How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

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How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

By Dr. Henry Cloud

No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. It’s likely you even heard one or two before in your life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?”

“It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing for us…”

“You know that if I had it, I would give it to you.”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad about deciding how you will spend your own time and/or resources and about having a life separate from theirs.

Probably everyone is able to some degree to recognize guilt messages when they hear them, but not everyone is strong enough to not succumb to them. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket for when these situations arise.

1. Recognize they are guilt messages and are given in an attempt to manipulate and control.

2. Know that guilt messages are really just anger in disguise. The guilt sender is failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you are doing.

3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt instead of expressing and owning their true feelings.

4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for “making” you feel guilty, they still have power over you.

5. Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. We do not owe guilt senders an explanation for our actions.

6. Be assertive and interpret their message as being about their feelings. For example, “It sounds like you are angry that I chose to …”

The main principle is this: Empathize with what distressed people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress. Remember, love and limits are the only clear boundaries. If you react, you have lost ownership of your boundaries.

If you would like help with setting up a healthy boundary, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

4 Ways to Keep your Temper When You Want to Blow

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4 Ways to Keep your Temper When You Want to Blow

By Shaunti Feldhahn

While doing some research for my next book, I realized something important: when we are angry, most of us handle it wrong! Here are four ways to keep ourselves from (forgive the Marvel reference) turning into a big green rage monster when we otherwise really want to!

1. In advance, realize: “venting” only makes things worse! Most of us have bought into the idea that letting a little steam out of the kettle now prevents it from exploding later, right? And taking a few minutes to vent to or about your spouse, child or boss just feels quite satisfying when we have steam pouring out of our ears. The problem is, it turns out, it hurts instead of helping.

Neuroscientists such as Dr. Brad Bushman at Ohio State have discovered that actually expressing the anger we feel further activates an interconnected anger system in the brain and makes the kettle boil that much more. So while we can certainly express anger any time we want to, the question is whether we should if we want to keep her temper in check and preserve a relationship, a job, or our sanity.

2. Instead of “letting off steam,” remove yourself from the heat. If we’re boiling and don’t want to be, the researchers suggest the equivalent of putting the lid on tight and removing the pot from the heat. When we decide to be calm (see below), it is the equivalent of smothering the anger and denying it oxygen to burn. And when we remove or distract ourselves from whatever is making us furious, we find our anger cooling off until, in many cases, we’re simply not angry anymore.

So when your co-worker expresses frustration that the boss made everyone work late last night, instead of chiming in with the “Yeah, and guess what else?!” additional grievances, calmly say “Yep, that was frustrating. So about these quarterly numbers…” And if the other person persists, excuse yourself, go back to your cube, and force yourself to think something more healthy. Like what else you were working on. Or that dream Caribbean vacation.

(One hint for husbands or boyfriends, though: given what we discovered in our research about how women are wired, if you have to remove yourself from an emotional conflict, be sure to reassure your wife or girlfriend that you two are okay and you’ll be able to talk about it later. That gives her the reassurance of your love that she needs to give you space without simmering and venting, herself.)

3. Before you speak, pause. So how do you manage to respond “calmly” to your coworker (or spouse, or in laws…) when you’re just as mad as he or she is? Here’s the answer: force yourself to pause for a few seconds before you reply. Seriously. That allows your will to catch up with your roiling emotions, so you can decide to handle your words well. (If I reply to this now, it’s only going to make it worse. Best to ask if we can continue this conversation at 1:30.) More important, if you’re a person of faith, it also gives God a chance to touch your heart and steer your reply before you forge ahead with guns blazing, and cause casualties you’ll regret later.

So when you’re worried about your son’s progress in school and seven shades of upset that your husband didn’t agree to hire a tutor to help him, force yourself to pause and get your thoughts together before you speak. “Think before you speak” is one of the earliest lessons we teach our kids, and yet sometimes we forget it as adults. We need to relearn that skill, especially when it comes to those relationships that are most important to us.

4. Apologize. Since we will not always do it right, despite all those strategies, we also need to practice apologies each and every time they are needed. “I’m sorry, honey. I know you care about Billy, and I shouldn’t have ever implied that you didn’t. Will you forgive me?” You don’t need to necessarily agree (“Maybe this weekend, we could talk more specifically about why I think a tutor is so important, and how we can get the money to pay for it”) but you do need to apologize.

