Mental Health

Three Ways to Let Go of Your Need to Control Situations

Our evolutionary history suggests that human beings never evolved to be happy. We lived in small groups. Our encounters with others were often dangerous. We faced numerous threats—starvation, parasites, illness, injury, and childbirth—we possessed no painkillers and there was no police force. We spend the majority of our time in anxious goal-seeking activity, spacing out, avoiding perceived threats, and sleeping. We experience numerous unwanted feelings and physical discomforts. Our brains evolved to analyze past pleasure and pain and to maximize future pleasure and minimize future pain. Bottom line: we fret a lot.

One of our biggest worries is trying to control situations that we believe might make us unhappy or otherwise harm us in some way. Here are three suggestions from Dr. Ronald Siegel, Harvard University for letting go:

Gain insight into the habits of your mind that create suffering.

There are patterns of mind that create suffering, i.e. self referential thinking, worrying about the past, fantasizing about the future, zoning out, catastrophizing. By learning to understand these patterns of mind you can change how you view yourself, how you view others, and how you respond to not only the situation, but your thoughts about the situation.

Retrain your brain to not automatically react in its instinctual manner.

Five minutes of daily mindfulness practice can work wonders. It can interrupt thinking habits and behavior patterns that you may feel lie beyond your control. Mindfulness can be the difference between reacting and responding. When we react we instantly initiate some conditioned response that may or may not prove beneficial in the current situation. With mindfulness we can take the time to respond in a manner that integrates present moment awareness with current skills.

Learn to spend more time in the present moment.

Thoughts of the past eventually evoke regrets and sadness. Fantasizing about the future triggers worry about situations that we anticipate happening. Over eighty percent of the things we worry about never happen. Situating ourselves in the present provides us with the greatest opportunity to remain calm and feel safe. The decisions we make in this moment have the greatest bearing on the future. It’s imperative that we don’t waste the only time we have worrying about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness grounds you in the here and now.

Unfortunately if you were looking for a quick fix for easing the suffering discussed here, you may come away disappointed. These are lifestyle changes, that take time to cultivate. Your attempts to control situations, didn’t start overnight. So don’t expect to resolve them overnight. Behavioral change does not work work instantly so start practicing mindfulness today.

“Learn how to relinquish control intentionally, as a means of personal growth and self-discovery.

—Esther Perel


He Hasn't Changed

Photo by Mathisa_s/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Mathisa_s/iStock / Getty Images

That was a YouTube comment posted under the video of Megyn Kelly interviewing me on the Today Show.

When you go on nationwide television and admit being abusive to women in the past you have to have thick skin to face the opinions of those who view it.

A four-minute video doesn’t tell my whole story. It's hard to tell from the video that my abusive behavior occurred over twenty-three years ago. Nor can you tell that I have been clean from drugs, including alcohol, for that same period of time. Not that drug use led me to be abusive, but it did contribute to unmanageability which often triggered my abusiveness. From the video, you can’t tell that I have dedicated my life to ending domestic violence by stopping myself and turning to help other men and women who find themselves caught in the cycle.

No one can see in that four minutes how I came to the attention of producers at NBC. I was referred to them by my friend Nancy Lemon, a law professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law. She has written much of the domestic violence law on the books in the state of California. She teaches a Domestic Violence Law class and, for over ten years, has invited me to speak to her class about domestic violence, my personal story, and perpetrators of violence against women. Many of her students go on to work on family violence issues throughout the Bay Area and the state, designing and implementing more effective domestic violence laws, policies, and programs.

You might think with so much of my story left out, why would I agree to be on the show. There is a difference between being sorry for my past behavior and making amends for it. I speak up and talk about my past to help others reduce suffering and create understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence. When you experience something traumatic, even if you created the trauma yourself, sometimes the only way you can make sense of the experience is when you help someone else understand your experience.

I'm still trying to figure out why I behaved the way that I did when I was abusive. Many children went through far worse than I did and didn't go on to become abusive. Drug use didn’t make me do it. Drug use served as a repair attempt that failed, leaving me with more unmanageable problems than when I started. I used anger and violence to cope with my feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness, my responsibilities, and my fears. No, there's something about me that made me act the way I did. That same something enabled me to respond to individual psychotherapy, domestic violence psychoeducation, and 12-Step  recovery, stop using drugs, return to school at night while working, publish The Pocket Anger Manager, and became a licensed psychotherapist in California. That same something allowed me to walk into NBC studios alone and share a part of my story on a program about victims. A program with no other men and no other black people.

You can't see from the video the healing that has occurred for both me and my survivor. A producer on the Megyn Kelly show asked to speak to her, prior to my appearance, as a means of substantiating my story. I sat in on a three-way call with her and the producer while he asked if I had changed. “Yes, he’s has changed,” she said.

Recovery is available to us all. To say men who have been abusive cannot recover implies that women who have been abused cannot recover. That lie is dead. We do recover.

My recovery springs from acknowledging that I hurt someone that I loved. You can't tell from the video that not one day passes in which I don't think about my past behavior. Recovery doesn't clear your conscious; it allows you to live with what's on your conscious. That’s impossible to see in a four-minute video.

I continue working to help people—men, in particular—reflect on their behavior and take responsibility for it—as I do the same.

 

Craving: One Day at a Time

Photo by turk_stock_photographer/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by turk_stock_photographer/iStock / Getty Images

I crave therefore I am. My cravings have cravings. I want every goddamned thing. If it's salty, sweet, greasy, and moist, I'm interested. If I imagine that it will make me feel good, give me two of them. If you never gave Pookie twenty dollars to go get you one, while you waited in the rain for him to come back, you may not know what I'm talking about. For the most part, I operate without much self-awareness. I'm too busy trying to execute the algorithm to take a step back and analyze the software. I'm shallow like that.

What would planet Earth be like without craving? Much of the activity that takes place here is motivated primarily by people working to satisfy cravings. Without craving as a motivator, how would we get anything done? What if the first and only one of anything we tried satisfied us for life?

