Reactive Abuse – What it is, and how narcissists (and manipulators in general) take advantage of it

Reactive abuse is the reaction to abuse caused by one or more people. Imagine this: your partner insults you, pushes you, controls you for days at a time. Weeks. Months. You go on suppressing, holding back. Eventually, you snap – you’re human after all. You retaliate, insult or attack the abuser. This is reactive abuse.

With that defined, we can move onto the complexities of the dynamics of the relationship:

Abusers see reactive abuse as a golden opportunity and use the moment to gaslight you. They make you out to be the villain of the story. When you finally explode, the abuser usually says things like:

-You’re acting crazy!
-Look what you do to me. You are a monster!
-You are sick, your head is not right!
-You need to take your “medicine”
-Do you see what I have to put up with?
(in short, they make it seem like you are to blame for everything)

The victim, who is already fragile from being the target of an emotional manipulator for a while, blames themselves. They may say that they don’t know what happened to themselves, that they have become a monster. In their eyes, they are the abuser of the story. For the real abuser this becomes ammunition for the future, and that includes excuses for further aggressions and holding the victim in the relationship.

A note here: I am by no means saying that exploding and reacting in such a way is right, but it is an understandable (but again, wrong) reaction in context. Abnormal situations generate abnormal behaviors.

If you can distance yourself from the situation, you will see that emotional manipulators like getting this reaction from the victim. Not only for the reasons mentioned above but also because while they are the only ones who attack, they know that they are losing and that they are wrong. Almost every manipulator stops attacking only when the other person explodes because this is the moment they can take on the role of a victim. It is at this moment that the relationship has a brief period of calm, only to resume the conflict soon after.

In such cases, when the victim themselves feel as if they were the villain, how can they identify who is the abuser and who is the victim? Is there a possibility of mutual abuse?

Mutual abuse is extremely rare (or non-existent, according to some researchers).

The victim tends to blame themselves for everything, for all the acts they have committed, and sees them as inexcusable. The abuser rarely admits guilt, and when they do, they create a reason for his or her action – that is, the old “I love you, I did attack you, BUT… ”. In the emotional manipulator’s apology, there is an attempt to decrease their guilt and a subtle accusation of the victim.

Emotional handlers and psychological/diagnostic problems:

Another way that manipulators control the situation is with mental problems. If the abuser has a diagnosis or trauma, they may use it as an excuse to abuse (“I have problems and you will have to understand that I am like this”). On the other hand, if the victim has a psychological issue, the abuser might use that against their victim: the drugs are not working, the therapy is not working, the person is crazy (and the abuser is an angel for putting up with everything) etc. However, when the abuser REALLY sees that they are losing power in this dynamic, they might say that they need to change their medicine/therapy and that they will get better.

Bringing the focus back to the victims:

You can forgive yourself for lashing out and commit to reacting more calmly. Look back on the moments when you reacted to the abuse, and think about what you could do differently. Really imagine yourself in those scenes, and think how you could have reacted in a better way.

If you feel like you have become someone that you’re not, reflect on what you were like before this all started. Also, reflect on the following: if you have become so much of a different (and aggressive) person just to survive with someone, is it worth continuing the relationship?

To schedule an online consultation:
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

Roots of codependency


When we talk about codependency, most people think that the term is usually associated with a person emotionally linked to a drug addict, whether that addiction is alcohol or illicit drugs. Therefore, when I bring up the topic of codependency in my office, doubts arise: how can I be codependent? There is no substance abuse in my home.

The truth is that the term, at the time it was created, was specifically related to substance abuse. However, today we know that codependency can exist in any relationship with emotionally manipulative people. But the question remains: why do some people become codependent and others do not? Why do codependents often jump from one toxic relationship to another?

Like many other problems and patterns we work with in the office, codependency has its roots in childhood. Codependents are usually born into unstable homes, where there is emotional manipulation and where love is conditional. That is, if the child does not act exactly as expected, he/she will suffer abandonment and/or abuse.

The child in such a home grows up learning to control and monitor their parents moods and abandon their true identity, their true self, to please the parents. It is a matter of survival – after all, every child needs a caregiver. Thus, they learn to “dance the dance” of the manipulator, transforming their own life into a theater, where they are always doing well, or rather, pretend to be. In short: it is learned in childhood that, to receive affection, it is necessary to be “perfect” in the eyes of the caregiver. Everything revolves around the caregiver, who shapes the child’s taste and personality, at least on a superficial level. The child does all this for a small dose of conditional affection, which the child needs so much of.

