The term “sexual addiction” is used to describe the behavior of a person who has an unusually intense sex drive or an obsession with sex. Sex and the thought of sex tend to dominate the sex addict’s thinking, making it difficult to work or engage in healthy personal relationships.
About 3% to 6% of Americans have sexual addiction. And although the Internet provides an endless amount of valuable information, it has also become a dangerous pitfall for the estimated 2 million sexually addicted Internet users, both in and out of recovery. Often an individual seeks out sexual material out of curiosity. They will start to visit a sexual site more and more or other sites like it.
Pornography gives the user the illusion that each and every one of his or her addictive sexual compulsions can be met through fantasy. It can be described as an obsessive relationship with a fantasy. Pornography, like any other sex addiction, becomes the user’s fix. The user becomes so enraptured, they may end up destroying good relationships, spending hours and sometimes days cruising the Internet for porn and throwing out thousands of dollars on illusions.
Behaviors associated with sexual addiction include:
-Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
-Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
-Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or “one-night stands”
-Consistent use of pornography
-Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
-Prostitution or use of prostitutes
-Obsessive dating through personal ads
-Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
Sexual addiction can be associated with risk-taking. A person with a sexual addiction may engage in various forms of sexual activity, despite the potential for negative and/or dangerous consequences. The problem of sexual addiction may lead to feelings of guilt and shame. A sex addict may also feel a lack of control over the behavior, despite negative consequences (financial, health, social, and emotional).
At first it is almost impossible for someone caught up in a pornography addiction to believe that he or she can find real sexual enjoyment and better sexual pleasure with a person instead of a fantasy. However, with effective counseling, a genuine relationship does become the pornography addicted person’s preferred sexual interest.
Some pornography addicts believe they have the best of both worlds: their relationship and their addiction. Their belief is mistaken. In fact, they live with a severely limited relationship and a hidden addiction. One of the great rewards of overcoming a pornography addiction is the ability to be fully committed to another person in a loving way, having nothing to hide and enjoying great sex. Try the following suggestions to overcome this habit:
- Cultivate an alternative activity. Look at the circumstances of your life and how they may be contributing to your loneliness: Is it time to change living environments? Jobs? Join a social club or civic group? Attack a weight problem? Think of a hobby or activity that you have always wanted to try and commit to doing it in place of some of the hours spent currently on the Net.Take positive action in your own behalf and change your real life for the better. The more fun things you have in your life every day, the less you will miss the constant Internet buzz and give in to the craving to go back to it.
- Identify your usage pattern. What days of the week do you typically log on-line? What time of day do you usually begin? How long do you stay on during a typical session? Where do you usually use the computer? To begin to shake the habit, practice the opposite.
- Find external stoppers. Use the concrete things you need to do and places you need to go as prompters to remind you when to log off the Internet, and schedule your time on-line just before them. If this is not effective because you ignore them, use a real alarm clock to be set when you need to end the session. Keep it a few steps from the computer so you have to get up to shut it off.
- Be patient with yourself. Give recovery time. Real-life change takes longer than the instant intimacy and satisfaction you are used to from the Net. Give yourself credit for trying. It is natural to feel embarrassed or ashamed that you got hooked on the Internet and can’t seem to handle the problem overnight. Recovery is not a straight, perfect process; give yourself credit for the incremental steps you are taking. These are major accomplishments for which you can feel proud and good.
- Frequently Internet addicts have increasingly cut themselves off from their family, friends, social activities and hobby activities that they used to enjoy. Consequently, it is a good strategy for recovery to be intentional about reconnecting with loved ones and friends. They also are wise to seek out social opportunities and new experiences. To replace the camaraderie often experienced with on-line friends, addicts can seek out a social or support group to provide some of that support.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to acquire techniques to cope with our family. But the world is not perfect. Families exist on a continuum from healthy and happy to sick and miserable. Most are somewhere in between. What is the variable that distinguishes the family that produces civilized, productive members in the world from those that give us individuals who make things worse for themselves and everyone around them?
When children grow up mismanaging their anger in a context of self-contempt, it is because they have incorporated their family’s negative attitudes toward life, other people, happiness, success and responsibility. These acquired outlooks can shape their character and determine the scenario for the rest of their days on Earth. The children of self-respecting parents grow up respecting themselves and others. They are able to cooperate with others in an atmosphere of mutual respect. They are able to express their anger at everyday life appropriately, in the middle ground between exploding and suppressing.
In a family that lacks respect, there are many negative roles. There is the pleasing child who wouldn’t think of becoming independent for fear of displeasing his relatives. There is the rebel who leaves the family, but will re-enact the terrible pain of his childhood with his own family members when they come along. There is the abandoned child who stays home, not out of love and loyalty, but because he is more afraid of being alone and abandoned than he is of his parent’s abusive behavior. There is the martyr who can’t leave because then her suffering might stop. She would lose her identity and prove her parents wrong. She cannot allow such painful things to happen. They are inconsistent with her sense of self. There are many more such roles that make family living an ordeal instead of the joy it is supposed to be.
Such scenarios are not based on intelligent decision making. They are dynamics arising out of beliefs below our conscious awareness, beliefs towards loyalty, obedience, respect, belonging, responsibility, competence, and many more. If our roles exist in a context of self-respect, they will tend to be positive and constructive. If they exist in a context of self-contempt and self-anger, they can only be counter-productive and self-destructive. Roles, once formed in childhood tend to persist unchanged through the years into adulthood. People tend to maintain their consistency even if it is a negative consistency. It is the misery we prefer to the even worse misery of unknown chaos. Happiness has nothing to do with the process.
The goals is to help clients identify and replace the negative attitudes that bind them to their past with more constructive, liberating ones. They learn how to replace these roles with an independent, healthy identity of their own in the present. This process requires them to identify the carried-over anger at their parents, their siblings, other family members, and especially at themselves. We can then drain it out of their systems so the positive attitudes can come to the surface and their self-respect can emerge. To accomplish this transition from the old self to the new one, we give clients homework to do in their own behalf. As they succeed in these life tasks, their painful wounds begin to heal. They outgrow their unhealthy family members who prefer to dwell in a darkness that is consistent with their self-contempt. We help our clients to acquire the courage to do what reality requires them to do. It may be something displeasing to others, or something scary, but they have a choice now they didn’t have before: to do it or not!
Aren’t family members supposed to love each other? The parent striking his child for misbehavior may say, “I’m doing this because I love you.” His father said the same thing to him. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. They are doing it because they are angry and do not know how else to express it. I want to be clear, I am not “blaming your parents,” or the schools or the television sets for your family problems. It is not a matter of guilt, fault or blame. It is a matter of human imperfection, such as feelings of inadequacy to cope, lack of competent preparation, a negative family history and many other uncontrollable variables. Some parents have worse imperfections than others. It’s not their fault that they do! Where does such “faulting” get us? Nowhere. We have no time to waste on such dead ends.Let us identify the real problems so we can begin the difficult process of solving them on an informed basis.
Self-respecting people are not driven to love their kids, they are free to love them. They are free to replace their self-serving, destructive good intentions from the past with productive real intentions. The adult child may have grown up playing the role of scapegoat, pleaser or family victim. He or she is now seeking to outgrow these unhappy childhood roles, but their family members, individually or collectively, continue to perceive them as if they were still eight years old and they treat them accordingly. They don’t want him or her to outgrow their painful roles. Their brothers and sisters are afraid they might have to take their siblings place, and they wouldn’t want that to happen, would they? Their silent motto (attitude) is, “Better you than me, kid.”
The adult child, let’s call him Chad, has become tired of trying to “prove” to these people that he is a fully grown, taxpaying American citizen. He has come in for counseling to find out what his options are. He is ready to assume appropriate responsibility for his own well-being. This is not a good intention he has for himself. It is what we call a real intention.Reality requires him to go through this re-learning process. It does not require him to suffer in his negative roles forever.
Chad’s parents want him to continue playing his role as the dumping ground for their cares and woes. They want to continue solving their problems at his expense as long as they live. The harder he tries to assert his individuality, the more he prolongs his vulnerability to their provocative behavior. He bounces from the rebel to the pleasing victim role, all to no avail. They remain convinced he still is their “baby,” and he still “needs” them. Why wouldn’t they? Chad is still living on their self-serving terms instead of his own independent ones. He is trying to break away from them in ways that cannot work. He is meeting their unhealthy needs to be superior and in control at his own expense. They are always right and never wrong. They are eternally exempt from responsibility for their own foolishness.
Chad is a safe target. He is an outlet for their negative emotions, such as anger, discouragement, guilt and many more. He is keeping his parents sane at his expense. We point out to him that there is more to life than preventing emotional disaster to himself and others. Preventing is not living. It is a prescription for joyless stagnation. It does not solve the problem or even identify it. We call this good intention, preventation. It is an absurdly negative way of moving through life. It creates more problems than it will ever solve.
The reality is that Chad’s dependent parents and siblings do need him. He is maintaining the family continuity from the past to the present. He is an outlet for stresses and strains that his family members have no other way of relieving. He is their dumping ground. He plays all these roles without realizing it and without any recognition or appreciation for his contribution to their life. They take him for granted. That’s not fair. It makes him feel good for nothing. “Good for nothing” means “never good enough” which means “worthless.” That’s how he feels most of the time. It makes him angry at them and at himself for being such a chump. This unresolved anger at himself is a recipe for depression, anxiety and obsessive thinking. These are the big three of modern maladjustment. These are the qualities that keep him a prisoner in his own home.
Chad and his family members define their roles in the present as continuations of their roles in the past, which were inappropriate and destructive even then. The family members resist his efforts to outgrow his childhood roles because it would mean an inconvenient, perhaps unattainable readjustment of the foundations of their own shaky personhoods. It is much more convenient for people to maintain their status quo than to change it and grow up. They might fail if they tried. They don’t know what to change it to! Their fear is that they would be in more pain than they are in now. They are the prisoners of these anxiety-producing, immature attitudes that are below their conscious awareness. They have fought themselves to a standstill. But Chad has had enough. Part of him wants to make a move in his own behalf. We want to encourage and enlarge that part.
