Making Peace With Me

I remember, as a young child, being told, “quit bragging!”. 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. We tell our kids they are amazing, but don’t really want it to go to their head.
Psychology is cool. If you take the time to learn about people you begin to understand that it’s possible to like yourself without turning into a jerk. The science on this is fairly straightforward, insecure people brag too much. People who have made peace with themselves and have a decent self-image tend to be humble, and for one very obvious reason: the more you learn about life, the more you understand how much you still do not know. Most of us struggle with crippling self-esteem issues and if we do not deal with this lack of self-confidence, this stuff isn’t going away. As your Mental Wellness Team we would like to remind you that you are pretty darn amazing and there is plenty to like, if you allow yourself.
Liking yourself does not automatically make you arrogant or insecure. People who accept who they are do not need the approval of others, and are usually not fixated on jumping through hoops to be loved. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when it comes out of a healthy state of mind and body. 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. Many of us are keenly aware that we will probably never be perfect; the challenge is to be good with that.
Here’s another little gem from psychology – 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. What an amazing family this would be if we could learn to like ourselves, in spite of our long list of failures or shortcomings. Healthy people realize that it is important to also have a list of their pure awesomeness.
There is no magic formula for good self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are amazing when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins by putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. You can stop looking at the blemishes and begin to focus on your potential. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant, and everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to fixate on what is missing. Like many things on this journey called life, this is about changing how you think, not how you look.
So go ahead, crow!
*thanks to Marie Pudlas for her photo

 

My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.

My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”

The Wolf At The End Of My Lane

I had a wolf. Well, not really; I should back up. There was a huge grey wolf at the end of my drive.

I would see him, I assume it’s a him, every few months. He would suddenly appear in the culvert, at the end of my lane, as I drove by. One day I stopped. One day I got out. The big grey wolf at the end of my lane.

I have never shared this tale before, and I’m not entirely sure why not. Perhaps it is because such a claim is impossible to verify and reeks of hyperbole. It may not have even really been the same wolf. But I know what I remember, and since no money is changing hands and I will never be famous, let me tell you a true story.

Before coming to the Left Coast of Canada I lived in the north, Fort McMurray Alberta, to be precise. It’s a weird place where welders make $150,000 a year and everyone wishes they were somewhere else. I lived on a ranch.

It appears that 25 minutes from the downtown of a northern city is too far for most commuters so we lived on 85 acres, in a beautiful cedar home with 22 feet floor-to-ceiling windows. We paid a little less than the cost of an apartment in town.

People in Fort McMurray buy toys, but I’m not talking about the dirty thought you just had. Snowmobiles and boats for a lake that is only tolerable for six weeks in the summer. Big trucks and expensive trips to the West Edmonton Mall and debt that staggers the imagination. My old town. The thing about toys are, they take up space. I had a ranch and someone needed a place for four horses. I had a barn and a friend wanted a dry place for three snowmobiles, including the keys. Someone else needed a home for a motorcycle, then a minibike, then a tractor, then more and more things with motors. Not bad for the price of a condo.

In the winter I would come home most days and take out one of the snowmobiles for a run, just so it would not rust. I am very considerate that way. I forgot to mention that I lived off a lake, but not near the beach. By January you could drive a Semi on any lake in northern Alberta and have a trucker hoedown with little fear. I loved to surf the powder on the lake at the end of a day listening to people’s problems. I was practicing mindfulness, or at least that’s what I told my wife.

One afternoon after work, as the sun was already beginning to set, I nearly drove into a pack of wolves running across the lake. Though we came from different directions we seemed to be aiming for the same destination. As I neared the pack there was my wolf, staring at me as he ran, not a care in the world. Maybe it was the shock of seeing that very wolf, or maybe it was the meds, but I didn’t drive away that afternoon. Almost naturally I came alongside this group of predators and on that day they let me run with the pack. I slowed, and we ran, and it was… glorious.

