Stress and the Social Self: How Relationships Affect Our Immune System

From our friends at brainpickings:

Somewhere in our brains we carry a map of our relationships. It is our mother’s lap, our best friend’s holding hand, our lover’s embrace — all these we carry within ourselves when we are alone. Just knowing that these are there to hold us if we fall gives us a sense of peace. “Cradled,” “rooted,” “connected” are words we use to describe the feeling that comes of this knowledge; social psychologists call this sense embeddedness. The opposite is perhaps a more familiar term — we call it loneliness. Continue reading “Stress and the Social Self: How Relationships Affect Our Immune System”

With Love To A Dying Church

I don’t write about religion on this blog. There are many reasons and not all of them are healthy, but I never wanted this to be about church because I have literally been there, done that, and I’m better now. Religion is a topic that divides families and I’m not about that, and I’m too pink to care, and I have other outlets. I rarely delete comments but come at me preaching and no one will ever know you stopped by. Contrary to what some allege, I am absolutely not anti-faith, quite the opposite. Spirituality is essential to mental health and I really just wanted to talk about your Hippocampus and not John 3:16. Don’t worry mom, I’m not going rogue.

I grew up around the Evangelical Movement. I attended boarding school because my local school had no room for me and it was a boom-or-bust oil town; so my parents sacrificed their middle-class savings and I went to the middle of nowhere. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan may not be the end of the world but you can smell it from there. I remember the first day of grade 10 – we had to go to chapel. I did not know what “chapel” really was, but soon I found out it was Monday Church before class. How quaint, I thought. Then we had to go to church again on Tuesday. You saw the pattern here before I did. Holy Monkeys.

I didn’t come from this. My family went to church whenever my dad had to do the books (he literally missed the service) and he could scrape up the money to bribe us with a Happy Meal. It was a long time ago and Happy Meals were cool so shut up and quit judging me. They had a prize inside, for heaven’s sake (see what I did there?). Oh, and I had a Summer Bible Camp girlfriend. Sorry Connie.

Church came with a Happy Meal. We would stretch out on the pew and have a nap, right there in front of a hundred people. My father would literally put up with anything to get us to a service. My mother didn’t even go, and it took me years to realize that eventually even McDonald’s wasn’t enough to keep most of us in church.

One day I grew up and married into a religious denomination because everyone knows that Christian chicks are hot and I was an adolescent hormone who had to go to Thursday Church. I met some amazing people on the journey and learned what selflessness looked like and tried to play a small part. Everyone seemed to want to change the world.

As a therapist I get to visit many different realities. I am intimately familiar with the nuances of both a crack house and a mansion, occasionally on the same day. People come to Drop-In and tell our counselors things that are unbelievable, but absolutely true. One day last week I heard three horrific stories in a row only to realize it wasn’t yet 10 am. I’m not complaining, my job is rarely work and it turns my crank but it’s staggering, the measure of pain that is in your town.

The world became complicated and my religious friends began to look baffled and overwhelmed. Pastors told me on a regular basis that they “had no idea” how to engage the culture anymore; and when they said this to me it sounded as if they were talking about a foreign country with a different language. Several even had a visceral reaction to their own comments. Words were spoken with grief, not animosity; wonder, not cursing. It must be a horrific thing to feel like an outsider in a world you walk through every day. “In the world, not of it” became for some a mandate to circle the wagons and run from the homosexuals. Churches formed schools, than Starbucks and bookstores and yoga and health foods, and before you knew it you no longer had to talk to pagans at all.

We still need you, church. We need your brashness and your balls, your unswerving and unsuccessful attempts at integrity, your idealism and your faith in humanity. You don’t need to worry, we know you are flawed, but so are we. If only we could put down our weapons and have a beer. Many of the kindest and most loving people in the world are from your camp. The media is wrong, you do have something to bring to the table; but you need to realize that you have become only one voice, a voice easily marginalized when the volume is cranked too high. It is not as scary as you think, out here in the wilderness. Many friends are still asking the hard questions and looking for community and aren’t as angry as they once were. You taught us about hope and faith and happiness and family; and that stuff, when you hear it from someone who actually gives a damn, sticks with a person.

I was giving a talk on Current Drug Trends last week and I offhandedly commented, “There is no war on drugs, we clearly lost.” People who don’t believe that addiction has become a permanent part of our cultural landscape are called Amish. Many of us really really like dopamine and serotonin because they are super yummy and Canadians sometimes do drugs because drugs are awesome, for a while. Being high can be significantly more fun than being sober, especially at work. Many of us smoke pot every single day and then tell our friends that it’s not addictive. The Amish are lovely people with a rich and diverse heritage.