“Care for a piece of chocolate cake?”

“Naw, I had one twenty years ago and I'm still good.”

What if we had sex one time and never wanted it again?

You’re going to have to accept the fact that not only do you crave but also that you grow accustomed to people and things. You get used to new situations and once the shine wears off, it's over; you crave something new. You step onto that hedonic treadmill, rev that baby up to ten, and the hunt continues for the next salty, sweet, greasy, moist experience.

But what is a craving? Is it a thought that generates a feeling, or is it a feeling that generates a thought? Is it both? Does it matter?

Dr. Katrin Schubert, author of "Reduce Cravings: 20 quick techniques" writes: “Most of us experience cravings for pleasurable things such as food, a drink, shopping, or sex. That doesn't mean we are addicted to those substances or behaviors. Cravings are natural and only become a problem when we’re unable to control them and they negatively affect our well-being and quality of life.                           

We take in the world through our senses, any one of which can evoke thoughts and memories, that trip craving. But cravings are more than that. They serve as a way for one to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. At least in the short term. One of the best ways to avoid an uncomfortable thought or a feeling is to replace it with a more pleasant, less challenging thought or feeling, something that you can do without realizing it, something you can do repeatedly in a vain attempt to prevent yourself from facing challenging emotions. You can abdicate your responsibility to your cravings.

A different approach is to accept the fact that uncomfortable feelings are inevitable. It's the essence of being human, a natural part of life. Although your feelings may trigger cravings, you do not have to act on them. You can practice meditation and breathe so you can breathe again, and let the craving pass. You can turn to another person, a trusted friend, and talk to them about your urges and, in so doing, take the power out of them by coming to recognize that everyone craves. You can surrender. Cravings, distorted thoughts, and unpleasant feelings do not have the power to stop you. You are free to choose. Like storms, urges can pass.


 

Three Hacks for Dealing with Racism

Photo by soulrebel83/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by soulrebel83/iStock / Getty Images
“Racism is pervasive but not persuasively  effective.”
                                                    —Thomas Sowell

Slavery and discrimination have existed for as long as humans have inhabited planet Earth. Since the beginning of time people the world over have treated others from tribes they didn't know differently. There were forms of slavery in which a slave could earn his freedom, marry into, and become part of the family.

Two things made American slavery stand out. One, the intercontinental movement of slaves, and two, the sheer brutality of US chattel slavery. Although slavery existed in various forms around the world, no form of slavery came close to that which existed in the New World.

While different groups worldwide discriminate against other groups it is debatable how effective those discrimination efforts have been. Jews have been discriminated against throughout the world, yet they have managed to gain skills and dominate in key professions such as law and entertainment. In the US black people have been discriminated against since setting foot in the new world, yet we dominate in sports and hip-hop. White people did not want us in basketball. But when we wre admitted, we took over. Whites did not want us in tennis. But eventually we took over. Whites did not want us in golf. We took over. White people understand better than black people that we take over.

Black people in the US have been actively resisting racism and discrimination throughout our history here. The whole world is influenced by our culture and struggle. We have turned resistance into an art form. Our resistance will continue.

Racism and discrimination have changed in some ways and remained the same in others. Black people no longer get lynched publicly. We get shot by the police, and videos of the shootings flood social media. Discriminatory government housing laws have been abolished. However, the income gap between blacks and whites resulting from those discriminatory laws has never been addressed even though black people are legally allowed to live anywhere. The Ku Klux Klan used to hide their faces behind white sheets. Today they find cloaking themselves and their racism unnecessary. So while things have changed, in some ways they have remained the same.  

What should a people of color do?

Even though racism and discrimination continue to exist I do not mean to imply that people of color are not making progress. We are. Many laws have changed due to our protests and resistance. Even though our pressure on the system has borne fruit, our work is far from over. We must continue to resist.

Resistance is personal. Each one of us has to decide how to make a difference. No one can measure another person's willingness to protest and bring about change. Diversity is our strength. We need to resist in different ways and in every way. Here are three suggestions.

1. Marketable Skills

People around the world who have effectively dealt with discrimination and racism have acquired marketable skills. They have been able to gain the skills necessary to support themselves and their families while resisting. After acquiring marketable skills if we are shunned by white people we can offer those skills to other black people to generate income and opportunity for ourselves.

2. Establish Your Primary Purpose

So many individuals and businesses derail from either never establishing a primary purpose or forgetting what it is. Do what you do to the best of your ability an do not get distracted by the noise. Changing your Facebook status does not a protest make. As stated above, focus on improving your skill set and your skills can be marketed to anyone.

As a psychotherapist, I am trained to work with people who can afford my services. My training and practice also involves the development and delivery of treatment that serves as a means of resisting racism. Historically, in all areas of both medical and psychological treatment development, people of color were excluded from anything other than the experimentation process. Treatment advances were not made for us. By gaining access to the treatment development process I make sure that people of color are included.

What's good for black people is good for everyone. While people of color predominantly make up my practice, if a white person finds their ass on fire, they don't usually care when they discover me holding the fire hose.

3. Don't Forget Hack #1

Skills matter. If you can increase your income you can use the money to protest. With money, one can buy legal and political support to push the resistance further. Poverty plays a significant role in undermining our resistance efforts. Protesting with picket signs in the street has its place in any resistance movement, but financial support cannot be overlooked. Money makes a difference.

Don't be so “Down for the Cause” that you get left out. If you can't secure your own food and shelter needs you will not be able to sustain the resistance. We have a long way to go. Resist by any means but do not forget to acquire and sharpen marketable skills so you can live to resist another day.

Racism is challenging to deal with. If you have specific ways that you successfully cope with it please include them in the comment section so that we can help each other. Remember to share this post. 

 

Take Charge of Your Life

Photo by damedeeso/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by damedeeso/iStock / Getty Images

boss (bôs)
noun
1. a person in charge of a worker or organization.