This pattern of abdicating oneself to please another person at any cost continues after childhood, and can be seen especially in romantic relationships. After all, what we learn through past experiences becomes our internal rule. It is the kind of love we earn in childhood that we usually look for in the future; not because it’s healthy, but because it’s what we know, it’s what we got used to. Thus, a child who was born and raised in a home with narcissists may find himself entering into relationships with similarly narcissistic people, and refusing relationships and even friendships with healthier people. The comfort of the known, even if bad, may be better (in the short term) than the unknown. Thus, codependents are at risk of leaving an emotionally manipulative partner only to go to another, thus generating a cycle of ups and downs and unhappiness.

In therapy, the codependent learns to break the cycle of abuse and also learns to seek (and handle) healthier relationships (whether they are romantic or not), where their self can exist and is accepted.

To schedule an online consultation:
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

When you’re the only one fighting for the relationship: the lonely partner


A relationship should, at least in theory, have more or less equal involvement and effort from both partners. However, we know that “what it should be” is seldom the reality.

It is very common for people who really want to save their relationship or marriage to appear in my office. Partners who are definitely willing to negotiate and solve the problems with their other half, in their microcosm. However, many times after a few failed negotiation attempts and seeing themselves at risk of losing their difficult partner, they begin to simply accept inequality in the invisible (but extremely important) balance of the relationship.

The truth is that the acceptance of inequality, even though done with good intentions, will end up lowering the possibility of survival of the relationship. It is very common for resentment to grow within the person who wants to save the relationship at all costs. As much as the person tells themselves that they accept what is happening, their mind gradually keeps a tab on everything they are conceding. We can consciously accept the situation and try to rationalize it as being “for the couple’s future”, but something deep in our mind cries out for justice. And little by little, small passive-aggressive acts, small tantrums, even emotional breakdowns start to appear here and there. The smiles start to turn sour. Indifference starts to show in the lonely partner’s eyes. For a partner who never wanted to negotiate to begin with, this is usually seen as more ammunition for injustice.

The truth is that accepting everything for temporary peace is no use. You are enabling the behavior of a partner who does not see your side, and you are also slowly destroying the relationship with the (justifiable) anger that brews inside you. The partner who does not want to negotiate is even more comfortable with the situation because you have stopped fighting for balance. Thus, being silent for the sake of the relationship becomes a cycle, which only increases in toxicity. You are not enjoying the situation and clamming up to save a relationship that, without conversation, will not improve. So think ask yourself these questions: for how long are you going to be able to keep quiet? Why are you not voicing your needs? What is the real gain from all of this?

Of course, nothing prevents a partner from finally understanding you and reconciling. Sometimes it takes time and millions of baby steps, and often even couples therapy is necessary. But what about the cases that are not successful? The cases when everything possible has already been tried, but nothing has improved?

Maybe it’s time for you to ask yourself:

If there was a balance, which is exactly what you are looking for, would your partner still be interested in being with you? Are they still in the relationship because they are the person with all the benefits? And what if that’s the case? Do you want to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t respect you?

And, if you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you, why do you stay? Why do you stay, even though you know that nothing will improve, and that nothing will be equal in the relationship? Why do you stay, knowing that the frustration is not temporary, and that you are trying to accept injustice as a new way of life? Is there a fear of loneliness? Fear of trying again, with a new person? Or is it a pattern of unhappy relationships created throughout childhood that makes you stay, trying to change it? Of course, these questions can and should be addressed in therapy.

Remember that a healthy relationship means two people who like each other and want the best of each other. They want to bring happiness to each other. When a partner sees that you are unhappy and that the relationship is unfair but they are comfortable with the situation, is that the relationship you deserve? A one-way relationship? Where’s your value in all of this?

To schedule an online consultation:
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

What is a good friend?


It seems that we all grew up with the idea that our best friends are the ones who are always present, always by our side. Maybe this is something ingrained in us since our time in school. After all, we saw our classmates every day. Some of us reach our early twenties, after college, and ask, Where have all our friends gone? Were we abandoned? Is someone not saying “good morning” everyday really a sign of a lack of affection? Does not seeing our classmates at least once a week mean the end of friendship? Also, these friends you always see on Friday for a beer, are they your real friends? If friendship could be calculated it certainly wouldn’t be a simple formula, but an equation full of variables. So in line with celebrating International Day of Friendship, I have composed a list of things for you to think about in regard to your friends.

