Archive for May, 2012
Manhood is a “precarious” status — difficult to earn and easy to lose. And when it’s threatened, men see aggression as a good way to hold onto it. These are the conclusions of a new article by University of South Florida psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello. The paper is published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“Gender is social,” says, Bosson. “Men know this. They are powerfully concerned about how they appear in other people’s eyes.” And the more concerned they are, the more they will suffer psychologically when their manhood feels violated. Gender role violation can be a big thing, like losing a job, or a little thing, like being asked to braid hair in a laboratory.
In several studies, Bosson and her colleagues used that task to force men to behave in a “feminine” manner, and recorded what happened. In one study, some men braided hair; others did the more masculine — or gender-neutral — task of braiding rope. Given the options afterwards of punching a bag or doing a puzzle, the hair-braiders overwhelmingly chose the former. When one group of men braided hair and others did not, and all punched the bag, the hair-braiders punched harder. When they all braided hair and only some got to punch, the non-punchers evinced more anxiety on a subsequent test.
Aggression, write the authors, is a “manhood-restoring tactic.”
When men use this tactic, or consider it, they tend to feel they were compelled by outside forces to do so. Bosson and her colleagues gave men and women a mock police report, in which either a man or a woman hit someone of their own sex after that person taunted them, insulting their manhood (or womanhood). Why did the person get violent? When the protagonist was a woman, both sexes attributed the act to character traits, such as immaturity; the women also said this about the male aggressors. But when the aggressor was a man, the men mostly believed he was provoked; humiliation forced him to defend his manhood.
Interestingly, people tend to feel manhood is defined by achievements, not biology. Womanhood, on the other hand, is seen primarily as a biological state. So manhood can be “lost” through social transgressions, whereas womanhood is “lost” only by physical changes, such as menopause.
Who judges manhood so stringently? “Women are not the main punishers of gender role violations,” says Bosson. Other men are.
Bosson says that this area of research gives psychological evidence to sociological and political theories calling gender a social, not a biological, phenomenon. And it begins to demonstrate the negative effects of gender on men — depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or violence.
The work has also changed Bosson personally. “When I was younger I felt annoyed by my male friends who would refuse to hold a pocketbook or say whether they thought another man was attractive. I thought it was a personal shortcoming that they were so anxious about their manhood. Now I feel much more sympathy for men.”
J. K. Bosson, J. A. Vandello. Precarious Manhood and Its Links to Action and Aggression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Recently both of our oldest sons switched schools for junior high. While in many ways each of their transitions were smooth, both of us were surprised that these two terrific, well-adjusted, handsome (natch) boys seemed at first—at least to their parents—to have no friends.
We reacted to this information in manners befitting our personalities. Josh gently encouraged his son to pick up the phone and call his elementary-school pals; his son resisted, saying he wanted to move on. Elizabeth, on the other hand, went full-on helicopter. After a call to her son’s adviser revealed the not-encouraging fact that he’d been eating lunch with that same adviser, she phoned the school counselor, who assured her that her son wasn’t roaming the halls by himself and that this temporary friendlessness was in the range of normal, especially for introverted boys like her son. “He’s still most likely putting all his energy into getting to the right classroom for each class, not to mention finding the bathroom,” she said. Needless to say, soon Elizabeth was asking her son for the names of everyone he ate lunch with, much to her son’s disgust.
We remember from our own treacherous passages through junior high how strong friendships can ease the pain of those change-filled years. Josh and his best friend from childhood, Dooley, lived on the same street and attended the same middle school. Though they both made other friends, the two were joined at the shoulder most days from breakfast, which Josh often ate at Dooley’s house (where Carnation Breakfast Drinks were an accepted alternative to oatmeal), through dinner, which Dooley often ate at Josh’s father’s house (where reading a Tintin book at the table was by no means considered rude).
In fact, decades of research have shown that kids with close friendships are healthier, do better in school, and get don’t get bullied as often. Friendships also can minimize the negative impacts of family problems and, according to Dr. William M. Bukowski, a psychologist who researches friendships at Concordia University in Montreal, make kids less anxious about trying new things. In one University of Virginia study, researchers placed students wearing heavy backpacks at the base of a hill and asked them to estimate its steepness. The participants who stood next to a friend gave lower estimates than those who were alone.
Perhaps most important, friendships can validate kids in a way that sticks more than their parents’ You rock! praise. “Kids know that parents are supposed to love their children,” says Bukowski. “But when someone shows you affection who doesn’t have to, it has a stronger effect.”
Given these benefits, it makes sense that we parents of boys should see the middle school years as an opportunity to encourage a life-long appreciation for friendship. Unfortunately, for boys growing up today, maturity is mostly defined as being cool and independent. You’re not supposed to need a relationship with anyone. In fact, the very idea of having a “relationship” with a guy friend, much less talking about it, seems icky to many boys.
“You have to shift the whole game and say that maturity should be defined as having quality, mutually supportive healthy relationships,” says Niobe Way, an NYU psychology professor. Way’s recent book, Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, shreds the assumption many parents make that boys can take or leave their pals. Instead, her research shows that boys actually love their guy friends, and have the instinctive intelligence to be able to talk about those attachments. “We think boys are emotional clods who don’t know how to express their feelings,” says Way. “What I hear from listening to boys for almost 20 years is that they have an incredible astuteness about the emotional world. It’s not just that they can say they love a friend, but they can say things with more nuance, like ‘I can act like I’m mad but I’m really hurt.’ ”
Unfortunately, according to Way and other researchers, intimacy between boys vanishes as they progress through high school, in part because many boys this age are afraid of acting in a way that makes them seem girlish or gay. (Jocks, on the other hand, can openly show affection with their guy friends—especially on the playing field—because their popularity and status as manly men insulates them from being harassed.) It’s a loss that the boys Way interviewed mourn intensely and still grieve as adults. Since publishing her book, Way says she’s been surprised by all the letters she’s received from grown men telling her how much they missed their own boyhood chums.
The loss of close-knit guy friendships in middle school may lead to more than loneliness. “If you live in a culture in which the definition of manhood is independence and autonomy and where we aren’t valuing our social and emotional sides,” asks Way, “is it so surprising that we have this culture of bullying and cyberbullying and people being so brutal to each other?”
We agree. But encouraging authentic relationships at a time of life when kids just want to fit in is no small challenge. Here are a few friendship-encouraging strategies recommended by experts—and that would possibly be recommended by our sons, if they were ever willing to talk about this.
Don’t confuse popularity with friendship. If your son has one friend in whom he can confide, and who he trusts won’t talk behind his back, that’s all he needs. Research shows that to get all the benefits of friendship, one is the magic number. Don’t crusade for him to acquire friends the way he used to collect Pokémon cards.
Don’t freak out if your son doesn’t have friends from time to time. In his study of 350 kids, Bukowksi found that every single one went through a period when he had no friends. “There is going to be turnover in friendships,” says Bukowski. “These downtimes are a chance for parents to encourage the importance of relationships and take stock.” And so …
Talk about friendship. Even though most boys don’t want to have a heavy sit-down about their buddies, you can still talk about the importance of friendship in a way that will get your point across. Bukowski and Way both suggest talking about your own friendships: how much they mean to you; what disappoints you. Just don’t overshare! A simple, “I really care about my friendship with Mike and it bums me out when he doesn’t return my emails” will do. Elizabeth had great success recently when she told her sons that a friend is someone who can keep your secrets and doesn’t treat you well one day and then turn on you the next. Both of her sons told her which boys they knew who fit this description. And then they also were able to say which kids didn’t and how it makes them feel when that happens.
