Why Women Are Leaving

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Philosopher William James (1842-1910), said, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”

Monique Honaman, Author, HuffPost Blogger

There is an overwhelming number of women who feel unappreciated by their husbands. I often hear the following refrain: “I just want to feel appreciated. For years I have been the cook, the cleaner, the chauffeur… I don’t feel like we are a partnership… I’ve asked, demanded and pleaded that we go to counseling… I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to live the second half of my life feeling like this. I’m done.”

I’m sure this is nothing new. I am sure my mother felt unappreciated by my dad at times during their marriage. I think that’s probably natural in the cycle of marriage and relationships. Life gets busy. We forget to thank those closest to us.

But times are changing. I have spoken with more women than I can count over the past couple of years who aren’t just complaining about feeling unappreciated by their husbands. Instead, they are doing something about it.

These women, most of whom are in their mid-40’s, have decided they want out of their marriages. Sure, they are scared for what this means for them. Sure, they are nervous about the new unknowns divorce will bring. Sure, they recognize the impact this will have on their lives. For most of the women I spoke with, leaving their husbands means having to secure full-time employment for the first time in years. It mean moving out of the big brick colonial in the suburbs and moving into something more affordable. It means being alone. And you know what each and every woman I spoke with said? “I am absolutely OK with this.” I heard, “I’m OK being alone and starting over on my own… I feel as if I have been alone for years anyway. I don’t need my big house or my fancy car. I don’t mind having to work. I just know that I don’t want to spend the next half of my life living this way. Why should I?”

Wow! To give it all up and start over at 45? It’s surprising, particularly because to the outside world, these women appear to have it all. Their husbands aren’t “bad” people. We aren’t talking about men who are abusive or alcoholics. We aren’t talking about men who are dragging the family into bankruptcy. We aren’t talking about men who have lived a double life full of affairs.

What these women are expressing is a deep personal sadness at feeling disconnected and unappreciated by their husbands. They tell me they have fought for years to feel more connected and appreciated. This isn’t a whim, they assure me. They have thought long and hard about their decision to get divorced. They aren’t simply giving up. They have tried and fought a long battle. But the thing they each have in common is that they have reached their breaking point. They say, “I’m tired of not feeling appreciated, not feeling like I am part of a partnership. I feel like I am the roommate, the bill payer, the cook, the cleaner, the chauffeur… but not someone who is valued and appreciated. I’m tired of asking to be appreciated — begging to be valued — pleading to feel I as if I am important and not constantly playing second-fiddle to everything else going on in his life. I’m done.”

Divorce has become commonplace. Many women thrive after divorce. They live independent, happy lives. Any taboo or stigma that may have existed during my mother’s generation doesn’t exist any more. I think this gives many women the courage to say, “I can do this.” And, they are.

What do we do about this? Many husbands are left with their jaws hanging open in disbelief when their wives file for divorce. “Why didn’t we talk about this? Why didn’t we go to counseling? Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling this way?” The wives smile sadly and say, “We have, we did, I have… and it’s too late now… I’m done.”

I don’t like these conversations. I believe in the institution of marriage. I don’t like to see people quit. What can we do? I know the following advice is oversimplifying the issue — I really do — but it’s a start:

Men, please take the time to appreciate your wife regularly. Thank her for what she does for you and your family. Validate her. Cover her with words of affirmation. Wrap your appreciation of her deep within her heart. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The women I spoke with are not giving up because they weren’t thanked for emptying the dishwasher once. It’s the net result of decades of feeling taken for granted. When I suggest that perhaps having an open dialogue with their husbands alerting them to just how serious this really is and perhaps giving a final chance to make some changes, they tell me it would be too little, too late. “I’m done,” they say.

Clearly, women, this isn’t a one-way street. Appreciation goes both ways. Are you checking to see just how much appreciation you are showing to your husband as well? Do you thank him for all he does, or do you take him for granted? Really think about it. Perhaps you perceive that you are being more appreciative than you really are. What would he say?

I’m not saying that showing more appreciation will lower the divorce rate in our country, but I do believe that showing more appreciation will improve marital relationships. After all, it’s like basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said, “If not shown appreciation, it gets to you.” And it seems that “it gets to you” is leading more and more towards, “I’m done.”

I’m Disappointed In You

Have you ever had someone in your life who seemed constantly disappointed in you? It didn’t seem to matter how hard you tried, it was never enough. Sometimes they didn’t have to even say much, you just knew – you are a loser, you will never be worthy.

I know what it is like to live with disappointment. It was a glib smile and a few words, a gentle sigh. I failed again. In my particular case it made me needy, so very needy. Dedicating every waking minute to impress, to please, to do, didn’t seem to matter. Disappointed again.

Maybe it was your dad, or your mom, a relative or a friend. For many of us it was our spouse – a wife or a boyfriend whose expectations and selfishness bruised and ultimately scarred your heart.

Poor self-esteem. Bad self-image. Feelings of inadequacy. Second-guessing yourself. Minimizing your accomplishments. Squinting in the mirror. Fear. Doubt. Self-loathing. Pain. Never good enough. Loser. Pathetic. Bitch.

On some level we all know that it is our own responsibility to feel good about ourselves. In theory. In practice, when someone whose opinion is supposed to matter denigrates and often subtly destroys our wholeness, it is very difficult to feel worthwhile. We know we are not supposed to base our self-esteem on others but how do you do that?

Quick quiz – If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which one will you remember?

I wonder if the reason we believe the insult is because somewhere, down deep perhaps, we believe them. Many of us have been told we are ugly or fat or stupid or bald or pathetic or worthless all our lives. How can we possibly have good self-esteem now?

The truth: The opposite of bad self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of bad self-esteem is self-acceptance.

The truth is, you may always be fat. You may always be bald. Joan Rivers is scary proof that plastic surgery can only take you so far. You may be considered ugly by the beautiful. You may never go to college. You probably will never be famous. Or rich. Or even successful. And you get cry all you want and rail against the system, get angry and frustrated and die in a flaming manure-ball of bitterness. I see people every day who absolutely refuse to accept their illness, or their spouse, or their saggy boobs. I know how they feel. There are seemingly countless things I don’t like about myself. Nobody needs to point our my flaws, I see them in glaring technicolor. You don’t need to be disappointed in me, I can do quite fine on my own, thanks.

One day I woke up and realized in retrospect that I was living my life to impress someone who was incapable of accepting me or loving me for who I really was. I understood that I had been running myself sick trying to earn her love, only to hear her sigh with disapproval. I still care about this person, actually very much, but no longer feel compelled to sacrifice my soul for a smile and a nod.

Emotional wholeness rarely comes by accident.

The Criticism of Celebrity Rehab

Celebrity Rehab with Dr. DrewAre we still so naive that we assume television is actually like real life? Do people still believe shows like Celebrity RehabIntervention and Extreme Makeover, Home Edition have anything to do with reality? Is there really a Rembrandt hidden in that abandoned storage locker? Unfortunately the recent suicide of Celebrity Rehab star Mindy McCready has served to illustrate the problem with glib culture and our fascination with star-studded solutions to important issues.

The sad part of the story, that few seem to be talking about, is the unbelievable fact that some of the pseudo washed up stars undoubtedly believed that by going to a reality show to deal with chronic addiction issues they would receive quality help with their problems. Apparently they have been living in Glitterland for so long they think that it is possible to be authentic with cameras rolling and an audience. Imagine the shock on the faces of the winners of Extreme Makeover when they find out their taxes have gone up ten-fold and they can’t afford to pay the utilities on their new million dollar mansion. Reality’s a bitch. Cracked.com has an excellent expose on the reality behind the reality shows here.

Going to rehab, or treatment, or whatever you wish to label it, is a daunting enough thought without a television audience critiquing and criticizing. The work necessary to deal with and overcome a serious addiction takes years, not twelve episodes. Believing that a televised intervention or an hour with Dr. Drew will make any substantive difference is ridiculous. In the real world there is not a limo to take you to a treatment center after the family reduces you to tears and shows you the golden path to success. I have been involved with dozens, even hundreds, of family meetings with addicts and things simply do not go the way they do on television. There is much more yelling and far less contrition. Even if you could get a commitment for treatment there is often a six-week to two-month waiting list to get in. Even Detox can take a few weeks. Welcome to the real world. Adding in the cameras and the lights and the looming audience is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. How can anyone hope to heal with the cameras running? This does not even take into account the skewed life experiences of media celebrities who have little or no experience with real life and are ill-equipped to handle even the most mundane hardships.