Friends are present in good times and bad times
It is common to hear about fairweather friends. You should be careful about a friend who is only around when everything is good, but it is also important to remember the opposite isn’t desirable either. You should be careful if a friend is only present when everything is bad. There are toxic and envious people who will disappear during times of celebration. Therefore, your real friends will celebrate with you and help you through difficult times

… but that doesn’t mean all the time
Do not confuse constant presence with friendship. Someone sending good morning GIFs with a rose or kittens on a daily basis is an empty gesture when there is no substance to the friendship. Also, we all have work, studies, children, husband / wife, projects… Not being present at every single moment does not mean lack of friendship or neglect. You will recognize a true friend when, even when they are distant, they appear to support and help you when you need them.

Friends accept “no” as an answer
Your friends respect their own boundaries and they should respect yours. If someone is expecting you to accept everything they request and if you tell them “no” they stop speaking to you, this is not a healthy friendship, it is a toxic and abusive friendship. Also, you should look at yourself. Can you say “no” and receive “no” as an answer?

..and they keep their word
Remember a person is only as good as their word. Pay attention to promises (and any other types of agreements ) that are made. People who say one thing and do another are not friends. If you cannot trust someone’s word, you cannot trust this person as a whole. Lies and breaking promises in addition to being disrespectful to you are a big indication of a false or failing friendship. Beware of friends that promise a lot, and don’t follow through. It is better to have a friendship where few promises are made but kept, than
to have a friendship where promises are repeatedly broken.

Friends won’t always agree with you
Friends will call you out when you deserve it and sincerity is a priority. Someone who agrees with you no matter what you say or do is most likely just enabling behaviors that you shouldn’t have. Sometimes friends say things you don’t want to hear, but it’s for your own good. They want you to improve as a person, and that is what caring about someone means.

To schedule an online consultation:
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why


After all the commotion on the internet around this show, I just had to watch it. The curiosity was too much. It seems that people are divided into two groups: those who praise the series, and those who criticized it, saying it encourages suicide.

I don’t believe that any TV show has to teach anything when that isn’t its purpose, especially when it’s a show based on a book – after all, they can’t alter anything to try and make it more “educational” without completely changing the story as it is told in the book. Besides, how many gratuitously violent action films come out each year and get a complete pass? Movies in which adultery isn’t criticized are extremely common as well. So, why was 13 Reasons Why such a target? I believe that the series was the subject of so much criticism for dealing with a subject considered taboo: suicide. Despite not being “educational”, the series shows a story of bullying with scenes that are very similar to real life – but like in real life, not all fictional stories have a happy ending. Also, if it had a happy ending, perhaps it would not have called so much attention to itself, and perhaps we wouldn’t be thinking so much about the subject, agreed?

Despite defending the series, one thing is for sure: it isn’t a series that should be seen by just anyone, just as many books out there shouldn’t be read by children. Why do I think this? Here are some reasons:

The series idealizes suicide; Hannah Baker has already, certainly, taken revenge against the people who mistreated her in the past. Considering that vengeance is one of the biggest factors in many suicides of adolescents (approximately one fifth of them), this can seem to be support for the act. The truth though, is that Hannah never sees how her tapes affect everyone else. Hannah is very present in the series, almost like she knows what is happening, but this is something that would not happen in real life.

If it were an educational series, it would have failed: The series shows every wrong way to act towards someone, but doesn’t show how to help. Hannah should have received help she needed and should have been listened to.

Despite these “negative” points, the series is very good. Like I said before, “13 Reasons Why” does not compromise in being educational and should not be seen by fragile people, but with all certainty, it can be an optimal way to spark important conversations with your teenager about the subject.

Now, some points that the series touches very well are cyberbullying and the minimization of aggression, which happens a lot in the real world. Many times we encourage the victims of rape to shrug off the fact that it happened, as if it were nothing. It’s a sad truth that this is rooted in our culture, and it’s something we have to change. In addition, as I said before, the series does not save Hannah. Rather, it ends up showing the sad reality of many young people who suffer from bullying, and reinforces the need to keep an eye on our friends and family, and help them if they are showing signs of depression. Just as we are appalled at the finale (or start) of the series, we should be appalled at all the acts of bullying and abuse, and help those who need it in real life.
If you have thoughts of suicide, know that there is help.

To schedule an online consultation:
+55 (21) 99742-7750
Skype: paulamonteirocounseling

Fairy tales in real life almost always go wrong


As young girls, we grow up with the idea that we’re all princesses.  Disney has various princesses, enough to satisfy all tastes.  Parents call their daughters “little princesses”, and we see small pink bouffant dresses with garlands being sold in clothes stores, toy stores, and children’s stores.  A little girl is always a “princess”.  The majority of princesses in children’s stories (only the more traditional ones – stories with a different take on the princess trope are safe) have a prince who solves all their problems, then they live happily ever after.  This is always the end of the story:  The prince finds, then fights for the princess, who is waiting passively for him, and they get married.  The princess, in the end, has a dream come true: her prince.  She doesn’t need anything else.