Give him a chance to bond over things he loves. You can’t stage-manage a middle schooler’s friendships they way you could when he was in elementary school. But you can provide boys with opportunities to do things with kids who share their interests—filmmaking classes, batting practice, hip-hop. But don’t think that just because your kid has met another LEGO robotics nut that your work is done. “One of the challenges for middle school boys is to change their friendship relationships from being activity based into experiences that are more relational,” says Bukowski. “If a 7th grade boy is playing basketball together with his friends, he should be aware that he shouldn’t gloat about it if he’s better than his friend. Boys who are friends compete with each other, but they can manage that competition.” If your son has a hard time not lording his greatness over others, Bukowski recommends watching the ESPN TV show Pardon the Interruption, which pits two sports reporters against each other to hash out the issues of the day. “They fight about everything,” he says. “But it never becomes personal. You always have the sense that they love each other.”
And how, over a year later, have our boys fared? Elizabeth’s son did make friends at his new school while also staying close to a few guys he’s known since he was little. He’s bugging her about seeing The Hunger Games with his pals on the day it’s released, is excited about being on the middle school tennis team, and is going to camp with four classmates this summer. Josh’s son took up the electric bass and made friends through his school’s jazz band. He and his friends have co-ed parties, go ice skating together, and never stop IMing. Proving, as is always the case with parenting, that solving one concern just begets another.
Every workplace is required by federal law to employ at least one individual who is spectacularly irritating. That’s an incontrovertible (made-up) fact.
Whether you’re a decorator or a litigator, probably even if you’re an alligator, there’s someone around to tax your nerves and, through bullying or back-stabbing or micromanaging, drain your will to live.
I have a name for these people, but it’s quite long and contains profanities that haven’t even been invented yet. Al Bernstein, a Portland, Ore.-based clinical psychologist, has a considerably better name: emotional vampires.
“They are everywhere,” Bernstein said.
The good doctor first published “Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry” more than a decade ago. He has an updated version coming out soon and is working on a new book that focuses on workplace vampires, the living dead who haunt our days.
Behind many of these faux-fanged fools, Bernstein said, there is likely some form of personality disorder.
“When we talk, we try and represent what the actual truth is or what’s going on inside,” he said. “But people with personality disorders are always trying to elicit an effect. They’re always thinking, ‘What will it take to get you to do what I want you to do?’”
While tales of glamorous bloodsuckers are all the rage, forget everything you’ve read, as most companies have a policy against splashing annoying co-workers with holy water. To combat office-dwelling emotional vampires, you need to know your enemies.
“You have to know how they act and how to protect yourself from them,” Bernstein said. “The whole idea in dealing with emotional vampires is if you just respond emotionally to what they’re doing, you’re toast.”
Here are come common workplace vampires:
Antisocial vampires: The simplest and most dangerous kind, they fall into two categories: bullies and con artists. The bullies are always itching for a fight. And Bernstein said the con artists “create an alternate reality, like a stage hypnotist. They’re good at figuring out what it is you want to hear; they’ll make promises and lure you into doing exactly what they want because they seem so nice.”
Histrionic vampires: These are often very peppy and positive, yet unwilling to listen to any form of criticism. “The kind of bosses who think attitude is everything,” Bernstein said. “If you complain about anything, you have a bad attitude. They think this is the greatest company in the world and we’re No. 1 in everything, and anyone who says different, there’s a problem with that person.” They gravitate toward people who agree with them and shun those who speak their minds.
Narcissistic vampires: These can be people who never actually accomplish anything, yet are legends in their own minds, or actual superstars who do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. A quick example would be corporate leaders who make huge cuts in staff while granting themselves big bonuses. “The attitude is, ‘It’s OK for me to use other people because they’re not as important as I am,’” Bernstein said.
Obsessive-compulsive vampires: These are the micromanagers and control freaks who drain us dry. They’re driven by fear of making a mistake. The worst thing you can tell them is, “It’s not a big deal.” To them, everything is a big deal.
Once you identify a workplace vampire, learn how to drive a metaphorical stake through its heart.
“Everything these emotional vampires do follows a pattern,” Bernstein said. “For example, when somebody is yelling at you, what they expect is that you’ll either fight back or run away. What you need to do is recognize the pattern and step out of it, do the unexpected. Say, ‘Give me a minute to stop and think.’ It completely breaks the rhythm. To further step out of the pattern, ask questions that require the vampire to stop and think. Ask, ‘What would you like me to do?’ When you ask someone that, and they have to stop and think, you’re a step closer to negotiation. You haven’t done what’s expected; they can’t follow their pattern because you haven’t followed it.”
With a con artist, you first have to recognize and not buy into their cajoling. Ask yourself, “What does this person actually want from me?” And then make a rational decision whether you want to do the vampire’s bidding.
With histrionics, sadly, you must learn to speak their language.
“When you ask a histrionic something, never imply that they’re doing anything wrong,” Bernstein said. “You want to get them thinking. The only way you can do that is by asking them questions that will lead in the direction you want to go. They’ve got to discover it for themselves.”
Narcissists can never be trusted. Unless you have an agreement in writing, it’s unlikely they’ll ever do anything to help you unless it benefits them.
Obsessive-compulsive vampires just need lots of care and feeding.
“Do what it takes to reassure them,” Bernstein said. “Take notes when they give you their incessant lectures. Give them more progress reports than they could possibly need. That will keep them thinking, ‘Oh, he’s taking this seriously, I don’t need to worry about him. I’ll go bother somebody else.’”
The big question I had after my vampire-hunter boot camp was, “Does the battle ever end?”
Sadly, it does not.
“Typically, these people are not going to change,” Bernstein said. “All you can do is be aware of what they’re like, and never assume they think like you do.”
So keep your eyes peeled and your neck protected. And maybe carry a crucifix.
Just in case.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Anthropologist Elinor Ochs and her colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles have studied family life as far away as Samoa and the Peruvian Amazon region, but for the last decade they have focused on a society closer to home: the American middle class. Why do American children depend on their parents to do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves? How do U.S. working parents’ views of “family time” affect their stress levels? These are just two of the questions that researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, or CELF, are trying to answer in their work.
By studying families at home—or, as the scientists say, “in vivo”—rather than in a lab, they hope to better grasp how families with two working parents balance child care, household duties and career, and how this balance affects their health and well-being.
The center, which also includes sociologists, psychologists and archeologists, wants to understand “what the middle class thought, felt and what they did,” says Dr. Ochs. The researchers plan to publish two books this year on their work, and say they hope the findings may help families become closer and healthier.
Ten years ago, the UCLA team recorded video for a week of nearly every moment at home in the lives of 32 Southern California families. They have been picking apart the footage ever since, scrutinizing behavior, comments and even their refrigerators’s contents for clues.
The families, recruited primarily through ads, owned their own homes and had two or three children, at least one of whom was between 7 and 12 years old. About a third of the families had at least one nonwhite member, and two were headed by same-sex couples. Each family was filmed by two cameras and watched all day by at least three observers.
Among the findings: The families had very a child-centered focus, which may help explain the “dependency dilemma” seen among American middle-class families, says Dr. Ochs. Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own, she says.
In addition, these parents tended to have a very specific, idealized way of thinking about family time, says Tami Kremer-Sadlik, a former CELF research director who is now the director of programs for the division of social sciences at UCLA. These ideals appeared to generate guilt when work intruded on family life, and left parents feeling pressured to create perfect time together. The researchers noted that the presence of the observers may have altered some of the families’ behavior.
How kids develop moral responsibility is an area of focus for the researchers. Dr. Ochs, who began her career in far-off regions of the world studying the concept of “baby talk,” noticed that American children seemed relatively helpless compared with those in other cultures she and colleagues had observed.
In those cultures, young children were expected to contribute substantially to the community, says Dr. Ochs. Children in Samoa serve food to their elders, waiting patiently in front of them before they eat, as shown in one video snippet. Another video clip shows a girl around 5 years of age in Peru’s Amazon region climbing a tall tree to harvest papaya, and helping haul logs thicker than her leg to stoke a fire.