Mindy McCready (album)

So why are we surprised then that five people, at last count, have died following a stint on Celebrity Rehab? Mindy McCready serves as a sad reminder that many of us are tempted to take short cuts and are not realistic about the true cost of dealing with our mental health. Real therapy is gut-wrenching and should not be on display for the general audience. I feel bad for Mindy and others who have been sold a lie, dressed up as a photo-op. Wholeness comes from confronting our demons, usually one at a time, and wrestling them into submission. There are no shortcuts to wholeness.

Maybe it was Dr. Drew himself who gave us the last, best word on the subject – “Mental health issues can be life threatening and need to be treated with the same intensity and resources as any other dangerous potentially life threatening medical condition. Treatment is effective. If someone you know is suffering please be sure he or she gets help and maintains treatment.”

Why Does My Woman Talk So Much?

Young Couple in Relationship ConflictShe keeps nagging. Is she needy? She keeps wanting to talk about feelings. Attention. Attention. Attention.

In heterosexual relationships many men, after being with the same woman for a while, begin to think of her as a problem to fixed. She keeps using the “C” word – communication. As men it has been beaten into us that communication is the key to a good relationship but all the time? Seriously?

Much has been made of the caricature of the goal-oriented male. In years gone by many authors have written at length about the propensity men have to neglect their wives’ emotional needs after being together for some time. Remember how much you talked when you were first dating? Hours and hours were spent texting and phoning and whispering sweet nothings. I have had many women tell me that after the wedding the dating stopped. They feel like the man they married is not the man they fell in love with. Where is the intimacy they once enjoyed?

Hundreds of years ago a lifelong commitment was not very long. A peasant male may get married at eighteen or nineteen. He could look forward to a desperately hard life that ended in his late thirties. Standing up in front of a priest and saying “til death do us part” was an eighteen or twenty year commitment. No big deal. With today’s lifestyle opportunities and advances in medical science, if you get married at twenty, you can look forward to sixty or seventy years with the same spouse. Few of us consider the real cost and commitment when we are pie-eyed in love. Sixty or seventy years!

The world has also changed drastically. Women are no longer trapped financially and socially in a marriage that is going nowhere. Consider the following. Most broken relationships I work with were ended by the female. She is also usually between thirty-five and forty-five years old. Why is that?

The children are in school.

Cinderella - Prince Charming & CinderellaMany men have no idea how important communication is to their spouse. They assume that if she isn’t complaining that she is happy. Women complain all the time anyway so if he ignores her or blows it off she’ll probably forget why she was angry in a few hours. Ha!

This Valentines, if you are a man in a relationship with a woman, realize that she wants more than chocolates. Give her your time, your heart. Be vulnerable. Start the conversation with, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing but I love you and I want to figure out how to do this.” Ask for her help. Chances are she’s better at this than you are.

You can do it.

P.S. – She’ll probably still take the chocolates…

Is Forgiveness The Only Option?

Asking For ForgivenessI have always been led to believe that in order to move on with my life that it is crucial to forgive other people. Many, many articles have been written about what that kind of forgiveness is. We have been told that forgiveness does not mean condoning, it isn’t forgetting, it’s not even really about the other person. This is all certainly true and I would ascribe to this view of forgiveness. But is forgiveness the only option?

I no longer think so. I have met many people who have been wounded by others so deeply that they cannot even imagine forgiving. Even after going through the list of what forgiveness is not they continue to believe that they may never be able to take that step. The pain is too deep. The sorrow is too real. The anger is too intense. Short of the intervention of a deity, asking a person to forgive when these emotions are in play may not be in their best interests and will most likely involve a high level of cognitive dissonance. Asking them to “fake it til you make it” may be asking too much.

So is there hope?

Absolutely. Good counseling understands that people need to make change slowly. Radical decisions and grandiose change is often not real or lasting. Everyone wants a magic pill but they eventually realize that deep psychological transformation takes time and a great deal of hard work. Forgiving someone who has raped or molested you is often impossible, given how you feel right now.

And that is the real issue, actually – how you feel right now. Staying hurt and bitter just prolongs your misery and keeps you in the cycle of pain and abuse. That person who wronged you actually continues to wrong you, over and over again. It is no wonder, then, that many of us believe we can never get over such injury. We have no teachers, no idea, no examples to follow. Few people who are not vindictive or idealistic seem to talk much about what to do when you don’t feel you can forgive.

It may just be possible that you are asking far too much of yourself. You are expecting that you will be able to “get over” this, even though the intensity has never subsided and you have not been able to glean perspective, even after all these years. Such an expectation seems highly unrealistic to me, too much to hope for.

There is another route. I have found that helping someone gradually separate from the emotion of the situation and gain perspective slowly, very slowly, allows them to move beyond the raw pain of what has happened. With careful and continued support and insight I have known many people who have been able to loosen the “grip” of their hurt on their heart. Once they have been able to start the healing than words such as “forgiveness” or “healthy” no longer seem so ridiculous, so unattainable.

It is the emotion of the hurt that keeps us stuck, not the event itself. With time and the right people you can begin to heal.

Begin to believe that life can be different.
Begin to hope that you may yet have a chance to live.
Begin to experience freedom from the bondage that has broken you.

It may take a long time. It may be painful. It starts with hope.

Guest Blogger – “Not Worthy Of Love”

Today’s guest blogger prefers to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons…

Like many others I have experienced several areas of abuse in my life, from parental figures, those in positions of authority, and even my husband. Although I live each day fearing some kind of altercation I make no effort to change or get away from it. To those outside it seems hard to understand why.

Do I want something better? Sure I do.  Do I long to feel loved?  Absolutely. Do I wish for a relationship that does not rule with guilt, mind games and intense anger? I can’t even imagine. Do I wonder what it would be like to be an equal in my marriage?  Everyday. But do I think I deserve such things? Not even a little bit.

My world was rocked at a very young age, as a child much too young I was introduced to sex.  It was horrible and awful, a secret that was to be kept leaving me feeling dirty and ashamed. For years, into my late twenties in fact, I carried that secret, and the shame grew.  I punished myself, as a child I tore at my skin creating large open sores.  It was my punishment, and it was my cry for help.  I was shuffled from doctor to doctor, none able to figure out what had caused my skin to open up.  So they bandaged me up and I carried on not saying a word.  Inside though I was screaming for someone to notice how I was hurting.  Didn’t they see my bandaged hands, couldn’t they see my wounds, my pain.  But no one could see how I was suffering inside, they only saw the physical wounds I had created on the outside.

Years past and I became a teenager, boys entered the picture.  My early teenage years saw breakups and typical teenage heartbreak.  But as it progressed into later years I learned quickly what men wanted from me as a series of older men started hitting on me.  It always started with a showering of affection; they would tell me I was beautiful and special.  The broken child in me longed to hear it, to feel somebody loved me, somebody cared.  More than one showed up at my high school at lunch and drove  me away for my lunch break.  My friends worried, tried to intervene even, but I craved the attention they gave me and slowly broke away from any friends that discouraged me.  Each man pushed the boundaries a little more physically, until I would eventually say no and the relationship would end. Slowly  I was forming the realization that if I didn’t want to have sex, men didn’t want me.   And then one day at the age of 17 a man 18 years my senior didn’t stop when I said no.  His anger raged at me and he told me that I couldn’t say no to him after leading him on all this time.  I was scared, I cried but I let him take from me what he was after. When he dropped me back at school I felt more broken, dirty and ashamed then I had ever felt. I believe completely it was my fault and I told no one.

At 18 I found myself pregnant.  At 19 married to a man who was controlling, angry and abusive.  At 21 I had two children was depressed and slept all the time.  At 23 I began a series of affairs, with married men.  Men who, in my eyes, were good, kind, and loving men.  The type of men who would never choose me as their wife because I believed good men don’t choose women like me. They would, however, choose me for sex and in that moment it felt like enough.  It felt like love, but I would go home emptier than I was before.  I felt more dirty and more ashamed each time. And so I started cutting myself.  I lived in a vicious cycle I couldn’t get out of.  I felt like I couldn’t stop myself, but I also couldn’t live with myself because of what I was doing, I hated myself.   I most certainly could never forgive myself.

And then one day I decided it had to end, I left my husband.  I stopped having sex with other men, and I even stopped cutting myself.  I remarried and secretly wished for a happy life I knew I didn’t deserve. I worked hard so that from the outside my life looked pretty close to perfect.  I thought I could make myself forget it all by changing my life.  Everyone believed things had turned around for me. But the truth is I had married a man remarkably similar to my first husband.  And the abuse cycle started again.

Every day I struggle with finding self-worth, to feel valued, loved and respected.  Every day I believe a little less that I will ever find those things. Truth is I probably never will in my marriage.