This bombarding of princesses gives many women the idea that once you have a husband, your story is over.  Nothing else is important.  The whole point of life is finding a husband who will solve all your problems and make you magically happy for the rest of your life.  I shouldn’t need to say that this is not only wrong, but also incredibly harmful to a relationship (for both the husband and wife).  So without further ado, we’ll go straight to the prime reasons that is bad for you, your partner (future or current), and your relationship.

Rigid roles in a relationship are stressful and lead to disappointment, for men just as much as women.  It’s difficult to be a perfect princess all the time, and equally hard to be prince charming who has to do absolutely everything.  When you put everything on your partner he’s constantly exhausted, and when you expect too much, you’re just asking to be disappointed.

Being a princess prevents you from growing as a person. Girls who only focus on being delicate and feminine end up powerless to do anything of importance.  Women who only focus on their romantic objectives tend to have less interest in careers in math and sciences.  Women who don’t place their values in any other area than their own relationship  also have less self-esteem and become depressed more easily than women with diverse interests.

Women who search for prince charming will only find princes who aren’t so enchanting. If your partner wants complete femininity and delicateness out of you, that means he won’t want an assertive, independent woman who can make her own decisions.  Being a princess means your decisions and opinions will not be respected.

To be put on a pedestal and seen as a delicate flower can make you suffer from “benevolent machismo” from your partner.  To have an enchanting prince that protects you from everything has one major downside:  he is going to make all of your decisions for you (and almost always in a way that doesn’t benefit you – remember: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is).  I’m not saying that your partner is guaranteed to be like this, but by being a princess, you open many opportunities for this type of person.

In summary:  A fairy tale relationship is exhausting for both parties.  Demand too much of the man and the woman loses her purpose (and even more with time).  It’s important to have a healthy relationship, with realistic expectations and equal say in important decisions.  Don’t be a princess, be a warrior.  Go, and conquer your world.

To schedule an online consultation:
+55 (21) 99742-7750
Skype: paulamonteirocounseling

Social Media and the Real World

Social media has become extremely important in the last years.  These websites make it much easier to stay connected to friends and family, and also provide news and entertainment.  Calls to family and friends have become comments and chats, and even invitations to real events are sent through Facebook.  I can’t comment much about Instagram or any other sites of this fashion, but Facebook in particular has become essential to business and advertising.

But, like almost everything in life, Facebook has a bad side.  Many people see the number of friends, likes, or shares as a symbol of popularity and status.  Photos of friends or celebrities on the internet can cause unfair comparisons or jealousy – “why isn’t my life like this?”  This principally affects those who already have a fragile self-esteem, by generating anxiety and depression.

If you find yourself being affected by social media, read the following tips:

Visit less pages: Social media is, in fact, addicting.  Control your use.  Anything that is important, like invitations, will be waiting for you there when you return.  Remember that Facebook (or any other social media platform you use) is only a small part of your life.

Stop with the comparisons: Comparing yourself to others in real life is already bad, but comparing yourself to others on social media is completely useless.  It can even start to seem like you’re the only one bad things happen to, but the truth is that a large majority of people only post the good side of their lives – there are few who tell of their daily struggles and their sadness.  You basically are seeing photos without any context.  You should not compare yourself to photos that are selected just to show off a perfect life.

You are most important:  Likes on Facebook aren’t going to bring happiness.  Happiness comes from within, and your quality of life depends on how you think of yourself, not how others think of you.  Invest your time in doing things that make you feel good, and don’t let a website control your life and mood.  You are much more than your internet profile.

To schedule a consultation:
(21) 99742-7750

Should I mention divorce?


Unfortunately, divorce happens.  Even married couples who have bought a house together, have kids, share all of their business and possessions, and look perfectly happy, break up more often than you might think.  It’s sad, and the saddest of all is that in many of these situations, divorce could be avoided.

I do not want to make anybody announce the thought of divorce at the first moment it crosses their mind in a fight, as many do – because this is not a subject to be discussed with a hot head.  It’s a subject that should be discussed calmly.  Many people mention divorce in all the fights that they have with a partner, and like the story of ‘the boy who cried wolf’, the subject loses its gravity, and the ‘threat’ of divorce becomes a rehearsed speech without any real value.