By contrast, the U.S. videos showed Los Angeles parents focusing more on the children, using simplified talk with them, doing most of the housework and intervening quickly when the kids had trouble completing a task.
In 22 of 30 families, children frequently ignored or resisted appeals to help, according to a study published in the journal Ethos in 2009. In the remaining eight families, the children weren’t asked to do much. In some cases, the children routinely asked the parents to do tasks, like getting them silverware. “How am I supposed to cut my food?” Dr. Ochs recalls one girl asking her parents.
Asking children to do a task led to much negotiation, and when parents asked, it sounded often like they were asking a favor, not making a demand, researchers said. Parents interviewed about their behavior said it was often too much trouble to ask.
For instance, one exchange caught on video shows an 8-year-old named Ben sprawled out on a couch near the front door, lifting his white, high-top sneaker to his father, the shoe laced. “Dad, untie my shoe,” he pleads. His father says Ben needs to say “please.”
“Please untie my shoe,” says the child in an identical tone as before. After his father hands the shoe back to him, Ben says, “Please put my shoe on and tie it,” and his father obliges.
Ben’s next words: “Please get my coat from the closet.” Then his father says that Ben should get it himself.
“Isn’t that amazing?” says Dr. Ochs. “It’s only after he escalates that the dad asks him to do something for himself.”
It isn’t that the kids were unable to do the tasks or that their parents didn’t express a need for help, say the researchers. Rather, the studied children didn’t seem to view it as their routine responsibility to contribute, the researchers say.
In about 75% of the families, the mothers came home first and began to “gyrate” through the house, bouncing between the kids and their homework, groceries, dinner and laundry, according to the group’s analysis published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2009. When the fathers came home, 86% of the time at least one child didn’t pay attention to him.
Rarely has a Blog received as delightful a batch of letters as those sent recently by Brittany Stanzel, a fourth-grade teacher at McSwain Elementary School, in Staunton, Virginia, on behalf of her students.
The 9- and 10-year-olds weighed in on whether they feel that American kids are overly dependent on their parents to do things that they are able to do for themselves. That theme that has been observed by researchers from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, as reported above.
Stanzel has given permission to quote from the letters. Here are some snippets from the pens, er, computers, of the students themselves. (They have only been edited for space.)
Some say that indeed American kids are too dependent on their parents:
Cord: “Kids are unnecessarily dependant on their parents, because kids learn not to do anything. Some kids even bully their parents, once I actually told my parents to clean up my drink. I feel very guilty, what I’m trying to say is kid’s need to be responsible for themselves.”
Alice: “I always ask my dad to get me a snack when I am perfectly capable of getting my own bag of chips and a Gatorade. Sometimes, I don’t make my bed and my mom will do it for me. The article really made me think of the way I behave.”
Taeshon: “My life is kind of like that. When I can make my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I sometimes make my mom do it. I think kids need to be problem solvers.”
Sarah: “Yes, I think that American children are unnecessarily dependent. Why you may ask? Because they are lazy bums to their parents, I can be too. Our parents work, and work. I will do stuff my mom or dad ask me. But I will ask them stuff that I could have done easily. I think some American children are lazy, and can’t do anything.”
On the flip side, several of the kids disagreed and also pointed out that the results from one sample of kids shouldn’t be generalized to all children.
Sydney: “I think that maybe it was just the people you interviewed that depended on their parents too much. Maybe if you interviewed some other people you would come to a different conclusion. Maybe the kid’s parents let them act like that.”
Anna Maria: “You did find kids who did not behave; but those kids might be spoiled, or they might not have been raised the right way. If you and the anthropologists want to see good kids with good behavior, then you should observe me and my friends.”
Carter: “Some American kids actually do what they want and they do it themselves. Like me, I wake up at 7:30 and I fix my lunch and breakfast. I even walk to school. I don’t sit back and relax. I don’t make my mom do my work. I think kids that are independent on their own are smart.”
Stanzel writes that “many of the students have discussed the article/issue with their parents. Some parents believe their children are independent already. Others have seen an improvement since we have written to you. Carter has been making his own breakfast more often and Taeshon’s parents have said that he is helping out with household tasks more than before.”
“The kids are oblivious to their parents’ perspectives,” says Dr. Ochs.
The researchers theorize that stems from a tendency in U.S. society to adapt to and focus on the children, rather than teaching children to focus on others. And, Americans tend to encourage children to pay attention to objects more than faces, emphasizing colors and shapes, for instance, over people, says Dr. Ochs. In Samoa, children are expected to be attentive to others from a very young age, and parents stress focusing on facial expressions, says Dr. Ochs.
Researchers are also examining how U.S. parents view family life and work. Parents tended to describe a “very prescribed way of being together,” says Dr. Kremer-Sadlik.
They commonly used terms like “family night,” “family movie,” or “family breakfast,” and it was understood that the activity was meant to be child-focused time and not include others outside the family. This same vision of “family time” wasn’t seen in Italian families, for instance, the researchers found in work published in the journal Time and Society in 2007.
This structured and idealized way of being together appears to pressure parents to achieve these moments and also avoid another instances that might ruin it, like a child’s temper tantrum.
“We wanted to highlight to parents that they have a lot of other opportunities for this family time,” when they can feel united, supported and connected, says Dr. Kremer-Sadlik.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
What does famed urbanist William “Holly” Whyte have in common with David Simon’s award-winning television series The Wire? They both understood the importance of street corners. On The Wire, drug slingers battle for control of Baltimore’s choicest retail outlets; “them corners” offer strategic advantage: double the traffic, better sightlines, more escape routes, and the presence of businesses, magnets for potential customers.
Several decades earlier, Whyte, in his films of New York City street life, identified the street corner as an important factor in urban dynamics. Here was a zone of serendipity where people encountered one another beneath the blinking walk man, where they paused to chat before parting, where they formed small convivial islands just as pedestrian flow was surging most strongly. Even today, corners offer new uses; one often finds people talking there on their mobile devices, either held up by the signal or forgetting to move after the signal has changed. Either way, the corner is urban punctuation, a place to pause, essential to the whole civic grammar.
And so it’s appropriate that Jeff Zupan and I are stopped on a New York corner—at 34th and Broadway—watching how pedestrians navigate a typical crowded crosswalk. In 1975 Zupan wrote (with Boris Pushkarev), one of the seminal books on how people move on foot in cities, Urban Space for Pedestrians. Although he now lives in the suburbs, his ardor for the bipedal New Yorker is undiminished. At one point, after walking a while, I offer to buy him a drink at a sidewalk stand. He bristles. “I don’t patronize food carts,” he says. The reason? They take up sidewalk space on already crowded thoroughfares. Outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, he pauses briefly to berate a tour bus driver, whose empty bus sits idly, its engine sending a noisy blast of hot air onto the sidewalks. The driver briefly looks up from his New York Post and, sensing no immediate physical threat, resumes reading.
I have gone out today on a stroll with Zupan in the tradition of the Peripatetics, those ancient Greek scholars who were said, perhaps apocryphally, to accompany Aristotle on walking lectures. My purpose is to study the pedestrian in his natural setting (the most-walked city in the U.S.) and to bring to light the discrete dynamics that lie beneath this achingly commonplace activity—which, like most commonplace activities, rewards a further look. Zupan, my Aristotle, represents a bridge to the past, when the best way to understand how people moved on foot was to watch them; an approach that has been slowly eclipsed by computer modeling, which automatically counts pedestrians in large flows, tracks their movements, and then, via algorithms, tries to predict what they’ll do next. But this morning, it’s strictly old school, jostling amid the darter fish, the lumbering wildebeest, and every other genus of Gotham pedestrian. What better way to understand pedestrians than to be out among them, with the man who knows them best?
Crosswalks, like corners, have their own dynamics. Zupan points to two large groups paused on opposite corners across 34th. They are distributed widely across the curb cut. As the signal changes, they begin to walk, but as Zupan notes, they don’t veer to the right as they would on a sidewalk. Instead, the two groups meet in the middle, and there’s what Zupan calls a “bulge” at the midpoint, as walkers spill beyond the painted confines of the crosswalk, sifting through each other’s directionality.