Into every life a little karma must fall and on that day someone was looking out for me. I was given a gift and a casual nod and, in spite of the artificial cacophony of the machine, permission to play. I felt something that day – something old. The wolf at the end of the lane knew me. To run with wolves, that is something out of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.

I wish I could still run.

It appears my body is breaking down. Years of sports and abuse and frozen pizzas have left their tan lines; and all the colon cleansers in the world can’t stop the march of time. It’s the game everyone gets to lose.

Some of you have been pretty all your life. This was never a cross I was called to bear. People who are good-looking may seem to be getting a better deal on everything because chances are they do. As a general rule pretty people get preferential treatment and tall people make more money; there is science to verify this. Some of you still haven’t yet paid for a drink in a bar but hold on, your time is coming. You are getting uglier. Ya, me too.

As a Canadian I feel compelled to wrap that comment up in a beautiful bow and deliver it to you in a passive-aggressive little pile of bullshit, but I will leave that sentence alone (I deleted the line with “uglier” three times because at heart I really just want you to like me). We are all aging, at varying rates. Television shows seem more and more to feature children who barely shave and yet have somehow had time to learn eight languages, get a black belt in Karate, and a doctorate in neuropsych.

Anyone who reads this drivel knows that I frequently write about philosophy, along with the regular psychology menu. I am currently on the slowtrack to a doctorate in my own particular weird blend of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Existentialism. I was fortunate that in my undergraduate degree I met people like Dave and Dan who delighted in daily jettisoning my preconceptions about virtually everything. They were my educational mentors and I am in their debt. I was given permission to think, and this has had a profound and ofttimes negative impact on my life to this day.

Few of us get healthy by accident. There is simply too much going on in the Twenty-first Century for most of us to stay emotionally well and positive in outlook. The promised future, replete with free-time and pastel jumpsuits, never materialized and most of my friends are stressed out of their minds and one Koolaid spill from taking out the village. Everyone has mental health issues and if you don’t just wait a week.

I have mentioned this before but I find it hard to even listen to a client who isn’t learning. I’ll put that more gently. I cannot think of one client who is really rocking this mental health thing who is not either a student or a reader or a serious life-learner. Last week I spoke at a martial art and ranted, “if you don’t read, you don’t lead”. That may sound narrow-minded or condescending but consider for a moment the world we find ourselves in. We no longer have the luxury of being ignorant about a host of things we never gave a crap about before the internet and media age. For thousands of years people had no idea what was happening and seemed to survive quite swimmingly. Our lives are a bombardment of manic media sources, Facebook and texting and Google and Xbox and our friends informing us that they arrived safely at the Red Lobster on 38th Street like I should give a damn. Our world is complex and dysfunctional and we were not given the tools to understand the how, let alone the why. I honestly have no idea why people who are not learning don’t lose their mind. Some days I wonder if I am too stupid and I do this for a living.

I could be wrong but I know what works for me. I have convinced myself that I want to be smart and I fell back in love with learning, and so have my Jedi friends who put me to shame. My life was once filled with music and noise and traffic. Today I was listening to “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” on the drive to work. I drove slower than usual because I was on the part where they talk about the Sea Org and I have a sick fascination with cults. I had coffee with a friend this week and as she left she put on her earbuds. She was listening to “The Wisdom of Psychopaths“. I can virtually guarantee you that she is growing and moving forward.

Those who embrace the experience, rock the experience.

Few of us realize, that first month of counseling, that becoming a wise person requires tens of years of work, not weeks. In time the discipline no longer feels like drudgery and you begin to surf a little more consistently. In time this stuff changes your entire world and everyone around you if you let it.

This Is My Toolbox

This is for you. You know who you are.

I talk a great deal in counseling about “the toolbox”. It is a psychological construct that many of us are familiar with. Talking about a toolbox is trendy now, and for good reason. Knowing what it is and how to effectively use the toolbox can be a powerful metaphor. One woman I work with told me that the toolbox doesn’t work for her. She has a sewing kit. The actual metaphor isn’t important, working it very much is.

