Women

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


Be a Cheerleader for Your Partner

Photo by marekuliasz/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by marekuliasz/iStock / Getty Images

According to divorce lawyer James J. Sexton, “In our day-to-day lives as professionals, parents and just plain human beings, there is no shortage of voices telling us what failures we are. We're bombarded with advertisements designed to make us feel inadequate. Whether there selling pistachio nuts or sports cars, the implication is often that something is wrong or missing.

In the face of this relentless onslaught, you are uniquely positioned to be a voice of support and encouragement for your spouse—a shelter in a storm of disparagement. If you want to keep your marriage healthy, don't squander that power. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to an imaginary ideal you have created or what romance films have told you a perfect spouse would look and act like. Your partner needs a cheerleader. We all do. If there is no major achievement to cheer for at the moment. Cheer for the small things your spouse is doing well. When people have a taste of victory, they often crave more of it.”

Sexton confirms what research has revealed about relationships. Criticism is toxic to marriages. John Gottman, an American psychological researcher and clinician who has done extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability, has written about the negative impact of criticism on marriages. If fact, he refers to criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three are contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Criticism can gallop into your relationship making you or your partner feel vulnerable, rejected, and inadequate. While feedback is important in any relationship, criticism differs in that it can evoke such hurt, shame, and self-doubt that the effects prevent it from being constructive once the victim begins to feel anxious and defensive. Criticism is corrosive, not only to the victim's self-esteem and your relationship with them, but also to your own self-esteem when you criticize others. Unless you are a sociopath, harsh words or insults that hurt your partner don't make you feel good. We all have a tendency to move away from pain and toward pleasure. We want to flee and escape uncomfortable people and situations. As criticism increases, your partner will begin to create distance if not physically, emotionally. Many people report that verbal abuse is more damaging than physical abuse.

To improve your relationship, remember to encourage your partner. One good way to accomplish that is when possible soothe your anger before speaking harshly to your loved one. When you feel angry or frustrated you may feel the greatest urge to provide feedback, but remember that's also when you're most prone to insult, shame, or criticize your partner.

In any relationship from time to time we all communicate in unskillful ways. None of us are perfect. It takes practice to keep our communication upbeat and to accentuate the positive. Sexton is correct, “when people have a taste of victory they crave more of it.” Positive attention and encouragement are strong motivators. And they help raise your partner's morale while simultaneously improving your self-esteem. So if you want to keep the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from trampling your relationship, look for opportunities to praise your partner for both large and small victories.  

 

WTF...

Heming.jpeg

I was doing what I do on Sundays, sitting at home, reading the New York Times. A front page headline read: “Monticello Finally Opens Door Into the Life of Sally Hemings.”

According to writers Farah Stockman and Gabriella Demczuk, “Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions… And, thorniest of all, in an era of Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”

“We really can't know what the dynamic was,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “Was it rape? Was there affection? We felt we had to present a range of views, including the most painful one.”

My phone rang.

“Hi daddy. Happy Father's Day.”

My daughter's voice sounded cheerful.

“Whatcha doing?”

“I'm sitting here eating ice cream and reading the New York Times.”

“Ooh. I want some ice cream so bad, but I'm trying to avoid dairy.”

It's good. Vanilla Swiss Almond. I'm reading about Sally Hemings. Wait, wait, wait… what do you think about this? Let me read you something.”

After reading her the headline I continued:

“Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions. How to accurately portray a woman for whom no photograph exists? (The solution: casting a shadow on a wall.) How to handle the skepticism of those unpersuaded by mounting evidence that Jefferson was indeed the father of Hemings’s children? (The solution: tell the story entirely in quotes from her son Madison.)”

“And thorniest of all, in an era of a Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”

“Daddy, it's rape. She was a slave. She was his property. If you can't say no, you can't say yes. There can be no consent. The way crimes are reported in this country has a lot to do with the color of your skin. Our society has difficulty pathologizing the behavior of white men, so they turned it into a love story”.

I felt gaslighted by the article. Thank you for clearing that up. Some white folks make my head hurt. Only they can have that fantasy.

After more conversation, she again wished me happy Father's Day and hung up.

I continued to read the article when I came across this, “John H. Works Jr., a descendant of Jefferson’s who is among the founding members of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, accuses the nonprofit organization that runs Monticello of bowing to political correctness, and insists that the entire premise of the exhibit is flawed.”

Hey John, in a way, by maintaining narcissistic fantasies of innocents you are the one who has bowed to the political correctness of the day. And to Leslie Greene Bowman’s notion that there may have been affection between them, victims of abuse often identify with their captors in an effort to save themselves. In this case, that does not eliminate the fact that she was his property. A slave.

A very similar situation is going on at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice informally known as the Lynching Memorial that just opened in Montgomery, Alabama. From accounts I've read many white folks have difficulty wrapping their minds around the sheer number of black people lynched or even the fact that a memorial to lynching exists. It appears that some white people are straining under the weight of maintaining a non deviant image of themselves.

Wtf...