A few blocks later, Zupan wants to demonstrate what he calls “shy distance”: how close you get to an approaching person with whom you are bound to collide before one of you shifts to the side. The process is sometimes anticipated with a kind of foreplay, what Nicholson Baker in The Mezzanine described as “the mutual bobbings you exchange with an oncoming pedestrian, as both of you lurch to indicate whether you are going to pass to the right or to the left.” Scanning the sidewalks, Zupan announces, “I’m going to find someone who’s not looking at their phone. I usually try to find someone smaller than me.” He finds his mark: an ordinary commuter in Dockers and oxford shift, striding purposefully. Zupan puts his head down, and gets to within a few feet before the man breaks right, shooting back an irritated glare. (As Zupan wrote in Urban Space, “Pedestrians have been found to take evasive action anywhere from 2 to 17 ft ahead of a stationary or moving obstacle.”)
What might be for some the unchoreographed whir of the city is for Zupan a set of discrete patterns; if a pattern can’t be observed, it probably just means you haven’t looked long enough. Block by block, they emerge: The way people drift toward the shady side of the street on hot days; the way women (in particular) avoid subway grating on the sidewalk; the way walking speeds are slower at midday than before or after work; the way people don’t like to maintain the same walking speed as a stranger next to them; the way tourists walk in inappropriately spread out groups (a phenomenon captured by this satirical call for “tourist lanes”); the way sidewalk planters, parking meters, and other obstacles reduce the “effective width” of sidewalks, which have been under slow and steady spatial assault since the early 20th century.
One place Zupan spent a lot of time during his research was Penn Station, the very place we had met that morning (where the queue at the Starbucks alone was worthy of study). During the period he was working on the book, Penn was experiencing an upsurge in ridership; the station and the surrounding streets were becoming untenable. “There were situations where it was so crowded where even slow walkers had to go slower than they would like.” When he began the research, pedestrians were still something of an unknown quantity, and indeed, his work was part of a small renaissance in pedestrian studies that flourished in the 1970s, producing works from John Fruin’s landmark—and still consulted—book Pedestrian Engineering, to sociological studies like Erving Goffman’s Relations in Public or Michael Prager’s People in Places. Every street corner was a stage-set of human interaction, no behavior too small to be insignificant. One typical study found that when two pedestrians passed closely to another, the majority of women turned away from the other walker, while the majority of men turned toward the opposing pedestrian. “We were learning by just going out in the field,” Zupan says. “If there was something we didn’t understand, we went out and took a look.”
For example: When do people choose to take the escalator versus the stairs? How crowded does the former have to be before the latter is chosen? Standing by a bank of short escalators and stairs exiting to Eighth Avenue, we watch a small queue form at the “up” escalator (not surprisingly, people are more likely to take stairs going down than up). What Zupan found, then as now, is that people’s desire to avoid exertion is relatively high. “To take the most extreme example, when the stairs in the subway are five flights, what’s the percentage of people who will take them?” The answer: About four percent. The people Zupan calls the “health addicts.” He adds: “I was one of them.” Contrary to what you might expect, escalators do not actually improve efficiency. “If you count the per square foot width on an escalator, plus the acceptance rate”—i.e., how willing people are to stand near each other—“it’s about the same as stairs.” And when people walk on an escalator, the capacity is, a bit counterintuitively, reduced, because of the subsequent shuffling—and accidents. (Escalator walking was actually banned in Japan.) What escalators do, simply, is reduce the amount of energy people have to exert (and during rush hours, an escalator is often the only way people are assured of being able to go against the cresting tide of directional flow).
Since Zupan’s research, a few new behaviors have come on the scene. One behavior pointed out to me by traffic engineer Sam Schwartz is people pausing before they enter the stairs of a subway station to check their mobile device one last time. Who knows what this social hiccup does to the overall efficiency? Recent research by the New York City Department of Transportation has found that when walkers talk on the phone, they walk more slowly, and when they wear headphones, they actually walk faster. As Zupan told me, “There are a lot of really microscopic dynamics—as Yogi Berra said, ‘You can see a lot just by observing.’ ”
Despite the advances of early walking-theorists like Zupan, there is a great deal of mystery and academic disputation that surrounding this fundamental human task. What’s the purpose of swinging arms, balance or propulsion? Which muscles contribute most to the body’s “angular momentum”? What part does our vision play in walking. (It was once thought we used our eyes to only plan a step, not monitor and “fine tune” its ongoing progress, but recent research suggests otherwise.)
The complexity of walking is perhaps best appreciated by those who can no longer do it, or need mechanical assistance. Alena Grabowski, a researcher at the University of Colorado who has done extensive work with prosthetic devices (including the question of whether a runner with a device has an unfair edge), says it’s not simply a question of the foot—“one of the more complex designs you’ve got,” with 20 bones in each and any number of directional possibilities. There are a number of systems that come into play. Take the knee. “The knee is challenging, there’s so much weight bearing on the leg. You need to have something that not only goes forward, but side to side, or up a hill, to catch a bus. There’s so many different things you want to model.”
As Laurie Anderson once noted, when we walk, we are always falling, and then always catching ourselves. Walking is known as a “learned motor behavior,” done without conscious thought. Walking is so second-nature that even certain types of walking become ingrained. A few years ago, a pair of researchers at London’s Imperial College identified what they called the “broken escalator” phenomenon: When people walk onto an escalator that is not moving, they still sense a “sway,” and adapt their gait accordingly. The reason, the researchers argued, was not a perceptual illusion, but a “motor adaptation.” Something tickles us at the back of the brain, and our feet respond in kind.
Escalators and stairs are, it turns out, problem points in walking, and not just for the commuters at Penn Station. As John Templar notes in his oddly fascinating book The Staircase, an estimate for one U.S. year found that more than 6,000 people died as a result of a fall on stairs or a ramp. Studies have noted that most stair accidents involve either the first three or last three stairs on a flight. “On these high risk-steps,” Templar writes, “many orientation factor changes occur—route direction change, changes of view, and very large changes of illumination.” As we come to the top or bottom of a stair, we are preparing to change our gait, and we may be looking ahead to where we’re going next. We are distracted pedestrians. What’s more, when we fall, Templar notes, “our natural defense reaction systems will not help much until after we have already fallen about one step of 7 inches (18 cm).” The design of the stair and the tread plays a largely hidden, but crucial role; in one problematic staircase, the stairs were marked with lines parallel to the edge of the tread. In six weeks, 1,400 people fell on the stair: They were confusing the marked line with the actual edge of the tread.
If walking is, as one researcher describes it, a “complex dynamic task that requires the generation of whole-body angular momentum to maintain dynamic balance while performing a wide range of locomotor subtasks such as providing body support, forward propulsion and accelerating the leg into swing,” it’s no surprise that the collectivity of all this motion, coupled with the vagaries of human psychology (among other constraints) should prove such a rich field of study, demanding analytical power equal to that required at higher order institutes of physics. Pedestrians have been interviewed, tracked, modeled, asked to navigate artificial environments, and placed in wind tunnels.
Wind tunnels? Another form of pedestrian research emerging in the 1970s was the effect of tall buildings on people, and general benchmarks for urban pedestrian comfort. This was done, in part, as an ex post facto response to poor design; Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center, for example, generated such ground-level gusts that, as the New York Times noted, “on certain days wind conditions at 140 West Street were so severe that pedestrians needed to hold onto ropes to allow travel.” In England, there were cases of pedestrians being killed by building-generated winds. And so people, wearing representative garments to establish “drag area” benchmarks, were trundled into the kind of wind tunnels used for aerodynamics and subjected to various gales.
