My Anger, Myself
Living with someone who is always angry can be one of the most difficult relationship entanglements one could endure. Few problems in this life have as immediate and devastating an impact as anger. If rage is your thing you are probably hell to live with. Just saying.
As pedestrian as it may sound, I often compare anger to an orgasm. There is a point of no return and the house can burn down, you are going to finish. I have witnessed angry persons spewing hate while screaming with astonishingly high degrees of emotion and intentionality. Most angry people feel better after they have “gotten it out”. They have just ejaculated their negative energy and mental health problems on everyone around them and it’s time for a nap. I have written about this before, and graphic this may be, but I’ve known many angry people. Anger is often violent and it’s far easier for the object of wrath to check out than try to match that energy. Some people are much too emotionally invested in obviously trivial matters. You get insanely pissed about tomatoes and I’m not committed enough to vegetables to ruin our relationship over root veg, but apparently you are. Yes I know it’s technically a fruit but as David Mitchell says, don’t get me started. If you put it in a fruit salad it’s a fruit. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me that cucumbers are a fruit. Maddening, but I just remembered that I don’t care about that kind of thing anymore. Mostly.
It is very difficult for me to exaggerate how important it is to deal with unrealistic anger. If you are a person who is easily angered and would admit, after a few shots of tequila, that you might have an “anger issue”, than as a therapist I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up or give up hope. Rage is an extremely palpable emotion that slams you with all manner of intense brain chemicals. Anger is intoxicating, orgasmic. There is an instant and physical reward for such emotions and as an added bonus you get to feel like a real badass. Angry people win arguments and get what they want, at least right now. Cut me off in traffic and I’ll follow you home and wave a chainsaw at your children, or something like that.
There are a few people I would like to talk with about their anger but they are scary when they get mad. We owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest and recognize that life really really really isn’t fair and it’s not my job to go Punisher on that moron who didn’t wait at the 4-way stop.
If you are living life with someone who is angry, the bad news is there is very little you can do about it. You can never love enough or give enough or sacrifice enough to fix that cancer in someone else. Chances are, living with someone with this issue has changed how you cope or even who you are becoming. The angry person is always willing to take the argument beyond where you are comfortable. The only recourse that gives lasting results is fixing myself first, until that person can no longer drive me crazy or they die from an aneurysm they so justly deserve.
This always sounds like bad news when we first hear it. We want that other person to change, they are the problem. There is no way you can cope with them as they are. They literally have to win every argument. They are willing to hurt me in places where people who love us should never wander. It is impossible to cope with what is going on around me right now… I hear the words almost every day.
You might be right. There is no way you will ever be able to cope until you do it on purpose. I’ve counselled hundreds of couples and I know the smell of abuse when I hear it. Fear is a powerful emotion as well. For some reason where there is anger, there is usually fear not far behind. Why else would she stay with him or he with her after what that person has done? Fear. Anger is a very useful tool if you wish to control. Violence has always worked, for a while. That’s what that outburst was, when you consider the options. Angry people seem violent, in spite of their constant protestations to the contrary. Screaming is violent control-seeking and is never ok unless you are yelling at a puck or a racist.
I have recorded couples fighting and most are clearly shocked when they watch themselves give in to anger and blow their load on someone else. It happens almost every time; they will turn in their chair and ask their partner, “Am I really like that?”
“Do you really think of me as a violent person?” Pretty much, but none of us are going to tell you, it’s just not worth the fight. See how that works there?
Spouses of angry people are often passive-agressive, or struggle with anxiety or depression or cutting or fatalism. They are often the sweetest among us, those who find their fulfillment in giving everything to a man or a woman that they believed charming and passionate. Passion is a wonderful thing when they are amorous, it’s another thing altogether when they get mad. Violent people tend to be attracted to nice people who will take it and tell their friends, “He just had a really stressful week” for the four-hundredth time.
If you know that you struggle with anger in an unhealthy way, it’s completely appropriate to talk to someone. Tell your partner and family that you acknowledge you have an issue and wish to do something about it. Don’t shut this down; don’t miss out on the good stuff because you can’t free yourself from this impulse-control issue. I do not seek to make light of this problem, quite the contrary. We all need help, from time to time. Anger is nothing more or less than one of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms many of us learn in childhood, or in our first marriage, in order to help us cope with a crazy and dangerous world. We have done the best we knew how but it is important to keep morphing. The more I learn the more light I am given. This is a critical psychological principle which most people will never understand. We must not stay ignorant, or broken, or miserable. Yes I acknowledge that there are times when such thinking not only seems foolish, it feels dangerous. It is in those times, when I was convinced that the situation was hopeless, that I learned the most. I was stronger than I imagined.
If you are living with someone who is angry, you are not alone. Many of us are seeking to understand the sheer magnitude of our addiction to coping mechanisms which have not worked in years. I need to stop trying to change my partner and learn to invest more diligently in my own reality and the need to unlearn my past.
I hate that I can only change myself, but I no longer live in Narnia.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
So I was sitting in the tub this past week (cue disturbing visual image) and reading an article about “fun with semi-colons”. I’m not really a tub guy but I had a busted wing and it was either that or stink. If I had a dime for every time I’ve started an article with the line, “so I was sitting in the tub”. I have become a nerd who reads psychology and philosophy and Mental Floss. I can live with that.
My wife walked in the bathroom and upon hearing what I was reading, sardonically announced, “I have never been less attracted to you.” If I had a dime for every time…
Making fun of myself is easy. I have plenty of ammunition. I’m an expert at self-abasing, most of us are. I was birthed in Canada, where false humility is a national preoccupation. Growing up we all believed that self-promotion was sin, and bragging was something you only did if you were an American (it’s not you, it’s us) or hung out with people who had really good hair. In grade ten I had an afro so had little reason to brag. Ok, I was prone to self-promotion and I secretly miss the Fro.
