A short explanation of the term
It's important to learn to recognize abuse and manipulation. There's a type of manipulation called gaslighting, a term that comes from a 1944 film called Gaslight,* starting Ingrid Bergman. It's about a woman who is manipulated by her husband into believing that she is going crazy.
We come to find out the husband is actually just using the marriage in order to find something valuable that belongs to her. She believes she's going crazy because what happened in those days was if you turned on a light in one room, it would dim all the other lights throughout the house (because there was only a certain amount of gas that could light the whole house).
As a result, you would know someone else was in the house or in another room, turning on the light, if you saw the lights flicker. And so she noticed that the lights would flicker every night after her husband had gone away somewhere, (supposedly to see friends or whatnot). He was actually rifling through the attic but he convinces her that he is imagining what she is clearly seeing (the gaslight flicker). When in reality, she knows better, but she believes him anyway.
That’s what it means to gaslight somebody — to convince them to deny what they know to be true. Gaslighting from an abuser makes a victim doubt their own instincts and sense of reality.
* The 1944 film is the American version of the original 1940 British film, which in turn is based on the theatrical play. We reference and feature the 1944 film since it is more well-known among American audiences.
Do you know your parenting style? If not, you could be reinforcing behaviors in your children that you don’t like and may want to eliminate.
Developmental psychologists have been interested in how parents influence the development of children’s social, cognitive, and behavioral competence since before the Great Depression. Researchers studying the parent-child relationship have examined the parents' “parenting style” and its effect on children as they grow into adults. Diana Baumrind and others have spent decades studying these relationships and the effect of parenting style on many areas of child development and competency.
Parenting Style Defined
To be sure, there are some specific parental behaviors that can have a definite impact on children, such as disciplining them in anger or rage, spanking, or reading to them every day and teaching them the alphabet and basic math. But to evaluate the impact parents have on childrearing, we must examine the whole relationship parents have with their children across all events over time. How parents interact with their children, respond to their needs, impose expectations, guide and teach them from infancy through adolescence, is all inclusive in determining how parenting styles affect our children’s development.
To evaluate the impact parents have on childrearing, we must examine the whole relationship parents have with their children across all events over time.
Most researchers who attempt to describe this broad parental milieu rely on Diana Baumrind’s concept of parenting style. The construct of parenting style is used to capture normal variations in parents’ attempts to control and socialize their children (Baumrind, 1991). Baumrind’s parenting styles define non-abusive styles and are not intended to include or describe parental behavior that includes abuse or neglect. Parenting style includes parents using two central forces to achieve these goals, referred to as “responsiveness” and “demandingness” (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).
Four Parenting Styles
Categorizing parents according to whether they are high or low on parental demandingness and responsiveness creates a typology of four parenting styles: Indulgent, Authoritarian, Authoritative, and Uninvolved (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Each of these parenting styles reflects different naturally occurring patterns of parental values, practices, and behaviors (Baumrind, 1991) and a distinct balance of responsiveness and demandingness.
Because parenting style is a typology, rather than a linear combination of responsiveness and demandingness, each parenting style is more than and different from the sum of its parts (Baumrind, 1991). In addition to differing on responsiveness and demandingness, the parenting styles also differ in the extent to which they are characterized by a third dimension: psychological control.
Psychological control “refers to control attempts that intrude into the psychological and emotional development of the child” (Barber, 1996, p. 3296) through the use of parenting practices such as guilt induction, withdrawal of love, or shaming.
Authoritative parents tend to be low in psychological control, while authoritarian parents tend to be high. Authoritative parents understand their role to include helping children to develop their own convictions, opinions, and beliefs and test them out while still under their parents' guidance.
Consequences for Children
Parenting style has been found to predict child wellbeing in the domains of social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behavior. Research based on parent interviews, child reports, and parent observations consistently find:
In general, parental responsiveness predicts social competence and psychosocial functioning, while parental demandingness is associated with instrumental competence and behavioral control (i.e., academic performance and deviance). These findings indicate:
In reviewing the research, children with an authoritative upbringing are associated with both instrumental and social competence and lower levels of problem behavior in both boys and girls at all developmental stages. The benefits of authoritative parenting and the detrimental effects of uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. Although specific differences can be found in the competence evidenced by each group, the largest differences are found between children whose parents are unengaged and their peers with more involved parents.
The benefits of authoritative parenting and the detrimental effects of uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood.
Differences between children from authoritative homes and their peers are equally consistent, but somewhat smaller (Weiss & Schwarz, 1996). Just as authoritative parents appear to be able to balance their conformity demands with their respect for their children’s individuality, so children from authoritative homes appear to be able to balance the claims of external conformity and achievement demands with their need for individuation and autonomy.