It’s alright to lay back and take life as it comes. There is something to be said about living life on life's terms. It's OK to relax and chill. But if that's your default mode or a socially acceptable way for you to avoid making hard decisions, I invite you to explore what it might be like for you to set goals, create a plan, and press for the mark. If your life feels stalled, you may have to put yourself on the line and step into the responsibility of whatever it is you want. All the cliches, jargon, and psychobabble in the world will not do it for you. If you haven't reached that point yet, then this post is not for you. But if your life is feeling like “Groundhog Day,” keep reading.

It’s so easy to slip into complacency. You wouldn't tolerate anyone stealing from your bank account. You would act a fool if you discovered anything like that, but when it comes to your attention like money it can be stolen. By keeping your attention on your intention and resisting this society’s tendency to steal your most valuable asset--your time-- you can take a proactive rather than reactive stance in your life.

Tim Campbell wrote in New Philosopher (Spring 2018), “We have a great deal to lose if the external world so captivates us that we never turn inward.

So contemplation supports identity, creativity, and morality—no small matters, to be sure.”

According to Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of the Titans, 80 percent of the Titans he’s interviewed have some morning routine which includes exercise, meditation, and journaling. Do you? I don't mean to be critical, but I do mean to throw a bucket of cold water on you in an effort to get you to wake up and realize you are, as the existentialist say, “condemned to freedom.” You can choose to do something different. In fact, your life has to be different before it can be better. It's up to you to make the decision to change.

Cultivate a mindset that promotes pushing your growth edges. It's that mindset that will help you identify opportunities and to work through anxiety and fear to create meaning and value for yourself. Everyone is anxious and everyone's afraid, the people who get things done, the ones who ship, know how to compartmentalize fear. With practice, you can learn to be more courageous.

If you're in a rut, according to Erika Andersen in her article “Learning to Learn” (Harvard Business Review, Spring 2018), “I'm talking about resisting the bias against doing new things, scanning the horizon for growth opportunities, and pushing yourself to acquire radically different capabilities—while still performing your job. That requires a willingness to experiment and become a novice again and again: an extremely disconcerting notion for most of us.” Good bosses have time to breathe and reflect. They manage themselves and their time in ways that enable them to see both the snapshot and the big picture. That facilitates managing projects and their anxiety in ways that produce results.

Get started. Don't get hung up getting ready to get ready. You will never have all the information if by information you really mean a guarantee that what you want to accomplish will work. If you're waiting to feel motivated, don't. Motivation usually arrives after you begin the work. So again, it comes back to your willingness to experiment and feel like a novice.

A boss sets goals, establishes timetables, and allocates resources toward the objectives. But the main thing good bosses do is learn how to learn.

“Managers and employees must practice looking inward, reflecting critically on their own behavior, identifying how they may have contributed to a problem, and then changing the way they act.” —Chris Argyris

Try doing the same thing and take charge of your life, like a boss.

 

Is Your Personality Killing Your Relationship?

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“Hello, Mr. Chambers. Can you talk?”

“Sure, what’s going on?”

“I talked to you recently about my boyfriend and I starting therapy with you. He said he was exhausted from my personality, needs time, and wasn't sure if he wanted to attend therapy with me. Do you think it’s even worth it for me to try to get him to come to therapy?”

“I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds like you might also be tired of your personality. That’s not unusual. We get tired and concerned about our behavior when we behave in ways that are not effective or that do not make us or those around us happy.”

“What do you mean? I’m tired of my own behavior?”

“That’s one way we get tired, by behaving in ways that do not achieve our goals.”

“So you think my behavior is a problem?”

“We have talked on the phone twice about concerns you have about your relationship and your behavior. Nothing that happens in your relationship is entirely all your fault, and I’m not judging you. But, I sense what you have been describing is a problem for you. Anyone is capable of behaving in ways that make other people want to avoid them or end their relationship with them.”

“That hurt my feelings when you said that.”

“When I said what?”

“That I was tired of my own behavior.”

“That’s not unusual. That’s when people call me, when something in their life is not going well and they are unhappy.”

“Yeah, I just don’t know what to do about this relationship. He told me he had one foot out the door, but that he cares about me. He just doesn’t know what to do.”

“It sounds like no matter what he does you would like to stop behaving in ways that make you and him unhappy. You could always enter into therapy for yourself, without him, and see if we might be able to figure out how to help you make changes. Relationships are about attraction and not promotion. It sounds like you are unhappy and you may be pressuring him to commit when he feels unsure about it. A better approach might be to enter therapy yourself, identify your problems, make some changes, and see if he recognizes it. Even if he doesn't, you will still feel better about yourself. You really don't have to pan-handle anyone to be in a relationship with you.”

This inquiry illustrates a common problem. Your personality can kill your relationship. When considering what it takes to succeed in relationships, we often only consider our positive personality traits. However, even positive traits can become problematic when they become extreme.  For example, according to Rob Kaiser, author of “Dealing with the Dark Side,” being excitable can make you appear passionate and enthusiastic on the one hand, and reactive and volatile on the other. Or being skeptical can make you appear politically astute and hard to fool in one instant yet mistrustful and quarrelsome in another instant. The trick is to improve self-awareness by studying your own behavior patterns, listening carefully to intimate partners and friends who provide you with critical feedback, and using that information to minimize or prevent your negative personality traits from spiraling out of control. By learning to do that you can prevent these patterns from poisoning your relationship.   

 

Life is a Terminal Illness

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Riding my folding bike I arrived at the bus stop at the Fruitvale BART station as the bus pulled away from the curb. Quickly, I turned my bike to catch the bus at its next stop on 35th and International Blvd. I pedaled hard, weaving through commuters as I headed toward the intercept.

Panting I arrived at the intersection of 38th and International Boulevard to find the stop light red and the grid blocked. A new white Mercedes-Benz with two young black women in the front seats, idled at the crosswalk inside the grid like the start of a drag race. The light turned green for me and I started to pedal, rolling into the crosswalk, trying to beat the bus to the stop across the street.