The basic issue, as explained to me by Bert Blocken, a professor of Urban Physics and Building Physics at the Technical University Eindhoven (the Netherlands is the one country in the world with a “wind nuisance” standard), is that tall buildings “catch” wind. “The most intense cases are where you only have a few high rise buildings and the rest are low rise,” he says. “The tall building deviates the wind to the ground level, where it has to find its way through the network of streets.” The corners of buildings are particular trouble spots—people may not be expecting the gust as they round the corner. Architects are often not sensitive to the effect their buildings will have on people, leaving people like Blocken to come in and retrofit. In a building in Antwerp, an architect’s winning proposal featured a passageway running entirely through the building. But Blocken’s model showed it would be, in essence, a wind tunnel. In the resulting compromise, people entering the building at one end must push a button to enter the sliding doors, and, as a sign informs them, if the set at the other end of the building is open, they must wait until the other set is closed.
Since the early work of Zupan and colleagues, the body of walking knowledge has grown. We know, among other things, that nearly half of all daily walking “bouts,” as researchers dub trips, are 12 steps or fewer. It has been observed that men walk faster than women, and that walking speed is correlated to socioeconomic standing. In Copenhagen, as Jan Gehl writes in Cities for People, “on Copenhagen’s main walking street, Strøget, pedestrian traffic on cold winter days is 35 percent faster than on good summer days.” In New York, it was observed that streets with more people carrying bags had higher walking speeds. There are basic principles that have been established about group pedestrian behavior; e.g., per one study, “an individual pedestrian diverges for a group of two or more pedestrians.” As people approach a bottleneck, they tend to walk straight; as they slow to enter it, they begin to “oscillate” from side to side. There is more anecdotal research as well. As I walked one afternoon with Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces, he recalled his microscopic studies of Madison Avenue in the early 1970s, part of a project funded by National Geographic. (The street, presumably, was an exotic as a Sumatran rain forest.) “I spent one day analyzing a waste basket, another day with pickpocket detectives,” he says. He recalls talking to the owner of a small cosmetics store, which leased the front of a wig store. “I went in and asked him, you have 39,000 people going by, how do you like your location?” He was unhappy, it turned out, because he was next to a bank. “When they walk past the bank, they speed up. It takes three or four stores to get back into a normal walking rhythm.”
Much of this accumulated knowledge is now being plowed back into increasingly sophisticated computer models, which in their scope and analytical power tend to dwarf the earlier analog efforts, allowing planners to peer ever deeper into ever larger and complex crowds. One afternoon I traveled to 23rd Street to visit Legion, creators of the world’s first dedicated pedestrian modeling software. As I enter the building, I imagine myself transforming from a person on foot to—in the cold, binary eyes of Legion—a “two-dimensional ‘entity’ with a circular body, which moves in 2D continuous space, in 0.6s time step.” When I meet Dan Plottner, Legion’s (three-dimensional) vice president for business development, one of the first things he tells me is how hard it is to model people, as opposed to people in cars. “A car traveling in a lane doesn’t stop, do a 180 degree turn, and turn around and come the other way.”
At the heart of the company’s algorithms is the idea that a “person, when they walk, is seeking to minimize their dissatisfaction.” On foot, as with life itself! “The same way you can plot density on a map,” Plottner says, “you can plot frustration.” But this simple statement—minimizing dissatisfaction—explains a lot. It is why people take the escalator (and disdain elevated walkways or subterranean tunnels), it is why pedestrians will begin to rampantly jaywalk if you make them wait too long, it is why they trample “desire lines” on aloofly chained-off college quadrangles. As a British engineer once told me, “pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans”—they will always seek the shortest path.
The Legion model seeks to understand, with each step the pedestrian takes, what their next step will be, based on a mathematically weighted combination of three factors (the tolerance for, and wish to avoid, inconvenience, frustration, and discomfort). More minor things are often observed—people pausing briefly in London before exiting a transit station to see if it’s raining—but not fully modeled yet. (Plottner notes the company already has some 9 million pedestrian measurements.) Getting large crowds of people to move smoothly often involves negating people’s own natural inclinations. In London, or in Chinese cities, he notes, it is common to see a long railing at the bottom of pairs of escalators. “It forces you to take a few extra steps,” he says. “Every time we turn, we’re always trying to cut the corner, always trying to get a leg up on that other person. This removes the conflict area from the base of the escalator.” Similarly, Legion’s models for sports stadiums and other large facilities often show circular switchbacks in staircases can handle more people than square. “People are better about following the outline of the wall,” says Plottner. “They don’t feel like it’s causing them extra work.”
As cities become more crowded, with more people pushing through congested centers, Plottner says modeling becomes crucial. “When things get dense, they don’t behave in a way that makes sense,” he says. “That’s what simulation can help you unlock.” An example of this can be found at Vesey Street in lower Manhattan, between Church and West Broadway, just adjacent to the former World Trade Center site. In the morning rush, some 15,000 people per hour course down this single passage. In an effort to keep the tide from simply overwhelming the cross streets, the city has installed special fluorescent-vested “pedestrian managers,” who stretch chains across the sidewalk when the “Don’t Walk” signal is activated. When I passed by one morning and dismounted my bike, preparing to walk, I quickly gave up—with my added baggage, I simply couldn’t find an entry point among the tightly compressed torrent of commuters. “People tend to order themselves more when it’s congested,” Plottner says. “So a congested system is more efficient than an uncongested system.”
There was just one problem with Vesey: It occasionally needs to be used by trucks accessing the Trade Center construction site. Simply blocking off the street and forcing people to detour, Legion’s models showed, increased the amount of time people would have to walk by 70 percent. What about halting people temporarily while trucks entered and exited? One morning, in the offices of Sam Schwartz, a team of engineers working on the Vesey Street congestion ran through various simulations. (Schwartz uses Legion, among other tools.) On a large screen, I watched thousands of small dots swarming from the transit station, with various color-coded swirls indicating density. What the models showed is that when you held groups for upward of 90 seconds, you had “crush volumes.” At volumes of more than seven people per square meter, the engineer Jon Fruin once noted, crowds become, in essence, a liquid mass. “Shock waves can be propagated through the mass, sufficient to … propel them distances of 3 meters or more. … People may be literally lifted out of their shoes, and have clothing torn off.”
There were actually two risks, Schwartz told me: Crush, and people backing up and toppling down the escalators. A compromise was reached: The gate to the site could be open no longer than 45 seconds (and this would be closely monitored). Morgan Whitcomb, a Schwartz engineer, told me: “We did practice runs to make sure the construction operations could time it perfectly with a truck coming in. They can do it in as little as 30 seconds.”
Modeling pedestrians works best for discrete flows in concentrated spaces, when masses of people are trying to get somewhere with purpose. “We can’t do people loitering in Times Square,” says Plottner. “We don’t understand why their behavior is what it is.” Neither do many New Yorkers, but there is something comforting in the fact that some human behaviors—pausing to admire the play of light on a 19th-century cornice, crossing the street to avoid that earnest-looking person with the clipboard, holding the door for someone at the entrance to a crowded building and finding yourself caught in a cycle of politeness as you anxiously decide when to relinquish your impromptu role as doorman—can’t easily be reduced to math.
Nearly half of first marriages break up within 20 years, a new government study finds. With those odds, you might wonder: Would we be better off living together first?
The new research, part of a marriage survey of 22,000 men and women, suggests times have changed from the days when living together signaled poor chances for a successful marriage later
“It’s not playing as big a role in predicting divorce as it used to,” said Casey Copen, lead author of the study.
Living together before marriage has been a long-growing trend. In the late 1960s, only about 10 percent of U.S. couples moved in together first, and they ended up with higher divorce rates.
Today, about 60 percent of couples live together before they first marry.
“It’s becoming so common, it’s not surprising it no longer negatively affects marital stability,” said Wendy Manning, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked for trends in first marriages. They interviewed men and women ages 15 to 44 during the years 2006 to 2010. About 40 percent were married.