So why can’t I break free? Because he is willing to stay with me, because I fear being alone, because I believe my past means that no good and decent man would choose me. Because I do not feel I am worthy of that kind of love.

I feel unable to move past what I have done and what’s been done to me. I see myself as used, dirty and damaged.  My body is covered in self-inflicted scars, I have made it ugly. Every time I think I am making progress I find myself here again.  Even now I am hiding cuts on my body so no one can see them, and when I see them I silently remind myself that this is why no one will love me.  No one really could.

I fully believe that people are made new in Christ, but I remain unable to see myself as anything but this horrible person.  I would love to say I have found healing, and self acceptance, that prayer has healed me, or counseling.  But it isn’t reality.  I have felt God’s healing at times in my life and I continue to work towards healing.  But I am human and I battle my head daily.  I used to believe I didn’t have enough faith for God to completely heal me.  I know believe it’s about the journey, the things we learn and grow from along the way.  Even if it takes a life time.  I may never see full healing this side of heaven, but can you imagine how amazing that day will be when it comes.

Wannabes and Fakers

Some time ago I read a little book called Posers, Fakers & Wannabes, by Brennan Manning & Jim Hancock. In the first little chapter was a story about a monk in his earlier years. He described an episode during a catholic ritual where, after hearing a reading of Psalms 51 by a superior, they would enter their cells and whip themselves with coiled telephone wire to rid themselves of their lust. He shares how he scourged himself in religious fervency and zeal leaving blood blisters on his back and buttocks. He recalls hearing a fellow penitent lashing himself rigorously in the cell next to him. The man was so zealous Brennan was sure the man was going to wound himself severely, so he stole a look into the man’s cell.

To Brennan’s horror and surprise, the man was sitting on his bed with a “bemused smile and a cigarette in his left hand. It was the wall he was whacking, not his own body, thwack, thwack, thwack…”

Recently I have been doing independent study, primarily for personal interest, on the power of cults and specifically Scientology. Reactions are swift and pointed today over Scientology’s commercial during the Super Bowl yesterday. Many are surprised that a religious group could afford, or would even be allowed to advertise on such a grandiose scale. Scientology has been much maligned of late, but remains a powerful force, especially in southern California. I have always been fascinated by people who would be willing to “drink the purple koolaid” for a cult leader or magnetic personality. I am fairly certain no one would kill themselves for me and that is probably a good thing. There is something in many of us which is drawn to supernatural solutions to our life issues and quest for meaning.

Listening to a video on YouTube recently about prominent Scientologists who have “blown” and quit (usually in the face of extreme persecution), I was stuck by one lady’s confession that after attaining OT3 she assumed that she would be about to use telekinesis and would no longer struggle with sickness or loneliness, pain or problems. Because of the strict rules of Scientology she was not allowed to talk to other OT3’s about her progress and, though she could not feel or practice any of these miraculous benefits, assumed the other practitioners could. This is reminiscent of some Christians I know who beat themselves up because, even though they had been practicing the spiritual disciplines for years, still weren’t seeing the miraculous results they assumed everyone else was. They incorrectly assumed that they were the only failure in the room.

There are no magic pills.

I have never met anyone who, after joining a church or seeing a guru or listening to Oprah never struggled again with life. Often people who join a church, for example, are led to believe that somehow they will not have the same struggles they once had. Later, sometimes much later, they realize that they still have issues and problems in life that they alone must deal with. Some of these people become very disillusioned, even exacerbating their distress.

Last week I spoke with a person who contended that counseling is only for people who do not have enough faith. I reminded her that she was a person of faith yet still battled physical pain, depression, a broken romantic relationship, and a wayward thought life. She was offended that I would be so blunt and told me, in so many words, that she was going to be “released” from all her problems at an upcoming spiritual retreat. I encouraged her to go and reminded her that I would still be around if things didn’t work out. She laughed at me and left the appointment.

I am not interested in demeaning spirituality, prayer, or the spiritual disciplines. I happen to believe that they things are very valuable and important. I am concerned, however, when people put expectations on their beliefs which even Jesus never promised (although L. Ron Hubbard may have). The most spiritual people I know have often endured unspeakable pain and trials. At least one of them was crucified for his belief. In fact, most of the spiritual giants I can recall were subjected to intense pain.

I have a picture in my office called Einstein And The Therapist. It reminds me that even the smartest among us, the most talented, even the most spiritual, needs a little help from time to time. It is my firm hope that you will find relief from your pain through prayer, meditation, or even Oprah. But if not, find a friend or a counselor who doesn’t suck.

You’re worth it.

Are You Dating an Abuser?

Psychology Today: Emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and domestic violence are on the rise, especially among young people. The risk of falling into an abusive relationship is greater than ever.

There are obvious red flags to avoid in a prospective lover, such as angry, controlling, possessive, jealous, or violent behavior. Unfortunately, most abusers are able to mask these tendencies in dating. By the time many people notice the obvious red flags, they’re already attached to an abuser, which makes it much harder for them to leave the relationship.

More useful than a list of obvious red flags are guidelines based on very early warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship, signs that are visible before an attachment bond is formed. The following is a list of qualities to look for in a potential lover. Avoid them at all costs.

Note: During the early stages of your relationship, your partner is not likely to do any of these things to you. But witnessing these attitudes and behaviors toward others is a sure sign that they will turn onto you, sooner or later.

Very Early Warning Sign #1: A Blamer

Avoid anyone who blames his negative feelings and bad luck on someone else. Special care is necessary here, as blamers can be really seductive in dating. Their blame of others can make you look great by comparison:

“You’re so smart, sensitive, caring, and loving, not like that bitch I used to go out with.”

“Why couldn’t I have met you before that self-centered, greedy, woman I used to date?”

“You’re so calm and together, and she was so crazy and paranoid.”

Hearing this kind of thing might make you think that all he really needs is the understanding and love of a good woman to change his luck. This disastrous assumption flies in the face of the Law of Blame.

The Law of Blame: It eventually goes to the closest person.

When you become the closest person to him, the blame will certainly turn on you.

 Blamers can be dangerous to love because they usually suffer from victim identity. Feeling like victims, they see themselves as justified in whatever retaliation they enact and whatever compensation they take. Blamers will certainly cause pain for you if you come to love one.

Very Early Warning Sign #2: Resentment

Resentment is a negative mood caused by focus on perceptions of unfairness. Resentful people feel like they are not getting the help, consideration, praise, reward, or affection they believe is due them.

Everyone has to put up with a certain amount of unfairness in life. We don’t like it, but we deal with it and move on; we try to improve our situations and our experiences. The resentful waste their emotional energy by dwelling on the unfairness of others (while remaining oblivious to their own unfairness). They think (mistakenly) that they don’t know how to improve their lives. They use resentment as a defense against a sense of failure or inadequacy.

Resentful people are so caught up in their “rights” and so locked into their own perspectives that they become completely insensitive to the rights and perspectives of others. If you fall in love with a resentful person, you will eventually become the brunt of that resentment and almost certainly feel shut out and diminished in the relationship.

Very Early Warning Sign #3: Entitlement

People with a sense of entitlement believe that they deserve special consideration and special treatment. They may cut in front of others waiting in line, smoke wherever they want, drive any way they want, say anything they like, and do pretty much anything they choose.

Driven by high standards of what they should get and what other people should do for them, the entitled feel chronically disappointed and offended. So it seems only fair, from their myopic perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations. Special consideration seems like so little to ask! Here’s the logic:

“It’s so hard being me, I shouldn’t have to wait in line, too!”

“With all I have to put up with, I deserve to take a few supplies from the office.”

“With the kind of day I had, you expect me to mow the lawn?”

“All the taxes I pay, and they bother me about this little deduction!”

“The way I hit the golf ball, I should get the best seat in the restaurant!”

“I’m the man; you have to cook my dinner!”

After the glow of infatuation wears off, the entitled person will regard his feelings and desire as more important than yours. If you agree, you’ll get depressed. If you disagree, you’ll get abused.

Very Early Warning Sign #4 Superiority

Superiority is the implication, at least through body language or tone of voice, that someone is better than someone else. Potential abusers tend to have hierarchical self-esteem, i.e., they need to feel better than someone else to feel okay about themselves. They need to point out ways in which they are smarter, more sensitive, or more talented than others. This, too, can be seductive in dating, as he will point out ways in which you are superior, too.

The most abusive form of hierarchical self-esteem is predatory self-esteem. To feel good about themselves, persons with predatory self-esteem need to make other people feel bad about themselves. Many will test high in self-esteem when they come for court-ordered treatment, while everyone else in their family tests low. But once intervention increases the self-esteem of the emotionally beaten-down spouse and children who then no longer internalize the put-downs, the predator’s self-esteem invariably declines.