Our treatment goal is to replace this unhappy dynamic with a more gratifying one. We do it by replacing our client’s self-doubt with appropriate self-respect. We give our clients homework to do what will liberate them from these depressing scenarios. We reveal that they have opportunities to take risks, which often require the courage to be “displeasing.” Chad is reluctant to appear selfish and irresponsible in his loved one’s eyes. Chad’s departure from his assigned role in the family is not a crime and he is not guilty. These psychological impediments are not realities, they are appearances created in the formative stages of the family members’ own childhood. These misperceptions on our client’s part can be replaced by more realistic perceptions of his family members as imperfect human beings with overcompensatory strivings to relieve their own self-doubts at his expense.
We encourage Chad to set limits and restrict contact with his family of victimizers. When family victimizers call, Chad’s homework is to tell them, “I’m fine. I’ll talk to you later. I can’t talk now”. He used to say, “Stop calling me!” But it never worked. He learned that these people do not take orders from him. They do as they please. Now, when they ask him prying questions, Chad can make a conscious choice not to communicate to them anything they do not need to know. They have never used such information to improve their relationship, only to make things worse for him. Chad can choose to stop giving them information to use as ammunition against him. He has begun the process of cutting the cords that bind him to these unhappy, unlovingfamily members.
During this temporary period of abstinence from family contact, Chad is able to create an atmosphere of independence in which it is possible to experience himself as a separate entity in his own right. He is learning how to distinguish between healthy independence and lonesome dependence. He is learning how to make appropriate choices in his own behalf and carry them out in the real world. Each success in doing this homework strengthens his self-respect, courage and independence.
The family-free period provides Chad with an opportunity to experience attitudes and convictions about himself and his family that weren’t allowed to surface before. He is now choosing to assume appropriate responsibility for himself as an antidote to his family-induced super-responsibility. Since his parents and siblings are irresponsible and destructive, Chad had often felt that it was up to him to fill in the responsibility gap they were creating. His good intention was to save them from themselves, even when they had not asked him to do so, even when he did not know how to do so. He sees now that he was assuming more responsibility than reality required him to assume. He is trusting his adult judgment to tell him how much is too much. He has the courage to let go of the excess. He feels liberated from his old need to prove everything to everyone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Your mind (if it’s like most minds), spends a lot of time criticizing itself. If the thought comes up I’m so ugly, and you start arguing with it, or resisting it, you are just investing more energy in that thought pattern in your brain. If someone came up to you and said ‘You’re a purple elephant’, you would probably not get insulted, because there is no agreement that you have that goes ‘I believe that I might be a purple elephant and that is a bad thing.’ On the other hand, if someone comes up and says You would look better if you lost 15 lbs and got rid of that double-chin you would might get very upset. In fact, you might after reading that feel a little jab like “they’re right, I do have kind of a double-chin, I should really get rid of that.” That’s because somewhere in your mind you have an agreement that (a) you might have a double-chin and (b) having a double-chin is a very bad thing to have. So when someone points that out, or you see an advertisment with a 120-lb model, your mind comes up with “I’m ugly” and you agree with it. So the key is to stop agreeing with your negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean arguing with them or resisting them though. If someone said “You’re a purple elephant” you wouldn’t argue about how you really aren’t and how even purple elephants have feelings – you would just shrug and say “OK, whatever”. You would have no charge on it. That is the attitude to cultivate with your negative feelings and thoughts – a mental shrug. “Ok, that’s what my mind is doing, whatever.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
If a baby starts to cry several hours after drinking his last bottle, his mother knows precisely what he’s feeling: He’s hungry. But suppose a woman’s eyes brim with tears while she watches a DVD. Her husband sinks into the couch: What is she so upset about? She might tell him directly: “This movie is so tragic. It’s all about a doomed romance.” That may be true. But she could be thinking about how the story reminds her of her own marital troubles. Maybe she’s feeling hurt because she thinks her husband should realize what’s bothering her and acknowledge it. Or maybe she isn’t even aware that her real-world concerns are intensifying her reaction to the fictional couple.
Quickly and unknowingly, he scours his mental files—on his wife’s relationship history, on her reaction to the fight they had that morning, on the way she typically reacts to similar movies. He notes the particular quiver to her voice, observes the way she’s curled up on the couch, watches the expressions flickering across her face. He takes in information from all of these channels, filters it through his own wishes and biases… until finally it hits him: She knows about his mistress!
Every day, whether you’re pushing for a raise, wrestling with the kids over homework, or judging whether a friend really likes your latest redecorating spree, you’re reading other’s minds. Drawing on your observations, your databank of memories, your powers of reason, and your wellspring of emotion, you constantly make educated guesses about what another person is thinking and feeling. Throughout the most heated argument or the most lighthearted chat, you’re intently collecting clues to what’s on the other person’s mind at the moment.
No matter how much you try to control your body, you inevitably leak tiny bits of information, that if picked up read correctly by others will give your feelings away every time. Body language consists of communication through the use of facial expressions, eye behavior, gestures, posture, positioning, orientation, touch and the use of space. There are times you choose to express your emotions, needs, and attitudes through your body language and at other times your true feelings leak out accidentally, even sometimes contradicting the words you have spoken. In fact often most people find it easier to express how they are truly feeling by using their body language rather than their words. Over the centuries, many sayings have risen from what you have instinctively learned from watching others. Here are just a few:
BEADY LITTLE EYES: The pupils unconsciously constrict when someone is lying or being deceitful.
SHIFTY EYES: The eyes avert the gaze of when someone is lying, so the eyes shift around looking at anything and anyone but the recipient of the lie.
SPARKLE IN THE EYES: The pupils unconsciously dilate when someone is seeing something pleasurable; this action allows more light to be reflected off the back of the eye.
OPENING UP TO YOU: A physically open gesture, uncrossed arms and legs allowing more of you to be emotionally and physically vulnerable.
BITE YOUR LIP, TONGUE, LYING THROUGH YOUR TEETH, COVERING
UP: To stop you saying something inappropriate or lying you might bite your lip or cover your mouth as you tell the lie.
GUT FEELING, STOMACH CHURNING:
A physical feeling in the stomach indicating a dislike or uncertainty.
CHIN UP or OUT, SHOULDERS BACK:
Often said to people feeling a bit down, by raising the chin up and out with the shoulders back it causes physiological changes making you feel more positive.
FEET ON THE GROUND, STAND ON OWN TWO FEET: Refers back to the ancient Chinese custom of female foot binding, as those who had this done were usually Royalty and therefore could not or would not stand on their own two feet without causing pain.
STAND OFFISH: When people stand a just little to far away from you for comfort, outside your personal zone.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE: When you don’t want someone to get to close to you, or into your personal zone.
PUSHY: Someone who invades the personal space of others will be often referred to as too pushy.
CLOSE, INTIMATE FRIENDS: Allowing someone into personal or intimate spatial zones.
PAIN IN THE NECK: A physical gesture when something is not to your liking.
GET A GRIP ON YOURSELF: Someone usually touch themselves for reassurance in times of stress; a tight grip on the upper arm is common.
UNDER THE THUMB: Controlled by another person, referring back to ancient Rome when the thumb turned downwards would almost certainly indicate death.
THUMBS UP: Generally a form of OK, Good or Yes, but be careful where you use this gesture, it can be highly offensive in some cultures.
MAKES MY SKIN CREEP, CRAWL, GETS UNDER MY SKIN: A physical sensation encountered when you are not comfortable in a particular persons company, conversation topic or tone. This is an expression mainly used by women, as women have been proven to be more sensitive to touch and are more aware of sensations than their male counterparts.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Cinderella is someone who wants her own way, but isn’t getting it. Like most young people, she learned to feel very inadequate to obtain her desires through her own internal resources and competencies. Under these circumstances, some “Cinderellas” feel angry, powerless and out of control. Since she has learned not to trust her own strength, she acquires a tendency to depend on the strength and resources of others. For many people, the Cinderella Story is a paradigm of their lives. Some become vengeful and vindictive. They are no longer Cinderellas; they have become the Wicked Witch! Cinderellas are the ones who come to feel helpless, dependent and discouraged and stay that w
The Cinderella understandably comes to believe that she is, somehow, “inferior” to her older stepsisters who enjoy advantages that she doesn’t have. It seems logical to her that she doesn’t “deserve” to be as happy as those to whom she is “inferior.” Since happiness seems to be “precluded,” all she has to look forward to is a life of drudgery and suffering. She has become Allergic to Happiness. That is a prescription for depression.
She may also have learned early in life, that, if she suffers piteously enough, someone will pay attention to her. She may even be able to get strong people to do her bidding. We call this “using weakness as strength.” Many Cinderellas have learned how to find and manipulate a Fairy God-Person through their own dramatically enhanced “suffering” so that they can obtain “advantages” that they could not have obtained on their own. This attitude is called, “Suffering Pays.” These scenarios set Cinderellas up to conclude that it doesn’t pay to draw upon or develop their own inner resources. It’s so much cheaper and easier to give people the “pleasure” of helping them. They have become dependent.
Unfortunately, the “advantages” that a Cinderella is able to extract in this irresponsible way turn out to be short-lived. She has never learned how to enjoy these advantages on a mature basis. She has never learned that she deserves to enjoy them as fully as others do. She does not know how to parlay these short-lived advantages into long-term ones; in fact, she has a tendency to run them into the ground more quickly than a self-respecting non-sufferer would. This unhappy tendency on her part has the effect of exasperating and discouraging those who are trying to “help” her, and they give up on her. They do not understand her paradoxical, self-destructive behavior. The sufferer is obliged to seek out replacement Fairy God-Persons at increasingly frequent intervals.