It is common, although often incorrect, to assume that people are arrogant when they brag about themselves. This seems to have little foundation in any real psychology once you exclude the narcissists and the psycho/sociopaths and your Uncle Bert. For the rest of us, isn’t it true that (I got that line from a lawyer who kept putting words in my mouth during a trial I was called to testify as a counsellor at)… Isn’t it true that for most of us we tend to brag because we are actually insecure and generally feel bad about ourselves? I can sense, somewhere deep inside me, that when I lean towards self-promotion I am usually trying to convince myself and others that I am not the secondhand turd that some people believe me to be. I’m just saying, for me.
Insecure people brag. Secure people rarely feel the need. To be candid, the more I learn to accept myself the less my detractors matter. It is a testimony to this problem that at this point in the article I feel obligated to include the detraction, “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way”.
There is a measure of psychological sense to the religious confessional. When clients are trapped in the cycle of emotional self-abuse I often ask them, “Do you feel you have done enough penance yet?” There is something in most of us that is prone to continue the self-blame cycle forever. When will the day come when I have punished myself enough? Shame is a powerful and pervasive sickness that can trap a person and convince them that they do not deserve a rich life. At some point in the journey it is time to say enough is enough, forgive ourselves one day at a time, and scratch a little happiness out of life.
“Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.” Ram Dass
This is not a self-help piece that ends with a parade and hot chocolate, although I highly recommend both with a splash of irish cream. In the real world, it is up to me alone to learn how to move beyond my own insecurities and learn to become comfortable with who I am right at this particular time. I will never be “good enough” until I learn to settle for good enough. Many of us can agree that we are sick and tired of feeling bad about ourselves.
Bragging can be a very healing and affirming thing, when done with someone who is safe and gets it. I have a few friends who really encourage me to feel good about myself. You know who you are and thank you. There is a time and a place for everything, apparently, and when was the last time you really bragged about something that matters to you? We need to be cheerleaders for our friends. In a world that constantly reminds us how we do not measure up we all need someone who is wise enough to give us a chance to crow. Everyday and in every way we are given the message that we do not measure up, we’re too ugly, too fat, or too old, or too whatever. And always not enough – not enough education or maturity, not enough love or health or understanding from a world that appears to take delight when you wipe out and they can get it on tape.
So go ahead, brag a little. You’re pretty awesome.
You Feel Me?
My friend Lori the art nerd, that’s her legal name, has to critique another student’s play. I would stink at that. As a psychology geek I would be all like, “but there’s too much criticism in the world already and I have no idea what kind of hell this person has gone through. How old is she, 30? That means she’s a senior student. Good for her! But wait a minute. A senior student, what went wrong? Why is she back at school now. Some bastard broke her heart! Good for her! How can I criticize Cheryl, she’s a hero!”
You probably don’t really need someone like me to remind you of your problems. You know your problems. You didn’t just pay me to tell you what is obvious to you, did you? You have a bead on your problems, what is missing are solutions.
Or am I wrong?
Granted, someone like me gets paid to help you look through another lens. Trust me on this one, you want that. I tell people who are going through something like grief or depression, addiction or anxiety, that they should think of themselves as insane. You heard me. We simply need to put some heavy limits on our application of the word. When you are depressed you cannot think rationally because your frontal cortex is getting slammed by three greasy hippies on cocaine driving a Vega (I especially like the mini wagon with fake wood) spraying warm tapioca from your primal and basically cray cray brain. I like to impress readers with my technical know-how.
When things were bad in my hemisphere I am completely certain that I was absolutely and coldly nuts, much of the time. I was so entirely broken that it framed every decision in my life. Some of you know of what I speak. So yes, I was a little insane, thank you very much. Probably a great deal more than a little. You would never want someone in that mindset to walk your pet, let alone make decisions of any import. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have remortgaged the house twice because I “didn’t give a damn”. You feel me?
(What does that mean, anyway, “you feel me?”. I would, frankly, prefer that very few people actually “feel me” so I guess I should say, “please stay appropriately behind the yellow line and I’ll greet you with a firm hand shake”)
It’s easy to wear our failures like a hairshirt. If you want a list of my shortcomings just ask me. Either I figured it out or it was driven into me a few hundred thousand times. Pointing out your obvious flaw may make you think I’m Kreskin, but chances are it will simply reinforce how useless you already feel. Thanks for that, best friend! I know I have problems, I made them.
Hey listen. You’re coping the best you know how, right now. Most of us live our whole lives never living up to our own expectations, much less everybody else’s. Sometimes you need to be a little easier on yourself. You are on a journey and you are making this up as you go along. Few of us figure this out at the same rate. Life is profoundly more complex than the poster promised. I am virtually a full-time student and I am keenly aware how stupid I was only a few years ago. Will I say that again in five years?
Wisdom takes time, unfortunately. No one gets a free pass and that means no one. My goal is to figure this out in my current decade and it is taking far longer than any of us imagined. We can only do the best we can with the light we have right now. That’s as good as it can get, short of a scholarship to Cambridge. What is important is to play the hand given me well and eat as much candy as I can. If you need a kick in the butt feel free with my compliments, but don’t forget to eat some KitKat ice cream and listen to a comedy. I just watched Trevor Noah: African-American on Netflix and finally learned how to correctly pronounce Zebra (it sounds like Debra).
I can be hard on myself tomorrow.
I’m back soon…
Life got in the way… back soon.
No, I’m serious… I’m not ready to break up yet.
In the meantime, this guy is my hero.
Beginnings And Endings
It’s that time of the year again. Time to look ahead in anticipation of what is not yet. We are in a state of becoming. Everything has been made new.