However, during consultations, I see many patients who, by the time they come to therapy, the damage has already been done, and it’s already too late for any hope of repairing the relationship.  Lack of appropriate communication is a serious problem in a large percentage of relationships.  Communicating about considering divorce before giving the “final warning” is essential.  Here are some reasons:

-It is important to communicate with your husband/wife about important concerns you might have about the relationship.  Your partner has the right to know your thoughts and desires, and to have a chance to think on the situation.  A final decision on divorce does not appear from nothing, and until the moment in which it is announced the idea could have passed through the head of one partner thousands of times, while the other doesn’t suspect anything.  It’s unfair to attack them with a final blow without them having any idea what’s happening.

-When you or your partner is communicating about the seriousness of the situation, he is much more likely, and more motivated to change, and can demonstrate how he plans to do something (or not) to salvage the relationship.

-Having a conversation about divorce with your partner not only will it make them think about it, but it will also help you think more clearly about the subject.

If you can’t express yourself easily in a relationship when it comes to divorce, marriage counseling is a good place to converse with each other, with the help of a therapist.  Don’t leave therapy for the last minute, when the divorce is already final.

To schedule a consultation:
(21) 99742-7750

3 acts of self-sabotage


1. Always thinking “If only I had…”
We all have regrets relating to something that happened in our past, it could be something that we could have controlled (‘If only I had studied more…”) or had no control over(“If only I had been born in another country/family…”).  The big problem is that these regrets can drag on for years (sometimes even decades!), they don’t help improve our attitude (unless you have a time machine), they only bring frustration, and the worst part: dwelling on these thoughts can make us follow the same paths we went down before

Transform the “if only I had…” by changing how you think of the past, and learning from it:
-“That happened, yes, but now I learned and I can do it differently.”
-“I can’t change my past, but I can change my future.”

These thoughts are far healthier and will help you work towards ending the regret and self-sabotage.

2.Burying your feelings
Many people think that expressing strong feelings means starting public drama or yelling at someone. However, the truth is that if you embrace your feelings, the chance of these things happening is reduced as opposed to burying your feelings; whether for fear of being judged, or due to guilt.

The truth is that buried feelings grow stronger instead of disappearing.  It’s like having a pot of boiling water:  if you cover it, not only will it continue boiling, but eventually it will boil over and make a mess.  However, if you remove the lid and let the air in, you’ll have a much more stable situation.  Knowing and expressing your feelings does not make a mess; covering them, however, does.

3. Starting tomorrow
This is especially common when people start a new diet: They eat normally, and the diet always starts tomorrow.  And tomorrow never comes.  This happens with productivity too:
“Today is a bad day, I’ll start my project tomorrow.”
Why not transform this one day delay into fifteen minutes? Why, instead of starting ‘tomorrow,’ don’t you start in an hour?  Shortening this pause helps to reduce the “all or nothing” way of thinking.  Take a break, however short:  take a walk, breathe, mediate, or talk with a friend – anything that helps you to concentrate on “re-booting” your system.  Don’t forget that tomorrow is never today.  Focus on your plans now.

To schedule a consultation:
(21) 99742-7750





Gaslighting is an emotional manipulation technique that, when repeated multiple times, makes a person question and doubt their own sanity.  It is very common in abusive relationships – in fact, emotional abuse is far more common than we would imagine.

But where did the name come from?
Gaslight is the name of a movie written by Patrick Hamilton.  It tells a story about a marriage, where the husband tries to make his wife think that she is going crazy.  He does this with many subtle tactics, for example, turning down the gas lights (thus the name of the movie).  The wife mentions to her husband that the lights are dimmer, and he constantly denies it, making her start to question her sanity.

Phrases include:
“You’re crazy”
“I never said that”
“You’re being too sensitive”
“Is it PMS?”

A gaslighter discredits the feelings and/or memories of the victim.  Clearly, nobody remembers absolutely everything that is said, but there is a big difference between not remembering and accusing someone of having problems with memory/emotions and trying to rewrite their memory.  Gaslighting is a technique of disorientation.

These phrases, between other similarities, slowly break the self-confidence of the person suffering from gaslighting.  Other symptoms are:

-You question your own memory or emotions
-You suffer from mental confusion, including “feeling crazy”
-You see yourself always making mistakes, and are always asking forgivness from someone, but never can understand how you reacted in that way
-You can never understand how, with so many good things happening in your life, you are unhappy
-You frequently create excuses to defend your partner/parent/friend
-You are unable to make simple decisions
-You feel like you can’t do anything right
-You ask yourself if you are a good enough person

Remember that gaslighting can be done by any person, including bosses, co-workers, family members, and partners.  If you feel that you need to defend your sanity or your value from someone, it’s good to ask yourself if you are being manipulated by them.

Therapy can help you perceive the manipulation and deal with it, by changing the dynamic of the toxic relationship or cutting it out completely.

To schedule a consultation:
+55 (21) 99742-7750