A variation on this very early warning sign is self-righteousness. If you dare to disagree with him, you will not only be wrong but immoral!

Very Early Warning Sign #5: Pettiness

If he makes a big deal out of nothing or focuses on one small, negative aspect of an issue, a relationship with him will be disastrous. This might show itself as being extremely particular about how his food is prepared in a restaurant or seeming impatient if someone drops something.

In a love relationship, his petty attitudes and behavior will make you feel reduced to some small mistake, as if nothing you have ever done right in your life matters. You will feel criticized and diminished for the smallest of infractions, real or imagined.

Very Early Warning Sign #6: Sarcasm

Sarcasm comes in many forms. Sometimes its just poorly timed humor – saying the wrong thing in the wrong context. Sometimes it’s innocently insensitive, with no intention to hurt or offend. More often it is hostile and meant to devalue. The purpose is to undermine a perspective the sarcastic person doesn’t agree with or to shake someone’s confidence, just for a temporary ego gain or some strategic advantage in a negotiation.

Sarcastic people tend to be heavy into impression management, always trying to sound smart or witty. Their tone always has at least a subtle put-down in it. In dating this will be directed at others. In a relationship, it will center on you.

Very Early Warning Sign #7: Deceit (intentional and unintentional)

Unintentional deceit happens all the time in dating, due to what I call the “dating self.”

We all try to put on the best face possible in dating. Most of us will exaggerate our good qualities at least a little, if we think the other person will like us more if we were just a bit more like that. “Oh, you’re religious? Well I’ve been feeling a bit more spiritual lately, so I’m going right home and read the Bible, or at least watch the movie version.”

This kind of unintentional exaggeration is meant less to deceive than to motivate the self. The exaggerator really wants to develop qualities you like; he’s just not quite there, yet.

Of course, the dating self often includes blatant deception, as in, “Oh, did I tell you that I went to Harvard?” or, “Yes, I know some rich and famous people.” Deceit shows a low-level of self-respect — and respect for you — that can only bode ill in a relationship.

Very Early Warning Sign #8: Minor Jealousy

Minor jealousy does not come off like the obvious red flag of controlling and possessive behavior. It looks more like this: He’s slightly uncomfortable when you talk to or even look at another man. He might not say anything, but he looks uncomfortable.

The tough thing about minor jealousy in dating is that you actually want a tiny bit of it to know that they other person cares. (You certainly don’t want to love someone who wouldn’t mind at all if you slept with the entire football team.) But a little bit of jealousy goes a long, long way. Think of it as a drop of powerfully concentrated liquid in a huge bucket of water. More than a tiny drop will poison any relationship you might develop with the jealous person and, more important, put you in harm’s way.

Even minor jealousy has the potential to be harmful. Jealousy becomes dangerous once it turns into obsession. The more we obsess about something, the more imagination takes over, distorting reality and rational thinking. Jealousy is the only naturally occurring emotion that can cause psychosis, which is the inability to tell what is really happening from what is in your head. Most severe violence in relationships involves some form of jealousy.

Very Early Warning Sign #9: Rusher

I have had clients complain that their boyfriends don’t pursue them or try to sweep them off their feet. I always tell them, “How lucky you are!” 
Guys who go “too fast” (defined as whatever makes you uncomfortable), do not respect boundaries. One definition of “abuse” is “that which violates personal boundaries.” It is not flattering that someone wants you so much that he does not care about whether you are comfortable. Make sure that any man you become interested in shows respect for your comfort-level, in all senses of the word.

Trust in Yourself
   While a certain caution in dating is a good thing, you want to be sure that your caution is proactive, rather than reactive; you want it based on trusting your instincts, rather than distrusting love.

Trust in yourself stems from your deepest values. As long as you stay attuned to the most important things to and about you, you will naturally gravitate toward those who truly value you as a person.

But even if you are firmly grounded in your values, it’s possible to be fooled by hidden resentment, anger, or abusive tendencies in the people you date. That’s because it’s easy for those prone to such tendencies to put on a false dating face. Because they have a more “fluid” sense of self than most people, it’s easier for them to pour it into any container they think you might like. But they can’t and won’t stay in a nice container once you establish a relationship. Then their resentment, anger, or abuse will emerge in full force.

Multiple-Victimization
  Research shows that if a woman has been mistreated in the past, even in childhood, there’s a good chance that she’ll be mistreated in her next relationship as well. It’s called, “multiple-victimization,” and it is often misunderstood.

I have heard far too many women clients say things like, “I could walk into a room full of doctors and therapists and fall in love with the one criminal.”

Or they ask with sad and bewildered eyes, “Why do I only attract resentful, angry, and abusive partners?” They wonder if they put out signals that say, “Please abuse me!” This particular misconception has even infected a few professionals who have ridiculously theorized that some women “want to be abused.”

If you’ve experienced multiple-victimization, please understand this: The problem is not that you attract only resentful, angry, or abusive suitors; it’s that, by and large, you have not been receptive to the gentler, more respectful men you also attract. This is not due to your temperament or personality; it’s a normal defensive reaction. After you’ve been hurt, of course you’ll put up subtle barriers for self-protection. Non-abusive men will recognize and respect those barriers. For example, suppose that you work with someone who’s attracted to you. But he senses that you’re uncomfortable with his small gestures for more closeness. He will naturally back off and give you time to heal, or he’ll settle for a non-romantic friendship. But a man who is likely to mistreat you will either not recognize your barriers or completely disregard them. He will continue to hit on you, until he breaks down the protective walls that surround your hungry heart.

The following “intimacy test” can help you become more sensitive and trusting to the non-verbal signals about attachment that ultimately rise from your core value.

Intimacy Test
  Can you disclose anything about yourself, including your deepest thoughts and feelings, without fear of rejection or misunderstanding? ________

Is the message of your relationship, “grow, expand, create, disclose, reveal?” Or is it, “hide, conceal, think only in certain ways, behave only in certain ways, feel only certain things?”

Grow___ Hide ___

Does this relationship offer both parties optimal growth? ___

Can you both develop into the greatest persons you can be? ___

Does your partner fully accept that you have thoughts, beliefs, preferences, and feelings that differ from his? ___

Does he respect those differences? ___

Does he cherish you despite them? ___

Does he accept your differences without trying to change you? ___

Do you want to accept that your partner has thoughts, beliefs, preferences, and feelings that differ from yours? ___

Can you respect those differences? ___

Can you cherish your partner despite them? ___

Can you accept them without trying to change them? ___

A greater sense of your core values will give you more confidence that you can detect the very early warning signs of abuse. Listen compassionately to the faint messages of your hungry heart. Then it won’t need to make the kind of desperate outcries that suspend your best judgment, scare off appropriate matches, and attract resentful, angry, or abusive partners.

Published on December 17, 2008 by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

My Woman Keeps Telling Me I’m Emotionally Unavailable!

Dinner

Last week I wrote an article alleging that women complain about men being emotionally unavailable, and my editor challenged me to provide insight to men who struggle to connect with their partners on a meaningful and intimate level. As with most things, it is far easier to criticize than to provide help. It’s also a lot more fun.

So what can the typical, confused, and frustrated male do when confronted by a spouse who accuses them of being emotionally unavailable? The answer may be more simple and obvious than most of us imagine.

1. It’s about being available… emotionally. How can I say this more clearly? Chances are your woman wants to talk about her feelings and process her thoughts with you over an extended period of time, and not just on one occasion. Men are often guilty of trying to appease their spouse just to get her off his back and get the job done. This is the problem, when you think about it. Real connection takes time and his has no obvious and immediate reward system. Remember when you liked to talk to your girlfriend on the phone for hours? Remember those tender moments when you so profoundly cared about what the other person was thinking? Remember those romantic walks where you would dream about the future? Being available is about being present, being involved intellectually and emotionally. It’s about connecting without expecting any sex at the end of the evening. This leads us to the next important thing that men need to get their head and genitals around…

2. Romance is not about sex. I know we all know this on an intellectual level but men desperately need to remind themselves that romance does not have to lead to sex. Romance is about connecting, touching (maybe), listening, smiling, and considering the other person before we consider ourselves. If you are only romantic if you think you will get sex at the end of the night than you really aren’t romantic at all. You are manipulative, petty and selfish but not romantic. I am not saying I am a romance guru but at least I am trying. And that is the point…

3. It’s all about trying. I cannot tell you the number of women that have admitted that they would have not ended their relationship if they thought that their spouse “was at least trying”. Women understand that we are emotional neanderthals and most will learn to cope if they know there is some movement forward. Most of us can put up with almost anything if we see light at the end of the tunnel. Relationships end when hope dies.