It’s also a time to say goodbye. Gone are those opportunities, those days and days of petty complaints and problems that seem now, now that time has gone, to hold little lasting meaning. What has been done has been done and it’s already slipping into our long-term trashcan in our memory. Time is moving so very fast.
I’m not the guy I was a year ago. I have felt change this past year and am moving towards that day when I will know myself fully and accept myself completely. Life is good, in spite of its constant inconveniences. I am seeing some successes, even if they aren’t financial. There are people in my life who love me and I am in love with my family.
In spite of the relentless passing of time it is important to live a life of gratitude. There are many things, so many things, to complain about. So many reasons to be bitter.
I have found that as people age they tend to become a caricature of themselves. The happy people become radiant old gentlemen and ladies. The negative people spend their days telling others like themselves their litany of physical aches and pains while discussing how this world is “going to hell in a handbag”. They are miserable and want you to know all about it.
There are two roads that diverge in this world, and you know what I’m talking about. We all know where we are aiming on that road, as much as a few of us hate to admit it. It’s not too late.
You Make Me So Angry
You Make Me So Angry.
As a counselor I often face the daunting task of helping people see that no one else can make them angry. No one else can make them sad. No one else, short of a disaster, can dictate my attitude at all. If I get angry, that’s my problem. I may think it’s someone else’s fault, but it’s still my problem. I am in control of me. So technically, you never make me angry.
We live in a society that has somehow enshrined in it’s mores the belief that it’s ok to yell. We grew up with yelling, we were taught yelling; and when my kids drive me insane or my wife gets snarky yelling is an acceptable option.
It’s time for a moratorium on yelling. When you consider it critically and objectively, yelling is an act of violence. I am exerting my will, forcing another to concede. When you are yelled at you probably feel somewhat violated. That may be because you were violated.
There is something cathartic, orgasmic about yelling. People who scream at others feel that sense of release. There is a subtle yet profound joyous release. You can kind of get off on yelling… Yelling is great for anxiety and frustration – just get it all out.
And then leave it on me.
Anger is about handing your pain and frustration to someone else. There is a significant sense of entitlement. There is a degree of selfishness, of lack of impulse control. Yelling is an act of weakness, not strength. It is also an act of violence. An act of control. We have all done it, from time to time but it’s time to look for other ways to deal with our frustration. Learn mindfulness, practice STOPP Therapy, breathe, go to a counselor, read about anger.
People learn in counseling that yelling is a very dysfunctional coping mechanism. They are apt to tell me they can’t help it. Or it’s not their fault. It’s just the way their family is and they grew up fine.
In the 12 Step program they are keen on wanting you to know that the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that you do, in point of fact, have a problem.
Now you know.
She came in for needle exchange, “for a friend”. It was her first time here so I took the basic information. It was her 50th birthday today. The only gift I could offer was coffee.
Here’s the thing – she had no idea it was her birthday. October 3, 1963. She was turning 50, a milestone birthday. A time to gather your friends and have a few laughs and toast to a life well spent. She was at an addictions centre picking up needles and paraphernalia. There were no surprise parties for Shannon, no balloons and cake; only an alley somewhere and a needle full of hate.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I am, with whom I am. I forget that, in spite of still having no jet ski, I am so incredibly blessed I can not even fully understand how much. I have a home and a family and dreams. Shannon has nothing and probably no hope at all.
Once in a while it’s good to remember that just being born in my situation is winning the lottery.
Desperate For Approval
Anyone who works in the mental health industry can tell you that almost everyone struggles with crippling self-esteem for some of their life.
It is an epidemic.
We are a generation that cannot love ourselves and are intimately aware of our shortcomings. You don’t really need to tell me my faults; I have spent much more time fixated on them than you have. I know my personality quirks, some of you have pointed them out time and again. I know that I have issues, I really do. Chances are that you are keenly aware of your foibles as well.
I’m losing my hair. Actually I have been losing my hair for most of my adult life but for some reason the process has been ridiculously slow, for which I am somewhat grateful. Every now and then someone will delight in pointing out this fact to me – like I haven’t spent hours squinting in the mirror bemoaning my fate. I like to turn to them and exclaim, “I am? I did not know that!”. I turn around, pretending to try to look at the back of my head and mumble, “Are you sure?” This usually shuts them up, at least until the next time. Some of you know what I am talking about – you have weight issues, or a mole, or some physical issue you aren’t proud of. SInce you were young people have commented on your mole. Kids made fun of you. Someone has called you ‘fatty’ or ‘four-eyes’, or ugly or short or whatever. Apparently you did not know you were fat – it was awful nice of them to let you know.
I used to have a female acquaintance who seemed to derive great joy from pointing out my physical shortcomings; she thought it was hilarious. I, however, found it less than amusing. At the time I was struggling with how I looked and her cruel attempts at humour only entrenched the insecurities I already had. To this day if someone compliments me on my looks I am prone to be dismissive and blow them off. My wife, who understands me better than most, is apt to say, “shut up and take the compliment”. She’s good for me… and a redhead. I have a few other friends who know me enough to see beneath my overt confidence and realize that, like most of us, I am prone to feel bad about myself.
Growing up I was taught by an unforgiving society that any attempt at self-promotion was called “arrogance”. Telling others you were awesome was an unforgivable sin and punishable by derision and scorn. Adults told me, told you, not to brag because bragging about yourself was very, very wrong. Be humble, I was taught. People who talk about themselves are egomaniacs.
I have learned a little about ego and narcissism since those days.
“Liking yourself” is usually not a sign of an insecure and arrogant person. People who are ok with who they are do not need the approval of others and are usually not fixated with gleaning the approval of others. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when authentic. Appreciating your skills and personality, even loving yourself, is a very good thing. It’s time for someone to say it – it’s important to like who you are.