This is in part because our research with the happiest relationships found that we need to keep short accounts, be willing to make up, and always ask for forgiveness when we have wronged someone else – regardless of whether they have wronged us too. But also because if we know we’re going to have to apologize if we let our temper run away with us, we’ll be far less likely to do it next time!

Tell yourself venting will make it worse. Remove yourself from the frustrating situation or focus on something else. Pause to let your ability to make a good choice catch up with you. And apologize if you don’t. Try those simple, simple actions for just a few weeks and you’ll find yourself handling difficult feelings so well, you won’t even remember the big green rage monster any more.

If you would like help with your anger, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

The Strength in Confronting our Feelings

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It takes strength to confront our feelings and to reach out for help. If you would like help, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

My Response is My Responsibility

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My Response is My Responsibility

By Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

There is a story that has been told of a Christian Frenchman during World War II who had been harboring Jews before the Nazis eventually captured him. German soldiers brought him before an S.S. officer known as “The Torturer.”

At that moment, the peace of Christ came upon this Frenchman who manifested on his face the serenity of the Lord. However, the S.S. officer interpreted that tranquility as a snide look and screamed, “Get that smirk off your face. Don’t you know who I am?” The Frenchman said, “Yes sir, I know who you are. You are known as ‘The Torturer.’ I know you have the power to torture me. You have the power to kill me. But sir, you do not have the power to get me to hate you.”

Inner Freedom

This Frenchman reveals a weighty truth: other people cannot control my inner world.

Yes, they can physically torture me and kill me, so in that sense they can control me physically; however, they cannot dictate what I think, believe, and feel. I am free within. They cannot control my spirit. They cannot control me spiritually.

I possess a God-given right to rule my own inner responses. No one can make me hate them. No one can force me to have contempt for them. That’s my choice for myself. They cannot make that decision for me.

The Nazi did not have the right to rule over the Frenchman’s inner world. In the spiritual realm, the area of the human spirit, even the Gestapo had limitations.

But what brings a person to this place of freedom? How does a person discover their right to rule their inner response?

It begins with subscribing to this axiom: my response is my responsibility.

I am certain that years earlier the Frenchman had accepted the axiom that his response was his responsibility. He did not mope and pout, “My response is your responsibility.” He did not hold others responsible for his reactions. Instead, he discovered how to become free in his spirit even though others failed him and mistreated him.

But Isn’t My Response Other People’s Responsibility?

The Frenchman knew if he believed that others were responsible for his responses, then all of his emotions would be controlled by those around him. In effect, they’d be the master of his emotions. If they were mean and unjust, he’d be unhappy. If they were anything less than good toward him, he’d be unhappy. To give all power to other people to be responsible for his responses meant he was a hopeless and helpless emotional victim around those who were uncaring and mean-spirited. If others failed to love and respect him then he was destined to be miserable.

A woman wrote, “I have been incredibly frustrated in my relationship with my husband and truth be known I blamed most of it on him. Not because I think I am a saint but because I did believe that if he loved me properly then everything would be ‘as it should.’” She made her husband lord of her emotions and happiness.

Of course, when we assign that kind of power to others, we make them our gods. Thus, when we are unhappy we have only one recourse: blame and blaspheme this person who has become our god. Eventually, we are unhappy over how unhappy they have made us! We doubly resent them.

When our response is others’ responsibility, we have no choice but to be depressed since our god did not come through for us.

But Are We Robots Without Feeling?

A doctor can strike a certain place on our knee cap and our leg jerks up involuntarily in what we refer to as a knee-jerk-reaction.

That raises the question on an emotional front: When a man is cut off on the road, is his road rage a knee-jerk-reaction that he cannot control? Should he blame his raging reaction on an involuntary emotional explosion? Can he claim that he can only stand by as a helpless witness to his own madness?

Though there are amoral and involuntary emotions like sadness, grief, confusion, wonderment, amazement, and even anger, we are referring to those emotions that step over the line. For example, our anger is not righteous indignation (a proper form of anger) but unrighteous anger that surges from within us because of a lifetime of choosing to get angry when things don’t go our way.

