How to Spot Toxic & Abusive People

My expertise in handling emotionally and physically toxic, manipulative people started as a psychotherapist evaluating, testifying, and treating sex offenders and their victims. The most extreme case was when I was asked by the FBI to testify as an expert witness in federal court on behalf of a child victim of sexual abuse by a high profile government official. I had to convince the grand jury and educate them about patterns of abuse and the impact of trauma on  victims. I find it helpful to explain the stages of abuse because most people don’t recognize the subtleties of abusive behavior – like a frog in slow boiling water – by the time they realize it, it’s too late. You can read hundreds of books, but nothing beats gut instinct and experience. Here are the three pronged stages of the abuse cycle:

The set up:

The abuser typically presents as a normal person with a lot of shine: charming, helpful and flattering. You  immediately feel “special”- ask yourself, how does this person who doesn’t know you make you feel this good about yourself? If it doesn’t make logical sense, its a red flag. The set up stage is when abusers “test” your boundaries to see how vulnerable you are to their tactics. They will do things intentionally to hurt you then ask for your forgiveness. If you buy into it, they’ll keep doing more and raising the ante.


Once they have you hooked,  a set of patterns are introduced to condition you into a repetitive cycle. Their over reactions and under reactions are set up to condition your behaviors. You have become their narcissistic  supply. They will make sure your routines and schedules line up with their agenda. The temper tantrums and cold shoulder is a calculated attempt to control your routines. The nonsensical over reactions and fights have the intention of always keeping you destabilized so they have the upper hand.


This is a strategy to make sure you don’t have friends or family who will raise  concerns. At this stage, you’ll begin to wonder why you feel so depressed and unhappy. The abuser has isolated you to the point you don’t have friends who you can confide in to discuss your fears. Additionally, they will have brainwashed you into thinking everything is your fault and guilted you into staying in the relationship. Here are 3 examples of guilt shaming:

1. I’m a victim. Why are you doing this to me?

2. You are a bad person and I will tell everyone the truth (this is when they will start a public shaming campaign-calling friends and family with lies)

3. You have the potential to be so perfect and wonderful.


You  need a support network. Even though it feels scary and shameful, it’s important to tell close trusted friends and professionals what’s been going on. The only way to protect yourself is to disengage from the toxic person and to have the network of support to keep your boundaries firm. Remember, you give up your power when you keep silent. This is especially an issue for men who are emotionally abused by women. Men may feel they’re being weak by admitting they are being abused by a female. Abusers are equal opportunity predators and do not discriminate against gender or age, so don’t be afraid of speaking up!

Helpful books on this topic:

-In sheep’s clothing by George Simon Jr

-The emotional vampire survival guide by Albert Bernstein

* Disclaimer: This blog is written for the general public. If you need more information or feel you are in danger, please contact your nearest law enforcement or contact a professional.IMG_8479

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What’s stopping you? Explore the source of your resistance

FullSizeRender-2Today is a serious beginning.

I made a date with my friend Hannah to write for an hour. Hannah was the right person to handle me. She has a killer corporate lawyer part that wrangles my resistance and holds me accountable.

Panic resounds inside my head. Oh NO, I haven’t found a caterer for tonight’s party; Oh no, I NEED to get a run in;  Oh No, I NEED to vacuum the cat hair from under my bed!

I text Hannah: “Hey, wanna go for a run instead? Hey, I’m freaking out about finding a caterer for tonights party! Hey, are you too busy to meet?  In her firm but sweet way, replies, “I’ll see you at 12:00”

f*&%, the resistant donkey part of me says inside my head. I’m screwed.

I examine my resistance. For the first time, I am curious about it. It just seems so… hysterical. What’s all the fuss and drama about? More quiet voices lurk beneath the hysterical melodrama, screeching like nails on chalkboard — What makes you think you can write? Who do you think you are? What are you going to DO with an hour of writing? Why don’t you do something more productive? Why do you spend time doing nonsense? I listen carefully and realize those are voices that I heard growing up with my Korean family.

There are moments when your own hypocrisy shows up and slaps you on your own doorstep. It amazes me after all this time, even as a mature, professional adult, my parents voices continue to dictate my decisions. Me, a brilliant therapist who so cleverly excises her patient’s resistance day in and day out.  I wonder about the parts of me, who grew up absorbing the messages parents and other adults transmitted consciously and unconsciously.  I leads me to examine the anxious panic when I engage in the “taboo” things that go against my parents beliefs about how I should conduct my life. Something as minor as taking an hour of my time to do something creative wreaks havoc in my internal belief system.

What’s so BAD about doing something different than what I know? Why is i transgressive to do things that may prove my parents wrong or expose them as a fearful, risk adverse mortal beings? When I think back on where these beliefs came from, I recall the indignant rage I felt as an adolescent. “My parents are SO unfair. They have no idea what REAL life is.”