It’s time to make peace with you.
I am keenly aware that I will probably never be perfect. I am fairly certain that I am not going to be an underwear model anytime soon (hold on to that visual image…). Chances are I am never going to be famous. I might even turn out to be a bald old man some day. I’m trying to be good with that.
As I have often said on this blog, the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of poor self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning to like and appreciate who you are is perhaps the meaning of life or at least the beginning of wisdom. There is nothing you can do about your shape, beyond cosmetic changes. Most of you are going to gradually lose the fight with gravity, the older you get. You may never be rich or famous or popular.
Are you ever going to be ok with that?
There is no magic formula for poor self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are awesome when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins with putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant. It has everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to let yourself fixate on what is missing. Like most things in life it’s about changing how you think, not how you look.
In Defence Of Whining
Women: We don’t snore, we don’t perspire, and we don’t pass wind. If we didn’t bitch, we’d explode! —Kathleen Madigan
If it wasn’t for whining I probably wouldn’t have a job.
No one likes a whiner, so they say. This is a truism that is, not surprisingly, often true. Going around in life complaining about everything from the weather to your lot in life is a great way to die alone.
There is a time and a place for everything (I am cliché guy today, apparently). We have been taught, however, that repressing your feelings is also not helpful and there are actual psychological disorders for people who cannot, or will not, deal with their feelings. Whining has a cathartic effect for the same reason talk therapy works. I don’t really know the logistics of how it works, but it does. I’ve seen it thousands of times.
As you have no doubt discovered by now, I am not really talking about whining. I needed a cool tagline that would entice you to read this far and hyperbole helps clarify and get us thinking. “Whining” is considered a character flaw. The problem is that we have a tendency to label any honest complaint, any legitimate need to unpack, as whining. As children we are forced to “keep our opinions to ourself”. We are taught from early childhood, “If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.” Again, true… sort of. As we grow we devalue our feelings, minimize our issues, and stuff our pain and frustration down.
“There is always someone who has it worse than you!”. Who cares! Sometimes that isn’t very helpful. Of course some people are dying, losing someone, battling stuff I can’t even imagine. I get that. The problem is, again, that this doesn’t make me feel any better. It minimizes my pain, your pain. It is a critical statement that puts us in our place at the expense of our heart and mental health. It is a reminder that you are weak, or pathetic, or self-indulgent.
So feel sorry for yourself if you want to – but give yourself a time limit. Let those bad feeling flow, but not for an entire day or even an hour. For some reason this actually can help, when done honestly and with a measure of restraint. Don’t stay there, however. Maybe you need to talk to someone, someone who is not your best friend who loves you, but lacks objectivity. Perhaps that friend is just what you need and I am wrong. Whatever you do, do something.
Just keep moving, you whiner (kidding).
The Rest Of My Life
I am getting shockingly old. I’m not quite sure how it happened but one day I was mildly cool (back when cool was a thing) and seemingly the next day I was old. How did this happen? I was always the younger, crazier, extremophile. I have a one year old grandchild now. What the hell happened!?
The older you get the faster time seems to go. This is not just an illusion, it’s a scientific fact that is just one more way aging sucks. When I was a teen life went on forever. I was never going to get old. I remember watching a rerun of Logan’s Run wherein people were zapped when they hit 25 (or went to heaven). I have a vivid recollection of thinking, “What’s the big deal, you’re 25!” Where did the time go?
There is an old cliché which goes something like this, “Make the rest of your life the best of your life.” It’s cheesy, as clichés are, but also contains a grain of truth. Have you ever noticed how old people tend to be a caricature of themselves? Their nose and ear hair aren’t the only things that keep growing. It seems like seniors tend to go one of two ways, either more bitter or more gracious. Some old people could teach classes on bitterness. The accumulated effect of tragedy and pain, age and trauma, just leaches the happy out of some older adults. The closer they come to death the less they seem to live. Maybe this is nature’s way of preparing us for death but I really don’t want anything to do with it.
I remember some years ago seeing a religious punk band in the states and noticing that there was this really really old guy dancing in the front row with piercings, and leather and a shaved head. It seemed kind of comical until I found out this was his band. The kids on stage were being mentored by this aging Fonzie. When I spoke to them about him they suddenly perked up and stared at me, straight in the eye. This guy was their hero. He was the coolest old fart they had ever met. They worshiped the ground this geriatric walked on. This was their pastor, their mentor, their biggest fan and supporter. I was inspired.
I want to be like that old dude. I want to live my second half in such a way that shocks the conservatives and inspires the youth. I want to suck the marrow out of life and leave on a thunderbolt. No one wants to look back at their life and wish they had given it a better effort. I may never be rich or famous but I want to be effective, leave a legacy, change lives. There has to be more to life than accumulating a bunch of junk and arriving at death with a good-looking corpse.
i occasionally show up at parties my kids go to. Don’t get me wrong, I have a standing invitation. My boys hang out with people I like and who give me a measure of respect, probably because I am so damn old. It’s an amazing experience, hanging out with people half my age who appear actually happy to see me. I get to play the icon for a few minutes, the one old fart who is having a good time with them on a Saturday night.
Someday, when I am much older, I want to still show up at the party for a good time. I can’t stop the aging process but I can decide what kind of old fart I want to be. Making the next part of my life the best part of my life is entirely my choice. I have some things I never had before, things like wisdom and experience which others find helpful. It’s up to me whether or not anyone will want to listen.