As an employee, my bitterness permeates the e-mail reply to a demotion from the boss.

As an employer, my harshness pervades the luncheon meeting with a worker who continues to neglect their duties yet draws a paycheck.

As an adult son, my contempt peppers the conversation with my father who refuses to pay for the college tuition.

Each blames the bitterness, harshness, and contempt on the other person. Each believes their reaction is mostly involuntary. The other person caused the anger.

A Profound Truth

Please hear a simple yet profound truth: People do not cause us to be the way we are; they reveal the way we are.

They are not responsible for our responses but reveal our responses.

The Nazi officer did not cause the Frenchman to refrain from hate but revealed the Frenchman’s decision to refrain from hate.

As for the fellow with road rage, the other driver who cut him off did not cause his rage but revealed his rage.

Had it not been the bad driver, it would have been the fast-food server who got his order wrong and overcharged him. Slamming the steering wheel, he would have floored it as he did a screeching U-turn back to the restaurant. And, if it had not been the fast-food place that got his order wrong, it would have been his dog at home who knocked down the gate between the kitchen and living room and who proceeded to chew the wooden leg on the couch. He kicked the dog into the other room.

This man is an accident waiting to happen.

Sadly, in each instance, as an enraged person, he blames the driver, server, and dog. Red in the face, he screams, “I would never blow my stack if drivers drove well, servers served well, and dogs behaved. Life sucks.”

Why this belief? He has chosen to live his life spiritually under the belief system that bad circumstances cause him to be bad. Though he’d never agree that he is a poor little victim, this is exactly what he believes.

He would change the famous nursery rhyme. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Humpty Dumpty was pushed.

As for the road rage, the truth is the situation simply revealed his character flaw. He possesses a self-righteous mindset and out-of-control anger. This is not righteous indignation but an unrealistic expectation that everyone around him needs to be perfect (like he is) when it comes to doing what is important to him at that moment in time. If they are not perfect in this situation, he goes ballistic in a conniption.


If you would like help with your responsibility for your responses, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Are You Irritated, Under Pressure, and Feeling the Heat?

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Are You Irritated, Under Pressure, and Feeling the Heat? 

(Excerpt from My Response is My Responsibility – Part 2 by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs)

A woman who watched the Love and Respect conference wrote a blog saying, “No matter what is done or said to you or about you and yours . . . to your face . . . behind your back . . . expected or unexpected—it’s not the person or the words that cause us to react in a negative way . . . the person or the words don’t cause us to be shocked, angry, hurt, bitter, etc. . . . Those are choices we make! The person or the incident does not CAUSE us to act the way we do . . . it REVEALS the way that we are. So ask yourself . . . what is it that will spill out?”

Let me provide an analogy that shows this to be true.

A grain of sand in the human eye first irritates, and if ignored leads to an infection. Were a person never to deal with the infection in the eye, there could be loss of vision. One could go blind. That same grain of sand in an oyster first irritates, then leads to concretion and morphs into a beautiful pearl. This raises the question: Did the speck of sand cause the results in the human eye and cause the results in the oyster? Or did the grain of sand reveal the inner properties of the eye and the inner properties of the oyster? In both instances the grain of sand is an irritant that reveals the inner properties of each. The sand did not cause the outcome, otherwise we would have to be concerned whether a pearl would pop out of our eye the next time sand got in it.

Just like the sand, a large percentage of the people with whom we live, work, and play become irritants. But also like the sand, these irritants simply reveal who we are. They do not cause us to be the way we are.

Similar to the sand analogy is one I like to share about a rose and a skunk. When a rose is crushed under one’s foot, it gives off a sweet aroma. But when the same kind of pressure is applied to a skunk, a much different odor can result. As I like to say, when the pressure is on, do you smell like a rose or a skunk?

Still another analogy. How does the sun melt the butter and harden the clay? Why does the sun not harden the butter and melt the clay? Because the sun is not the cause of the results. The sun reveals the inner properties of the butter and clay.