Actually, this “self-destructive” tendency is not paradoxical at all. It is entirely consistent with the attitudes she has picked up along the way. Cinderella has learned that she doesn’t deserve to enjoy her happiness. She tends to feel “guilty” after she has succeeded in obtaining the advantage that she sought through her suffering. To relieve her guilt, she must find a way to get rid of this “undeserved happiness” before she gets caught and the clock strikes twelve.
Moreover, Cinderella suffers from a childhood lesson that makes it impossible for her to enjoy happiness the way others do. She has learned that, even if she does wangle an invitation to the Ball, her happiness will be temporary and it will end in disaster! This conviction, below the level of conscious awareness, sets up a terribly painful, irresolvable conflict. On the one hand she would like to be as happy as everyone else; on the other hand, she doesn’t “deserve” it and therefore, she “knows” that any happiness of hers will end in disaster sooner or later. She tends to compare herself unfavorably to those whose happiness seems to be more secure and gratifying than her own, and she resents the “unfairness” of the discrepancy between their state and hers. She acquires the attitude that is for her, “Happiness is only temporary and it ends in disaster.” The only power that she seems to have is the power to end the painful suspense (anxiety). Instead of waiting passively for the clock to strike 12, she actively brings about the destruction of her own happiness. She prefers to do it herself rather than waiting for others to do it to her. She prefers to get it over with sooner rather than later. In the meantime, her attitudes predispose her to live in fear of future disaster; this sets her up to suffer anxiety, which also sabotages any happiness in her life.
The Sufferer from this syndrome tends to be depressed, even at the Ball, because of her pessimistic, unconscious expectation of disaster, but even more so because of her pervasive belief in the unfairness of life. And it is unfair. She did nothing to deserve this negativity in her life, but she has it anyway. In counseling, we reveal to these sufferers that the negativity is often a response to their vulnerability to being abused or neglected by their family members. As a pleaser, she is a safe target for her siblings and her parents. She may even take on the Scapegoat role in her family. The Scapegoat or Cinderella may appear to be weak and passive on the surface, but her victimizers sense her strength. They trust her to take their abuse without cracking. And she does. They relieve the pain of their own self doubt by dumping their anger on her and she takes it. She is a safe target for them. As an adult, she will find herself compatible with people who will play negative roles in her scenario, who will give her opportunities to prove her ability to take it. This is how she maintains the continuity of her particular constellation of attitudes and expectations forever.
When these people come in for counseling, we identify their unresolved anger at their childhood tormenters, anger that pleasing Cinderellas aren’t supposed to have. We identify their anger at themselves for “allowing” the abuse to happen, as if they had the power as a child to prevent it. We show them how to replace their self doubt with self-respect on a mature basis. This is how they come replace their unhappy role with an independent identity as a self-respecting human being.
One client I met with who played the part of Cinderella was a 30 year old woman. She was in a relationship with a Prince Charming who takes her to “fun places” but who cannot or will not, offer security in their relationship. After every date with him, she feels as if the Ball is over and that she is never going to see him again. She prophesies an endlessly boring life of drudgery for herself without him. In the meantime, she finds herself unable to relate to mature, responsible men who could and would give her the material and personal happiness that she says she wants out of life. She sees the absurdity of this paradox, which is a good sign that she will respond to treatment. She just can’t change herself without knowing what she must change to.
I began one session by asking Rachel when she felt secure. She replied,”At age six my older sister Grace used to play alone with her dolls. She used to change her dress in the afternoon. I asked my mother, ‘Why can’t I change my dress in the afternoon like Grace does?’ Mother said, ‘Because Grace sits still. She doesn’t climb trees the way you do.’ I said, ‘I can do that!’ And she changed my dress. I was happy.”
The fact that this woman remembered this incident for 25 years tells us that it has some significance for her in the present. It tells us that she is very sensitive to comparing herself with others who seem to be enjoying advantages that she does not have. That it is important for her to find out how to obtain these advantages for herself. She is mindful that there are some behaviors that are acceptable and others that are not. She remembers depending on the resources of others to make her wishes come true.
Many people remember being independent and taking pride in this accomplishment. Cinderellas usually do not. She is concerned with external appearances, (clothing), and the roles that go with them. This recollection tells us that for her, Life is pleasant when she gets her own way, when she is secure when she is able to do what the Big Kids are doing at the Ball. The implied meaning of this conviction is that life is very unpleasant for her when she can’t find a way to get what she wants, when she can’t have the kind of fun that other people are having. When that happens, it confirms her feelings that she is at a disadvantage. That she is “left out,” and she doesn’t belong at the Ball with the “big kids.” She feels like she is worthless.
Like many people, Rachel was never encouraged to perceive herself as a worthwhile human being in her own right. She has subtly been encouraged to define herself in terms of her external behavior, some of which is “right” and “good,” the rest of which is “bad” and “wrong,” There was no middle ground for her while she was growing up. Since she has never acquired an identity that is her own, she is forced to play roles. The two main roles that were available to her were the “Good Princess” and the “Bad Cinderella.” The first one was taken by Grace before she got there. Neither of these fictitious roles allows the adult woman to prepare for a real healthy relationship. Both of these women have no choice but to gravitate to a phony Crown Prince Charming, who has no more self-respect than they do. They are compatible, but it is a negative compatibility.
While immersed in her “Bad Cinderella” role, people like Rachel may be inclined to seek relief from their unhappy feelings of inferiority by dreaming of their moment in the sun, which comes when they fantasize about finally getting the brass ring. When they are “high,” they dread the imminent destruction of their happiness. They are not able to live in the present moment and enjoy it freely. The time between these peaks and valleys is filled, not with a gratifying existence in the middle ground, but with anxiety, depression and suppressed anger. As a consequence, real life tends to pass them by and they may end their days wondering why their life never really began.
To replace her unhappy constellation of attitudes and expectations, Rachael has to do her Homework. To break her dependency on others for her happiness, she must choose to behave independently, on her own mature, appropriate terms.
For example, Rachael can catch herself comparing herself unfavorably to other women who seem “luckier” than she is. She can realize that this attitude only perpetuates her feelings of anger at the unfairness of life and her own inferiority and inadequacy. Also, she can catch herself paying the role of the Special Princess at the Ball. She can stop feeling like a bored, resentful scullery maid when the music stops. Instead of playing these unrealistic roles, she can choose to perceive herself as a worthwhile human being in spite of her faults and imperfections. She can choose to live in the real middle ground between these unreal highs and lows.
Life soon provided her an opportunity to do a Homework. Prince Bob called to cancel their date that night. He was going out with the boys instead. Instead of pretending to be understanding, as usual, (she didn’t understand at all, she was hurt and angry) she made a conscious choice in her own behalf. She chose to tell the truth about her unpleasant emotion: “I’m very angry at you. I was looking forward to seeing you and now I’m not going to. That hurts my feelings. Don’t plan on seeing me tomorrow. In going out with the girls. They’re so much more mature.”
Bob heard her talking like an independent person in her own right. He respected her courage in standing up for herself on an appropriate basis. She hadn’t overreacted, she hadn’t suppressed her anger, and she wasn’t controlling him or guilt tripping him. She made a cutting remark which she wouldn’t have had the courage to do before. She was behaving like a mature human being with a legitimate grievance against him. He couldn’t respect her pleasing role, but he could respect someone who spoke to him like an equal member of the human race. As Rachael continued to maintain her independence on her own appropriate terms, she felt stronger each time in her self-respect. She was going to know what it felt like to be a worthwhile human being in her own right. Bob grew up with her without even realizing that he was doing so. Their negatively compatible roles from the past were replaced by an atmosphere in which mutual respect was possible.
On this new, more realistic basis, Rachael is finding that her life is more fun than it ever was before, and that she can enjoy her happiness more than she ever did. When the Ball ends, it doesn’t end in disaster. It just ends. She can go to sleep. She is free to go on to something else tomorrow.
This is an attitude that is often an important facet of the Cinderella Complex. It manifests itself as a reluctance to form a permanent relationship with an “ordinary” member of the opposite sex for fear that it will preclude a more gratifying liaison with a “Prince” later on. Compared to this idealized image, flesh and blood human beings seem mediocre and undesirable.
The sufferer never stops to ask herself, “If a perfect male were to come along, what would he want with me?” She is so busy living in the future that life in the present passes her by.This attitude is understood as the individual’s way of overcompensating for her feelings of inadequacy. It is her imaginary solution to her painful feelings of inferiority and “worthlessness” as a female. In her scenario her Prince’s love for her will vindicate her worth as a person in the eyes of all those who scorn her now; it will prove that she has been a “princess,” i.e., worthwhile, all along. This seldom happens.
In the meantime, this fictitious resolution of her painful self-doubts absolves her of any “guilt” she may have felt regarding her present state of inaction. She is not responsible for her own well-being: “It’s not my fault that I am still feeling inferior; it’s just that no one has come along to realize me yet.”
This fantasy serves to exempt the sufferer from any responsibility for relieving her present distress by finding out about her mistaken attitudes and expectations and replacing them with more realistic ones.
Rachael isn’t making any of these mistakes now. She is doing little Homeworks every day. She is finding that these successes give her happiness in the present, which is so much more enjoyable than happiness a year from Tuesday.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We’ve all known at least one person whom we would call a victim: Someone who has actually been victimized by someone else, or for whom “life has been hard.” And we don’t want to give them a bad rap, I mean; really, they’ve had it hard, right? So, we tolerate their inability to get up in the morning, or their constant or convenient references to their hard lives, or even their abuse, while we sigh and try to be understanding and say, “Yeah, but she’s had a hard life,” or “Yeah, but he’s been through a lot.”