Sex, Junk, And Menopause
I like talking about sex. After you have spent hours talking about depression, stress, marriage break-ups and anxiety it’s nice to talk about the clitoris. There is also the fact that I grew up in a conservative, Canadian culture that didn’t talk about female anatomy unless you are making a lurid joke; so there is the added risqué factor. I have actually caught myself, while in a conversation with a couple about their sex life, wondering, “Am I allowed to talk about this?”. It’s a childish, prudish attitude but frankly that makes it a bit more fun.
It will come as no revelation to anyone that women come to counselling far more than men. Without any verifiable data on hand I would guesstimate that at least 85% of my clients are female. This factor alone has radically changed my own life and taught me more about relationships, women, men, and psychology than any schooling or book. I am able, on some rudimentary level, to understand women far better than I ever did while working with men. I am still a Neanderthal, I admit, but hopefully a teachable one.
But I digress.
Sex is, unsurprisingly, a complicated thing for couples. Heterosexual couples have the added challenge of differing equipment, among other differences. Many men, surprisingly, still do not really understand female anatomy. True confession – as a teenager I didn’t know where women pee’d from. I didn’t have the advantage of an extensive and lurid porn collection and assumed women pee’d from that hole somewhere. My parents were actually very progressive and open about sexuality and I still didn’t figure it out. Laugh if you want – then ask your young teen. We’re dudes, our junk is on the outside and free to peruse at our leisure. Ok, now I feel like an idiot. As they say, laugh at yourself and you’ll never run out of material.
But I digress.
Menopause is another area that men don’t really understand. Why are you sweating without covers on? What do you mean when you say, “I feel like a furnace, the heat comes from the inside”? Can you really have a period for a month? Or not at all? Why does it suddenly hurt? Don’t you desire me anymore? Don’t I do it for you anymore?
Why are you crying? And once again, stop sweating!
It is easy to be critical of men and assume they are clueless about women because… well… we are. No one took us aside (outside of pornography where women all want sex all the time in every position imaginable and orgasm in about a minute) and explained your junk, or how to communicate, or even how to act like a man or a passionate lover. You don’t make any sense to us and we are usually too embarrassed and insecure to ask you for directions.
I love getting directions. But then again, I’m weird.
Women who are with men would do well to understand that we have not been properly taught how to understand you. Our teachers were our fathers (Neanderthals) and the dark side of the internet (run by Neanderthals). We don’t stand around at the job-site and ask each other about our feelings or talk about our relationships (at least not in a way you would appreciate). Few of us are in touch with our feelings and we do not understand how to ask for guidance or input in such a way that you won’t get disgusted or laugh. Telling me to “stop that!” only scares the hell out of me and further entrenches my belief that you are an alien species who cannot be understood. Add the male communication handicap and you have a recipe for misunderstanding. When it comes to the bedroom arena, couples really should spend at least as much time talking as they do… kissing. Creating an atmosphere free from ridicule or shame is the best gift you can give to your sex life. Talk, then touch. Then talk some more. You will be glad you did.
Are you done sweating yet?
One of my friends got “outed” recently. Apparently her crime was that she was friends with people whose lifestyle seemingly contradicted the morality code of the organization she worked for. Let me remind you, she didn’t actually engage in any questionable activities. She was guilty of being in relationship with people who engaged in things her organization disapproved of. She is guilty of taking a soft stand on a controversial issue. This is not a fictitious event.
Like most employees and and organizational types she had felt that she was part of a tight-knit community. These were friends and honorary family members. She feels the sting of rejection and it has become apparent that her friends were judging and rejecting her. She has been, albeit subtly, shunned by her tribe.
Ask an ex-Jehovah’s Witness what it’s like to live outside the fold. Ask a Christian who cannot be a part of something she once loved. Ask the gay kid trying to get by. Ask the husband rejected by his ex-wife’s family. Ask anyone who ever had to swim against the current. Ask the hero who fell from grace.
Anyone who tells you that it’s better being a round peg in a square hole doesn’t know what they are talking about and isn’t a round peg. Being an individual is painful in a society that is glutted with conformity and compromise and pretty rock stars buying illegal monkeys, superstars with perfect teeth and no moral backbone. The pressure to conform is intense and real.
What a wonderful thing it is, and a curse, to be an original – (stolen so long ago I can’t remember the author)
Married To Jesus
A true story given to me by a friend of a friend of a guy I used to know. It’s been sitting in my Inbox for some time now and I couldn’t find any good reason not to share it with you. It’s about living with a very nice Passive-Aggressive…
I used to live with Jesus, or so I thought. She was different from the people you would probably know – after all, most people don’t ever get a chance to even meet the Messiah, much less live with her. But I did.
People usually act differently in public than they do when no one is there to see what they are doing. Not Jesus. It was scary how consistent, how absolutely unflappable she was. Life is an exercise in guilt when you are married to the Holy of Holies. How do you get mad at someone who is always the same? How can you fight with someone you sometimes believe is always right? When you are married to the King of Kings it’s always your fault. Feel unloved? It’s your problem. Frustrated by her lack of empathy or the fact that she never panders to your emotional needs? Get over it, this is Jesus we’re talking about.
Living with Jesus is hard on your sense of self-esteem. After all you are clearly not worthy. People often remark, “I know why you married her but why did she marry you?” You are in love. You worship Jesus. You have a very twisted marriage.
But she wasn’t really Jesus. It wasn’t until much much later that you realized she was actually very repressed, very emotionally unavailable, distant. She was a textbook illustration of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder. There was a whole world of anger and pain all closely hidden from the world, hidden even from you. You literally had no idea she was even remotely unhappy. That person whom you thought was perfectly happy and reasonable was in fact a deeply wounded and angry little girl who clearly had issues with self-awareness and vulnerability. There was even what some would call a passive-aggressive arrogance – quietly confident that in every situation she was always right.