I felt a jolt, looked down to my left, and realized the Benz had hit me. As I lifted off the ground, holding onto my bike, flying through the air, I yelled. I jammed my left arm into the asphalt to break my fall. I landed on my ass and backpack simultaneously. As I hit the ground I lost control of my bike. It fell just outside of my reach. I locked eyes with a Latino man crossing the street, in the same direction, thinking he was coming to offer me assistance. But, instead of helping me, he nonchalantly picked up my bike and attempted to walk off with it. I jumped to my feet, took a few steps toward him and snatched my bike out of his hands as we both walked to the other side of the street together.

The two soul sistas in the Mercedes-Benz drove off as I squinted to read the license plate. Too late! The Latino man played off his aborted crime by patting me on the back and asking if I was okay. When I reached the corner, I surveyed my damaged bike and tried to fold it before the bus arrived, but something was clearly wrong. It wouldn't fold easily. I boarded the bus suddenly exhausted.

I found a seat and assessed my injuries. My left wrist felt hot and tender. The same wrist I jammed one night months ago when I fell near my house returning from Dorothy's. My lower back hurt, but it had been hurting prior to the accident, from my early morning workouts—too many Jack knife exercises. I felt fire in my left hip, but nothing was broken.

Sitting on the bus, I began to seethe thinking about the motherfucker who tried to steal my bike, the sistas in the Benz who hit me and drove off, and the bystanders who didn't attempt to help me. The pain in my left wrist and hip exceeded my frustration with all of them. By the time I reached my stop, I felt happy to be alive.

In the days following the hit-and-run, as my body began to slowly heal, I noticed I was thinking differently. My own denial about death, which I had concealed without knowing it, diminished enough for me to take in a glimpse of reality. Secretly, I believe I'm special. Death happens to other people, I told myself. It won't happen if I don't think about it. If I'm good enough to other people, if I work my 12-Step program well enough, I can prevent death from taking me at the wrong time. I can resolve all my problems, lace up all my loose ends, and die peacefully with all my family and friends around. I don't have to worry.

I don't know if I figured it out while flying through the air or in the days afterward, but life is a terminal illness and as such I need to be aware of death to live. Animals live unaware of death. Zebras don't get ulcers because they only think about lions when lions are present. I, on the other hand, am aware that, at some point, I'm going to die. I have the ability to push it to the back of my mind, which is a kind of death, but I'll get to that in a minute, and go on about my business.

The moments I laid in the street were personal. That was my brush with death. Nobody really cared. The driver didn't care. Latin dude who picked up my bike didn't care, and bystanders didn't care. It was me and death. I have to say, we have a more intimate relationship than I want to admit. Oh, he’s around. He took my mom. He took my dad. He took my friends Antonio and Lane both out of the blue. Within the last thirty days I've narrowly avoided death twice. Prior to getting hit, some nights ago, I straight-armed a car and lifted myself out of death's way again while in the crosswalk with the right of way returning home from Dorothy's house. Death is a stalker.

Life is what we do while death is busy with other people. We all live with the knowledge that death hasn't gotten around to us yet. But have I been really living in anticipation of death? Remember, I said I would get back to the idea of how well I live, pushing the thought of death out of my mind. There is no sense of urgency like the sense of urgency one gets from death breathing down one's neck. DO IT NOW! I really don't know how much time I have left. No one does, but because of my ability to push thoughts of death out of my mind I can drift into a state of complacency.

With humility, I can look at death now. I don't have unlimited time available to waste on trivialities. Thinking about your own death will make you prioritize life like nothing else. Thinking about my own death makes food taste better, makes my relationships a priority. Thinking about my own death makes connecting with family and friends that much more important. Thinking about my own death forces me to live like only the dying can with urgency and in the moment.  

 

Self-Acceptance

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A lack of self-acceptance can sabotage you in a variety of ways. It can increase anxiety the closer you get to someone or something desirable. It can compel you to act in ways that are antithetical to your goals. It can make you withdraw during the goal acquisition stage without giving you a chance to succeed. When you feel ashamed of who you are or some aspect of yourself a satisfying relationship is hard to develop. Until you acknowledge those parts of yourself and learn to manage them, your life may remain unsatisfying. Learning to accept yourself places you in a better position to be accepted by others. It’s a hollow victory when friends and family accept you and you have trouble accepting yourself. Everyone may not like you, that’s not the point. The point is for you to like yourself and for you to have the courage to give others the opportunity to like the real you. By being more aware an authentic, you offer others the chance to choose to like the real you, not some fake invention.

Let’s distinguish between self-esteem and self-acceptance to clear up any confusion about the two before we proceed. According to Leon F. Seltzer Ph.D.: “Self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we're self-accepting, we're able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more "esteem-able" parts.”

Everyone is both a saint and a monster. We also may have physical features that make us feel bad about ourselves. While we may have an overall view of ourselves as worthwhile a lack of self-acceptance may interfere with our ability to accept those unfavorable characteristics. When we don’t like features we possess we may try to hide them or compensate for them in ways that allow us to cope. Our efforts to suppress, numb, or avoid the parts of who we are that we don’t like often invite other problems and make the situation worse. Someone who can’t stand being short may overcompensate by acting more macho. Someone overweight may begin smoking in a misguided effort to prevent weight gain. Someone who suffered growing up poor may vow to never want for anything in life and overspend or steal. Those coping strategies often fail and increase our problems. The macho person may find himself trying to prove how big he is in progressively dangerous ways. The smoker who fails to control her weight without smoking may ultimately find herself needing an oxygen tank. And the person who breaks the law to compensate for an impoverished childhood may wind up in jail. In short, our fixes often make accepting ourselves more difficult.