The study found those who were engaged and living together before the wedding were about as likely to have marriages that lasted 15 years as couples who hadn’t lived together.
But what about the couples who were living together but weren’t engaged? The new study found marriage was less likely to survive to the 10- and 15-year mark among couples who weren’t engaged when they lived together findings similar to earlier research.
For example, for women, there was about a 60 percent likelihood a marriage would survive 15 years if the couple either hadn’t lived together before the wedding or were engaged while they were sharing the same living space.
But if no firm marriage commitment was made while she and her boyfriend were living together, the likelihood the marriage would last 15 years fell to 53 percent. The numbers were similar for men.
Potential explanations include more lax attitudes about commitment, lower education levels or family histories that made these couples more pessimistic about marriage, Copen said.
The experience of living together before marriage is different for different people, said Richard Settersten Jr., an Oregon State University professor of human development and family science.
Some young people put off marriage because they’re pursuing a college education and starting a career. For them, “cohabitation is a trial marriage, usually without kids, that often ends in marriage,” Settersten said.
Others in many cases, people not on a college track move from one living-together relationship to another, some of them producing children, he said.
Commitment has made a difference. In interviews with some women who have been married 20 years or more after living with their spouse first, firm belief in a future together was a common theme.
“I sort of knew he would be part of my life long-term…. I wasn’t thinking, `He’s moving in with me, is he ever going to marry me?”‘ said Hillary Mickell, a San Francisco woman who first moved in with her husband when they were students at Boston University.
But this was in 1985, and she did try to hide their situation from her parents in California, sometimes telling them her beau answered the phone because there had been a snowstorm and he was stuck in her apartment. “It became a running joke there are blizzards in Boston nine months a year,” said Mickell, co-founder of a social network site for recipe exchanges.
The CDC study also concluded:
Nearly half of first marriages will break up within 20 years a statistic identical to what other studies have found.
The percentage of young women currently living with a male partner grew from 3 percent in 1982 to 11 percent recently.
Women and men with bachelor’s degrees were more likely to delay marriage but also more likely to eventually get married and stayed married for at least 20 years.
Asian women were the most likely to be in a first marriage that lasted at least 20 years. Nearly 70 percent of Asian women were still in their first marriage, compared to 54 percent of white women, 53 percent of Hispanic women and 37 percent of black women.
Among men, 62 percent of Hispanics were still in their first marriage at 20 years, compared to 54 percent of whites and 53 percent of blacks. The study did not have statistics for Asian menRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
As Leo Tolstoy once said, “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” We can smile at that quote or it can inspire us to ask ourselves some wise questions: What is it that happy families are doing? And, do my spouse and I fall into the category of happy couples?
If you want to have a superior relationship with your partner and be a good role model for your children, then enhance your verbal skills today by adopting the tips below. What I have found as a couples mediator is that the same verbal skills work to improve every relationship. These 10 quick and simple tips will keep the peace in the family and make your love connection stronger. Even if you’re using the tips and your husband or wife isn’t, their effect will still be astonishing.
Pick Your Battles
Before you get angry and reprimand your mate for making a mistake or doing something you told him or her not to do, stop and ask yourself this one wise question: “Does this affect me?” If it doesn’t, button your lips and avoid a fight. After all, your mate is the one who must deal with the consequence, not you.
Be a Detective
When your mate’s mistake does affect you, what then? Rather than being hostile, find out what really happened. Ask neutral and respectful questions such as, “Can you tell me what happened?” or “I don’t understand. Am I missing something here?” You might discover a good reason for the oversight or blunder, which could avoid a blow-up.
Complain with Impact
When you have a complaint, say what you do want, not what you don’t want. For example, rather than saying to your child or mate, “Get off that darn computer – you’re so rude!” instead target your mate using a positive approach: “I miss your company. Can you join me in the living room to hang out?”
Skip the Whatever Word
Being passive by often saying “whatever you want” might temporarily avoid a fight, but it could breed resentment because it leaves the majority of decisions to your mate, which can be stressful. Instead, have a real opinion and share it.
If your mate does something that affects and disturbs you, such as overspending or making plans for both of you without asking the other first, don’t get sucked into the heated “How could you?” argument. Instead, focus on the future by creating policy solutions, as in, “From now on can we agree to make a budget for our personal expenses?” Or: “Can we agree to check in with each other before making plans for both of us?”
Show You Care
Forgetting to ask about what’s going on in your child or your mate’s daily life is a surefire way to erode a relationship. From now on, if you know that someone in your family has an important meeting, test, doctor appointment, or event that day, don’t neglect it – instead, respect it. Call, email, text, or ask in person, “How did it go?” This sends a clear message: I care about you.
Avoid Factual Arguments
Do you and your mate often find yourselves arguing about the name of a restaurant you went to, a certain address, someone’s birthday, an historical fact, or sports figure? Then you are prone to having a dumb argument! Stop the conversation and do an online fact check, call a friend, or simply drive by the location.
Apologize with the “B” Word
Quickly saying the words “I’m sorry” is a bad apology because it often comes off as insincere, and could trigger another battle. Next time you seek mercy, add the “B” word: Say, “I’m sorry because…” and share how you hurt your mate and what you will do to prevent the wrongdoing from recurring. Research shows that when you add the “because clause” your words are more persuasive.
Create Border Control
Are you ever angry with your partner for revealing something to others that you consider private, like a health issue, a child discipline issue, job insecurity, or a marital disagreement? If so, bypass the “How could you say that?!” argument. Instead, establish border control: Outline the topics that should remain private to insure that neither of you becomes an accidental traitor.
Give a Daily Dose of Recognition
Most couples on the divorce path seldom compliment each other. I’ve asked people, “Would you rather your mate compliment you for being kind or good-looking?” The result was that 84 percent of people said “kind.” The lesson: Find daily opportunities to recognize your mate for something that reflects a character strength (you are such a wonderful mother/father, you are so thoughtful when you…).Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Chances are you’ve known someone, maybe even someone in your own family, who’s struggled with an addiction to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. But what about an addiction to sex? A growing number of medical experts are saying compulsive sexual behavior is a very real disorder that an estimated 16 million Americans, both men and women, are fighting.
“Daily, I sit down with people who look back at the wreckage in their life and say, knowing all along, ‘Why would I do this stuff?’” says Dr. Patrick Carnes, director of sexual disorders services at Arizona’s Meadows Treatment Center, which first coined the term “sexual addiction.”
Carnes says the same way that people can become addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, they can become addicted to sex, anything from Internet sex to obsessive masturbation to affairs.
What makes a sex addict?
How do experts tell what makes a person a sex addict as opposed to someone who just likes sex?
“You look for the obvious things, like bad things happening, knowing that you are doing something that is going to hurt you so you make efforts to stop that don’t work,” says Carnes. “Obviously, you’ve got a problem.”
“There was that selfish needy, lonely, angry part of myself that didn’t want to stop and saw that sex was my solution to other things,” says Mark Laaser, who had an insatiable need for secret sex. To anyone who knew him, it would have seemed incomprehensible. Laaser, a minister and counselor, was married with children and an icon of respect. But that wasn’t enough.
Mark says that early on he felt an emptiness, a loneliness that sex seemed to fill. “It was just an excitement, a raw excitement — kind of like what a drug addict would describe,” he says. “It was just a high.”
It was a high Laaser started experiencing at a young age. When he was 11, he says he discovered pictures — what he’d call soft porn now.
“And some of that is not abnormal for a person seeing that for the first time,” he says. “Of course when it becomes abnormal is how preoccupied you get with it.”
Laaser was so fixated by what he saw, he started stealing Playboy magazines from the local drugstore.
“And then also for me, I started crossing moral boundaries almost right away … Stealing magazines — and I’m a preacher’s kid, a minister’s son,” says Laaser. “So I knew that stealing was bad. But I was willing to go ahead with it because the high was so fantastic of what I was experiencing.”