Now, I don’t want to come across as an unsympathetic person here, but with regard to the victim role, it can turn on a dime into the bully role, if we’re not watching. See, there’s a difference between someone who occasionally has a victim thought, and someone who is living the role. Anyone can get on the pity pot now and again. Anyone can fault life circumstances with life choices. Sometimes it’s hard to reverse that and fault life choices with life’s circumstances. I mean that means taking personal responsibility! But if we are going to finally arrive at acceptance of any particular given circumstance, be it an abuse or an accident, illness or a “bad” job or relationship, we are going to have to take personal responsibility. And those of us, who do finally move to acceptance over that given circumstance, have learned to take personal responsibility over the choices that we made. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is within the power of our choices, but it does mean that we have choices about how we are going to respond to those events over which we have no control. And it does mean that we have much more say-so in our lives than many of us would like to admit.
For someone who has opted to live out the victim role, this means all but never being the cause to your own effect. The mantra of the victim is filled with phrases like:
“You just don’t understand how hard it is for me!”
“I had no choice!”
“I was out of control!”
“I was overwhelmed!”
“She or he made me do it!”
“I can’t help it!”
I could go on, but you get the idea. This person lives out of what we, in the mental health field, call externalized locus of control. In other words, they locate their controls outside of themselves. They truly believe that their own actions and even their thoughts are controlled by something or someone outside of themselves. The very idea of challenging themselves to do something different than they’ve always done, hoping for different results, is foreign to them. They cannot even imagine that they are responsible for life choices. It’s their parent’s fault for not loving them enough; it’s their teacher’s fault for being bad teachers; it’s their brother or sister’s fault, their wife or husband’s fault; it’s the driver of that car’s fault–THEY ruined my life!
Ever heard someone say, “He/she/it ruined my life?” At the very least you were listening to someone who is in the throes of a victim seizure, if not someone who lives entirely out of the victim role. Let me be absolutely clear here, before we go into any further depth: NO ONE can ruin your life but you. Take note, there was a period at the end of that sentence. Regardless of what happens in our lives, we still have loads of options, and still are in charge of what we do with it. But the thinking, the belief system of the victim finds this thought unbearable.
Why would such a seemingly hopeful belief be so unbearable to the victim? Because it means taking responsibility for life and life’s choices. Taking responsibility to them means several things. It means:
Bearing the burden of this awful life.
Holding myself accountable.
Fear, terror, blinding terror!
You see, how we interpret makes a huge difference. I interpret taking responsibility for my life and the choices I make as grandly hopeful. I interpret it to mean that nothing, NOTHING can keep me down. But this concept is foreign to the victim. The victim thinks: If I take responsibility for my choices, my responses and very often the actual circumstances themselves then I’ll have to feel this enormous guilt. I’ll have to be ashamed of myself for all the things that I’ve done. My response to that, of course, is well, that’s your choice. You don’t have to choose guilt and shame, but of course, you could if you want.
Victims think, but I should add here that they only think these things on an unconscious level, for to think them consciously might be to recognize what they are up to. Victims think that life is, indeed, awful and that they could not bear to imagine being responsible for such an awful thing. My response to that is, again, that perspective is a choice. Very often, when one of my client’s is in the throes of a victim thought, I will ask her (let’s say it’s a she this time) how yesterday was and she’ll give me a litany of the terrible things that happened yesterday. Then I ask, “What else happened?” The best she can tell me is that “Oh everything else was just okay.” But I’ll insist that she be more specific and tell me about what else happened and what she felt about each specific thing. I’ve yet to have a single person who is not able to come up with some really cool things that happened that day. Things that he or she had not noticed because s/he had been so busy thinking about how bad the day was. For someone who is not identified as a victim, this switch helps them to buoy the other upsetting things that happened. And it helps them to build hope that there are always some good things going on. But for the victim, and this has been almost diagnostic for me, this discussion will cause great consternation and even irritation. The victim will avoid, change the subject, criticize me for being Pollyanna, just plain deny that anything good happened, or if they can admit that they had a good experience or two, they will “yes but” it to death before it reaches the true light of day.
Persons who are identified as victims simply do not want to realize that they are responsible for their own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and ergo, their emotions. They don’t want to do the work of realizing that beliefs create attitudes, mantras and eventually emotions. They want to believe that their moods are just related to bad things that have happened to them, or to swings. Victims will often say that they need a medication adjustment when in fact what they need is an attitude adjustment. But the medication, being an external control, is held accountable.
The really bad thing about all this is that in the process, victims get themselves victimized. They get involved with bullies all too often. Why do they do this? Well it isn’t because they are masochistic. It’s because the bully will help them stay in the victim role and for some reason this victim role seems to work better for them than anything else. Not being responsible somehow makes them feel safe–even if in that safety they are getting the beatitudes kicked out of them. This is where the terror of changing out of the victim mask and costume becomes apparent. Even though the victim role may be killing them, in the most extreme cases, they will hold on to it for dear life, for the prospect of living without it is more terrifying than death.
I want to be clear here that not everyone who is being abused is living out the victim identity. Some, who are being abused, are living out the scapegoat identity in which they feel guilty and responsible for others’ behavior; some are living out other roles we’ll talk about later. But when victims are living in an abusive situation, it is because it makes it possible for them to maintain the victim identity.
The other really bad thing about all this is that very often the victim flips over to the opposite side of the coin and actually becomes the bully. In fact, many victims bully others with their victimness. It works like this:
“I’m so sick, you have to take care of me, and if you don’t I’ll show you in some way that you really are going to have to come up to it.” Maybe they will do this by getting sicker, maybe by attempting to force your hand in some manipulative way.
“I need you; you can’t leave me.” And so the victim holds his or her victim hostage to this desperate need.
“He/she/it ruined my life. Now it’s up to you to fix it.”
Again, I could go on, but you get the idea. Anything within the life of the victim can be used to scare, cajole, manipulate or abuse another person, who is perceived by the victim to be the next best “mama.” Very often the victim will accuse those, who don’t do their bidding, of abandoning them. When I am working with a client who is being so manipulated by a victim, I will very often inform them that adults can’t abandon other adults. When we were children, our fear of abandonment was justifiable since we were utterly dependent on our caregivers for sustenance. But the growing up process means becoming more and more accountable for our own choices. Adults are responsible for their own lives–which mean that they don’t need a primary caregiver anymore. The very notion of abandonment implies that the person left behind is not capable of caring for him or herself. But, you see, for victims, everyone else is responsible for their well-being, because they are absolutely NOT.
So, how do we deal with victims? Well, first we recognize the victim thoughts which hold us victim. We need to be able to see the ways that we are thinking like victims before we can recognize it in someone else. And while we may not be living out the victim role, we must fully understand that we are 100% accountable for our lives to this point and after, in order to be able to recognize and deal with a victim identity in another. Why? Because the victim will be very good at talking you out of thinking that s/he is responsible for his/her own life.
Second, because we are now clear that we are not responsible for their lives in any way, shape or form, we can walk away from that responsibility. This may or may not mean walking away from the victim, but it will mean walking away from taking any form of responsibility for them, their lives or their choices. And that clarity about who is responsible, which we learned in the first step, is going to keep us from feeling guilty when they deliberately take a turn for the worse, or get themselves victimized again, hoping we’ll come to their rescue. That also was their choice.
And third, we can take complete responsibility for how we react to their manipulations and machinations to get us to renew our commitment to being responsible for their lives. This might mean confronting ourselves about what secondary gain we get out of rescuing victims.
Will they get it? Occasionally to rarely. But that’s their choice. Most often I find that victims have this really cool cat-like feature. They always, somehow, land on their feet. Often this means that they will find someone else to hold hostage to their refusal to take responsibility for their lives. But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that if enough of us take 100% responsibility for our own lives, the victim will find no one out there on whom they can utterly lean for their lives, and the whole victim identity will one day fade away.
Until then, I intend to be responsible for me…not you!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Does your management say things like: “Our employees aren’t angry! We run a happy ship! They get frustrated sometimes, or upset, and we’ve got one guy who is disgruntled, but we never get angry!” This popular anger management technique is called “denial.” If we don’t know how to solve a problem, we just pretend that it isn’t there.
Anger comes in many forms, all of them unpleasant. That is why we are so quick to deny it out of existence. That way, the problem is “solved;” we are off the hook. It’s a good thing that we don’t have to solve it because we don’t know how to solve such problems. We’d only fail if we tried. We didn’t go to school to learn anger management. We feel inadequately prepared to cope with it. We deny the problem in order to prevent the humiliating expose of our inadequate preparation.
In the meantime, our angry employees are walking around with unresolved anger problems in their hearts. They become discouraged and depressed. We wonder, “What happened to the morale around here? Why is production falling off? Why is turnover so high? Why are they taking so much sick leave?” When our employees’ energy is bound up in unresolved anger, there isn’t much left over to do the work that needs to be done. They keep on getting their paychecks just the same.
Anger doesn’t have to erupt into violence to take a chunk out of our bottom line. Suppressed, subterranean anger poisons our corporate atmosphere and does its silent damage day after day, year after year. “Denial”, therefore, is a very costly “solution” to the problem of employee anger. It is a luxury that no business can afford. Why do managers “deny” that their “happy” troops might possibly have unresolved anger in their bosoms?
They deny that there is anger in the ranks because they have attitudes about anger, attitudes that they acquired a long time ago and never outgrew:
“Anger is scary and dangerous. I don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole.”
“Anger is a problem that might take up too much of my valuable time and attention. Why don’t we just fire him and save ourselves a lot of trouble.”
“Anger isn’t ‘nice,’ and angry people aren’t ‘nice’. I don’t want to talk to people.”
“An angry person is a threat, and I have never learned how to cope with threats in the right way, only the wrong way with counter threats.”
In addition to our attitudes about this nasty emotion, we have attitudes about ourselves as problem solvers:
“Life is very pleasant when I solve problems.”
“Life is very unpleasant when I don’t!”