To further illustrate how our attempts to compensate for low self-acceptance can create problems, here’s an example from the Disney movie “Aladdin.” Aladdin presented himself as a prince to the princess when he was actually a beggar. As they grew closer, he became uncomfortable. Feeling increasingly anxious about who he really was and his dishonest attempt to conceal his true identity threatened to destroy their relationship. Feeling like an imposter Aladdin, ultimately, revealed his true identity and, like all things Disney, the fairy tale ended happily. In real life betraying yourself and others in that way can be disastrous.

What's interesting about the Aladdin example is how it illustrates the difference between self-esteem and self-acceptance. Aladdin’s self-esteem motivated him to strive to be with the princess. He aspired to be with someone beautiful who also had status, and he accomplished that goal. That indicated healthy self-esteem. On the other hand, dishonesty about his true identity indicated low self-acceptance. The internal conflict between his self-esteem and his self-acceptance resulted in feelings of guilt and shame about being dishonest. Those feelings triggered anxiety and self-doubt which threatened his relationship with himself and the princess.

Working to accept yourself is for heroes. It takes courage to proceed down a hero's path. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to accept your fears, discomfort, and efforts in order to embrace yourself fully-- and not just the positive “more esteem-able” parts. By feeling more comfortable with yourself, you encourage people to like the authentic you. Presenting a false front or withdrawing from relationships before you give them a chance to succeed leads to unhappiness.

The inability to accept yourself is a type of suffering. To free yourself from this attitude requires that you learn to sit with yourself and look deeply into who you are. That seems simple enough, but we all spend an extraordinary amount of time avoiding, camouflaging, and disavowing the parts of ourselves that we find unattractive. When we do this, simple things become difficult. The last thing we want to do is sit, breathe, and embrace every part of ourselves and our suffering. That’s emotional labor. To be human is to suffer. Fear prevents the type of emotional exploration I'm describing.

Exposure therapy is the number one treatment for specific phobias and other fears. If you went to see a therapist about a fear of snakes. The therapist would talk to you about snakes. He might even show you a picture of a snake. As you become more desensitized, he might even bring in a rubber snake. Eventually, as your fear of snakes decreases, he might even have you hold the rubber snake until your fear of snakes is extinguished. By sitting with and exposing yourself to your own thoughts and feelings and the anxiety they invoke, you can reduce your anxiety. To avoid feeling like an imposter, increase happiness, and improve your relationship satisfaction, practice self-acceptance.

 

The Impact of Witnessing and Experiencing Violence and Victimization as a Child

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Neither the mother’s personality, nor the infant’s neurological anomalies at birth, nor its IQ, nor its temperament—including its activity level and reactivity to stress—predicted whether a child would develop serious behavioral problems in adolescence. The key issue, rather, was the nature of the parent-child relationship: how parents felt about and interacted with their kids.

                                                      —The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

In my practice, working with both victims and perpetrators of intimate partner violence, one observation stands out. People who have been hit in relationships have different attitudes about hitting than people who have not been hit. Those who have been hit often believe violence is useful, necessary, and expected. When initially asked, men in my domestic violence groups do not attribute their current behavior to the harsh treatment they received as children. In fact, most offenders share one thing in common—early childhood trauma.

When we discuss corporal punishment the men in my groups often argue that the treatment they received during childhood helped them become better people. They also believe they deserved the overly punitive treatment they received from their caregivers.They often don't see how their subsequent substance abuse, criminal behavior, and domestic violence relate to the harsh treatment they received growing up. Part of my job requires drawing lines and connecting dots to help them understand the problem before they become motivated to change. Precontemplation, not necessarily denial, prevents many of them from understanding the link well enough to consciously engage the change process.

Trauma victims often blame themselves. It may be easier for them to ascribe blame to themselves than to cope with the random, unpredictable, predacious nature of trauma. Blaming themselves may serve to decrease anxiety.

Often, our suffering begins when we are quite young and continues to fester as we grow. There is a five-year-old still inside us. This child may have suffered a lot. A five-year-old is fragile and easily wounded. Without mindfulness, parents may transmit all their pain, anger, and suffering to their children.

                                                                         —How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Participants in my groups have significant difficulty regulating themselves. I observed this recently when I invited them to join me in a ten-minute meditation at the beginning of a group session. They were all new to meditation and mindfulness. During the meditation, I noticed they made lots of noise and were quite restless. Their inability to sit quietly I found very annoying. I could feel myself becoming angry, as I imagined them making noise on purpose to get me to discontinue the exercise. One man even began drumming his fingers on the table next to him and talking to what sounded like himself as no one else answered. As I continued to breathe, frustrated with the noise they made and my powerlessness over their behavior. I felt the impulse to yell at them to shut up, but I held my composure. I herded my attention back to my breathing, and my anger began to cool. As it decreased, I realized they were not making noise and fidgeting on purpose. Each man, in his own way, was challenged by the silence. As I relaxed more deeply, I noticed the men making the most noise also had the most severe trauma histories. What I was actually witnessing was each man's dis-ease. Meditating with them opened a window which allowed me to observe their suffering. But more importantly, meditation allowed them to observe their own suffering. Rather than personalizing their behavior and feeling angry at them, I was able to feel compassion for them. I began to think more deeply about what each man had experienced in relationships prior to the incident that resulted in his arrest and sentencing. The gift I received from them was an opportunity to see first-hand, at least, some of the impact of witnessing and experiencing violence and victimization as children.

Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.

                                                                                  —Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. MFT                   

Once the meditation ended, we engaged in a discussion about their experience, emotional lives, and coping skills. Informed by my observations, during the exercise, I posed questions to help them see their need to avoid the discomfort of thinking about past treatment, emotional burdens, and silence. I encouraged each man to account for his own dis-ease while meditating and to consider no wives, women, or girlfriends were present. Their experience was solely their suffering—suffering they have been blaming and punishing their partners for.

When we feel unhappy, we often use cruelty toward others to make ourselves feel better.    