The lack of emotional vulnerability contributed to my growing sense of neediness and romantic starvation. Jesus was apparently above feeling horny or expressing romantic intention. She also did not like to throw around phrases like “I love you”. She was an island and she expected everyone else to be likewise. Years later her best friend would confess, “I really never knew her. I don’t think anyone really did”.
No she wasn’t Jesus. In fairness she never asked to be put on a pedestal. I think. I was looking for a soul mate and she was looking for a business partner.
After almost two decades of being a burden she cut me loose to go “find herself”.
She said she couldn’t stay with someone who was needy.
It has been a while now and time has given me the insight that all those years of marriage could not. It turns out I was a pretty decent husband after all. Spending every day trying to impress the Christ will do that to a person. Apparently she was not perfect, though I would never have believed it.
No one is disappointed in me today. I haven’t failed yet today.
It’s going to be a good day.
You’re Yelling Again
I don’t yell. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m fairly certain it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism.
Maybe it was because I had relatives that yelled and I repress such expressions as a response to that situation.
Maybe I’m just too shallow.
Maybe I just like it rough.
As a mental health professional I am, of course, horrible at analyzing my own stuff. I self-diagnose all the time. I’m just not that good at it.
I am one of those lucky people who gets to hear people yell on a regular basis. Some professions have it much worse, but I do get my share.
Yelling is an interesting psychological and sociological issue. I have watched spouses curl into the fetal position as a madman controls the situation and hurls verbal abuse. Notice the almost orgasmic effect that “letting off steam” has on the angry screamer. I have seen that horrible energy transferred to the victims as they get emotionally gut-punched. Long after the yell-er is satisfied the object of their derision still suffers. Yelling is a very selfish act.
There was a time when clinicians would tell the angry young man to go home and punch his heavy bag for an hour till he “worked it out of his system”. Today we realize that constantly giving in to that urge to ‘boil over’ only builds a dependence on purging yourself of emotion – a very poor model for impulse control. Such need has little to do with control and more to do with complete surrender. It is no wonder, than, that people have been known to even stop making sense when they are in the throes of an angry outburst. Anger can literally make you stupid. The effect is almost sexual.
Have you ever considered stopping?
Many people do not even realize that it is possible to go for years without yelling. Screaming is just “how our family is”. It is such a normal part of life that no one realizes how abusive it is. There are so many dysfunctional aspects to yelling that I literally do not have enough energy to fully define its ill effects right now. The act is so intrusive, so esteem crushing, so negative, so unloving, so socially acceptable. I am suggesting that we strip away the veneer and identify it for what it really issue – a lack of self-control.
If you are struggling with yelling, this is not intended to make you feel like garbage. Many, many, many of us struggle with this as well. Yelling is so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely even addressed anymore. We blandly accept that angry person without offering any accountability. Our children grow up believing this is an acceptable form of communication and… the circle of life.
If you struggle with this difficult problem talk to someone who can help. Read about it on the web, look up phrases like “cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anger, or yelling, or impulse control. Find out what is behind that anger – after all, that is really the issue now, isn’t it?
Don’t give up. You can do this.
I have radically changed the way I think about addictions.
I work part-time in addictions and see it’s effects literally dozens of times each week. It’s easy to believe that the problem is the addiction – if we can just help people stop drinking than their life will work itself out. Unfortunately this is not even remotely true and people who understand people are realizing that the addiction is simply another symptom of something much deeper.
When I was young and drugs came calling they were just another solution to the problem called “My Life”. Chocolate made me happy right now. So did cocaine and boobies and volleyball. Basketball sorted me out, so did pot. My only crime was that I grabbed too hard at one of my solutions to stress. Why couldn’t I have developed an addiction to body-building instead? Chocolate is nice, why couldn’t it have been to chocolate?
Dealing with your maladjusted life by stopping only one of the symptoms does not make sense. Somewhere along the line in many lives drugs became medication, not recreation. Cocaine helped you not have to think about your crumbling life. Drinking and sex helped you believe you were important. Being high kept you from thinking about your struggle to hope that things could change.
In counseling I encourage clients to look beyond their need for medication and address the actual disease they have been medicating. We need to learn to put our lives in perspective and change dysfunctional thinking patterns. Taking responsibility for your own heart and happiness truly is the best thing you can do to improve your life.
- Does It Really Matter What You’re Addicted To? (scott-williams.ca)
- Catastophizing (scott-williams.ca)
- An Open Letter To The Men Who Date My Clients (scott-williams.ca)
You Don’t Know How Intimidating You Are
The first time someone told me I didn’t believe them. It was not possible, I wasn’t even angry. I have heard it since a few times, less the older I grow. Apparently I can be fairly intense and even intimidating when I am fully engaged in an argument or discussion. I throw out a great deal of energy. Someone who once was in a creativity brainstorming session with me described me as a “fire hydrant”. I have had to spend time working on myself.
Recently I watched a couple argue in my office. It was fascinating to watch. One of the characters was incredibly intense – wagging his finger, raising his voice, swearing. His entire posture was set to attack. Now zoom across to the other person in the room.
She is not set to attack. You can watch her slowly close her posture. Her feet come up to her chest, she wraps her arms around herself. Her chin lowers and within a few minutes you can see clearly how she is rolling into the fetal position. The situation screams out for attention but neither of them can see what is happening in the room.
They have been told, more than once, that they have communication problems.
Anger is a very powerful emotion, perhaps the most powerful. It transforms a conversation into a fight. It gives birth to abuse and slander and arrogance and belittling. There are courses in every city on Anger Management. While these courses adequately address the symptom of anger few get to the “why” questions. Why can’t I control my emotions? What is going on in my life that has formed this angry person? Dealing with anger can appear so daunting that many people believe they cannot control their anger and have basically given up trying.