“I feel out of control when I have a problem that I cannot solve.
“That makes me angry! I don’t want to be angry because anger is painful and scary.”
“If I pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, maybe it will go away.”
That’s no way to manage our lives! We don’t realize that we have these attitudes deep down in our psyche. Neither do we realize that these attitudes are predisposing us to behave in the same counter-productive way time after time. Our behavior doesn’t change because our attitudes have never changed.
Jack is a top salesman. Out on the road he is all charm and smiles. Back at the ranch, he has anger attitudes. For one, he is predisposed to get angry whenever he doesn’t get his way, right now! Jack is angry at Nancy for not typing his sales reports fast enough. He wants them “now!” He doesn’t see why she shouldn’t do what he wants, when he wants it. To him, it’s a perfectly reasonable request.
When Jack is angry, everyone in the unit knows it. He slams drawers, he barks at everyone in sight, he clams up, he sulks and pouts. In other words, he is manifesting his anger just as he did when he was four years old. He hasn’t learned a thing about anger in forty years. We all get angry from time to time. Most of us are able to get through these painful periods without making our co-workers miserable with our inappropriate behavior. Jack never had an anger problem until he became Section Chief. It seems that his promotion gave him a license to abuse his fellow citizens that he did not seem to have before. Jack is displaying several main characteristics of the angry employee:
He is angrier than he needs to be,
He isn’t aware that his anger is out of proportion to the provocation.
He makes no effort to manage his anger like a mature, responsible human being.
He doesn’t see why he should learn how.
To Jack, his request for instant service is reasonable or rational. The rest of us see that his anger is not rational or under conscious control. The more Steve, his Department Head, tries to make Jack “understand the inappropriateness of his behavior,” the angrier Jack gets. Jack doesn’t want to understand, he wants his report and, as far as he can see, Steve is doing nothing to speed up the process. He is angry at Steve for letting Nancy “slack off.”
What Steve didn’t know was that Jack had come to define his worth as a person in terms of getting what he wants. He acquired this attitude toward himself during the formative stages of his personality. Jack has plenty of attitudes:
“It is my right to get my way. If I don’t get it. I am nothing! I cannot allow that to happen It’s too scary. It is unacceptable!”
“I am special. I am entitled to special consideration. It makes me angry when I do not get what I am entitled to.”
“When I have to wait to get what I want, I feel out of control. That feeling is painful. I want to get relief from my pain as fast as I can.”
“When I am kept waiting, it forces me to waste time. Waste is irresponsible. It makes me feel guilty of a crime. That is painful, too.”
“Wasting time and irresponsibility are wrong. Wrongness makes me angry. I must be right and never wrong. I must be perfect.”
Jack never outgrew these attitudes; he carried them into adulthood where they are determining his behavior to this day. Each time we react to Jack on the basis of these immature attitudes, we confirm him in his fictitious role. He is so busy defending his “specialness” that he never has a chance to question the basis of his inappropriate behavior.
Steve is learning that many people have these anger attitudes and that they can not be reasoned out of them. He has also learned that the issue here is not Nancy’s typing speed, or her work schedule. The issue is not even “getting my way.” The real problem to be addressed is Jack’s anger when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. The most important thing that Steve learned was that he had the power of choice: to respond to Jack’s anger the old way, which never worked, or to manage his anger in a way that makes things better instead of worse.
He chose not to defend Nancy, (Nancy isn’t doing anything wrong, she does not require defending).
He chose not to defend himself. He didn’t say, “You can’t talk to me that way,” because ‘manner of speech’ is not the issue. It is a distraction from the real issue. It would have poured kerosene on Jack’s fire.
He chose not to take Jack’s demands as a reflection on his competence as a manager.
He chose not to take Jack’s negative, unpleasant behavior personally, as if it were a reflection on his worth as a person.
He chose to retain his self-respect on an appropriate basis.
He was able to remind himself of the definition of self-respect: it is the feeling that I am a worthwhile human being in spite of my faults and imperfections. Jack cannot take that away from him with his posturings.
He identified Jack’s imperious behavior as mere mischief, which means, “that which does not need to be done.” Steve was able to put this mischief in its proper perspective. “It’s only Jack being Jack again.”
He did not overreact to Jack’s provocation.
He did not try to make Jack “understand.”
He identified his own anger at Jack for causing him and Nancy this grievance, but he had learned how to manage his anger. He put it in perspective. Jack’s anger wasn’t the end of the world, it was only a nuisance.
He did not “solve” the anger problem by firing Jack on the spot.
He did not get personal revenge by depriving the firm of the talents of an imperfect, sometimes unpleasant employee.
He did not give up in discouragement.
He did not stand in moral judgment on Jack for his disruptive behavior. Jack is not “wrong,” he is merely imperfect and his imperfections can be unpleasant.
He did not hang on to his anger. It was in his way. He chose to “let it go.”
He was able to sort it out. He was in control of himself. He didn’t try to “control” Jack.
He was able to make a rational choice in a non-rational, regrettable situation.
Steve was able to take himself through this process in a matter of seconds. He had learned the drill. He knew how to find the meaning of Jack’s mischief by identifying the hidden purpose of the behavior. Jack was making him feel powerless and out of control. That feeling told him that he was in a power struggle with Jack over who could make Nancy do what and how fast. This insight gave Steve a new choice to make: he could pull back in a tug of war, or he could drop the rope and end the power struggle on his terms. He chose to drop the rope. He let it go. It was only mischief on Jack’s part. It didn’t need to be done. What really needed to be done was to resolve Jack’s anger problem in the right way so everyone could go back to work.
Steve had learned to spot employee mischief a block away. He had also learned how to disengage himself emotionally, not from the employee, but from his unacceptable, provocative behavior:
He did not take Jack’s behavior personally, as a wipeout of his self-respect.
He reminded himself that “I am a worthwhile human being in spite of Jack’s negative comments.” This technique is called ‘self talk.’ It keeps him on an even keel.
He did not take Jacks words literally, as if he really meant what he said. Jack is only “firing for Effect,” trying to use Steve’s own vulnerabilities against him.
He disengaged from his own predisposition to make counter mischief:
Steve didn’t make any of these mistakes from the old days. He made a new choice using his adult judgment on an informed basis. He knew that Jack’s anger was painful and out of control. It was his appropriate responsibility to deal effectively with his employee’s psychic pain as he would the physical pain of a cut finger. Just as he was prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver if someone were choking, so is he prepared to give “emotional first aid” when it became necessary. It was necessary now. Steve made the right choice. He cut to the chase. He chose to address the issue of Jack’s anger.
Steve chose to say, “It makes you angry when Nancy takes so long, doesn’t it.” In making this choice, Steve was using an anger management technique called validate. Steve knew that Jack’s accusation was not a valid one. He knew it wasn’t rational, it was based on self-serving attitudes. He did not make the mistake of correcting Jack’s thinking, which would have made things worse for everyone. He knew that he could not relieve this pain by invalidating it. In calling Jack’s anger by its rightful name, Steve was giving Jack “permission” to have this unpleasant, disruptive emotion. He did not “fight the feeling.” He validated the anger, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way.”
Jack heard his anger being validated, perhaps for the first time in his life. He felt that he had been heard and understood by someone who knew what he was talking about. He felt that he was being validated as a person. The pain of his grievance was relieved. The second validate is for Jack. He heard himself being treated with respect in spite of his unpleasant behavior. He respected Steve for doing that. If he doesn’t respect his superior, he will not cooperate with him. He will make destructive mischief instead.
The third validation is for Steve. He had the courage to address the scary problem of Jack’s anger instead of defending Nancy. He had used good judgment. He replaced his good intentions with real intentions. He had earned the right to respect himself as a worthwhile human being with an identity of his own, not merely a role opposite Jack’s immature role.
There are two sides to this anger coin: Jack is one and Nancy is the other. Nancy needs to know what to do with Jack’s anger when it hits. As part of the Anger Management Process, Steve prepared Nancy to cope with Jack’s anger on a new basis. He broke the problem down into its components so she could see what she was up against.
Do not take it personally. It is not a reflection on you.
Do not defend – you are not guilty of a crime and you require no defense.
Do not become counter-angry. That just prolongs the problem.
Do not try to make Jack “understand” the realities of the situation. He is not interested.
Identify the real issue: the issue is that he is angry
Jack is making mischief. He wants to control so he will get his way sooner, also, he wants
revenge. He wants to hurt Nancy as she “hurt” him. These are negative purposes. They need to be identified so that they can be turned around in the right way.
Jack reminded Nancy that she could choose to keep her self respect in spite of Jack’s anger. She is a worthwhile human being whether she pleases him or not. As a self respecting, independent human being, she, too, can choose to validate Jack’s anger, which is the real issue. She, too, can say, “I’m sorry you are so angry, but I’ll have it done by 4:30 today.”
When Jack came by to voice his complaint about the “service,” Nancy did her anger Homework: She disengaged from the mischief, not from Jack. She was able to “Consider the Source”; she reminded herself that it’s only Jack sounding off again. She didn’t hang on to her protestations of innocence, she chose to let them go. When she made that choice, she felt relief from the pressure, tension and stress that these anger situations had been causing her. In letting go, she didn’t feel out of control, she felt in control. She was making this happen in the present. She was choosing to live on her terms, not reacting to someone else’s. She had her own independent identity.
As Jack went on and on, Nancy rode it out. She didn’t prolong the process with explanations of the situation that Jack didn’t care about anyway. She saved her breath. Nancy noticed that the storm blew over in half the time. Jack walked away talking to himself, but he settled down much sooner than he used to when people got in his way and made his anger worse.
Nancy was angry at Jack’s abusive behavior. We relieve pent up anger by giving people choices that they didn’t know they had. Steve has learned what some of those choices are. Instead of ignoring Nancy’s painful resentment, he validated it; “You must be very angry at Jack for dumping on you like that. If you keep it in, it will make you sick. One way to drain it out of your system is to write him an anger letter. It’s not for him, it’s for you.”
