace of mind.” 

  1. Find Common Ground.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

It is easy to focus on all of the ways that we are different from one another. In a political climate that pins one group against another, it can be challenging to avoid getting caught up in that line of thinking for ourselves. However, as a clinician who has extensive experience studying human behavior, one fact I know to be true is this: We are a lot more alike than we are different. Although the path to getting there may differ, most people are striving for happiness, safety, and connection. It may be helpful to try and find an issue you both can agree on in order to foster a mentality of togetherness rather than division. Look for even the smallest of opportunities to point out beliefs/values/desires that are similar. Doing so can be helpful in fostering the dynamic and of understanding, which will lead to a much more productive conversation.

  1. Know when to walk away.

Learning how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love, involves learning when to walk away. Oftentimes, political conversations have a tendency of continuing in circles until one person gives up, stating, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Although this statement may seem harmless, it can leave both parties feeling unheard and as if the conversation was a waste of time. Instead, try to end the conversation before it gets either too repetitive, argumentative, emotional, or unproductive. End the conversation by stating something like, “I appreciate the information you’ve given me. It has given me a lot to think about. Let’s revisit this at another time.” This ends the conversation respectfully, as well as validating the other person’s time and energy put forth into speaking with you.  

I hope you find these strategies helpful in maintaining peace of mind amongst what can be a triggering topic. Always remember to prioritize your mental health, reach out for support, and practice self-care before and after each interaction. You’ve got this!

By Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

People reach out for therapy for numerous reasons and seek out many modalities to assist them in meeting their particular goals. When someone is interested in exploring family dynamics with other people in their lives, they can embark on this journey in two ways. One option is to begin with an individual therapist and inviting members of their family into sessions so the counselor can help facilitate exploration of the family dynamic and how it has impacted the individual client. Another way to address family conflict resolution style is to reach out as a family to engage in family therapy. While these two options may sound very similar, they are quite different since the therapist’s relationship to the people in the room vary depending on the type of session. In this post, we will explore what to expect when a family reaches out to begin family therapy. 

Starting Family Therapy

When a family reaches out to begin counseling it is important that each member of the family feels safe and comfortable to fully engage in the process without fear of judgment or fear of being attacked. In this way, the role of the family therapist is to focus on fostering the relationship between members of the family in the same way an individual therapist would focus on supporting an individual client. In practice, this means a family therapist is not united with or against any member of the family but rather functions to strengthen the connection between members of the group.

By remaining a neutral party, your family therapist can help you and your family express thoughts and feelings in a productive manner, explore themes within your family’s dynamic, analyze patterns of behavior and improve conflict resolution skills to bring you closer to one another. If these are goals you and your family would like to work on, please call our office to schedule a meeting with a family therapist today. 

Marissa Ahern, LMSW

Let’s face it-the COVID 19 pandemic was something that most could have not imagined, let alone prepared for. Life as we knew it was immediately turned upside down. While there were many losses incurred, none seemed to compare to the families who lost loved ones to COVID-19. As a society, we were called on to do everything we could to prevent this from happening. This resulted in losing our way of life as we knew it and disenfranchised grief.

Disenfranchised grief is defined as experiencing grief and loss that is not readily recognized by a person, group of people, or society as a whole. The symptoms of grief are the same-experiencing shock, sadness, guilt, regret, anger, fear-however disenfranchised grief makes the process of grieving more challenging due to the lack of validation, social support, and rituals that are often associated with grief. This can induce feelings of isolation and powerlessness, leaving one to feel helpless to reducing their own pain and struggle. 

“But we were all going through the COVID-19 pandemic together,” you think. “Doesn’t this count for something?” While we can cite many examples of people making the best of a difficult situation during the pandemic, the undertone has always remained the same-our loss pales in comparison to the loss of human life. The time we lost with loved ones, the loss of our routines, missing graduations, homecoming, sports, weddings, travel plans, holiday traditions, and in general life as we knew it-these losses were expected of us to protect the greater good of human life. We told ourselves, “Those who lost loved one’s to COVID-19; THOSE are the people who are struggling.”

I am here to remind you that everyone’s grief matters. Loss in any form deserves to be validated, acknowledged, and processed. Symptoms of grief are not to be taken lightly, as left unattended can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. It does not serve us to minimize, separate, or compare our losses. 

So, what can we do to cope with our disenfranchised grief?

  1. Acknowledge and validate your loss. Hopefully this article started you on your journey of awareness in understanding that your loss MATTERS, regardless of the messages you have gotten from others, society, and yourself. Remind yourself that you are worthy of the time and space to grieve your loss.
  2. Begin to get to the root of your grief. When dealing with grief, what you don’t address will ultimately address you. Avoid the urge to suppress your grief and hope it goes away; unresolved feelings have a tendency to resurface later on.
  3. Write! Writing can be a therapeutic tool to uncover suppressed emotions. There are many writing prompts available online for coping with grief and loss. Do so slowly and with self-compassion, going at a pace that feels right to you.
  4. Make your own grieving ritual. Part of the challenge of coping with disenfranchised grief is that there are no clear rituals to honor and provide closure for the grief experienced. Rituals will vary from person to person; however, it may help to pick a place that has emotional significance where you can spend time to honor what was lost.  
  5. Find support. If there is a name for it, someone has experienced it. Seek out friends and family members that have experienced similar losses, or that you feel are supportive. Consider what you need from others and ask for it. As always, seeking professional help is recommended, as this individual is trained to guide you through this challenging process.

Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

Take the first step in healing.

Remember: You are not your mental illness! Start your therapy journey today by requesting a free consultation to connect with the therapist who best fits you.
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Take the first step in healing.

Remember: You are not your mental illness! Start your therapy journey today by requesting a free consultation to connect with the therapist who best fits you.
Request a Consult
Subscribe for our Good Vibes Newsletter to join our community and stay up-to-date on our local events, workshops and groups!
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© 2023 Suffolk Family Therapy. Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, PC License and State: 087409 New York.
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