Anger person, you are scary. You come across as very authoritative and very very intense about things others apparently don’t care as much about. You are talking much louder than you think but God help us if we mention this. Your eyes tell me that you are enraged. It is very difficult to match your energy so most people opt to shut down. This generally makes the angry person even more frustrated, but what can the other person do? You sound prepared to do anything, wreck anything, hurt anyone to win this argument. It’s just not worth the fight and the pain.
This does not need to be a terminal illness. Once I began to understand how other people perceived me I was eventually able to recognize this in myself and control it. I shot video of myself and analyzed my posture. I learned STOPP Therapy to control my need to fight back as well as learned to put things in perspective so as not to become wounded. I haven’t arrived by any standard but I am able to exercise WAY more control over my emotions and responses than I used to.
Anger is powerful.
- Loyalty Is Hard (scott-williams.ca)
- An Open Letter To The Men Who Date My Clients (scott-williams.ca)
The Path To Unconditional Self-Acceptance
on vacation, enjoy:
The famous French expression, “Tout comprendre, c’est tout excuser” (literally, “to understand all is to pardon all”) is a dictum that we ought to apply at least as much to ourselves as to others. For the more we can grasp just why in the past we were compelled to act in a particular way, the more likely we’ll be able both to excuse ourselves for this behavior and avoid repeating it in the future.
Becoming more self-accepting necessitates that we begin to appreciate that, ultimately, we’re not really to blame for anything–whether it’s our looks, intelligence, or any of our more questionable behaviors. Our actions have all been compelled by some combination of background and biology. Going forward, we certainly can–and in most cases, should–take responsibility for ways we’ve hurt or mistreated others. But if we’re to productively work on becoming more self-accepting, we must do so with compassion and forgiveness in our hearts. We need to realize that, given our internal programming up to that point, we could hardly have behaved differently.
Why is it so hard to love oneself?
That which, finally, determines most problematic behavior is linked to common psychological defenses. And it almost borders on the cruel for us to blame ourselves–or hold ourselves in contempt–for acting in ways that at the time we thought we had to in order to protect ourselves from anxiety, shame, or emotional distress generally.
As a kind of P.S. to the above, self-acceptance also involves our willingness to recognize and make peace with parts of the self that till now may have been denied, shunned, or repudiated. I’m referring here to our illicit or anti-social impulses–our shadow self, which may have spooked or sabotaged us in the past. Still, it represents an essential part of our nature and must be functionally integrated if we are to become whole. As long as we refuse to accept–or in some way accommodate–split-off segments of self, full and unconditional self-acceptance will remain forever out of reach.When we’re able to sympathetically understand the origin of these darker, recessive fragments in us, any self-evaluation rooted in them begins to feel not only uncharitable but unjust as well. The fact is that virtually everybody harbors forbidden (and quite possibly, outrageous) impulses and fantasies–whether they entail brutally injuring someone we find obnoxious, exercising unbridled power over others, or (indeed!) running naked in the streets. And when we’re able to recognize this, we’re also well on the way to accepting ourselves without conditions. Appreciating that, however bizarre or egregious, most of our “evilimaginings,” are probably little more than fantasized compensations for indignities, hurts, or deprivations we experienced in the past, we can now reconceive our “aberrations” as, well, rather normal.
Further, even as we come to accept our shadow side we can still maintain voluntary control over how these parts of us are expressed–that is, in ways that can ensure safety both to ourselves and others. For as long as we’ve been able to re-connect to our deepest, truest self, we’ll be coming from a place of love and caring. As such, it really isn’t in us to do anything that would violate our natural tendencies toward compassion and identification with all humanity. Owning and integrating our various facets is a transcendent experience. And when we–or really, our egos–no longer feel separate from others, any sinister motive to do them harm literally disappears.
Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Improvement
It should be apparent at this point that self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement as such. For it really isn’t about “fixing” anything in ourselves.With self-acceptance we’re just–non-judgmentally–affirmingwho we are, with whatever strengths–and weaknesses–we possess in the moment.
The problem with any focus on self-improvement is that such an orientation inevitably makes self-acceptance conditional. After all, we can’t ever feel totally secure or good enough so long as our self-regard depends on constantly bettering ourselves. Self-acceptance is here-and-now oriented–not future oriented, as in: “I’ll be okay when . . .” or “As soon as I accomplish . . . I’ll be okay.” Self-acceptance is about alreadybeing okay, with no qualifications–period. It’s not that we ignore or deny our faults or frailties, just that we view them as irrelevant to our basic acceptability.
Finally, it’s we–and we alone–that set the standards for our self-acceptance. And once we decide to stop grading ourselves, or “keeping score with” ourselves, we can adopt an attitude of non-evaluative forgiveness. In fact, once we refrain from our lifelong habit of assessing, and reassessing, ourselves–striving rather to compassionatelyunderstand our past behaviors–we’ll find that there’s really nothing to forgive (remember, “Tout comprendre. . .” ). Certainly, we can vow to do better in the future, but we can nonetheless accept ourselves precisely as we are today, regardless of our shortcomings.
And here I can’t emphasize enough that it’s possible to accept and love ourselves and still be committed to a lifetime of personal growth. Accepting ourselves as we are today doesn’t mean we’ll be without themotivation to make changes or improvements that will make us more effective, or that will enrich our (and likely others’) lives. It’s simply that this self-acceptance is in no way tied to such alterations. We don’t have to actually do anything to secure our self-acceptance: we have only to change the way we look at ourselves. So changing our behaviors becomes solely a matter of personal preference–not a prerequisite for greater self-regard.