How do we respond when irritated, under pressure, and feeling the heat? Do we blame others? Do we scream, “I wouldn’t lose perspective, stink at everything I do, and have these meltdowns and become so hardened if you treated me with love and respect! You cause me to have a miserable life. After all, when you love and respect me, I am happy. When you treat me with hostility and contempt, I am unhappy. Therefore, you are to blame”?

Or do we produce an oyster or release a pleasing aroma? When irritated, do we allow the grace of the Holy Spirit inside of us, along with the love, patience, and forgiveness given to us through Jesus, to ooze its way to the top and overflow like an erupting volcano?

My response is my responsibility.


If you would like help with your emotions, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Beyond “Settle Down”: Coping Skills For Your Angry Child

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Beyond “Settle Down”: Coping Skills For Your Angry Child

By Nicole Schwarz

child-angerIt’s been a walking-on-eggshells kind of day.

“That’s my decision,” you say cautiously. “No more snacks before bed.”

You pause, waiting.

And, just as expected, your child flies into a fit of rage.

“That’s not fair!” He yells, slamming his fist on the table. “I’m still hungry!”

The yelling doesn’t stop.

“Settle down!” You yell back, “If you keep this up, you won’t have a snack tomorrow night either!”

Why is everything such a battle? Why is he so angry? What can I do to help him?


Anger is a tricky emotion. It will take time for your child to learn these new techniques and put them to good use.

Be proactive! Planning ahead is key to helping your child manage their angry feelings.  Teach your child a variety of skills and strategies while they are calm, in a good mood, or separated from the heated situation.

  • Explore Feelings:  Anger is a master disguise for many other harder-to-express emotions like sadness, fear, and embarrassment. Talk about a variety of feelings – what they feel like inside, what they look like in the body, and what they sound like when spoken. Use books, movies, or this feeling game for examples.
  • Write a Script:  Give your child the words to use when they are upset. Teach “I-statements,” (I feel…when you…because…I wish…) or even a simple, “I feel mad right now!” You may need to model this for them at first: “You’re upset that your sister bumped you with her scooter. You’d like her to go around you next time.”
  • Change the Self-Talk:  For some children, expressing anger is a vicious cycle. They feel bad, so they act out, they get in trouble for acting out, so they feel worse. Interrupt this cycle by encouraging the good traits in your child, remind them that it’s OK to be angry and that “mad doesn’t equal bad.”
  • Give Appropriate Alternatives:  If you don’t want your child to kick the cat, direct him to a soccer ball outside. If he’s throwing toys, offer him some balled up socks instead. Work proactively to set up a safe place to express anger or cool down. (Of course, if your child is hurting others, safety is a priority).
  • Use Art:  Sometimes, words can’t express what they are feeling or thinking. Allow your child to use paints, markers, crayons, and other art supplies as a creative outlet for pent up emotions. Here are some activities to try: managing big feelings, dealing with mixed up emotions, or art  journaling.
  • Deep Breathing: Learning to calm your body and mind is key to getting your anger down to size. Yelling “calm down” in the heat of the moment is not effective. Instead, be proactive! Take time to teach your child a variety of deep breathing exercises, then practice them in calm moments.
  • Big Muscle Movements: Some children need to relieve stress through exercise, hard work, and play.  Like deep breathing, be proactive and make time for big muscle movements, like push-ups, vacuuming, or swinging throughout the day. Teach your child a yoga routine or stretch together before bed.


  • Calm Yourself First:  It’s easy to get swept up in your child’s emotion. Matching anger with more anger is not helpful or productive. Instead, get yourself to a calm, rational frame of mind first.  You will be able to provide your child support, and they will feel safe knowing that you are not rattled by their big feelings.
  • Self-Care is Essential:  Parenting a child who struggles with anger can be exhausting. Do not neglect taking time and space to care for yourself. I know you’re busy, but self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Find ways to fit self-care into your day so you can be available for your child.
  • Look Under the Anger:  Anger is often a go-to emotion because it keeps you from having to feel other painful or uncomfortable feelings, like sadness or disappointment. Instead of seeing your child as a “bad kid with a temper,” look at him as a “hurting child who needs help to deal with his feelings.”
  • Get Help:  Sometimes, your child’s anger is too big to manage on your own. If you feel that their anger is above and beyond what would be considered “normal” or if you just have a gut feeling that something’s not right, seek help from a mental health professional.