In high school, Laaser hoped his behavior might stop when he met Debbie, the girl he thought could change him.
“There was a part of myself that she just didn’t know because I wasn’t revealing it to her or anybody for that matter,” says Laaser. He wasn’t revealing that he was now doing more than looking at magazines. He was watching porn videos and masturbating daily. Debbie, unaware of Mark’s double life, trusted him and they got married. Mark hoped that married life would bring an end to a life preoccupied by sex.
“All this crazy stuff in the past, that will be over now. I’m getting married. I’ll have a regular sexual partner and so forth,” says Laaser. “But I was amazed early on, even in the first year of marriage, that my temptation to masturbate and look at pornography returned rather quickly.”
A lot of people think human beings are preoccupied by sex a lot of time, so what could be so unusual about his feelings?
“The part that was unusual was where my mind tended to go with it,” says Laaser. “I wanted to experience it. I wanted to act it out. Eventually I had a lot of preoccupation with planning or doing or thinking what it would be like.”
Laaser soon was no longer planning, but doing, paying monthly visits to massage parlors, having sex with so-called “masseuses,” all the while hiding it from his wife Debbie, whom Laaser says he still loved deeply.
“I was always completely attracted to her,” says Laaser. “There was just something so much deeper in me that cannot be satisfied by sex.”
He says something deeply emotional was missing, and he wondered why he couldn’t just stop.
“I was wracked with shame and tried time and time again to stop,” says Marnie Ferree, who like Laaser, knows what it’s like to be out of control of her sexual feelings. For Ferree, it wasn’t so much about sex itself, but about the relationships she thought she could have by engaging in sex with acquaintances and friends.
“The sexual part was pleasurable and it was a nice byproduct for me, but that wasn’t the most important thing,” says Ferree. “I was trying to get non-sexual needs met sexually and that was the only way I knew how to meet those needs.”
Ferree says that as a child, she was sexually abused by a family friend, a common precursor to later addiction. Ferree’s promiscuity lasted from her teen years through two marriages, with numerous affairs in between. She felt an emotional void that she says sex filled — at least initially.
“At the time there is an incredible adrenaline rush,” says Ferree. “It’s a connection that I found I couldn’t replicate anywhere else. But immediately after that experience is over, I mean driving back home, there is this incredible let down and you’re just in a wash of shame.”
That shame that worsened after Ferree was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The cause, she was told, was HPV, a sexually transmitted disease.
“That was the lowest point,” says Ferree. “I experienced three surgeries in a year as treatment of that cervical cancer. Had a major hemorrhaging after one of those surgeries. I mean my life was literally in danger and I found still that I could not stop.”
Ferree was sick, married and a mother, yet none of those things could make her change, even though she was horrified by what she was doing.
“It’s about feeling rotten,” says Ferree. “I want to feel better. What way am I going through a ritual to feel better? I’m connecting with someone, I’m going to act out sexually. I feel horrible after that and the whole cycle starts over again.”
Ferree was desperate. Sex with her husband was not enough, and she believed the only way to stop having sex outside her marriage was to end her life.
“I had really strong suicidal thoughts,” says Ferree. “But I knew I couldn’t keep on living but I was too afraid to die.”
Another woman, who calls herself “Karen,” was also overtaken by sexual addiction and by her own shame, so raw that she asked Dateline NBC to hide her face and use a different name.
“It’s just this 24-hour distraction,” she says. “Like the shame that it causes, I feel like it just stole my soul.”
Karen is in her ’30s, single, and for almost as long as she can remember she’s been preoccupied with finding love. For years, she says, this meant having sex several times a week with strangers she would pick up in bars, frequently putting herself in dangerous situations.
“I ended up going home with a group of guys like 10 years younger than me,” says Karen, “and I figured I would have sex with one of them and maybe have a relationship. But I ended up having sex or doing sexual things with several of them. And that was a new low … Absolutely humiliated. What horrified me the most about it is that these guys were graffiti writers and they wrote on my body and that’s what made me feel like, oh my God, I was just completely used as an object.”
Karen even found herself contemplating prostitution. “That actually seemed like a logical thing to do since I found myself having sex with people I didn’t know anyway,” she says. “And I kind of became obsessed with some ads in the back of a free newspaper for escort services and I went on a couple of interviews.”
Laaser was also building toward behavior he would never have thought was possible for him. He had degrees in religion and divinity, had attended seminary school, was a deeply committed Christian and had been ordained as a minister. “There was that good side. There was that moral side. There was that caring side,” says Laaser.
And yet, he’d escape, feeling furtive and guilty, to feed his sexual addiction. At the same time, he was working on getting his Ph.D. in, of all things, psychology.
“Now I’m the Rev. Dr. Laaser,” he says, “and there are people that are going to be attracted to that and I actually wound up becoming sexual with some of my clients at that time. … It happened multiple times over a 10-year period. … [I was] frightened, incredibly frightened … I think for years I felt totally worthless. I can’t describe to you the times I would sit in church, even preaching on a Sunday morning, thinking God’s grace was for everybody else but certainly not for me.”
Laaser was preaching redemption, but for him, redemption might be more difficult. He betrayed parishioners, colleagues and clients. It was a trust that was about to be shattered.
“One of the people I was involved in with had reported (our affair). Yes, the very thing I was afraid of actually happened. Eight very angry people called me in, canceled my appointments for that day,” says Laaser.
He says he didn’t even realize what they knew “until the first one opened his mouth and started talking. Then it all came crashing in on me.”
Laaser’s colleagues at the center where he was a counselor angrily confronted and fired him. They would help him get treatment for his sexual misbehavior, but first, they said, he had to tell his wife Debbie everything.
“I was totally blindsided,” says Debbie. “I had no idea that this man I had been living with for 15 years — married to for 15 years — could possible have been doing all these things. And I’ll never forget the look on Mark’s face. Actually he was sitting in a chair across from me and I guess today what I know is brokenness in a person … I think there were times truthfully when I questioned whether I would stay. There were times I know when I felt so extremely sad, that I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to have happiness in our life again.”
And then, in the midst of all that pain, her husband felt something else.
“This pent up secret that is now over 30 years old is now all of a sudden out of the bag,” says Laaser. “I don’t have to protect the secret anymore. So I think mixed up with fear, sadness and confusion there was a sense of relief.”
So is sex addiction really about the sex?
“No,” says Carnes, “but that’s the mistake people often make. It’s really about pain … or escaping or anxiety reduction. It’s a solution.”
Ferree thought sex was her solution to painful feelings, but it was a solution that was not working. After years of failing to will herself to stop having sex with acquaintances, she was ready to take her own life. And then, at last, she confided in someone.
“I picked up the phone and called a dear friend and poured out this awful saga of my life and said I need help,” says Ferree.
She did get help help. A therapist helped her learn to deal with the childhood sexual abuse that contributed to her many affairs. Her second marriage survived and is, she says, better.
Ferree was surprised to find she wasn’t alone. About a third of sex addicts are female, which is why, Ferree says, she decided she wanted to do something to help other women. She went back to school to get a degree in counseling.
“I didn’t choose sex addiction,” says Ferree. “Sex addiction chose me and this field chose me.”
She now runs a counseling program for sexually addicted women, called Bethesda Workshops.
“Women are afraid to talk about it,” says Ferree. “We’re afraid of being labeled as whores. It’s kind of guys will be guys, men will be men. But for a woman to be out of control in her sexual behavior, there is just a whole other level of shame.”
Karen, awash in that same shame, one day found herself surfing the Internet to see if she was the only woman in the world who suffered in this way, when she ran across Web sites for sexual addiction. She entered a 12-step program and has been dealing with sex appropriately for a year.