It’s really about coming from a radically different place. If self-acceptance is to be “earned,” a result of working hard on ourselves, then it’s conditional–always at risk. The ongoing “job” of accepting ourselves can never be completed. Even scoring an A+ in whatever endeavor we’re using to rate ourselves can offer us only temporary respite from our strivings. For the message we’re giving ourselves is that we’re only as worthwhile as our latest achievement. We can never finally “arrive” at a position of self-acceptance because we’ve inadvertently defined our quest for such acceptance as everlasting.
In holding ourselves to such perfectionistic standards, however, we may inadvertently be validating how our own conditionally-loving parents dealt with us. But we’re certainly not validating ourselves–or treating ourselves with the kindness and consideration our parents failed adequately to provide for us.
To conclude, only when we’re able to give ourselves unqualified approval–by developing greater self-compassion and focusing much more on our positives than negatives–can we at last forgive ourselves for our faults, as well as relinquish our need for others’ approval. No doubt we’ve made mistakes. But then, so has everybody else. And in any case our identity is hardly equal to our mistakes (for such a linkage would represent a bad case of “mistaken identity”!)Finally, there’s no reason we can’t decide right now to transform our fundamental sense of who we are. And we may need to remind ourselves that our various weaknesses are part of what makes us human. If all our faults and failings were suddenly to disappear, my pet theory is that we’d instantly turn into white light and disappear from the face of this planet. So in the pursuit of unconditional self-acceptance, we might even want to take a certain pride in our imperfections. After all, were we beyond criticism in the first place, we’d never have the opportunity to rise to this uniquely human challenge.
from Psychology Today
Sing-Songs and Wheelchairs
I admit it, I’m having a hard time getting older. In my head I’m still twenty-four, though the mirror tells me otherwise. I am noticing that I am now usually the oldest person in the room, partially because my sons are two of my best friends and I tend to hang out with them and their friends a lot. I am not complaining, few people are privileged enough to be invited to concerts and parties by their kids friends, but I do tend to stick out when every other person is in their early twenties. It is, however, awesome for flirting with the twenty-somethings because they can think of me as a creeper, and I like embarrassing my sons in public. Ok, maybe that is too much information.
This week, however, I am ridiculously young. As I write this I am careening towards Catalina Island, sitting at the Crooner Bar and watching old people with walkers. So many old people. Cruises attract the elderly, offering a relatively effortless opportunity to see the world without all the hassle of actually going anywhere.
What has surprised me, however, is the sense of entitlement among a demographic which has traditionally had to learn to live without. Many were the children of depression who now are not averse to complaining over the slightest perceived slight. This morning not one person at our table, other than my dad and I, ordered a single thing off the menu and were completely put out if their bizarre requests were not immediately available. Several people, in spite of only having to pay $80 a day, have loudly complained that the billion dollar ship is not adequate for their paltry wants. Never mind that they are living a life of luxury that most of the world cannot imagine, their damn prunes weren’t chilled enough. We are used to seeing entitlement among the young, a generation raised by overprotective and indulgent parents. It is somewhat surprising to see it among the other end of the spectrum. I cannot imagine what the staff are thinking, many of whom are from “have-not” countries, behind their painted smiles and gentle kindness.
Entitlement is a guaranteed recipe for disappointment and bitterness. If you believe life will let you down then you are almost certain to be proven correct. Everyone of us has ample ammunition to paint things in a negative light. Living a life of gratitude does not seem to come naturally to most people, especially the old. The older we get the more we seem to become a caricature of our younger selves. Bitterness seems to grow if we let it, and many of us are letting it run wild.
Life is what we make it, as the old cliché says, and I for one intend to make it a good one, no matter how old I may become. Just being born where I was and given the opportunities I have been given is better than winning the lottery and the day I forget that please put me out on the ice flow.
Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason
It’s called a cognitive distortion. We all have heard it, probably most of us believe it. We aren’t sure where it came from. It’s in the bible somewhere or the Dali Lama said it. Everything does happen for a reason.
Tell that to the six million jews who died in World War Two. Or the twenty-five million Russians who perished fighting the Nazis. Tell that to the children born in Mogadishu, or in starvation conditions in Africa. Tell that to the Tutsi’s hacked to death in Rwanda, or the genocide victims in The Congo.
“Everything happens for a reason” is a western, affluent, construct. It is a convenient and heartening way to explain away pain and suffering but it is, unfortunately, not based on any legitimate philosophy and it hurts people. It reminds me of my friend who was told, after his child died, that “God must have wanted another child in heaven”. Such a god would be a masochist and a bastard. The sentiment sounds good on paper but is destructive and hurtful in reality.
I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason. What I do experience, however, is a shocking realization that life is not fair. There really is no payback for every bad deed, at least not in this life. Sometimes the rich are in fact very happy exploiting the poor and have a much better life. Sometimes that bully does not get his comeuppance. Sometimes crap happens. Sometimes life sucks. Some people do get an easy ride while others seem to constantly suffer. There is often no justice for the poor african/american who is condemned to death row because he cannot afford an affluent lawyer. When my good friends lost their baby girl recently there was no “reason” that could even remotely justify or sanctify their loss.
If you are going through a difficult time right now you may not find wonderful redemption at the end of the rainbow, and that is an unfortunate fact. Believing your sexual or physical abuse will someday be worth leaves you open to bitterness and disillusionment. Healing begins when we accept the truth of our brokenness without trying to justify or condone it. Waiting for the good witch Glinda to make everything better keeps us mired in our distortions and unwilling to let go of what is haunting us.
The second half of the Serenity Prayer, the part no one knows, has really helped me come to terms with this. You know the first part: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Here’s the profound part: Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
I think in AA they call that “life on life’s terms”.
- Dreams (scott-williams.ca)
- Obsession (scott-williams.ca)
- Does everything really happen for a reason? (brainsplats.com)