Why Does Someone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?-Domestic Violence Education Series

Confronting Faulty Thinking

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Many men fail to identify and correct errors in their thinking. Because they don't allow others to examine their thinking or comment on their behavior, they often make the same mistakes over and over again. Isolation gives wings to insanity. Without new information and the ability to test reality, problems abound.

Men often find it difficult to describe with words their emotional reactions when their partners disappoint them or when they experience unfairness. The slightest hint of shame triggers some men to become abusive to hide their inadequacies and vulnerability. Some men are abusive to present themselves as strong and threatening rather than inadequate and weak. Strong and threatening are characteristics associated with manhood in our culture.

That's the problem. Often, in a vain effort to manage their image, men make things up, not only to avoid reality, but to carry on while remaining socially isolated. Here's an example: Recently, I talked to a young man about his inability to find and maintain employment.

“I’m a gangster,” he offered.

While he did have a criminal background, my intuition told me this man’s unemployment stemmed primarily from a learning disorder and a marijuana habit. His “gangster” label provided him with a socially acceptable way to mitigate a harsh reality. I also suspected the title unconsciously gratified him. He could avoid his unemployment problem without a severe threat to his identity. If he didn't look for work, or marginally performed and lost his job, he could blame it on being a gangster.

It’s important to see your complicity in the problems you experience. You can't change anything you cant see. Denial serves as a shock absorber, an important buffer between you and reality. Reality’s full force can flummox your ability to cope and leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

A gangster with no gun. A dope dealer with no dope. A pimp with no hoes. We all delude ourselves, perhaps not to this degree, but to varying degrees. It's important to understand how we do it in order to give ourselves the best possible chance to change. “I'll do it later,” “They don't like me,” and “I'm better under pressure,” are a few of the ways in which our thinking traps us in behavior patterns that block our objectives and diminish our self-esteem.

To avoid adding insight to injury, one has to take responsibility by also changing their behavior. It takes effort to lean into uncomfortable, unknown places and try something new. There's no secret to it. There's nothing deep about it. You are totally free to change both thinking and behavior. It has to be different before it can be better.

 

Who Can Be Affected by Domestic Violence?-Domestic Violence Education

Domestic violence affects us all regardless of race, sexual orientation, and religion. This video is for anyone seeking education about domestic violence. It offers tips on what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one are in an abusive relationship. 

SUBSCRIBE HERE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi_wu8p1Kcc3VxyV4NZ6TZA

 

Learning From Sitting

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“Good morning, gentlemen. It's good to see everyone. Let's do five minutes of meditation,” I said as I walked into my domestic violence group.

“Let's begin.” I set the timer on my phone.

As I closed my eyes, my hearing sharpened. With every breath, I absorbed the sounds around me. I could hear shuffling in the room as each man settled into the exercise. Cars rolled by outside in the distance. My breathing coalesced with the other men's breathing like factory noise. Feet shifted on the floor, both in the room and outside as movement asserted itself on my awareness. Conversations beyond the walls disrupted quietude. I felt like every thought and feeling made noise entering and exiting my mind.

Gently, I herded my attention back to my breathing. Someone coughed. The wind blew, windows rattled, and dry leaves rustled outside. As my mind wandered I heard different sounds. I reminded myself to breathe. More sounds. I surrendered with each breath. Buzz, buzz, buzz brought the exercise to an end. What seemed like an eternity ended in five minutes.

“What was that like for you? What did you notice?" I asked the group.

“I felt sleepy,” one man replied, embarrassed. Another man  said, “I don't like meditation, it doesn't do anything.”

“You felt sleepy? What does that tell you?” I asked.

His eyes rolled up as he searched for an answer.

“You're tired,” another man replied.

“What would you like it to do?” I asked the other man.

“I would like to clear my mind and relax,” he said.

“I see. You would like to clear your mind and relax. That's interesting. So, because you can't clear your mind and relax, you feel like meditation has no value? What about learning how to sit with what's on your mind? What about noticing your thoughts and feelings, without clinging, or acting on them? Would that be valuable?” I asked.

The men mumbled.

“Meditation is not to clear your mind but, to teach you how to sit with and accept what's on your mind. The object is to notice and not cling to your thoughts. Relaxation is a byproduct.” I said.”

“What did you hear while meditating?” I asked.

“I heard cars,” one man said.

Another said, “People talking outside.”

“Yes, but what about internal sounds?” I asked.

“I kept trying to keep my mind from wandering,” a man said.

“How did you bring yourself back to your breathing?” I asked.

“I forced myself,” he replied.

“Our minds and bodies wander both during meditation and in real life. Be gentle with yourself and come back to your breathing.” I replied, trying not to sound like a monk from the TV show Kung Fu.”

“Did you notice the sounds? It got quite noisy. There were two kinds of sounds, external and internal. Did anyone notice their powerlessness over the noise? Lack of control is a type of suffering. Often, we struggle against our vulnerability and we try to fix it only to make our situation worse. Think about the reason you're here. A thought or feeling you could not tolerate compelled you to act which initiated a negative chain reaction. That's what meditation is for, to help you prevent acting on every thought or feeling you have.” I explained.

I said, “The word “compassion” means to sit with suffering. Not to make suffering go away, but to simply sit with it. Compassion also leads to happiness. The more you get in touch with your own suffering and the suffering of others, the happier you will be. Keep practicing.”

 

Back to the Future, in a Way

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Traditionally, a psychotherapist secured an office, furnished it with a couch, desk, chair, telephone, flora, wall art, hung his shingle outside the door, and opened for business. Clients met with him face-to-face, established rapport, and explored psychological issues, while in the same room. That has been the standard practice in our profession.

Time and technology has changed everything. While we think technology will propel us into the future it has actually taken me back to the past when doctors made home visits. With a mouse click a client can meet privately with me in a secure virtual office online. Clients can discuss their concerns in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. It’s unnecessary to add additional time to their day driving through traffic, looking for parking, and feeding meters. The risk of getting mugged traveling to or from their therapist’s office at night while walking to their car or the nearest transit stop has been eliminated. Online sessions allow therapist to provide services to clients who, due to physical limitations, mild illnesses, or car problems, might find it difficult to visit an office.