“The real problem for most sex addicts, they would say to you, I wouldn’t know healthy sexuality if it hit me over the head. So how do I know when I am in my craziness and when what I’m doing is a normal healthy reaction to have. And that’s part of what recovery teaches,” says Carnes.
Laaser has been in recovery for over a decade. He say’s it’s a continuing process. After his sexual misbehavior was exposed, Laser entered a sex addiction treatment center for a month where he received psychotherapy. He now runs a program called Faithful and True Ministries. He still occasionally goes for counseling and relies on the support of those around him, such as his wife Debbie who stayed by his side through it all.
“I never had these real feelings of just running and leaving,” says Debbie. “I wasn’t aware that running would solve anything necessarily.”
Their relationship eventually strengthened. They dealt with some of the loneliness Laaser felt and both found comfort in their religious faith.
“Now that Debbie and I are more spiritually intimate, sex in our relationship is totally satisfying,” says Laaser.
His work has also helped him. He is again counseling others — including men with problems like his.
Why can’t people just stop?
So why can’t people just stop these behaviors? If there’s no drug or chemical involved, how is sex addiction like drug addiction or smoking?
“When you have a compulsive gambler,” says Carnes, “you’re not taking a chemical. … In other words, we produce chemicals in our brain whether we use an outside chemical or not.”
New studies, like one at Vanderbilt University, are being conducted to determine if brains of sex addicts are somehow different, and if sex addiction is a true, measurable disorder. Yet despite growing interest in such research, there are still some who do not believe it is a true addiction. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, for example, does not list sex addiction as a disorder.
“That book is always changing,” says Carnes, “and a consensus is starting to build. People who work in the addiction realm are starting to get a common agreement about how to start describing this.”
But, however the scientific debate works itself out, people like Ferree, Karen and Laaser want to help other people suffering from the same compulsions. They want people to know how to recognize the problem and discover that there is hope.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
It’s clear—more than half of us are not only bad at marriage, we’re lousy at divorce. We’re still doing it in record numbers, but we don’t seem to be learning a thing from the experience: 60 percent of second marriages fail as well. After we face the failure, dry the tears, and explain it all to the kids, we still don’t know how to make relationships work.
So if we don’t learn from our failures, is it possible to learn from others’ successes? With this in mind, a number of researchers began a long-term look at marriage to discover what makes the good ones work. They examined every facet of marital interaction, videotaped every revealing nuance of communication, measured physiologic activity from pulse rate to electrical conductance of skin. Their findings provide nothing short of a blueprint for successful marriage.
Charting The Marriage Map
Twenty years as a marital therapist made it clear to Liberty Kovacs, Ph.D., that relationships unfold through time—a concept curiously absent in most views of marriage. But it was the lack of any guidelines for helping couples in distress that set her off in search of a framework for assessing their problems. Using her own empirical research, she developed a system to chart the marital relationship as it progresses (and always comes close to undoing) to accommodate two people who are themselves evolving as individuals.
Drawing theoretical bravado from group dynamics as well as psychodynamics, theories of adult development, and family systems, Kovacs contends that marriages evolve through six distinct stages toward intimacy and mutuality. Each of these passages poses specific challenges to individual and couple development. Yet while the progress may thus be predictable, says Kovacs, head of the Center for Marriage and Family Therapy in Sacramento, California, it is definitely not smooth.
The length of a marriage is no guide as to what sort of issues a couple may be stumbling over; some may stay stuck on a single issue for decades. And the development doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion from one stage to the next; rather it is cyclic. “When a couple is hit with stress at any point, they may go back to an earlier stage,” she says. All, however, face power struggles in the middle stages, and even the best don’t see the dawn of mutuality—that easy flow of support and intimacy—before 10 to 15 years.
The most important indicators of individual stages are emotional themes and interaction patterns. In the first stage for example—the mooning, spooning, Juneing phase—the marital partners see each other as perfect and identical. This is necessary for developing a sense of belonging and trust in each other’s commitment to an evolving relationship. Yet as renewed career goals or signs of external interests emerge—as they must—the other partner may view it as betrayal. The task is then to start down the rocky road of accepting differentness as enhancing the relationship.
Similarly, in the second stage, couples experience individual change as disappointment, anxiety, and self-doubt: a “What’s wrong with me?” attitude. Together, their task is to draw a distinct boundary between themselves as a unit and the rest of the world that impinges on it. It takes a strong sense of couplehood to face what happens next.
Over the next three stages, as partners’ interests diverge and develop independently, earlier efforts at accommodation now fall by the boards. Typically, each tries to control the other—a classic power struggle with all the accusation they can muster. Not only do they not agree on anything, they feel that they have lost any connection with each other. This may scare them, but they are more afraid to let down their defenses lest they be controlled by the other. What’s needed is not just the ability to recognize differences but finding new ways of negotiating them—ways of expressing themselves without crushing the other. What more often happens is that she rails while he stomps out of the house.
These scenes may be reenacted for years, even decades, as both play out patterns of behavior absorbed from parents. Likewise, it takes a great deal of time to find strategies to break through such entrenched patterns. Help takes many forms: finding ways of direct self-expression and labeling of feelings—statements that begin “I feel” rather than “He/she always does…”—and reviewing the family of origin to assess what attitudes and behaviors to keep, what to pitch. Sarah Raskey, couples therapist, says resisting the temptation to speak and act on frustration is key which takes self awareness, emotion regulation, and the ability to focus on your partners strengths.
By stage four, one or the other may be feeling the impulse to run away from the relationship. “I want time for myself” and “I need some space,” are laments that delineate the discontent. Kovacs feels that separations at this point are good if they allow the partners to “figure out who I am and what I want.”
But one spouse may already be searching for other partners or actively engaging in an affair. Kovacs calls that a diversion from the real issue—finding and completing one’s self. Another relationship only switches the focus to someone else’s needs.
If couples survive the struggles for nurturance, for power, for self, they then enter stage five—the promised land of reaching towards intimacy. “At this point, couples have a full identity to share,” and by stage six realize they can separate and reconnect without losing that identity. Raskey says that few get to this stage which she attributes less to a cultural deterioration of commitment and more so to people trying to force a relationship authenticity that wasn’t there to begin with.
Kovacs firmly believes that marriage is essential for growth and individuation—the elaborating of a distinct self. “First we grow in relation to our parents, then our peers, and then another adult. Only stable, enduring relationships allow individual growth to take place. We need to develop enough trust in a partner for the hidden parts of ourselves to surface. It takes years into a relationship.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Men like it when women let them know when they’re happy. Women like it when men share their anger and frustration. Well, that sounds like a bit of a problem.
But the good news, researchers say, is that what matters most in a relationship is whether it feels like the other person is really trying to relate to the emotions, whether they’re happy or sad.
It’s not so hard to understand why men get satisfaction out of seeing their wife or girlfriend happy. Wouldn’t anyone?
But the notion that women like seeing their mate angry, sad or frustrated is more of a puzzle. What’s up with us, women?
But the findings are consistent with what we know about couples, says Shiri Cohen, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. She asked 156 couples to remember incidents in the relationship that upset them, and compared their reactions.
“The women tend to want to engage around conflict,” she told Shots. “They’re deriving more satisfaction when they see that their partner is upset.”
Evidently we women see a man’s willingness to share negative feelings as a sign that he’s invested in the relationship. Cohen says: “That’s telling her something about his availability to engage in the conflict.”
Men feel exactly the opposite about those moments of conflict: They see it as a threat to the relationship. Instead, Cohen says, “They do derive satisfaction when their girlfriends or wives are happy.”
The findings were just published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
So I guess we women have to stop and take notice at those moments of male happiness. And men could profit by starting a sentence with the phrase “I feel bad about ….”
But both sexes benefit when they make it clear they’re empathizing with the other’s feelings, be they good or bad.
“It’s sometimes difficult for partners to look past what their own emotions are,” Cohen says. “It helps to know that different kinds of emotions can enhance the way people feel about their relationships.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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