And so, in deference to the few who have asked, I’ll tell you about my personal toolbox. Sharing this, for some reason, feels like a very intimate confession. This is not your toolbox, but it is mine. Welcome to my particular version of psychological weirdness.
My toolbox is, in point of fact, an actual toolbox. Years ago, I once owned a rusty, red toolbox, with a single removable tray. I could never pull the thing apart without one corner getting stuck, and in my mind’s eye it is still that same old cranky, rusty, piece of crap. I use a version of the Loci System to stock this thing, this imaginary tool chest in my head. I complement this technique with various memory systems because I have a brain injury. There, I said it.

There are only four tools in the tray, a wrench, a yellow screwdriver, my wisdom rock, and a respirator. The second layer, the bottom of the toolbox, holds a toy black chair and a clown mask. Eventually I will replace the wrench and the screwdriver with more literal interpretations, but this works for now.

On that day when we met, I wasn’t thinking about toolboxes or wrenches. We were just having coffee when she casually hurt me with her words. They were spoken innocently enough, but they were anything but innocuous. She meant to hurt me, to teach me. Condescension is one of my buttons, stemming from my childhood. “Tuning me in” strikes me somewhere deep and dark. I am working on it.

I often forget to employ the toolbox. In the wave of emotions (anger or pain or embarrassment or a little of each) I can be caught up in the surge and forget that I am “Counselor Scott”. I forget to ask myself WWSD. I am overcome… sometimes.

I have been using the toolbox for a while now and it still only works when I remember. The methodology is still inherently flawed, and I am also researching and endeavouring to shore up that whole “forgetting” thing when I’m upset and the emotion rolls in like rain. I’ll let you know when I figure that piece out.

Back to the toolbox. I have worked very hard to recognize the rush of ugly, and approximately 50% of the time I now remember to reach for the box. I open the toolbox in my mind. I can see the clasp, one of those silver ones with a metal loop on the top; and I open it.

There is the wrench. The wrench reminds me to recognize the cognitive distortions that are raping and pillaging my brain right that moment. I don’t know why it’s a wrench – this is probably because when I started doing this thing I was much too literal about a ‘toolbox’. I am thinking of changing it to a bunny, but that’s another article. As I reach out in my mind’s eye to grab the wrench I am reminded that I am probably not completely objective right now. Maybe I am catastrophizing or taking this conversation far too personally. Perhaps I am employing “all or nothing” thinking or emotional reasoning. I often use emotional reasoning because I am hurt. Holding the wrench forces me to think rationally. If that doesn’t work I can always hit you with the wrench, so it’s all good.

There is a yellow screwdriver, don’t ask me why. The screwdriver reminds me to employ STOPP Therapy. I should probably just substitute a STOPP Therapy cue card that I give to clients… duh. STOPP therapy has saved my life. I am proficient at STOPP therapy and if I can remember, this is usually as far as I need to go in the box. If I am still not able to deescalate myself , the respirator reminds me to breathe. Two weeks ago at the movie theatre I had to breathe 7 times before I could calm myself down. Apparently I still have some growing up to do. I carry the wisdom rock as a grounding tool. Sometimes it helps.

If I have to pull out the tray I know I’m in trouble.

The bottom layer of the toolbox contains a toy black chair and a clown mask. We are getting serious now. The toy chair is an exact replica of the chair I am sitting in as I write this – my counseling chair, rips and all. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that I need to put on my “Counselor Scott” hat. Yes I built in the redundancy because I am not that smart and need more than one cue. The clown mask… well the clown mask is more controversial and I hesitate to put it in writing. Let’s just say this memory cue reminds me that people have issues and I need to remember that ofttimes the anger or resentment I am getting from someone may not be a reflection of me. We all have mental health issues. Let’s leave that at that.