4. Quit acting like a baby. Women are not attracted to you when you beg for sex or pout when you don’t get your way. Most spouses did not marry you just to mother you so don’t give them a reason to need to. No one gives a damn if you have a cold so grow a pair and man up. Strength is sexy. Emotionally weak men are far more pathetic than physically weak ones. Women tell me all the time that one of the things they hate most about their man is that he is needy and they no longer respect him. Ask any woman and she will probably admit that weak men may attract strong women but eventually will not attract her sexually. Who wants to make love to an emotional child? Yuck.

5. Stop asking her how to connect with her. Many women believe that if you have to ask then you aren’t trying. Besides that, women are tired of having to do the work. I sympathize that you don’t understand how to connect with your wife. I know you think she is being ridiculously vague. She is a woman and she is talking female. You are listening with male ears and waiting for three easy steps. It isn’t going to happen and the earlier you get your head around this the further ahead you will be. You don’t understand what she really means and I get that.

Google it. Read a book. Join a group. Study your girl like you studied for your job. Spend the time. Learn about her sexuality. Find out about how women think and feel. Teach yourself to hear with female ears. Put aside your agenda. Read my articles on relationships. Stop working for sex; in fact don’t ask for sex at all until you figure this out. When you do have sex read my article on “Why Your Orgasm Doesn’t Matter” first.

You can do this. You are way smarter than your mother-in-law thinks. Become the sexual and romantic god you want to believe you already are.

The rewards are amazing.

Narcissists Who Cry: the other side of the ego

Many of you have been in a relationship or been a friend with someone who was an extreme narcissist. These types of relationships are filled with drama unless you totally please the narcissist, which is impossible. The typical extreme narcissists are full of themselves and are overtly pompous. I would like to focus on a kind of extreme narcissist that most people fail to recognize. First, let me explain what extreme narcissism is all about.

Extreme narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self. It focuses on personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how one’s self is perceived by others. Some basic narcissism is healthy. This kind of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself, or what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.

The egotistical narcissists are typically created in one of two ways. One way is through excessive pampering on the part of the parents. Parents create an attitude in the child that he/she is better than others and entitled to special privileges. This creates an arrogant child who lacks a healthy dose of gratitude and humility. It describes the proverbial brat that no one likes.

Another way that extreme narcissists are created is when a child receives a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. This can happen when the parents, as narcissists themselves, are emotionally disconnected from their child. It creates a dysfunction in the ability for the narcissist to connect emotionally to others. No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he/she has a major attachment dysfunction and wound. This wounded person constructs one or more false fronts in order to survive and insulate themselves from people because of distrust and fear (Lopez De Victoria, 2008).

A narcissist is a completely self-absorbed person. There can be no other gods in an extreme narcissist’s world, regardless if they say they believe in God or not. In practical terms, a narcissist is God in his/her own imagination. Ego rules supremely in the narcissist’s life. In light of this, what energizes a narcissist is whatever fuels the ego. Ego loves pleasure and gain. In most cases, these can come from one of two ways of feeding the ego. One way is through aggrandizement, which means “to make bigger.” Ultimately, the extreme narcissist feels he/she is most special and, therefore, entitled. To the extreme narcissist, people are actually things to use.

Another way that the narcissist’s ego gets special attention is through the role of being a victim. Welcome to the victimized extreme narcissist. Most persons recognize ego as arrogance. At the same time they fail to see the subtle deception of ego when it takes the role of a being a victim. As kind and compassion-driven human beings, we easily are fooled by this form of extreme ego. We are constantly hearing the voices of the needy in the media through a variety of forms. The disenfranchised, the poor, the homeless, the hurting, the refugees, the abused, and the list goes on. What we often do not see is that we are many times shamed by these voices for not doing enough for them. All along it is easy to be manipulated as we respond from our hearts. The deception of the ego is that the narcissist can hide behind misfortune and victimization in order to shame you into feeling and believing that they suffer more than you do. They will say that you don’t care enough for them. They will make you feel that you have not done enough to help them. The ego wants attention, control, gain, and power over others by positioning itself as a “poor and helpless” victim. It does this; all the while it soaks up the attention and control over others. In the eyes of an extreme narcissist, their situation is always right and totally justified. Instead of taking responsibility for self and consequences, the extreme narcissist tries to make others feel responsible for their plight. Because extreme narcissists are incredibly adept at the game of manipulation, they will always find a way to turn the tables on you. They will try to make you responsible and feel guilty for not helping them or taking their side and cause.

Extreme narcissists often shift gears from visible grandiosity to acting that they are better than others because they suffer more than others. You can see an extreme narcissist who hogs the limelight and credit from achievements and self-praise also getting similar recognition from milking an injury or a seeming misfortune that has occurred to them. Victimized extreme narcissists are on the constant prowl looking for any gullible soul that will believe their version of calamity whether it is real, exaggerated, or fictitious. What they claim that makes their calamity different is that it is worse for them. Beware of this kind of extreme narcissism. It is just as selfish and manipulating as that of a pompous egotist. The moment they see that you don’t “fully” cooperate and act with extreme concern for them, serving and pampering them, they will eliminate you from their list of “loving” folks. They may even badmouth you and gossip or slander you as being selfish and uncaring. Imagine that! I have seen these types over and over again in work I have done in the field of pain medicine management. It is usually the individuals who are humble, full of gratitude, and joyful who are the ones most capable of coping with their injuries and pain. Those who are selfish, moaning, and full of self-pity take much longer to heal or sometimes never heal but go further downhill in their health. My recommendation is to avoid treating this person’s misfortune as the ultimate suffering of all humans. Be polite. Recognize their pain and no more. Don’t be pulled into their web of emotional manipulation. Stay away from extreme narcissists.

References

Lopez De Victoria, S. (2008, August 4). How to Spot a Narcissist. Posted on Psych Central Web site.

 

How To Pick Up Women In Their Twenties

dating-tips-for-guys-how-to-pick-up-womenI am not in my twenties and do not make a habit of hitting on any women, especially not women that young. I do, however, have a very attractive and intelligent son who was more than willing to provide a few insights for this Part 2 of “How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women”.

In my first instalment I wrote about manipulating a group of women who were in their late thirties and forties. You may want to familiarize yourself with that article before going on. It has been, and remains, my most hated and revered article to date. I have received private letters, several in fact, accusing me of being abusive and misogynistic, even cruel. Read it for yourselves and ask yourself why I would do such a thing and then freely tell everyone I did so…

In this instalment I begin by recognizing that everything I am about to say may not apply to you. Like many of my articles what follows is based on generalities. Please understand I’m not talking about anyone in specific, only trends and observations which may not even be objective. If nothing else it should be interesting.

You are sitting with friends at the local bar and I can tell, because you wear it like a beacon, that you are looking for a guy. I intend to be that guy. You are not in your forties so I am not going to gush, not going to give too much away. In fact, just the opposite. Your divorced mom is looking for someone who is emotionally sensitive, someone who is going to make it all about her. That isn’t my tactic, though some of the techniques are transferable. When I first meet you I’m very interested, very charming. Initially, at least, it’s all about you. But only initially. If we have been introduced I will be nice to you for a minute or two, then move on. If we are not introduced I will make a point of ignoring you and talk to the person directly beside you. I’m not going to hit on you, I’m not needy. And that is really the point.

1. I’m not needy. I act aloof but not rude. Okay, occasionally I can even be a bit rude. I will make the obligatory conversation, but little more. While I am talking to you I may check out other women. I will talk, engage, but we are not exclusive. That is the point. Heartiste writes, “That aloofness is catnip to women. You may as well prop a neon sign over your head that says “Preselected by women who have come before you, and who are standing right next to you.” Aloofness is one of those male characteristics that women are finely tuned to discover, isolate, and hone in on, because it tells them, subconsciously of course, that THIS MAN, this one right here, has a lot of choice in women. ERGO, this man, this one right here, must be high value.” I know this because the internet is polluted with websites that teach this very thing. Confidence and self-assurance is an aphrodisiac to some females.

I don’t need you. I may or may not be interested, but I’m keeping my options open. I like myself and I don’t need anyone. I’m mysterious. It’s hard not to want what you cannot have. My strength and even dominance is very attractive. If you don’t believe me than why are so many women attracted to the bad boy? Yummy.