I have a client with a two-hour commute one way to work. Add a conventional therapy session and it’s at least another hour added to his commute. A few weeks ago, in the Bay Area, on the same day, BART halted because a dog wandered onto the tracks. Someone fired shots on the 880 freeway and the Highway Patrol blocked traffic for hours during their investigation. Two Muni buses collided in San Francisco and snarled traffic. The Bay Area commute was a mess. Occurrences like those are common. Bay Area traffic is a nightmare. Anyone living in urban areas must contend with additional stress.

I have another client, a single woman nursing a baby. Conventional therapy for her means arranging childcare. It’s very convenient and stress-relieving for her to attend online sessions with her child. She is less distracted by thoughts about her baby's welfare during sessions even though he fusses, feeds and demands attention. She manages all of that easily with greater peace of mind.  

Historically, doctors would visit patients at their homes. Home visits allowed doctors to become better acquainted with patients, observe their lifestyles, and form stronger relationships. Home visits helped doctors build trust with patients. Online psychotherapy is a throwback to yesteryear.

As an online practitioner I consider it a privilege to offer my professional services to anyone in the state of California with a laptop, tablet, or cell phone and internet connection. Satisfying more of my clients needs by meeting online enables me to provide more value by conserving their time and reducing their stress level.

Online psychotherapy is relatively new, but just because something has yet to become popular doesn't mean it’s ineffective. The most important consideration is that your therapist is licensed, skilled, and available. If that's the case then online psychotherapy can work for you.

Power and Control

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For years I have used the Duluth Power and Control Wheel to understand and teach domestic violence prevention. I have also used the Equality Wheel from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence to help men learn alternatives to destructive power and control in relationships. In this article I combined the two and discuss them in an effort to explain how to reduce intimate partner violence and improve relationships.

What is Power?

Everyone wants influence over other people. In relationships perceptions of power are critical to understand. We do not have the option of not using power. We only have options to use power destructively or productively. Exercising influence or control is one of the basic human needs. The ability to meaningfully influence important events and people around us is necessary for our a sense of well-being and personal effectiveness. Exercising personal power is crucial to how you feel about yourself. High power is often a goal that people strive for. Without some sense of agency in your interpersonal relationships, you would soon feel worthless as a person.

In interpersonal relationships power is a property of the social relationship rather than a quality of the individual. Your dependence on another person is predicated on the importance of the goals the other can influence. If there are other avenues available to accomplish your goals, you will be less dependent on another person. If you want more power, it becomes important to increase the other person’s dependency on you. One way to reduce power others have over you is to change your goals or what you want from them.

It’s easy to confuse conversational control with power; they are not the same thing. One person may dominate the conversation, but if you refuse to cooperate, their power is nullified. People who look the most powerful to outsiders are often less powerful than they appear. You can’t tell from looking without examining the dynamics of the relationship.

Often during conflicts each person firmly believes that the other person has more power. Many problems result in this situation because the image people have of their power (and others) is unrealistic. Conflicts escalate if you or the other person believes you are in the low-power position.

Power Denial

When people view power as negative they may deny that they have power.

“I'm not myself when I drink.”

“I can't help it. I told you I had a temper.”

“I did not say that.”

“I forgot I said that.”

“People are always bothering me too much! Oh, I'm not talking about you…”

“I'm used to being treated unfairly by others…”

Everyone has some power.

Power Currencies:

Power currencies are basically things that people find valuable to use in relationships to garner influence, status, and power. Here’s a partial list:

Reward, coercion, expertise, threats, promises, persuasion, reinforcement control, information control, exploitation, manipulation, competition, special skills and abilities, personal attractiveness, likeability, control over rewards/or punishments, rank, persuasion, control, surrender.

People try to spend currency that is not valued in a particular relationship and, when they do, problems arise. Power depends on having currencies that other people need. Once a relationship deteriorates, power concerns increase.

Destructive power vs. constructive power

Destructive Power:

Destructive power is power used over or against someone. Its effectiveness derives from competition and dominance. Long-term it is destructive to the relationship, ultimately leading to relationship termination. What follows are examples of destructive power currencies from the Power and Control Wheel:  

Intimidation: Merriam-Webster: to make timid or fearful: Frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.

Making your relationship partner afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures. Smashing things. Destroying her property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons.

Many of us grew up in households with parents who practiced corporal punishment. “Do I need to give you something to cry about? Or Do I need to fix your face? Were common refrains heard in my household throughout my childhood. They were effective because the threat of getting an ass whipping always loomed in the background whenever my father disciplined me during my childhood. That's intimidation.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.

Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating her. Making her feel guilty. Here are some examples: “You didn't do that right. What's wrong with you? You're always nagging me I just go home from work. I don't want to hear that right now.”

Isolation: Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. When we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and friendship can increase our anxiety and hinder our coping ability.

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions. “I don't like your friend Sandra. She always has something to say about our relationship. I really don't like you talking to her. I don't want you to invite her over here. I don't like her.”

Minimization, Denial, Blame: Minimizing means downplaying the severity and effects of one's abusive behavior: Denying means pretending the abuse never happened:  Blaming means making someone else responsible for your abusive behavior:

Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it. “That's no big deal. Why are you still on that? If you hadn't got in my business, I would not have had to put my hands on you. You know how my temper is.”

Using Children: Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away.

“Is your mother seeing anyone? Are there any men coming to the house?”

Economic Abuse: Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.

“I started working under the table so I could avoid child support.” That's a common statement I hear men make who don't understand economic abuse. Also living with a woman and waiting on her check—money that is not theirs—each month.

Male Privilege: Treating her like a servant; making all the big decisions. Acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define men’s and women’s roles. Leaving the house whenever they want, thereby shirking household responsibilities such as chores and childcare, leaving their partners to pick up the slack. Squandering the household income on vice.