I am profoundly aware of how cheesy such tools can appear to the uninitiated or critical. But here’s the rub – when I am in crisis I usually do not have time to be profound. I need something quick and simple. Just like me.

When Having Sex With Your Man Makes You Feel Cheap And Used

It seems that almost daily women tell me that they are having obligatory sex, usually around once per month, to appease their partner stop the begging These women believe, reasonably, that if they give in it will allow them some time off from the emotional games/manipulation and help them placate that voice inside their head that keeps telling them they are frigid, or a bad spouse, or something far worse.  Most women I have talked to do the obligation sex thing for what they believe are the right reasons, hoping that this will somehow make things at least temporarily better.

They are wrong.

Men do not think like you do. The message you are sending is nothing like the message we are hearing. Women tend to have sex for very different reasons than men do (no new revelation here). When we are fighting, when our relationship is stale, when I don’t think you like me and then you have sex with me, as a guy I think, “everything is ok now.” I am not making this up. Sex puts a guy’s world back in order.

Is that the message you meant to send?

I do understand, at least as much as I am able, the frustration many women feel who are in a stable relationship when it comes to sex. Even as a dude I realize how incredibly invasive and penetrating (ya, I know…) such a biological act is; even devoid of the emotional, sensual, and spiritual aspects of making love.

I am also familiar with the persistent frustration many men feel and the temptation to beg, manipulate, promise and beg in order to have sex. I am still amazed that my wife would even let me touch her like that, and I’m not being trite. I feel a woman’s body, any partner’s body for that matter, is such an incredible gift that I can think and dream about her all day. She’s a redhead. It is no wonder that even the strongest among us can be tempted to entice and manipulate in order to get our way. Many men are guilty of selfishness in this area.

In my course for men on sex I challenge every guy in a relationship to continue to have sex but refrain from having an orgasm for at least a month or two. Why?

I believe in my deepest parts that it is quintessentially important for men, and women, to grow beyond their selfishness, greed and lust in order to become a great lover and a great person. NO ONE is born a great lover. Few of us are willing to do what it takes to become one.

You have only to read the comments on some of my blogs to see how many women have been hurt through the selfishness and douchebaggery of men who are only interested in their sperm count and have never learned to love selflessly. How many of us have stood up at weddings or witnessed the couple repeating those Bible verses you hear at every wedding about thinking more of the other than we do of ourselves? That isn’t just good spirituality, that is foundational truth.

My heart hurts for so many women who have been exploited, sexually abused, and treated like a prostitute, by a partner who swore to love them unconditionally. Often they relate that they constantly feel guilty and inadequate. In my practice by far the majority of sexual abuse I deal with comes from within a committed relationship. Consider that for a moment.

If your partner is not willing and committed to foregoing their own pleasure in order to ensure your safety and trust (notice I didn’t say anything about sex there), as well as your pleasure first; then I have serious concerns about their level of commitment. I tell women on a regular basis that they are not obligated to have sex when their partner whines, abuses, or manipulates. You have more power than you know. Use it.

Next week I will write about how to teach your male how to be a great lover, but for now I want to reach out to those many people who have been exploited, or who have had their needs ignored, or have been fooled by a man who started out loving you and now is only using you. You are not dirty, ugly, loose. You especially are not frigid. That is his word, not yours. After all, who among us would not be willing to give ourselves to someone who will truly honour and love unconditionally, having only our concerns and safety at heart?

If you are a guy reading this, don’t be like the other pigs we all know. Be an amazing lover. Ask your partner to teach you. Be humble.

It’s the best learning you’ll ever do.

P.S. – Experts tell us that having sex with your partner ten times per year still qualifies you as being in a sexless marriage. (maybe I’m doing the math wrong). Did you hear me, experts!

The Myth of the Strong Silent Type (or Never Date Someone Who Is Emotionally Unavailable)

Growing up I wanted to be Spiderman. Not the Tobey Maguire metro-sexual ripoff, the real Spiderman; from the cartoons. “Is he strong? Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead. Look out, here comes

Magyar: Spiderman arcfestés the Spiderman.”