Stepping back, you decide to take a deep breath. (Or three)

He is still angry, but instead of seeing him as a manipulative monster, you see him as a kid who’s having trouble handling the fact that he’s not getting his way.

“I can tell that having another snack is really important to you,” you say empathetically. “You’re really disappointed.”

Instead of trying to force him to settle down, you give him space to feel this disappointment. You offer him a hug  and remain a calm presence in the room.

You know he needs to learn a better way to handle disappointment. And, it may be time to set a clear limit on after-dinner snacks. But now is not the time. You make a mental note to address these things later, when everyone is calm.

Your child can learn to manage their anger, and they need your  help to get there.


If you would like help with your angry child or other struggles with your child or children, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Anger Iceberg

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The Anger Iceberg

By The Gottman Institute


If you would like help with anger issues, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

The Anger Iceberg

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The Anger Iceberg

By The Gottman Institute

[Sometimes] anger is an emotion we use to cover up feelings we don’t want to show. Learning to identify when anger isn’t really what we’re feeling is important for helping…identify and cope with their emotions.


If you would like help with anger struggles, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Alternates to Telling a Child “Calm Down”

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“Telling a child to “calm down” communicates that they aren’t allowed to experience anger or other feelings. Your goal isn’t to change their emotions, but communicate that you understand and accept them.” (The Gottman Institute)

alternates to calm down

Why Your Anger Builds Until You Explode

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Why Your Anger Builds Until You Explode

Profile of man screaming.By Brent Flory

Do you struggle to keep your temper in check? Do you find yourself feeling angrier throughout the day until you are ready to lose control? Is it all you can do to not take out your work frustrations on your family?

Once at basketball practice in high school, I became so incensed by a teammate’s trash talking that I picked him up in a bearhug, determined to hurt him. After about five seconds of awkwardly holding him in the air, I remembered that I had no idea how to fight, so I put him down and we moved on with practice.

Unfortunately, too many stories of people becoming furious end in great harm or tragedy, rather than the comedy of my high school experience. Whether it is road rage, shootings, or some other situation, we are all too familiar with examples of people becoming angry to the point of violence.

What is going on within us that can drive us to this point of losing control?

According to the search of psychologist Dolf Zillmann, anger is evoked when we believe our safety is in jeopardy, whether we are talking physical, emotional, or psychological safety. We can become just as angry if someone hurts our feelings or wounds our pride as we do when we feel physically threatened.

The Effects of Anger on Our Brain

1. It triggers a release of catecholamines, prepping the body with energy for the fight-or flight response.

You have a sudden influx of energy, so you are prepared to take action and combat your opponent, or run depending upon whether or not you fear them.

2. It triggers adrenocortical arousal, keeping you on edge for hours or even days.

This longer reaction keeps you ready to fight or take flight much more quickly in case the threat returns, or another shows up. This is why people who have had a difficult day are so quick to escalate and blow up if something else happens.

How Your Anger Builds

When a high-rise apartment complex is being constructed, the building gets taller as each floor is added on top of the others. Anger works in a similar fashion. According to Dr. Zillmann, anger builds upon itself. After the initial event that makes you angry, you are on edge, and every incident or thought that incites you further grows the level of your outrage.

For example:

  • At breakfast, your spouse comments that she is concerned about your weight gain, which you interpret as an intended insult.
  • As you are getting into your car, your neighbor criticizes how your lawn looks for the fourth time in the last two weeks.
  • Your manager yells at you and blames you personally for your team being late in completing the design prototype. To make matters worse, his outburst takes place in front of your team and you feel humiliated.
  • On the drive home, you keep ruminating on how your boss embarrassed you, replaying the situation through your mind over and over again.
  • After dinner, you ask your teenager about her homework, and when she gives a sarcastic response, you blow up at her.

Each incident that upsets you and comes later in this process evokes a far higher level of anger than if it had been an isolated occurrence. Just as the apartment complex reaches higher and higher, so does uncheck anger until it builds into unfiltered rage.

This building process has to be interrupted before you lose control.