Influence of Sex, Ethnicity, or Family Type
It is important to distinguish between differences in the distribution and the correlates of parenting style in different subpopulations. Although in the United States authoritative parenting is most common among intact, middle-class families of European descent, the relationship between authoritativeness and child outcomes is quite similar across groups.
There are some exceptions to this general statement, however: (1)demandingness appears to be less critical to girls’ than to boys’ well-being (Weiss & Schwarz, 1996), but (2) authoritative parenting predicts good psychosocial outcomes and problem behaviors for adolescents in all ethnic groups studied (African-, Asian-, European-, and Hispanic Americans), but it is associated with academic performance only among European Americans and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic Americans (Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992; Steinberg, Darling, & Fletcher, 1995). Chao (1994) and others (Darling & Steinberg, 1993) have argued that observed ethnic differences in the association of parenting style with child outcomes may be due to differences in social context, parenting practices, or the cultural meaning of specific dimensions of parenting style.
Parenting style provides a strong indicator of parental functioning that predicts child well-being. Both parental responsiveness and parental demandingness are important components of good parenting. Authoritative parenting, which uses clear, high parental demands with emotional responsiveness and recognition of child autonomy, is one of the most consistent family predictors of competence from early childhood through adolescence.
However, despite the long and robust tradition of research into parenting style, a number of issues remain outstanding. Foremost among these are issues of definition, developmental change in the manifestation and correlates of parenting styles, and the processes underlying the benefits of authoritative parenting (see Schwarz et al., 1985; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Baumrind, 1991; and Barber, 1996).
by Rev. Tres Adames, MDiv, BCPC
A friend you've known for years comes to you for help. They are desperate, emotional, and ask you to intervene. Maybe it's a problem with their partner, a habit they are trying to kick, or a struggle with anxiety or depression. You care about your friend, so of course you want to help. But before you jump in, it might be time to step on the brakes.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to support your friend, but make sure you don't get in over your head. There is a difference between helping your friend versus taking on their problem. This is hard especially for empathetic people. We want to pitch in and help out. Yet it creates more problems if we don't approach it the right way.
Aren't We Supposed to Help Others?
Those I work with in counseling will point to the Bible, mentioning that we should help other people. This is true—we are supposed to care about others and help them, but only when they cannot help themselves. The Bible not only stresses the importance of helping others, but also emphasizes the importance of taking personal responsibility. According to the words of the Apostle Paul:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load" (Galatians 6:1-5, NIV).
What is Paul saying here? He encourages the Galatians to "carry each others's burdens" but also that "each one should carry their own load." How is this possible? Aren't they the same thing? Not necessarily. In their book, Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend shed some light on the difference between a load and a burden:
"The Greek word for burden means 'excess burdens,' or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders — those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives. In contrast, the Greek word for load means 'cargo,' or 'the burden of daily toil.' This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own" (Cloud & Townsend, 2017).
We can help and be supportive, but we are not called to fix other people's problems or take responsibility for them. Paul is emphasizing the need for love and personal responsibility. In order to learn how to do this, let's dive deeper and explore this from the world of family systems theory.
Don't Get Triangled!
One of the most impactful books on relationships in the field of pastoral counseling is Generation to Generation by Edwin Friedman. In the book, Friedman describes what is known as an emotional triangle. According to Friedman:
“The basic law of emotional triangles is that when any two parts of a system [this could be a family, a work environment, or a circle of friends] become uncomfortable with one another, they will ‘triangle in’ or focus upon a third person, or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship with one another” (Friedman, 1985).
Often, a third person is pulled into a triangle when two people in a relationship are in conflict with one another. To stabilize the relationship, another person is asked to help or may even be pulled into the situation by one or both people in the relationship. Sometimes the third person may intervene or “triangle” themselves into the unstable relationship out of desire to help.
An example of an emotional triangle would be: 1) An adult man who is estranged from his adult brother 2) The brother 3) The parent who is asked to intervene or communicate on behalf of both. A part of an emotional triangle can also be a problem, such as an addictive habit or dysfunction. An example of a triangle involving a problem would be: 1) A person struggling with substance abuse 2) The substance abuse itself 3) An enabling partner. Let's take a look at this visually:
Here you see the relationship between you and your friend indicated by a straight line. Your friend's struggling relationship with the other person (or problem) is represented by a jagged line. Notice that a broken line connects the third side of the triangle. Why? This is to indicate that there typically exists no control or real influence between you and the other person's relationship or problem.
When any relationship is stuck, it is likely because a third person or issue has been interjected into the relationship. If you are the third wheel being introduced, the fact of the matter is that you have very little control over the outcome. If you try to fix the problem, you will only absorb the anxiety and stress from the whole situation. Sometimes, interfering can even produce the opposite effect. Attempting to reconcile two sparring partners may make them more distant or hostile.