Nancy wrote her anger out in a letter to Jack and then tore it up. Steve asked her how she felt afterward. Nancy said that she felt “good.” In debriefing Nancy, he helped her to break this “good feeling” into its many components: feelings of relief, the power of choice, trust in her judgment, control, accomplishment, success, confidence and independence. These good feelings are all components of self respect.
Nancy had done an anger homework in her own behalf. She had earned the right to respect herself. Self respecting employees are more motivated, more productive and more free to be creative than employees who are filled with self doubts, anxieties and feelings of inadequacy to cope. Nancy was able to use an unpleasant anger situation as an opportunity to improve the way she felt about herself as a person in the world.
Even Jack benefitted from Nancy’s new way of managing her anger. He expected to be met with scorn, invalidation, criticism, excuses, denials and all the other counter-productive defenses that people use when they don’t know how to manage anger. Instead, he felt that Nancy had listened to his complaint without demeaning him as a person. She had not compounded his anger as people usually did. He didn’t feel “good” about the conversation, but he was aware that he felt “less worse.” He felt relief from the pressure, tension and stress that he had been causing himself with his unrealistic attitudes. To him, that was progress. Steve had taken the sting out of a potentially inflammatory situation. There were no cuts or bruises, no one got fired. Under this new regimen, Jack’s anger attacks came farther and farther apart, and they ended sooner each time. He remained a productive, valued employee of the firm.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
What is anger management? Anger Management is the name of a movie that is intended to be funny, and it is.
But there is nothing funny about real anger management, it is a very serious issue. Anger management is the process of managing your anger, or perhaps it is better explained using the words controlling your anger.
While there are no public anger management statistics that could be found, there are studies about anger that are very compelling when you are trying to see the importance of anger management.
Anger control problems can affect your job and your relationships to a degree that you may not realize. The inability to control your anger can escalate.
You hear about angry employees who go after their bosses with high powered semi automatic rifles and end up killing 6 people and then himself once he realized what he had done.
These stories are on the news several times a year. Even more often you hear about cases of domestic violence and child abuse that are a result of someone losing control of their anger. 42% of all female deaths from homicide are the result of domestic violence.
Anger problems are not limited to adults who commit crimes and road rage, though.
Children can have anger control problems, too. The biggest problem with this is that many people don’t recognize anger control problems in children or think that it’s just a phase and that the children will grow out of it. However, even if it is a phase it needs to be dealt with.
If you look at the anger management statistics for children you will see that this is a very real problem.
According to the most recent report released from the US Department of Education, in the school year of 1999 to 2000 5.5% of school teachers were violently attacked by students and 10% of all elementary school kids who were expelled from school were expelled because they brought a firearm to school. This is much more than just a phase!
What is anger management? It is recognizing that you or someone you love has a problem controlling your anger and getting help for it before it is too late.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Dr. Keith Sanford, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor in Baylor’s department of psychology and neuroscience, College of Arts and Sciences, and his research team studied 105 college students in romantic relationships as they communicated through different arguments over an eight-week period. Sanford focused on how emotion changed within each person across episodes of relationship conflict. They found demonstrated links between different types of emotion, different types of underlying concern, and different types of perceived partner emotion.
Sanford distinguished between two types of negative emotion as “hard” and “soft.” “Hard” emotion is associated with asserting power, whereas “soft” emotion is associated with expressing vulnerability. Sanford’s research also identified a type of underlying concern as “perceived threat,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is being hostile, critical, blaming or controlling. Another type of concern is called “perceived neglect,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is failing to make a desired contribution or failing to demonstrate an ideal level of commitment or investment in the relationship.
Sanford said the results show that people perceive a threat to their control, power and status in the relationship when they observe an increase in partner hard emotion and they perceive partner neglect when they observe an increase in partner flat emotion or a decrease in partner soft emotion. Both perceived threat and perceived neglect, in turn, are associated with increases in one’s own hard and soft emotions, with the effects for perceived neglect being stronger than the effects for perceived threat.
“In other words, what you perceive your partner to be feeling influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in yourself, whether what you perceive is actually correct,” Sanford said. “In a lot of ways, this study confirms scientifically what we would have expected. Previously, we did not actually know that these specific linkages existed, but they are clearly theoretically expected. If a person perceives the other as angry, they will perceive a threat so they will respond with a hard emotion like anger or blame. Likewise, if a person is perceived to be sad or vulnerable, they will perceive a neglect and will respond either flat or soft.”
The study appeared in the journal Personal Relationships.
Sanford said some of the most interesting results in the study pertain to a complex pattern of associations observed for soft emotion. As expected, partner soft emotion was associated with decreased concerns over neglect, whereas self soft emotion was associated with increased concerns over neglect. Sanford said this is consistent with the idea that soft emotion is a socially focused emotion, often triggered by attachment-related concerns, and that expressions of soft emotion signal one’s own desire and willingness to invest in a relationship.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
On a humid evening last September, Susan and James burst into my office looking like two high schoolers in the grip of a classroom giggle fit. Usually serious and reserved, James, 36, explained between chuckles that he had been telling Susan a story about his boss’s gaffe at a meeting earlier that day. Still giggling as she landed on the office sofa, 27-year-old Susan ran her fingers through her cropped, blond hair and tried to compose herself, then eyed her gleeful husband and began hooting all over again. After a bit more banter, I steered the conversation to the main order of business– the state of their six-year marriage. Susan began to recount an incident that had occurred a few days before, when James had volunteered Susan to drive his daughter to a birthday party so that his ex-wife wouldn’t be inconvenienced. “I felt used,” Susan said bluntly. So far, so good, I thought — she is simply stating her feelings. Then looking directly at her husband, she continued: “But what upset me even more was your reaction when you saw that I was unhappy. You started defending her!”
With these words, Susan’s voice began to shake and she ducked her head, starting at the flowered pattern of the Kleenex in her fist. When she looked up her eyes were narrowed and her face flushed a deep, mottled crimson. “You are so full of crap!” she spit out. “You’re too weak to stand up to her then you look at me as if I’m the one with the problem. God, what a sucker I am to stay with you!” James rolled his eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh. “You see what I have to deal with here?” he asked beseechingly. It was as though he had lit a match and was flicking it at his wife who was holding on to a gas can. “Oh, that’s good James!” sneered Susan. “Blame me again! This is classic. You’re such a fucking wimp!” James didn’t respond. In fact, I wasn’t even sure he had heard her. His whole body seemed to tense as he turned toward the window and stared with his mouth clenched. Though he sat very still, I could hear the strained sounds of his breathing. The relaxed, affable husband who had entered my office 10 minutes earlier had simply vanished.
I have often been struck by how swiftly and dramatically the moods of intimate partners can change in the midst of an interaction, as though some internal switch gets flipped that compels each partner to react in a particular, almost automatic way. In a previous session, James had jokingly called Susan “Sibyl,” noting that whenever she became deeply emotional, she “changed.” Like the incredible hulk she would transform from a loving and thoughtful woman to a raging beast, reacting with white-hot wrath. At times, that rage turned physical: during one particularly savage fight, she pushed James down causing him to hit his head on the coffee table.
In the past, they had gone to therapy and were taught new habits of thinking and behaving that they could call into play whenever conflict arose. They were coached to listen to each other attentively and give each other the benefit of the doubt. But over the years, their progress, like many couples, tended to be disturbingly short lived. Most couples therapy today concentrates on teaching partners to consciously think and act differently toward each other. This assumes that telling others how to make changes in their thinking and behavioral would short-circuit their emotions, promoting renewed intimacy and trust. But this assumes that your thinking, conscious brain is in charge of your emotions.
After all you may have been taught that what distinguishes homo sapiens from so-called “lower” animals, is the capacity to consciously reason before reacting. But what if the human brain isn’t actually wired that way? What if your neural circuitry programs are so fast and strong that you rage, cower and collapse in grief in a nanosecond, before you ever get a chance to fashion an “I” statement or otherwise think things through? With the help of modern technology, brain-imaging techniques can generate precise portraits of the brain in action. As a result, scientists have found that your brain actually favors intense emotions, not sweet reason. Thinking still counts, but not nearly as much as you’ve always assumed. So dogma shattering is this mounting evidence for the supremacy of the “emotion brain,” or more formally, the limbic brain, that some have called it a genuine “neuroscience revolution.” Your good at thinking, you learned logical cause and effect reasoning when you took math and science. But like Susan and James you have come are less skilled in emotional matters.
You, like most humans values rational thinking, cause and effect principles and logical conclusions to understand the events in your life. For centuries emotion has been looked down on as primitive and reason has been held as superior. Plato said, “We are prisoners of our feelings and that we should therefore hold fast to the sacred cord of reason lest we be lost.” Euripides declared, “Folly occurs only when desire conflicts with reason.” Aristotle argued, “Emotions have a logic of their own and must be understood on their own terms.” He asserted, “Emotions are not simply animal passions unleashed, but they are a complex part of our thinking.” Yet, research maintains the counter-intuitive position that feelings are crucial for rational decisions. Emotions point you in the proper direction, shining a spotlight on where logic can then be of best use. And in recent years, there has been an explosion of research, which indicates that, rational and emotional processes, rather than being natural adversaries function together.
One reason why reason is placed above emotions that is scientists have divided in to three layers. The bottom layer is called the reptilian or instinct brain, the middle layer is limbic or feeling brain, and the top layer is the neocortex or thinking brain. The bottom layer, the reptilian or instinctual brain, is in charge of your most basic functions such as digestion, breathing, and blood circulation. This area of the brain is source of the “fight or flight” responses to stress, and it is highly concerned with the survival instinct. The second layer, the limbic system or feeling brain, is the primary place for your emotions. This part of the brain also involves your appetite, sex, and senses. The neocortex is the top layer and is known as the thinking brain. This is where your logical thought occurs. Logic is what makes language and writing possible. This top layer allows you to see ahead and plan the future, which is something that no other animal can do.