Spiderman, Clint Eastwood, Arnold the Terminator, Jet Li, Rocky 1,2,3,4,5, and of course the A Team. It was a time when ‘men were men’, or so the saying goes. Real men didn’t cry, show emotions, or ask for help. They knew how to fight, or at least pretend to.

And we didn’t talk about our feelings while we were sober. Ever.

Most men grow up in a very different world then women. Women are used to sharing how they feel, their struggles, clothing styles, emotions. Women go to the bathroom in groups. I was not taught how to share my feelings; in fact to do so was frowned upon. Now take that same man and put him in a romantic relationship with a woman. She really likes him, he listens very well. He’s strong and protective; she feels safe in his arms.

(I am conscious that this sounds sexist. This is obviously a generalization)

Fast forward twenty years and that same woman is sitting in my office, complaining that her husband is ’emotionally unavailable’. He doesn’t share his feelings. She relates that they never really talk anymore and have significant communication problems. All of their conversations end in a fight and the trust and compassion are gone. She is obviously very vulnerable and confesses that she has been cheating on him. How could things have ended up so bad?

What could possibly have gone so wrong that she would forsake her wedding vows? They seemed like such a solid couple. From the outside it appears as if they are doing well but if you could be a fly on the wall the answer becomes obvious, if you take the time to analyze it.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far more common than most people think. Even in relationships where there is no infidelity many partners complain that their spouse is not emotionally available. This woman was starving for attention. She has been married to the same man all her life and things have slowly gone from bad to worse. Her marriage is not turning out like it was supposed to when she dreamed as a girl of fairytale weddings, passion, and happily ever after. She found she was becoming needy and began fantasizing about what life could be like with Prince Charming. And Prince Charming was more than willing to say all the right words, listen to her stories, and empathize about things her husband didn’t seem to care about.

I know multiple situations when the roles are reversed. Same-sex relationships often have their share of emotionally unavailable partners as well.

Time after time I talk to patients, usually women, who complain that they cannot connect or communicate with their partner. Before they were married or moved in everything seemed so much better. Now, however it feels like she is living with a stranger. Attempts to create conversations are often met with grunts or monosyllabic words. After all these years, now that the glow has worn off, this couple is discovering that they really have nothing in common. Add to this the fact that even on the topics they can discuss one or both of the partners is prone to become angry, usually over the simplest thing. This couple is most likely headed for a divorce.

There are many stated reasons why couples get divorced but it is apparent that once they stop communicating things are only going to go from bad to worse. After twenty years of marriage many couples no longer share any of their innermost thoughts. Women complain that they are practically living as strangers and their spouse has rarely tried to connect or communicate beyond the regular household courtesies.

Marrying or being with an emotionally unavailable partner is never a good idea. I hear people all the time tell me that they knew their spouse wasn’t open about their feelings and thoughts before they made a solid commitment but at the time they thought this would be no big deal. Sure he doesn’t go on at length about himself or about the relationship but he’s so caring, so nice, and has such a great sense of humor. They are soul-mates and are going to spend the rest of their life together.

Wrong.

Ask anyone who has spent ten or twenty years with an emotionally unavailable person and they will admit that things have not turned out the way they had hoped. They are starving for deep conversations and intimacy, and have had to go outside the house to find this. These women are struggling to emotionally and sexually bond, and the impact on their self esteem, libido and lovemaking is profound. The longer they are together the more distant they seem to become.

No relationship is perfect but if you are in a situation like I have described you need to get help fast. Believing that person will somehow change is ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. It’s simply not going to happen unless there is an intervention. Get help from a counselor who doesn’t suck. Work on yourself first because getting that other person to change is damn near impossible unless they are humble and willing to address their fundamental relational flaws.

Don’t settle for a mediocre relationship if you can help it. Fight for your life, you deserve it.

And don’t even get me started on dating the ‘bad boy’…