Something for Junot Díaz

Photo by 3D_generator/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by 3D_generator/iStock / Getty Images

Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, recently wrote an article for The New Yorker magazine entitled The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma where he recounted being raped as a child and the toll it has taken on his life. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, it happened to me.

I was raped when I was eight years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted.

After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be “in trouble.”

And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.

I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you.

And anyone else who cares to listen.

What makes an experience traumatic? When it overwhelms your ability to cope. When it strikes where you are most vulnerable, when you least expect it, and when you are unprepared for it. When the experience changes the way you interact with the world. When it upends your sense of self and identity. Trauma is devastating because its magnitude exceeds your imagination, making it hard to believe.

Depending on a person’s age and stage of development, trauma can be even more debilitating because it can strike before a young person has acquired the coping skills and social support necessary to handle its effects.

We need to better understand trauma for ourselves and for others. Many people limp through life from wounds sustained from unresolved traumatic events. Hurt people hurt people. Unhappy wounded people often use cruelty toward others to compensate and feel better. We need to reduce suffering. As Díaz stated, it wasn’t just the rapes but “the agony, the bitterness, the self-recrimination, the asco, the desperate need to keep it hidden and silent. It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life.” It also fucked up the lives of others and, while I am by now means apologizing for his behavior, I am using his admission to illustrate how trauma affects people.

At eight years old or eighty years old trauma makes you feel like an outsider. Alienation from yourself and alienation from others compounds its misery. We are social animals, hardwired to connect. When we are traumatized by someone we trust it decreases our ability to reach out and trust others. Often we may even find it difficult to trust ourselves and our core beliefs about the world we inhabit thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to form healthy relationships. For some people it can make them withdraw from others, and for others it can compel them to engage in high risk behaviors of various sorts. Trauma interferes with our ability to connect with others when it damages our ability to trust.

Trauma is a fall from grace. Prior to a traumatic experience we reside in a privileged place, an innocent place, and, as a result, we feel special. Trauma happens to other people, not to us. Trauma forces us to face numerous realities. We are not special. We can be hurt. And we can be hurt by people we trust. In Díaz’s case trauma ended his childhood and rendered him unable to fully utilize relationships by forcing him to satisfy a “desperate need to keep it hidden and silent.”

We all have various strategies for managing intimacy—the distance between you and another person. Intimate relationships require vulnerability. Problems will arise in any relationship if you are trying to simultaneously make a connection and avoid being seen. In fact, some people do not derive satisfaction from intimate relationships because the closer they get to another person the more uncomfortable they become. For some they destroy relationships before giving them a chance because of the fear and pain of revealing their secrets and the risk of rejection. Many trauma survivors unable to use relationships with people turn to drugs. Drugs serve as a substitute for relationships and also as a means of numbing the painful effects of trauma.

Anyone can benefit from a more thorough understanding of trauma—both victims and perpetrators. While a victim may not be interested in the psychological motivation of the perpetrator, what should be of interest is how victims can develop into perpetrators themselves. In Díaz’s case, he went on to abuse women. Perpetrators need to be held accountable and offered trauma-informed treatment options to help them change their behavior. Those who are best able to heal from trauma, both victims and perpetrators, are those who are best able to re-enter relationships with others with the awareness that they can both be hurt and hurt others by virtue of those relationships. Those who can face the world with that awareness do better.

 

 

Voicelessness in Married Men

Photo by MarinaZg/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by MarinaZg/iStock / Getty Images

According to Harriet Lerner Ph.D. in a recent article, she wrote for Psychology Today entitled

The Invisible Struggle of Married Men.

“Men lose their voice in marriage far more than women do. They may distance or stonewall, telling themselves, ‘It’s not worth the fight.’ They may remove themselves emotionally from the relationship, and then feel devastated when a partner leaves them ‘out of the blue’.”

I didn't lose my voice in my marriage. I lost my voice in childhood. I lost my voice so early I didn't even know it was gone—almost like I never had a voice. Raised by old-school parents who struggled to parent, and who didn't allow a lot of discussion about feelings, my voice never fully developed. Our family was not a democracy. If anything was wrong, you either prayed to Jesus or you stuffed it. I had no sense of any other option when it came to discussing my feelings with my father. My relationship with my parents felt unsafe, and one contributing factor to feeling unsafe was talking too much.

Prior to my own experience with his violence and neglect, I watched my mother for years plead her case to my father only to learn that to talk back to him was not only useless, it was dangerous.

“Mom, please shut up before you get all of our asses whipped.”

“Who broke… Whatever?”

“I don't know.”

Those are good responses for anyone in an abusive relationship. They helped me survive my childhood and have remained difficult to relinquish to this day.

Voicelessness is a symptom of shame. Show me a man who is voiceless and I will show you a man who is ashamed. Shame pressed my mute button years before I got married. In a healthy family, different members are available to talk, provide emotional support, and help mitigate the ill effects of poor relationships with parents. Comfort can be found in them when unavailable from primary sources. I didn't have that luxury. I turned to the streets. I played sports from sunup to sundown to avoid feeling shame about what I was experiencing at home. Avoidance, distancing and stonewalling were my coping strategies that later led to drug use and other addictive behaviors to numb toxic shame. They became a way of being for me. I gave up on trying to discuss my emotional life with my parents or any other adults for that matter. My relationships didn't work that way.