The social context has changed  in the past few years. Women in their thirties and forties want to invite a man into their emotional world. In your twenties he invites you into his social world. As one twenty-five year old player told me today, “If you can get the girl to leave her social grouping and come over to yours you are 80% of the way into her pants.” That’s important to remember because…

2. It’s all about social context. Meet my entourage. We are not at the bar to take pictures of ourselves for Facebook. We are interesting. Come hang out with us. Let me separate you from your friends and take you out of your comfort zone. Let me introduce insecurity. After all…

3. I’m here to exploit your insecurity. I may compliment you but it is often tinged with irony or sarcasm. The unspoken point is the exploitation of your negative self-image. The trick is to not let you know I’m interested and get you wondering whether or not you are worth my time. Watch me dominate the social setting, see how I handle myself. Am I or am I not interested in you? Later, when I am very direct with you, and tell you I want to be with you, you are surprised, intrigued, complimented, and affirmed. But make no mistake, the underlying tactic is dominance (and not in a good way…). There is an interesting dichotomy at play. You want to be thought of as a strong woman but you also have insecurities. Doesn’t a part of you wish you could be taken?

Even a plain guy can confuse a beautiful woman if he acts like he doesn’t need her.

As a counselor I find this topic sickening. There are people out there, regardless of age, who use psychological and emotional manipulation to exploit the vulnerable and hurting. It usually isn’t until it’s too late that it becomes apparent that a damaged and delicate person has been exploited and often degraded. It is also unfortunate that so many women get taken in more than once. Some of us are attracted to personalities that lend themselves to narcissism and depravity. It is a sad thought that the confidence and maturity you think you are attracted to may only be a tool to tear your heart out.

Ladies, we lie to you. We believe that we understand the score far more than you think we do. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who has gotten into a relationship with a narcissist. Everything was amazing… at first. We told you what we thought you needed to hear. We held the door open, we talked about our feelings, we shared our hearts. We know you get off on that stuff. Some of us actually read about how to pick up women. We are smarter than you think.

I am often asked why I write about this topic. Sadly, it has become apparent that many vulnerable and emotionally damaged people are being treated as prey by morally bankrupt individuals who think nothing of ruining lives as long as they can get what they want. I would invite you to read some of the heartbreaking comments on the first installment of this topic here. That alone is incentive enough.

I have this crazy idea that if you know what is going on you might know a predator when he buys you a drink.

Love Me Or Screw You

acceptance

Like many of us I can look back on my life and see a variety of pitiful attempts to fit in. As a little child I have vivid memories of my grandmother telling me that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. I remember being demeaned by relatives for being hyperactive and aggressive. Today I am sure I would have been deemed ADHD and medicated.

Love me, hate me, but please don’t ignore me. The classical class clown. I would do anything to be noticed. In some ways it was easy, I was blessed with a certain level of athletic prowess. I could always make an impression with a ball in my hands. But it was never enough.

Like most of us, I have spent my life trying to fit in.

My grade three report card actually says, “Scott thinks he runs the class and frankly I’m getting sick of it!” It didn’t help that school came easy and so I was bored. Being bored leaves you a lot of time to irritate the teachers and I am nothing if not persistent. I don’t remember much of those early years, but I do remember spending most of grade four in the hall. The principal and I were on a first name basis. Back in those days teachers didn’t get danger pay.

I am a very imperfect person who, for many years, has spent his time trying to help other people deal with issues that I struggled with as well. For many years I felt like a hypocrite who had to pretend to be something I was not.

I’ve been trying to be real, but it’s hard. We’ve all been burned. I am told often that I am not very normal. I don’t act, look, or dress according to the caricature of a staid and mature authority figure. For many years I wore this mantle like a badge of honor, secretly relishing my status as a maverick. It was easy to justify any sort of behavior, whether appropriate or completely asinine. Hey, if I can’t fit the mold, then screw the mold.

This is no longer something I am proud of. I have had to come to peace with my personality and not use it as an excuse any longer. What has been painfully difficult for me to come to terms with is that marginal personalities and maverick leaders need to humbly assess their own effectiveness and admit that we tend to marginalize others because we are unable or unwilling to listen, to affirm, and to appreciate that people’s perceptions can have value. Those of us who have fought a lifelong battle to be free and come to grips with our uniqueness are often too quick to take offense when those whose opinion we usually honor smacks up against our hard-won acceptance of ourselves. It becomes easier and easier to arrogantly shoot back that ‘we have come to accept that we are different and you better start accepting it too’.

In the struggle to appreciate our own worth and our exceptional contribution, it is all too easy to stop listening, stop learning, stop growing. There has been a failure on my part to consider that I alone am responsible for monitoring my behavior and the way I interact with others. I must not use my temperament as an excuse for immaturity or belligerence. In the same way that others need to come to grips with my uniqueness and special gifts, so I also must grow up in my conversations and relationships. Those on the fringes know better than most that feelings are easily hurt and we don’t have the luxury of trampling over the feelings of others with a ‘damn them all’, ‘love me or screw you’ attitude. Restraint is called for. Maturity is not optional. It is a lesson that I continue to learn, often suffering the consequences of my marginal temperament. I cannot expect people to understand my heart when I damage with my mouth.

I Need Sex Every Couple Of Days

No I don’t.

I would like sex every couple of days. I would also like chocolate, and bacon, and candy every few hours. That doesn’t mean it should happen.

If I hear of another whiny, manipulative male guilting their partner with this again I’m going to scream. I have been wanting to address this issue for some time but realize that this blog does seem to be hard on men. My hope is that heterosexual men will figure this out.

Almost every day I have women tell me that if they don’t have sex with their man every two or three days that he will whine and complain, even become abusive. So they give in. When I hear that my heart breaks. What a horrible reason to share the most precious gift you can give to another person. Disgusting.

What the hell is wrong with these men? Do they care, even a little bit, about their partner, or are they such slaves to their hormones that they don’t consider the needs and desires of the person who loves them the most? Do they understand female sexuality at all? Do they think whining or threatening is a turn-on for women?

Women need to understand that men do not have to have sex every few days. We get horny, it’s true, but so what? Should we as adults give in to every single urge, every craving, every impulse we have? Should we manipulate and exploit women just because we have a desire? My wife can turn me on just by being in the room, she’s gorgeous (I know that’s shallow but she does drive me wild). Her smile, her touch can still drive me crazy. Is that, therefore, license to invade her personal space, force myself upon her, and manipulate her to do something she had no intention of doing just because I’m a man and dammit, she should have to? Am I saying that I’m weak, I’m pathetic, I’m a slave to my emotions? Even though I teach my children to say no to their base instincts apparently I will never say no to mine. Pathetic. It is no wonder that so many women tell me that they have lost the magic, the desire, for sex with their partner. It is no shock, therefore, that so few women experience regular orgasms with their men.

This issue strikes at the heart of respect, understanding, and selfless love. It speaks to the selfishness and lack of honor that many men have been raised to feel about women. As I said in an earlier article we were raised to believe that sex is really about the male orgasm. Most men actually believe that is the purpose of sex.

They are so wrong.

The Memory Game – Living Life With A Limp

Two Roads DivergeOne hen, two ducks, three squawking geese. That’s how the memory game begins. It’s a simple, “repeat after me” from one to ten. I will often do it with groups as an icebreaker or an anxiety enhancer. I stole it from a Johnny Carson episode. Yes I am that old.

The game can be played in two different ways, eliciting two very different responses. In the first case, take for example the time I played it with a local high school assembly. The gymnasium was packed and I asked for a volunteer, someone who thought they had a good memory, someone who wanted to challenge me to a game. I told the volunteer (senior jock with attitude) that it was “you against me and I will beat you because I never lose”. I pointed out that it was a competition and instructed the audience not to help him in any way. Other teens soon started teasing, and the tension in the room started to rise. I think the kid made it to “four limerick oysters”.

Sometimes, however, I play the game with anxiety groups or when I am doing speaking gigs for tired executives. I will introduce the game but also mention that it’s perfectly fine if others help out because it doesn’t really matter, and no one ever gets to ten anyway. We are all in this together, after all. I remind the audience more than once that there is no pressure and I will say the statements along with them in case they get confused. Most groups give up at seven or eight. It’s fun and a good laugh.

Do you see the difference between the two games?

Most of us can do quite well when things are going our way, when we feel no pressure, when we feel supported. It’s another thing all-together to be at your best when you are not feeling well, or feel singled out, or are stressed or under pressure. Change just a few variables and most of us, myself included, will run into trouble. Do that public presentation with a head cold or a Fibromyalgia flare up and what was intended to be a great opportunity becomes a waking nightmare. Add emotional or relational pressures, insecurity or abuse and it becomes harder and harder to make good decisions.