What do drugs have to do with Methodists? Many of my friends in the church are very nervous about having a frank conversation with a society which is often highly medicated and has embraced gay marriage, divorce, premarital sex, pornography, shopping on Sunday, recreational drug use, cheating on taxes, promiscuity, reality television, partial nudity, pluralism, The Long Island Medium, gay marriage, legalized pot, living in “sin”, potty mouth, “worldliness”, abortion, 4/20, yoga, violence and gore, Justin Bieber, and women in stretchy pants that are so tight you can see their bladder. As the world swerves into the Post-Christendom Era it has caught the conservative Christian world with its pants down. I am keenly aware that this can offend but I do this for a hobby and my wife thinks I’m good-looking so I can take it if you can just understand my heart on this.

Our hemisphere is experiencing a seismic shift, yet again.

Many in “the world” are willing to have an authentic conversation and they know you can’t give on a few things because of the Bible but that’s ok, let’s just be real with one another. I can honestly say that I have never had a candid conversation about faith with anyone in the past ten years who was not warm and engaging, with the possible exception of a few faithful.  People love talking about spirituality with anyone who validates their journey and doesn’t tell them what to think. Why is this so hard, church people? People are interested in the conversation, just not the condemnation. Spirituality is incredibly important and when we are easily wounded we shut down the dialogue before it can really bear fruit.

I miss you, the friends of my youth. Some of you were wise and sage counsel and I loved you like a brother or sister. If I could wish for you one thing it would be the gift of not being offended. Priests can’t kill people anymore, so groups who want to get their message of hope across need to figure out how not to pick a fight. Learning to take a little less offence at the obvious blunders and shortcomings of others is probably something from which we could all receive benefit, myself included.

Let’s hang out. I’ll buy you a Happy Meal.

The Weatherman

Joseph Stalin had only one real job before going into revolution as an occupation. He was a weatherman. He also had smallpox. And a webbed foot. And one arm shorter than the other because of an accident with a horse. His dad was an alcoholic, a peasant. As a psychology guy I find these seemingly random facts incredibly interesting.

Nature and nurture.

There is no way to be certain but it may have made a difference that the defender of the largest geographic region in the world during the nazi attack called Barbarossa was intimately familiar with geography and weather. The nazis were ultimately stymied by the cossack winter. Was that a coincidence? What impact did his pockmarked face have on his bad attitude? What was it like growing up as a Georgian peasant at the end of the 19th Century Russia? Did growing up in poverty influence his decisions? How was he moulded?

Chances are, you can’t really escape your past. I look like my father, I have his hands. My kids are just better looking versions of me, poor slobs. There are scars, outside and some deep down. You have been imprinted by your past, by your culture, biology, and family systems.

Hitler attacked late. In the famous account we now know that at the last moment he decided to detour over to Hungary and flex his muscles a little. As a Canadian I can appreciate how short summer can be. The timelines were incredibly tight. Hitler had to have Moscow by winter. He was a few weeks late. The German soldiers had not come prepared for the Russian winter. Timing is everything when it comes to the weather. A weatherman would know that.

We may never fully understand the influence of seemingly insignificant detours in our lives. You chose one school or another and it changed everything. You met one person who transformed your future. You were born to particular people with specific dysfunction. You learned certain coping mechanisms in certain ways from certain people. The person I have become has been no accident, in spite of it happening by accident. We all carry the impressions from our little piece of crazy.

One of the reasons that this stuff takes so long to master must be because we have spent a lifetime being imprinted by our surroundings. The jury may occasionally be out, with regard to the biological impact that your forebearers  have had on you, but one thing is certain – nurture may have more to do with your life than nature. There are specific and significant mechanisms that interact when you live in an environment such as yours. There are entire branches of psychology dedicated solely to this, family and cultural systems theory and therapy. It is impossible to understate the impact living in such dysfunction could have upon a vulnerable and developing psyche. You are what you eat. And who you love. And where you live. And how you are hurt. Chances are there are also a bunch of other influences, whether apparent or not.

10885501_10152888523605049_5123057925881569940_nI am a Williams. That probably means nothing to you, but my family has created a mythos around our heritage that is taught to subsequent generations. This Christmas my parents bought everyone around me a T-shirt with “Be calm and let Williams handle it”, even the still-to-be-born Williams affectionately referred to as “Jellybean” (he/she received a onesie). If you are a little child in my world whose name ends with Williams you have undoubtedly been reminded how awesome and lucky you are; just because you are a member of this elite and ofttimes condescending tribe. My kids think that to be a Williams is a big deal. Generations of winners. It’s all a lie.