On the playground, my behavior spoke volumes. I could conceal my frustration on the football field, baseball diamond, and basketball court by outperforming my peers thus gaining the acceptance I craved. Later, in the dope house, I expressed myself fluently. “Let me get another one.” My beliefs about both men and women while dormant hindered my ability to connect with intimate relationships I later discovered.

I didn't have much experience with healthy relationships. Superficial friendships built around my secrets made me a great candidate for becoming abusive once I got married. I was afraid of intimacy, of being too close to anyone. Marriage created the perfect conditions that triggered the very same behaviors that I used in my family of origin. I perceived my wife as an authority figure. I was an immature communicator. And, as a result, problems I encountered as a child manifested themselves in the family I created. Intimacy made voicelessness more uncomfortable and difficult to hide. It exposed the flaw in my game. I developed passive-aggressive tendencies from my inability to speak truth to power. I had an aversion to the authority figures in my life and I acted out behind their backs. Marriage forced me to continue what I practiced in all of my previous relationships. There was nothing wrong with marriage.

Alexithymia is the condition of having no words for feelings. Just like my father, I, too, had no words for feelings, except anger and happiness. By the time I arrived at couples therapy, it was rendered ineffective. I would have benefited more from visiting a veterinarian. I cried throughout the entire experience. My software was defective from childhood. It took the destruction of my marriage for me to break free from my previous programming and learn to take responsibility for my voice.

Men can use their voice and still end up voiceless. To compensate for perceiving themselves as powerless victims in relationships with women many men compensate by communicating from an anxious position, yelling and screaming in an effort to dominate or “win" arguments with their partners. That type of communication in relationships often has the net effect of rendering men voiceless in many ways. Yelling and screaming serve to divert the conversation away from the shame the man may feel, and it can emotionally flood and terrorize his partner. The inability to discuss shame and to thwart your partner from expressing his or her needs or concerns renders communication ineffective.

A more insidious problem resulting from voicelessness is how it undermines forgiveness. Without the ability to protest when wronged, any effort to forgive is bogus and rendered ineffective. You have to give yourself the opportunity to voice your outrage and move through that stage before you can let go and try to forgive. Any effort to bypass that stage is like trying to walk before you crawl. To deny your feelings is a denial of your feelings.

Voicelessness cost me much of my childhood and ended my marriage. It has taken individual psychotherapy, domestic violence education, and 12-Step recovery to help me clear my throat.

 

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.   

 

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.    

What is a Healthy Relationship?

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A healthy relationship doesn't kill you. We're all going to leave here at some point, hopefully not by the hand of a boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, or spouse. People kill each other in relationships. You survive a healthy relationship.

Short of death, relationships can make you miserable. Feeling unable to communicate, treat each other with respect, and speak openly about thoughts and feelings can suck the life out of you. I talk to people all the time who willingly poke themselves in the eye in relationships and wonder why their eye hurts. In essence, here's the conversation.

How may I help you?

“Every time I... This happens and I can't take it anymore.”

Have you considered not doing...?

Silence.

The butt-tensing silence you experience watching a horror movie when the person on screen separates from others and wanders down a dark, spooky hallway. Relationships can make us all feel lost. A healthy relationship is one in which you notice when you are drifting into unfamiliar territory, and self-correct before finding yourself on the wrong end of a chainsaw.

A healthy relationship encourages you to grow up and step into your responsibility. You can bitch, gripe, moan, and complain all you want. But if anything is wrong with your relationship or life, it is your responsibility to fix it—even if that means accepting the situation as it is, admitting defeat and seeking outside help, or exiting without leaving behind a wake of destruction.

A healthy relationship is not to be used to escape your circumstances. You can't avoid life and reality, both become crystal clear when you enter an intimate relationship with another human being. Once the honeymoon ends and you're both standing face to face with your respective mothers and fathers, the shit gets real. What started out feeling like the Tour de France can quickly morph into the Tour de Hell—in the best relationships. You will need to double down on every relationship skill you know to manage conflicts, remain respectful, and maintain your sanity.

A healthy relationship requires both partners to rise to the occasion and support each other through the letdown of “the real”, for real. You are not perfect. That's real. You're in a relationship with another person who is not perfect, for real. A healthy relationship is one in which you can laugh at the absurdity of your predicament and your life. A healthy relationship enables you to recognize and accept the difficulty involved in loving another person. You silly fool. Did you really believe you could? That's not your fault. We all believe we can love another, and many believe they can love another without loving themselves.

Healthy relationships are best when a little unhealthy—”unhealthy” as in not perfect. Sometimes we promote an outside appearance of health and inside the relationship is toxic. A healthy relationship is one in which appearances do not deceive.  

Healthy relationships result from both partners willingness to do the work—their work.

 

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

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. 

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