The conventional view of how the brain processes information is highly appealing. People love to fantasize that the ability to plan gives them control over the world around them. America was founded on self-reliance, manifest destiny, personal freedom, and independence. These values reinforce the comforting theory that you are in charge of your decisions. This misguided approaches assumes information about the world is transmitted via your eyes, ears and other sensory organs to the thalamus, the brain’s central relay station. In turn, the information is shiped directly to the neocortex (thinking brain). There, the incoming signals are efficiently recognized, sorted and assigned meaning. Finally the information is ferried downstream to the limbic system (emotional brain) and triggers the appropriate visceral response. In this tidy, reassuring scenario, emotion is the dutiful servant of the rational brain. Thought proposes, emotion disposes. Thinking comes first and emotion goes last.
This 3 layer model was enormously helpful in showing that tissue below the thinking brain was not just filler to be neglected. However, most people came away from this model of a 3 layered brain with a hierarchal notion, which made the thinking brain the boss. It had been thought that each layer of the brain operates independently, one at a time. This outdated model implied that the feeling (limbic) brain, being the second layer, man purpose was to connect the thinking brain (neocortex) to the instinct (reptilian) brain. It is this hierarchical view, with the thinking brain on top, that explains why we emphasize the role of of reason and analysis. However, researchers have found that whether a brain structure is on the top or bottom, is visible on the surface or tucked out of sight, has no bearing on how the brain functions. The long held belief that the large cotrex of the human brain is what distinguished humans from other species, implies that your thinking brain (neocortex) is more evolved and the emotional brain, (limibic system) is equal to a lower, more animal instinct (reptilian). This is wrong. Researchers have found that the emotional and logical brain co-evolved and developed together. This is important because by developing together, the neocortex (thinking brain) and limibic systems (emotional brain) are connected, so one system has influenced the other.
You need emotions. You cannot simply turn off your emotions and live as a logical cyborg-like being. You could not exist solely with your rational mind. You would not know how to make decisions about food or music or movies, you would know what events are dangerous or even what to say without emotions. The brain centers involved in emotions are directly connected to the learning system. When they are activated, they automatically start the teaching circuits (chains of nerve cells). This happens when you gain knowledge of something seen as valuable because it carries some emotional weight that is personally relevant. This is why emotional events—your first day of school, the birth of child, a parent’s death—become so engraved in your memories. The brain’s ability to determine value and relevance creates a more flexible and intelligent human, whose behavior is unpredictable and creative.
Neurologists no longer accept that brain functions are isolated and operate individually, where one area is only responsible for one function. The idea of separating thinking and feeling into discrete work stations in the brain, which moves information along a conveyor belt, piecing it together one aspect at a time, has given way to the concept of simultaneous systems. To say the brain has simultaneous systems means that it can process information and emotions from many locations, all at once. Researchers have begun to understand that mental connections are distributed over several areas in the brain. The brain’s use of common structures for different functions is not an accident.
For example, think about how vision works. As soon as you look at any given object, your brain shatters it and simultaneously processes that neat image on your eye, to pick apart the different aspects of what is being seen. This visual information is interpreted in a variety of ways, using a diverse array of mental activity, all working at lightening speed to provide analysis. Each area examines a different facet of your visual experience. The job of analyzing color goes in one direction. The angles and parts that constitute shape go to another area of the brain. The space and distance of the object are processed in a third area. And so on.
So while the neocortex will remember what your ex-partner looks like, the jerk that dumped you for a new lover, the amygdala is responsible for the surge of fury that floods your body when you see someone who looks even vaguely like your former mate. And “vaguely” is the operative word here. For when the amygdala tries to judge whether a current situation is hazardous, it compares that situation with your collection of past emotionally charged events. If any key elements are even vaguely similar–the sound of a voice, the expression on a face–your emotional brain instantaneously lets loose its warning sirens and an accompanying emotional explosion.
The discovery of interconnected brain functions means you think and feel all at once. It had been assumed that thoughts and feelings were processed one at a time, all moving in one direction, like car moving in the same direction, going down a one way street. Yet it is now known that your emotion and logic are inter-connected, operating simultaneously. Like traffic going down a two way street, these messengers are being sent in two directions at the same time. In addition, it was once thought that the speed at which these messengers traveled was always constant. Yet, it is now known that you thoughts and feelings can move at different speeds, from very fast to very slow. Again like cars on the expressway, they travel in 2 directions and depending on the amount of traffic traveling, they can move quickly or slowly.
Neuroscientists have discovered that there is a supersonic express route to the brain’s emotional centers. This back alley in your mind appears to be reserved for emotional emergencies and bypasses the neocortex (thinking brain) entirely. This mean that information is routed from the thalamus or the ‘relay station’ directly to the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped structure in the limbic system that has recently been identified as the brain’s emotional alarm center. The amygdala scans the information for potential danger: Is this bad? Could it hurt me? If the information registers as dangerous, the amygdala (emotional brain) broadcasts a distress signal to the entire brain, which in turn, triggers a cascade of physiological responses–from a rapid heart rate to jacked-up blood pressure to tense muscles to the release of the “fight or flight” hormones, like adrenaline. Within milliseconds, you explode with rage or freeze in fear, well before your thinking brain can even grasp what is happening, much less persuade you to take a few deep breaths and maintain your cool.
The impact of your emotional brain’s hair-trigger response is that during a highly toxic argument the body can become flooded by a virtual tidal wave of hormones. These hormones create physical changes, including a quickened heart rate stepped-up sweat production, and tensed-up muscles. The split-second nature of these changes indicates a cranial coup d-etat originating in the emotional brain (amygdala). And like most coups, this one can wreak ugly consequences. For researchers found that these classic bodily signs of intense emotions were highly correlated with specific kinds of behaviors (antagonism, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone-walling).
This cranial takeover can occur because your neocortex (thinking brain) is simply out-matched by the competition from your amygdala (emotional brain). This race is not even close because emotion-laden paths are faster the logical signals. So your amygdala causes impulses to zoom down your neurological express route, what has been called the “fast track”, at the same time as the same data is being transported via the customary, well-trodden “local roads”, stopping at the neocortex (thinking brain) and limbic system (emotional brain). But because the shorter emotional pathway in your brain transmits signals twice as fast as the more roundabout route involving the neocortex, the thinking brain simply can’t intervene in time. So, by the time you are analyzing a situation, the damage has been done, you have already called your belated dinner partner an inconsiderate jerk, shrieked at your smart-mouthed child, snapped at your critical coworker or you simply shut down and are left shaking inside. To make matters worse, the emotional information will flood the neocortex (thinking brain), overwhelming your logic and judgment. As a result, your emotion-filled thoughts about the situation feel entirely accurate and justifiable. Whaddya mean, I’m overreacting?
What is going on? Well when emotions are involved in your decision making process there is such a great deal of certainty the brain automatically triggers your fight or flight response. This false alarm happens because the instinctual and feeling brains cannot distinguish what is real from what is imagined. And since the goal is to survive, there is an advantage to react first and think later. That is to say emotions are fast and efficient and logic is slower. Emotions provide you with a mechanism to work around the limitation of reasoning. The conclusion you come up with may not be the best, but they are often better than no conclusion. However since your emotions are often derived from your experiences, they tend to be often more accurate than not.
When a situation is perceived as an emotional emergency, the emotional brain (amygdala) lights up the entire body and the neocortex is suddenly seized. Many clinicians, including myself, have spent countless sessions trying to get fuming couples to engage in some kind of well-established communication techniques, such as “active listening,” only to watch the whole thing fly apart. For example, one partner says something seemingly reasonable like, “I feel that the kids don’t get enough of your attention”, which is perceived by the other as a poison arrow to the heart. “Screw that!” the listener shrieks, whereupon the partner flings back with “This is just so typical, isn’t it, you’re too narcissistic to even listen to me, always have been, what’s the damn use?” And in those moments, when the room is vibrating with fury and I feel more like a rookie referee at a mud-wrestling match than an insightful, educated professional, because my techniques are useless.
Perhaps counselors have hesitated to seriously confront the core tenets of this new, affective neuroscience because if they did, they might find out that they are heading down a hazardous road. For if your very brain circuits are primed to favor your most volatile emotions over reason, counselors may need to call into question the tilt toward models that rely on rational thought to engender change. As economic pressures spur clients to move increasingly toward ever briefer, more cognitive-oriented models, counselors may unwittingly be investing enormous energy in approaches that are, to a large extent, at odds with the brain’s most fundamental functions.
So where does the bad-news tale of emotional mayhem leave you? The trajectory of divorce originates with frequent, nasty arguments that eventually cause both partners to develop a hypersensitivity to each other. In this state, you react to your spouse automatically, like an animal conditioned to fear a shock whenever it sees the color red. This helps to explain those moments in my office, like when Susan and James were honestly struggling to think and behave differently, but simply can’t make the shift. I watched James trying to listen empathetically to his wife, but when Susan let him know that she is sick and tired of his behavior, bam! Before you can say “reframe that thought,” the emotional brain (amygdala) is sounding its sirens and suddenly he’s yelling that she’s the slob, not him, in fact, she’s let herself go big-time and is goddam fat! And as he’s shouting all this, his face is turning the color of boiled lobster, his heart is practically leaping out of his chest and he is sweating gallons.
In my experience, a sense of safety is the linchpin of change. For only when an individual no longer feels threatened by his or her partner, subjected to the terrifying prospect of abandonment–will the emotional brain (amygdala) shut off it internal alarm system. So, unlike therapeutic models that zero in immediately on changing thinking or behavior I don’t ask clients to change how they think about, or behave until they feel safe enough to interact in an honest way.