So what's the takeaway? Don't get triangled! Don't allow yourself to be put in the middle of the situation. So how can you help your friend who comes to you for support? Let's talk about a few healthy and more effective ways to influence change.
5 Effective Ways to be Supportive
1. Improve your relationship with both sides--Friedman notes that “We can only change the relationship to which we belong. Therefore, the way to bring change to the relationship of two others (and no one said it is easy) is to try to maintain a well-defined relationship with each, and to avoid the responsibility for their relationship with one another” (Friedman, 1985). Seek to be mature and get along with both sides. This might mean giving the benefit of the doubt to both persons in a conflicted relationship. If it concerns a friend struggling with addiction, work on your relationship with your friend and also work on your relationship with addiction itself—that is, learn more about addiction and how it works so you are more educated on how to respond.
2. Focus on the person, not the problem—Rather than getting caught up in solving the problem, encourage your friend's ability to take responsibility for it on their own. When the conversation drifts toward venting about the other person or problem, bring the focus of the discussion back to your friend. Ask how they are feeling and what's going on inside.
3. Ask questions, don't give answers—If your friend is insistent on talking about the problem, don't offer any solutions. Simply ask questions about how they plan to tackle the issue. This encourages them to strategize on their own rather than depending on you to solve their problem.
4. Be kind, but firm—Set boundaries with your friend as needed. If they keep calling or texting you, let them gently know that you aren't always available. Suggest other sources of support. Consider referring them to a local Christian counselor who specializes in the issue they are facing.
5. Remain self differentiated—Take care of yourself and acknowledge that this is not your problem—thankfully! Remain grounded, present, and non-anxious while still remaining connected as appropriate. Encourage them to seek God for wisdom. Offer to pray for them instead of being the only one they vent to. Besides, God wants us to talk to Him. May this be the situation that draws them closer to Him.
Being a workaholic is one of the few addictions openly accepted (and even encouraged) by our culture. If you're feeling pressured, and it's having a negative impact on you emotionally, it might be time to step back and reevaluate your priorities. Here are some practical stategies you can implement in your life so you can find relief:
1. Schedule regular down time.
Work is meant to be performed in rhythm with rest. Just as your body needs rest to recover each day, your emotional and relational life needs downtime as well. While the Sabbath is not rigorously prescribed in the New Testament, its principle and benefit still apply. According to Jesus:
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
It is to your benefit that you find time to rest. Being obsessed with success and overworking in one area of your life will take away success from other areas of your life. Look over your calendar and set aside a whole day where you can rest and relax. Don't check your email and don't make business calls that day.
During the rest of the week, also set aside a few hours at the end of each day where you can recharge. Don't fill your downtime with watching television or browsing the net. Rekindle a hobby you were passionate about as a child, or discover a new one. Set aside time to read your bible, pray, meditate, and reflect.
2. Uncommit yourself.
But what if you don't have the time to schedule a day off or have extra time to recharge? Well maybe it's time to look over your calendar and let go of certain commitments that have been filling up your schedule. I always suggest trying to come up up with five things you can delete from your weekly agenda. A good place to start is identifying commitments that are strictly voluntary and aren't required. Maybe it's too many church volunteer opportunities, or an extra work project you've taken on. I've attached a worksheet at the end of this article that can help you journal your thoughts and process any emotions that may hinder you from letting go.
3. Set boundaries.
Stress doesn't just emerge from the amount of activiy one is doing, but also from getting entangled in other people's problems. Be careful when other people come to you to discuss their personal or work issues. While it's feels admirable to be supportive, the best thing you can do is encourage the person in their own ability to handle the problem. In Scripture, the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians to "carry each other's burdens" (6:2) but also that "each one should carry their own load" (6:5). There has to be a balance where you are willing to listen and help others, but also encourage them to own their personal issues—without taking responsibility for problems that are not your own.
Investigate your life to see if there are other people who are leaning on you too much and are draining your emotional resources. Learn to set boundaries and don't be afraid to say "no," even when it's hard. In every decision, you have to say "no" to one thing in order to say "yes" to another. Do what is best for you, your family, and your relationship with God before taking on the world.
Below is a printable worksheet, what I call an "Uncommitment Form" that guides you through the process of letting go of unnecessary commitments so you can be more successful in other areas of your life:
Tres Adames, MDiv, BCPC provides Christian counseling in Peoria, Arizona for adults, teens, couples, and families. He specializes in helping those struggling with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, anger, addiction, codependency, and relationship issues. If you would like to contact Tres or set up an appointment, visit his contact page.