Coercion and Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, or to report her to welfare. Making her drop charges against you. Making her do illegal things. Similar to intimidation, threatening to leave the relationship if certain conditions are not met. Threatening violence when upset in an effort to get their own way.

Power sickness

Power sickness resides at both ends of the power spectrum. People with high power can begin to abuse the people around them who they perceive have less power than them. And people in power down positions can begin to resist more forcefully leading to acts of violence and terrorism. In severe, ongoing conflicts both parties perceive that they have low power, and they continually make moves to increase their power at the other’s expense. This can make each person feel justified to use dirty tricks. Lower-power parties will sometimes destroy a relationship as the ultimate move to rebalance power. The more you struggle against someone the less power you will have over them.

Constructive Power:

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Constructive power, on the other hand, is power used with the other person to support their rights and needs and to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Here are some examples from the Equality Wheel:

Non-Threatening Behavior: Talking and acting so that she feels safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things.

Respect: Listening to her non-judgmentally. Being emotionally affirming and understanding. Valuing her opinions.

Trust and Support: Supporting her goals in life. Respecting her right to her own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.

Honesty and Accountability: Accepting responsibility for self. Acknowledging past use of violence. Admitting being wrong. Communicating openly and truthfully.

Responsible Parenting: Sharing parental responsibilities. Being a positive, nonviolent role model for the children.

Shared Responsibility: Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work. Making family decisions together.

Economic Partnership: Making money decisions together. Making sure both partners benefit from financial arrangements.

Negotiation and Fairness: Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict. Accepting changes. Being willing to compromise.

Realigning Power Balances

Calm persistence and active engagement are necessary to manage and or repair power imbalances. During a conflict, the most powerful party places the responsibility for keeping the peace on the least powerful party. Both parties need to practice restraint. Focus on interdependence and if you are the more powerful make the effort to empower the less-powerful. That can only be accomplished if you have some awareness of your position. Also work to shift the conversation to the relationship between you and your conflict partner and discuss the process used to manage power and conflicts.

Conclusion

You have more power than you think. Your perception and understanding about how to recognize and use power constructively can have a dramatic effect on your relationships. There are many different power currencies you can talk to your partner about and experiment with to create a more satisfying relationship. Managing power imbalances in relationships is an ongoing process, and one that can be satisfying due to its ability to help you maintain meaningful relationships.

Toxic Masculinity

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In a statement on Tuesday, Harvey Weinstein’s spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister said: “Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. He will not be available for further comments, as he is taking the time to focus on his family, on getting counseling and rebuilding his life.”

What? “Never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Taking the time to focus on his family, on getting counseling and rebuilding his life?” Something smells foul.

Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, R. Kelly, Tiger Woods, Ray Rice, Kevin Hart, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Bill O'Reilly, Joe Mixon, Roger Ailes, and now Harvey Weinstein. The latest episode of Toxic Masculinity begins with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein which include harassing a woman employee, cornering her in a restaurant, and jerking off in front of her. When the story broke, I felt embarrassed and shied away from thinking about another man doing something cringe-worthy. It’s challenging enough being a man. I feared being judged for another man’s dumb, abusive, criminal behavior.

Once I heard the sexual harassment allegations, I concluded he was a sex offender. Suffice it to say, he’s no beginner. His behavior would be funny if it wasn't so serious. I can hear a stand-up comedian, “I didn't say ‘bonus,’ I said ‘boner’.”

Mr. Weinstein found himself consumed by behavior he could not control like a passenger on a train which had blown past the pleasure station long ago. Obsession and compulsion are destructive forces in his life, racing down the rails, destroying everything in its path. He now finds himself hanging on for dear life to his career, his wife, and, ultimately, his freedom.    

Toxic masculinity is a problem derived from unhappiness and manifested by sexual conquests, narcissism, grandiosity, aggression, and power which are poisonous to the host and others they come into contact with. We have a tendency to live what we believe. Harvey Weinstein behaved in ways that showed disrespect for women, his wedding vows, and his job. As indicated by his using women to gratify himself, reduce shame and guilt, and to relieve unhappiness. He lived behind a carefully constructed mask that allowed him to behave monstrously.

Bad things happen when men cultivate toxic masculinity. On one end of the spectrum, they believe women are an extension of themselves, feeling the same way they do, particularly about sex. On the other end of the spectrum, they don’t think about women at all. Why should they? They see themselves as all-powerful and if they possess money and status, so do others around them, including their victims. Toxic masculinity forces men to behave as stereotypes, motivating many to break the law.

It can also create an opportunity for men to talk to other men about our miseducation and its disastrous consequences on our lives and the lives of those around us. As I explain to the men in my domestic violence group, there is no such thing as a first offender. You are in this group for what you got caught for. What about the numerous things you did that you didn't get caught for? Harvey Weinstein’s now facing three additional rape allegations. Toxic masculinity will catch up with you.

Misguided men, who have fallen victim to our culture’s more pernicious version of manhood, have lowered the bar so much, have behaved so poorly, some women are trying to be men. With the absence of suitable men, women pleasure themselves, each other, raise children willingly alone—and have been doing it on their own terms for years. These characters have also provided the well-meaning man with great opportunities to be a “good man.” While toxic masculinity narrowly defines men, stripping them of the qualities that make men great—confidence, kindness, honesty, integrity, and courage—the responsible, mature man makes an effort to rise above it by cultivating empathy for others. Don't cheat on your partner. Avoid promiscuity. Accept no for an answer. Don't act like a sex offender. Don’t drop anything in anyone’s drink. Don't break the law. Use anger constructively. Have some integrity. Get in touch with your misogyny. Work hard. Cultivate gratitude. How could one possibly fail at being a good man? Even if you have transgressed, who among us will cast the first stone?  

This is a great time to be a man. The world needs good men. Real men are around, rarely grabbing headlines, but they do exist.