This is not to suggest that cognitive and behavioral strategies are insignificant in effective therapy. In my clinical work, the thinking brain (cortex) is an absolutely central player. The key difference between my approach and other models is that rather than using the thinking brain to try to dominate the emotional brain, I put it to work, helping the ancient amygdala to gradually relax its defense. To do anything less is to paddle against the instinctive stream.
As I sat with James and Susan in my office, I well knew that “helping the emotional brain to relax” was the last thing they had in mind. What was clear, however, was that each partner was far too stuck in his or her respective emotional path, Susan in rage, James in fear. Before any change could occur, each partner would need to honestly explore the feelings that had so violently seized them. Therefore, I responded, as I customarily do when couples encounter extremely “hot” emotional states, by calling a temporary time out. This allowed me to conduct some one-on-one emotional exploration.
Leaving Susan, I asked James to join me in a room down the hall. There, I suggested that if he was willing to explore his emotional experience a bit, he might be able to learn to respond to Susan in a way that helped her to treat him with understanding and support in return. He agreed to try, warning me, however, that emotions aren’t his “thing.” Like many men I work with, James had done a good job of numbing his body to the telltale, physiological signs of an emotional hijacking–the knotted muscles, the racing heart, the queasy stomach–and consequently, during his fights with Susan, he often had trouble knowing what he felt at all. His lifelong stance, he admitted, was to keep a “stiff upper lip” in the face of trouble. He saw no other options.
“Who taught you that?” I inquired. After a few moments of silence, he began to talk of his junior high football coach, whom he remembered as single-minded on forcing him and his teammates to perform endless calisthenics until their bodies screamed for relief. The coach would then march up to the player with the most tortured expression and get right in his face and shout: “What do you feel?” On cue, the player would yell back: “Nothing, sir!” to the loud cheers of his teammates. On one broiling afternoon on the football field, James heard those rousing cheers for himself, and he recalled how curiously proud he felt of his stoic denial for his own body’s inner turmoil. Shaking his head, he admitted: “I guess I learned the lesson well.” I assured him that it would be possible and necessary, to recognize his feelings.
I explained that the body was the voice of emotions, eloquently communicating critical information about your current emotional state. Tightened muscles and a sick sensation in the gut, for example, typically accompany fear, while rage is characterized by an increased heartbeat and body temperature. Learning to readily identify the “emergency” signals sent by the emotional brain via your bodily state is the first, crucial step. Studies suggest that the moment you become aware of your internal state, you activate the thinking brain (neocortex), which in turn, can begin to restrain your emotional response. I suggested to James that the next time he and Susan begin arguing, he simply try to notice any changes happening in his body.
At the next session, Susan and James came or rather sulked into my office. Susan was furious at James for forgetting to buy her flowers for their anniversary. James, already withdrawn, slumped sullenly into the corner of the sofa. As soon as I got the gist of their current conflict, James and I took off again for a private one on one. Before I had even closed the door, James reported that he was feeling an uncomfortable tightness both in his stomach and lower jaw, sensations he had noticed several times over the past week whenever Susan had become angry with him. At my suggestion, he checked his pulse rate and was stunned to find it had soared to 85 beats per minute, in contrast to his usual, resting rate of 68 beats per minute. In fact, this is to be expected. The dramatic jump in your heart rate during an intense emotion, closely mirrors that of animals in the “freeze” state after they sense danger from a predator in the wild and their fear systems have been stimulated.
James clenched-jaw, stone-walling response to Susan’s fury, had a distinctly frozen quality, which was not unlike a full-fledged fear response to an animal being hunted. I encouraged him to notice how his reactions seemed to kick in automatically, all at once, as if a part of him just took over. He replied that he had already noticed this happening a few days earlier, when Susan was ragging at him about the state of their finances. “I actually tried to respond to her, you know, say something sympathetic about the bad day I knew she’d had”. “But somewhere inside, I’d just gone cold.” I left James for the time being and walked two doors down the hall, to begin helping Susan to understand her rage response, with a particular throbbing sensation behind her temples, like as a desperate, love-hungry little kid who was frantically trying to get attention. The next step would be to help them with these inner experiences and consult about the possibility of letting down their respective guards.
At this point, those familiar with therapy may well be raising their collective eyebrows, thinking: This is couples work? My response is that while I do a lot of individual work with intimate partners, I am definitely doing couples therapy. In my experience, the hijacking of the emotional brain is so powered that for many couples, learning to regulate brain states is all but impossible in each other’s presence. Some are simply unable to calm down long enough to do the kind of quiet, deeply focused work that is necessary to allow an emotion to pass. Particularly early in therapy, each partner is far more likely to chronically trigger the other’s hyper aroused emotional brain than help to soothe it. This pattern may lead many couples to prematurely quit therapy, convinced that theirs is a “hopeless case.” Consequently, my customary modus operandi is to do a lot of individual work during the first several sessions, until each partner develops enough skill in managing their emotions to rejoin his or her partner. At that point, couples begin to practice making these shifts in “real time,” in the midst of authentic interactions.
Over the next several sessions, I continued helping Susan and James learn to become mindful of their unconscious automatic emotional reactions. The catch, of course, is that nobody wants to go first. By being more aware of the conditions that allow the brain to sufficiently relax its defenses, I hope to support my clients in making this leap out of defense and into understanding. To that end, I spent several sessions coaching James through conversations with his stonewalling “defender,” in an effort to help him feel safe enough to let down his guard. Progress was gradual and awkward. Then, toward the end of one particularly slow-moving session, I brought up how James’s typical response of sullen stonewalling to Susan had not managed to blunt her fury. He nodded, admitting that, in fact, his icy withdrawal seemed to aggravate his wife even more. I asked James: “what have you got to lose by trying something new, like reaching out to Susan?” This was a delicate moment, I was asking James to engage his thinking brain (neocortex) to entertain a new thought. With his hand on his stomach, James closed his eyes and focused his attention within. Perhaps 15 seconds passed before he opened his eyes and looked at me. “It’s okay,” he softly said. “You’re sure it’s okay?” I asked, pointing in the direction of his stomach. “Yeah, he’s okay,” nodded James. He looked relaxed and younger, somehow less defeated. He told me that in that moment he had acknowledged that shutting down had only gotten him a amplify dose of Susan’s rage, the terrifying experience of all out attack that had activated his defense system in the first place. If there were a better way to stave off these assaults, his guts told him, it would stand aside and open up to change. “I’m ready,” James said quietly.
Susan and I had been making steady progress in feeling safe enough to let her guard down and expose her intense yearning for love that hid behind her fury. Then one evening, Susan and James walked into my office in utter silence. They had had a vicious argument two days before and had barely spoken to each other since. The issue at hand was James’ relationship with his younger brother, Sam, and his sister-in-law, Claire, who lived only a few streets away from them. Susan had long felt resentful toward Sam, whom she felt took advantage of James’s helpful nature, but even more hostile toward Claire, a stunningly beautiful local fashion model. James denied feeling attracted to Claire. Susan did not believe him because one night she had seen James flipping through the pages of Claire’s modeling portfolio, which included some nude pictures. Susan was now furious because, on the first day of a recent, heavy snow-storm, James had called to say he was stopping to help Sam and Claire dig out their driveway before coming home to help Susan shovel so she could then go out to an evening yoga class. An hour later, when Susan walked the half-mile to her in-laws’ house to drag her husband home, she was infuriated to find James and Claire working in the driveway and laughing together, with Sam nowhere in sight. That evening Susan never made it to her yoga class, instead, she fumed hard and long at James, accusing him of caring more about his brother’s long legged, exotic-looking wife than about her.
As the session began, Susan warned that this was a horribly painful issue for her. As she began to recount the incident, she was breathing so hard and fast that I thought she might start hyperventilating. “James,” she managed between jagged breaths, “do you have any clue what you’re like when you get within sniffing distance of Claire?” I quickly looked at James, who had turned his gaze downward and was sitting frozen. I feared he was shifting into a full-scale shutdown. But after a long moment he looked up again at his wife. “Susan,” he began softly, “I don’t give a damn about Claire.” When Susan hooted bitterly at this, James shook his head in frustration. But he didn’t fold. “When Sam called me to help out, I just didn’t think,” he went on. “I should have.” When Susan turned away in disgust, James looked suddenly desperate. “Look, Susan,” he said pleadingly, “when you get mad at me like this, it’s awful.” She looked back at him, clearly surprised. “It makes me feel sick inside,” he admitted to her. “I feel kind of lost.” As Susan continued gazing at him, he touched her arm. “But whatever I did, I’m sorry I hurt you.”
At this, Susan’s face began to bend. “You did hurt me, James,” she cried out. Tears spilling down her cheeks, she jumped up and fled the room. For a moment, James looked stunned and disoriented, a tearful Susan was not what he had expected. Then he, too, abruptly rushed out into the hallway, where his wife was weeping. “God, Susan, I really didn’t know what a big deal this was to you,” I could hear him say. “Will you help me understand?” As she continued to sob, I stepped out into the hall in time to witness James enveloping his wife in a bear hug and whispering into her hair, “It’s you I want.”
It was a moment of great tenderness, an honest exchange of vulnerability and open-hearted understanding. Yet ultimately, the melting moment of bonding that I had just witnessed was not what made me feel optimistic about James’ and Susan’s future. For I knew that such jolting shots of connectedness, however real and deep, would inevitable fade and stinging misunderstandings would arise again. What encouraged me most was that in the midst of this highly charged interaction, James had demonstrated the ability to shift from a reaction of fearful withdrawal to a warmly empathetic state that, in turn, allowed Susan to shift from her own state of fury to one of sorrowful hurt. I knew that if they were to construct an intimate bond that could truly endure, they would need to continue the difficult and delicate work they had begun. Little by little, they were changing their brains and teaching themselves to trust.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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