Most of us live life with a limp. We have been wounded in ways we dare not describe and have developed coping skills that worked in crisis and fear. Some of us have felt the sting of trauma and abuse and feel like something inside of us has been broken, or killed, or maimed beyond repair. People don’t understand why we do some of the things we do but they have no idea what you have endured. It’s easy, therefore, to view the world as a hostile place and trust no one. Letting someone in just brings pain. We develop masks to hide our true feelings and emotions. It is probably fair to say that we are not necessarily playing at the top of our game. I often comment that most of us, by the time we are middle-aged, have seen our fair share of trauma. There are few optimists in their forties.

Growing up many of us felt belittled or abused. We still struggle to trust anyone or let anyone in. When I am confronted I know it is difficult to stay objective – I have a little boy inside of me that is easily wounded and wants to fight back or run away or make excuses. I have spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with that little guy but it’s an ongoing issue in most of us. We walk with a limp – the constant nagging understanding of our weakness and the temptation to treat all of life with distrust. It is easy to become bitter. It is difficult to let go of the past and the dysfunctional coping methods we once used so effectively. It is hard to move on when we have to drag one leg.

Robert Frost famously penned, “Two roads diverged in a wood”, a poem (The Road Less Traveled) many of us have committed to memory. We hear it at conferences and in platitudes about choosing a life that makes a difference, about not selling out. I was reminded today that the real journey of life is not the physical or economic one, but an emotional and spiritual one. We all have choices to make, choices that will profoundly affect our lives and the lives of those we love.

A limp is not an excuse to live a bitter life.
I can still choose, in spite of my situations, my past, and my problems to endeavor to find hope and help.
I have come to realize it is a great deal easier to grow old and ugly than it is to choose wholeness.
In fact, its way easier.

“People can be more forgiving than you imagine. But you have to forgive yourself. Let go of what’s bitter and move on.”  Bill Cosby

He Probably Had It Coming…

Let me start out by saying I was raised to never hit a woman… ever. I think husbands and boyfriends who hit their spouses are pigs and cowards. Please do not write me and accuse me of treating the subject of violent men flippantly. Take a look at this blog and ask yourself if I let men off the hook too lightly.

Lately, however, I have been noticing an equally disturbing trend in domestic violence – wives/girlfriends beating their spouses.

I was commenting about this to someone recently and they immediately went on the offense. They started out by saying “he probably deserved it.” They went on to say further, “well what did he do to her?”

Seriously?

I find it intriguing that when I have been involved in domestic situations where a woman is battered those questions never come up. Ever. They are political suicide to ask, bordering on slander. Only a misogynistic douchebag would hint that a woman had it coming. Yet it seems perfectly acceptable to ask when the victim is a man.

I would have to admit that I hear of an alarming number of situations involving a battering wife/girlfriend. It’s shocking and something you never talk about. After all, what kind of man would complain? Is he a wimp? Surely she was protecting herself.

This is overt sexism and absolutely unacceptable. I have heard of men being hit with the car, beaten with cast iron, knives being thrown, kicked between the legs, faces slapped on a regular basis. I personally know several men who are afraid of their spouse, demoralized and emasculated. In counseling these men question their masculinity, even their sexuality. They cannot talk to any friends about this, for fear they will be belittled or accused of violence themselves. One man told me he feels “physically, emotionally, and sexually violated” by his wife. These same men were taught to never hit a woman and so complain that they have no defense against violence. They somehow have come to the conclusion that, in order to be a “real man”, they must take it and keep silent.

Recently I have also had clients who are in a lesbian relationship and feeling the sting of physical and emotional violence. They are also unsure of how to handle the situation. They have also struggled to be heard. Transgender people have long felt the sting as well. We all know about the abuse of gay men.

It is a horrible thing when relationships end in violence, and it is certainly no more acceptable for a woman to be physically violent than a man. I am seriously afraid that someday a man will retaliate after being struck by a female – then beat her up – charge her with assault – and win. This could open up the doors to rampant abuse and violence.

It’s time to stop the cycles of violence wherever they occur.

Listening To Your Critics

I met Al in college. He was awkward, clumsy, ugly and small. His mannerisms labelled him – loser. He had a sharp wit but that didn’t seem to matter. Al was an outcast.

I’m not sure of the reasons but a few of us decided to use Al for an experiment. We had heard a speaker talk about loving the unlovely so we decided, with somewhat dubious motivation, to use Al as our guinea pig. A sows ear to a silk purse…

So in typical Pygmalion fashion we began to convince Al, and everyone around him, that he was a winner. We told him he was good looking. we had pretty girls flirt with him. At the college sporting event we started a cheer – “Al, Al, Al”. It wasn’t long before the entire stadium was yelling his name. He ate it up. He became our team mascot, then our school mascot; our own personal Gurgi (from The Chronicles of Prydain, if you haven’t read it to your kids, why not?).

Something started to happen.

It wasn’t long before Al began to look different to us. I wasn’t sure if it was his dress or his manner but he had changed, and continued to change. It wasn’t that he became more like the rest of us, more like society. Al became more “Al” like. He realized that in spite of the media, in spite of all his previous experience, he was obviously good-looking – everyone was telling him so. Apparently he had a good body as well. He was popular, though he probably didn’t understand why.

And Al started to blossom.

It wasn’t long before Al really was cool, very cool in fact. He was hilarious, witty, engaging, even gregarious. He started to approach girls. A few didn’t turn him down. At sporting events he ran the crowd. It wasn’t long before our little Pygmalion was indeed the most popular guy at the college.

Mental health professionals tell us that our self-image is largely determined by the attitudes of those closest to us. If our friends think we are ugly we soon believe them. If they think we are amazing then this too will define us. It is for this reason that I have always insisted that my boys are winners, beautiful, talented, and incredibly humble. just like their dad.

So many of us have been belittled by spouses or friends so long that we have come to believe we are ugly, or stupid, or unlovable. Some of us have been in abusive relationships with someone who reminded us, often in subtle ways, that we are losers. For some reason our self-esteem has been ruined. We no longer think of ourselves as winners, as valuable. We have lost our “Al-ness”. We have succumbed to the inner and outer voices that demean and negate. There are probably people in your life who find their self-esteem from making you feel like less. They need to hurt you to feel good about themselves.

And some of them are closer than we realize.

I have that inner voice that reminds me of my failures and has a list of the ways I fail to measure up. You probably don’t need to tell me my faults, I have a complete index of my mistakes, most of us do. It is easy, the older we grow, to forget that we once loved ourselves, were once allowed to share our “Al-ness” without ridicule. Most of us have become so fearful of sounding arrogant that we can barely remember how special we are, or at least were.

A little Al can go a long way. You just need someone to believe in you.

Stop listening to your critics, especially if that voice sounds an awful lot like yours…

Ashamed To Be A Guy

As a counselor I hear many many stories about people’s sex lives, or lack thereof. Most people, once trust is built are willing to talk about pretty much anything. I will hear the typical complaints – men who have not taken the time to to understand and fulfill their partner’s sexual needs. Men who have been “cut off” for no apparent reason and cannot comprehend what they are doing wrong. Women who have rarely or never had an orgasm and believe (usually incorrectly) that somehow this is their sexual or gynecological failing (also almost never true). I have written about, and will continue to write about, the need to address these issues, especially when female sexual fulfillment is involved. A shockingly high percentage of women in therapy, for example, have had few orgasms that they have not brought about themselves. Another topic I address frequently is the relatively low percentage of men who have any idea what is going on inside their partner’s head and the impact of the female thinking process on their capacity to engage in a meaningful sexual way.

One issue I love to talk about, as distressing as it is to admit, is the overwhelming selfishness of the male orgasm. Earlier this fall I mentioned a group I do for couples wherein I challenge the men in the room to abstain from “finishing” for at least a month or longer while they wholeheartedly concentrate exclusively on servicing and nurturing their partner. As men we are not trained to think like this. None of us have ever heard such heresy before. Not climaxing during sex in absolutely foreign to the vast majority of us, virtually every male I have ever met.

But every once in a while even I am still able to be shocked.

Someone I trust once told me a story of a couple where the husband “needed” sex every day of their marriage. Every day. Pig. After the birth of their child it was, while she was still in the hospital recovering from a natural child-birth, and probably an episiotomy to boot, that he crawled up to satiate himself. What a sick bastard. What abuse. That man did not truly love his wife, and if you think I am being judgmental then so be it. That is not a real man, that is a sexual violator who has chained his wife to a bondage of sexual abuse from which she may never recover.

Men don’t need sex every day. They may want it but such a belief or custom is the sure sign of an emotionally shunted, selfish post-adolescent, with little or no self-control and even less respect for the woman he has dominated. He knows nothing about satisfying a woman, nothing about understanding female sexuality, and makes me so angry I would love to kick him in the balls until the abuse ends.