I am now about the same age as my parents when I was that teen.  I too have some fears about the unknown…and the realization that in my lifetime, I may never reach the possibilities that I fantasized about so easily as a child. This is the real reason the voices are so incessant. Parts of me mimic my parents and unconsciously sabotage my success in order to protect me from disappointment and failure.

The real tragedy in this is that the very fear they perpetuated to avoid the pain is what kept them from feeling the joy. What they were afraid allow themselves to know, is that however brief it may be, to enjoy a moment of time creating, loving and feeling joy along with sadness, disappointment and loss are just part of a larger tapestry of life. My present self  can impart this wisdom to my fearful internal voices: Isn’t it wonderful that you are willing to take the time to create and enjoy things in your life. The other stuff – disappointment, loss, and fear are just part of living.

Feel into all of it. Spend time creating something out of it. Take the time to rediscover your own voice, again and again. It’s the only way to keep your inner spirit alive.

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Women, Sex + Power training group for therapists

Women, Sex + Power was a hit at the 2016 American Group Psychotherapy Association annual conference in NYC. Due to popular demand, Dr. Laura Kasper and I will be conducting a 12 week online training group for therapists. For more information contact Yoon at or Laura at


Women Sex  Power Group

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American Group Psychotherapy Association 2016

I will be presenting with Dr. Laura Kasper at the 2016 American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Conference in NYC. Stay tuned!


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Walking your dog on the path from trauma to recovery: Thoughts from Paris after the 11/13 terrorist attacks



I’m sitting at a cafe in Paris, watching the sunset, two days after one of the worst terrorist attacks the city has experienced in history.

I’m reading a book called “the trauma of everyday life” by Mark Epstein. In the book, a poem by Buddha catches my mood of the moment:

“Flapping like a fish thrown on dry ground, it trembles all day, struggling.
Like an archer an arrow,
the wise man steadies his trembling mind,
a fickle and restless weapon
The mind is restless.
To control it is good.
A disciplined mind is the road to Nirvana.”

I quietly observed the people on the street- who seemed preoccupied by the chatter in their own minds and the chatter outside. I could tell by the jerky body movements and the glazed looks in their eyes. The line from buddha’s poem “flapping like a fish thrown on dry ground, it trembles all day, struggling” was the apropos description of what I observed around me. Parisians were thawing from the shock of the terrorist attacks, like fish out of water, trembling helplessly on dry ground.

Out of the corner of my eye, something out of the ordinary caught my attention. I noticed an older French gentleman, who was waiting to cross the street. Unlike the rest of the crowd, he was very still and patient. He seemed tranquil, unlike the crowd around him, who looked hurried & distracted.

I watched him serenely observing his surroundings, walking with a pace that showed ease in the space he inhabited. Then, I noticed he was holding a leash, and saw that he was walking an old dog. A moment of understanding rushed into my awareness. I imagined this dog as a representation of the man’s mind. I sensed a deep connection of warmth with the owner. Furthermore, I had a sense that in its canine heart, the dog had accepted the limitations of its physical body and felt secure in the trusted hand of its master.

“Like an archer an arrow,
the wise man steadies his trembling mind,
a fickle and restless weapon”

It dawned on me, in that moment, that trauma creates a sense of uncertainty which triggers the body to distrust the mind –it’s master. After the wake of the terrorist attacks, the Parisian’s sense of well being and security were shaken to their core. The attacks challenged their presumptions about their world. It brought to light their limitations and awakened a sense of helplessness.

“The mind is restless.
To control it is good.
A disciplined mind is the road to Nirvana.”

The old man and his dog. They were companions in their brave acceptance of the new reality and its limitations. I imagined that in their wisdom, unlike the flapping fish out of water, they chose to stay calm, breathe and walk on steady ground. To trust their mind-bodies to venture together in their new reality, connected by each other, on their path toward an uncertain future.

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American Group Psychotherapy Association 2015


I presented a workshop for resolving treatment resistance in group psychotherapy entitled “Embracing Resistance” at AGPA San Francisco conference 2015.

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American Group Psychotherapy Association 2014


This year I participated in the American Group Psychotherapy Association 2014 Panel discussion “Current Trends in the application of Modern Analytic Group Theory” hosted in Boston, MA.  Please listen to my segment of the presentation below.

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How Therapists are Different Than Your Friends

In this video post Yoon Im Kane, LCSW talks about the difference between talking with your friends and the healing structured environment that a therapist provides.  It is something to consider when thinking about taking that first step towards a better you.


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What’s Binge Eating Disorder?


I notice people respond with confusion and skepticism when I explain my specialty as a therapist who treats Binge eating disorder. They ask “What’s the difference between eating too much and binge eating?”

All types of binging are ways to deal with negative emotions in unhealthy, self-defeating ways. When someone feels a need to binge in private, or schedule binges instead of work and being with friends, it’s time to re-assess. Continue reading

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Facing the Social Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

While most people have heard about bipolar disorder, the majority don’t truly understand it.  Learn about common misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder and get the truth about the condition.


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