And that is my clinical therapeutic assessment.

Entitlement – What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?

ENTITLEMENTCTV News released the new figures on consumer debt in Canada yesterday. In the report the writer points out that in the past five years, debt loads have increased 400 per cent more than the rate of inflation. “Debt’s outpacing us and continues to outpace us, so at some point in time there’s going to be a reconciliation,” Higgins said.

Entitlement

It is a word we are all familiar with. An epidemic of our own making. At least in North America we have spawned the most coddled generation ever known, and they are demanding Smart Phones and iPads and texting plans. Turn on the television and you can watch twenty-somethings argue that the new house they are contemplating buying does not have granite counter tops or ten-foot ceilings. Couples think nothing of spending thousands in credit on vacations they have not worked for. There is a pervading sense of entitlement, that we have somehow earned a lavish lifestyle built on credit payments.

The deeper issue here may just be an ingrained selfishness, combined with an unrealistic expectation of life. We assume we are going to have money and credit companies keep trying to prove us right. I have patients in their early twenties who are $60-70,000 in debt with little or nothing to show for it. This is consumer debt, usually at 19% interest or worse.

And it is not just the teens who are feeling the need for greed and self-indulgence. It is little wonder that my fifteen year old feels abused by life because he does not have an iPhone. His friend’s parents apparently have unlimited access to funds, in spite of the fact that they are single parents with multiple credit cards. Matt’s buddies have extensive and expensive phone plans with unlimited data. These kids feel hard done by if their parents do not pay for their $50/week paintball addiction or do not give them rides wherever they want and whenever they want. These same teens insist their parents buy them cars and trucks while they are still in their teens… and they usually get them. What the hell is wrong with us? Are we so guilt-laden from our divorce? So afraid of our children missing out? Are we so insecure that we need our child’s approval, or so desperate to be cool that we are willing to sell out a fundamental tenet of good parenting?

We are the problem.

I routinely ask my clients to watch shoes like Til Debt Do Us Part or Princess, both with the same host. While I would never tell a client to watch Dr. Phil or Oprah, I am convinced that Gail helps people deal with the reality of debt and financial bondage. The problem is, however, that the issue is actually a psychological and emotional issue as much as it is a financial one. What is it about us that we believe we are entitled to trips and toys and two hundred-dollar haircuts, handbags worth thousands and weekly trips to the spa?

And let’s be honest, reality television is not helping – rich, arrogant, young and beautiful people who have been surgically enhanced flaunting their money and low IQ’s so that our children can learn that they deserve the best and should dedicate their lives to things that do not matter.

Christmas is coming and the urge to spend what we do not have to impress our children and friends can be overwhelming. Commercials push and prod with amazing tenacity and we are all tempted to spend more than we budget. What are we hoping to accomplish? Do we realize the message we continue to send to our family when we indulge in such technological hedonism with little regard to the psychological ramifications of what we are preaching?

The issue is not neutral, but profound and important. I cannot help but feeling that we have sold our souls for a stupid phone.

How To Argue With Your Emotional Teenager

I have, for some time now, been working with high risk and aberrant behaviour youth as a youth and family counselor. Few things in this world are harder to deal with than a teenager with a sense of entitlement, immature emotional development, poor discipline, and a bad attitude. Those of you who have gone toe to toe with a teenager can verify what I am saying.

It simply doesn’t work.

It’s all about energy. Yelling at a belligerent who is yelling back at you rarely, if ever, leads to a group hug. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity all over again – doing the same thing and expecting different results. Unfortunately, however, most of us continue to yell. Yelling feels familiar, and it releases pent-up emotion and frustration. The majority of us learned it from our parents who learned it from their parents. We swore we wouldn’t be that kind of parent when we grew up but sometimes, well sometimes that kid frustrates us so much we have no choice.

One more time. It doesn’t work.

If you want to win the argument, salvage the situation, or whatever it is you want to accomplish, you need to change the energy if you want to change the result. You need to change the rules of the argument if you want any hope of a positive outcome. Here’s a good guideline – Do not emotionally engage a screaming teenager unless you want to have a fight.

Stop arguing. Stop emoting. Stop gushing. Smile.

There is an old maxim: Love me, hate me, just don’t ignore me.

Why is that? Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of us hate to be ignored. We feel disrespected. Something inside of us rebels against apathy.  When it comes to an argument with an irrational person a second factor comes into play as well. It is very hard to argue with someone who will not argue back.

When your out-of-control teenager is looking for a fight, seeking to make a point, and prepared to bully you to get their way, nothing will disarm and frustrate them more than a parent or person who simply smiles and says nothing. It works, I have used this methodology and taught it to dozens of parents. At first it drives them insane, later it shuts down the yelling effectively and with dignity.

There must be a more effective way to engage angry teens, while at the same time helping them to understand that emotional bullying is not just wrong, it’s ineffective. Those of us who were taught to yell by our parents inherently understand how ineffective their yelling was.

So why did we decide to use this dysfunctional method ourselves?

Living My Life To Impress A Five Year Old

Many of us were damaged emotionally when we were children. We were criticized, we were belittled, we were told how to live, how to act, what to wear and how to think… by other children. Have you been to a playground lately? Have you noticed that their opinions are fairly… stupid?

Or maybe it was a relative who criticized you and turned you into an introvert, or taught you to suppress your emotions, or hide who you are. A relative you now realize is an asshole whose opinion does not matter.

So why are you still acting like he told you to 25 years ago?

Perhaps you had a parent who told you that you were an idiot, or stupid, or worthless. Twenty years later you still battle insecurity, still feel like a loser. In counseling we find out that you feel this way predominantly because of what you were told when you were a child. You now realize that your alcoholic, abusive, degenerate father is a moron.

So why do you still hear that voice in your head?

My grandmother and other relatives told me/taught me countless times that I was a mouthy, disrespectful, immature burden that should be “seen and not heard” (and preferably not seen). I grew up to live up to some of those expectations, perhaps because I believed them on some level. I have taken the time to analyze why I spent so much of my early adulthood trying to fit in, rebelling against the status quo, saying everything on my mind without filtering, etc. In spite of great parents who loved and believed in me I now believe that those relatives taught me important and dysfunctional lessons that I have spent decades trying to come to grips with. With little effort I can still hear my grandmother’s voice. My uncle’s voice.

Mental health professionals are fond of telling us that much of our psyche was formed when we were little children. It is increasingly apparent that many of us had our dysfunctional coping skills, our poor self-image, and our self-destructive tendencies formed while we were yet little people – impressionable, ignorant, socially retarded, childish little kids who had no idea how to filter out the negative and destructive messages. We heard messages and learned lessons that continue to haunt us, regardless of what we understand intellectually. We believe, on one level, that we need to “get over” our past. Making that happen, however, is a different challenge altogether.

We have been imprinted, and those tattoos do not just wash off. It is one thing to realize that you have been molded by dysfunction, it is another thing altogether to effectively break free from that influence. Those attitudes and coping skills have become a part of who you are and how you cope. You have owned them. Really you had little choice.

Every day I talk with people who have been emotionally scarred by childhood or adult friends, or authority figures, or those who were supposed to love and protect them. In counseling they begin to recognize that several of their foundational beliefs and coping mechanisms, ways of dealing with the world that they have relied on for decades, may in fact be deeply flawed. It is a horrible and humbling thing to realize that you have been living your life believing distortions about yourself and your world.

For decades you have believed that no one can be trusted, and you have proven yourself correct countless times. You have evidence to support your cognitive distortions so they must be real. Anger is the way to deal with perceived slight. Always stick up for yourself. Never give up. If you want something done you have to do it yourself. Forget about the past. Meekness is weakness. All men are assholes. All women are bitches. I’ll never get better. I’ll never be able to cope. Never let anyone see the real you. Don’t take crap from anyone. Hurt them before they hurt you. Hitting your partner is ok if I say “I’m sorry”. I won’t measure up. Yelling works. Vulnerability leads to abuse. Nothing will ever change. I’m a failure. I can’t be honest. I’m damaged goods. No one could love me. I’m a loser. The list goes on and on.

Go back to the playground. Go back to that bedroom, that old house, that church basement. Take a hard look at that abusive parent, relative, adult, child. Healing and growth begins when we realize that the voices in my head and the attitudes and coping skills I developed to protect myself may not work anymore. They may, in fact, be keeping me sick and powerless.

You don’t have to listen to him anymore. She was wrong about you. That wasn’t your fault. The coping skills you so despise in yourself isn’t your fault either. You were doing the best you could with very little information and support in a dangerous world not of your making.

It’s not your fault. Talk to someone. Time to question everything. Time to be free.