I mentioned recently that my family were/are peasants. Our history floats on a river of alcohol and impulse-control problems. My dad is an orphan. My mom, as a child, probably never met a teetotaller. I come from hard stock, unforgiving and obstinate… and talkative. Many had very large noses. Serfs.

This history touches my life every day. I have acquaintances who are one or two generations further removed from their peasant ancestors. That fact alone has a massive impact on every aspect of my life. There is not, and never were, the merchant assets to pass down to the next generation. This led, inevitably, to fewer options and a far greater likelihood of generational poverty. Williams’s don’t go to college, or at least they didn’t. There was no tradition nor cultural expectation with regard to education. My family simply did not go to college, we went to war. I am honoured to report that my father, at 76, is in university… again. I received my high school diploma before he did.

These are not insignificant cultural markers. How you grew up, and who you grew up with, affects everything from finances to self-esteem, where and how you live, who you date, how you raise your kids, how you self-medicate, how often you travel, your values and spirituality and intelligence and ability to cope. Further exposure to experience or abuse melds the psyche in early childhood, and sometimes much later. If your parents broke up, this will impact your everything. If you were/are abused, if you make poor relational choices (for the aforementioned reasons), if you grew up around violence or addiction or a passive-aggressive parent or three-ply toilet paper, everything factors in.

A man who earned his living by predicting tomorrow’s weather probably did not get confused when the snow started to fly in early October. His troops were cold weather fighters who used the land and the cold (and the biggest secret peasant army hidden east of the Urals that the world has ever known) to defeat the undefatigable Third Reich. Stalin knew hardship. The Nazis were almost in Moscow and all seemed lost, but Stalin did not leave – why? He was depressed but he was a Georgian peasant who had risen to the top by killing every single person (and their family) who stood in his way. The boy who had been teased for his scars and his bum arm wasn’t laying down for anyone. Some people have wounds that have defined them, shaped them.

Who I am, and where I come from, is so fundamentally important that it’s almost embarrassing to discuss. Yet time and again we are resurprised by our foibles and cannot understand why we act the way we do. We date the same kind of person over and over. We continue to experience the same difficulty with relationships, or finishing projects, or hoarding, or painting the kitchen every other month. For some, anger has become our constant companion. Others have identified themselves as broken for so long it is impossible to imagine a world wherein wholeness is even an option. Understanding the role our history has played in our dysfunction is crucial to healing. As the man said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This oft-quoted line has been liberally applied, but I believe it can apply here.

There is a possibility that you may not be as nuts as you think you are. Perhaps it really is your parents fault! Whatever the truth, it’s important to find out. Learning is how we wrestle this pig to the ground. Again.

One last story.

When I was 29, I woke up one morning and realized that I had been having a repeating nightmare. I could remember it being a little different, years ago, but wasn’t sure how. In the dream I was always chased by two guys who grabbed me and threw me into a white van. I believe the van was once brown but it changed colour, I have no idea why.

That day it dawned on me that I had been having a version of this dream since childhood. I decided to look a little deeper. Over a period of time I was able to trace the dream back to when I was 9 or 10 years old. So the question was, why?


I am old enough that I believe that I saw Pinocchio, probably on a Sunday night, and probably while watching The Wonderful World Of Disney. I remembered how frightened I had been when the slimy Fox and the Cat (or whatever they were I’m too lazy to Wikipedia it) grabbed Pinocchio and threw him into the cart with the donkey boys. Could it be?

I never had the dream again. It could be that, once I realized why I was having this nightmare my subconscious was able to move on. It might be that I’m more brain damaged than I think. Either way, I’m all good.

I know it sounds like I am suggesting that if you can trace back your abuse to a specific time then you would miraculously “get over it”. If you’ve been here before you know that’s not my thing. This story is an anomaly. I find it interesting, however, because of the power of such narratives. There is a connection between our thoughts, motives, history, and mental health. Quitting cocaine is a great step but chances are that isn’t your complete problem. Your life is your problem.

There seems to be a real correlation between how much I know about this stuff and how fast I move forward. The more I learn, the faster I run.

Women Aren’t Equal?

It has been hard for me admit to myself, in a vocation swarming with quality woman, that a female could still feel unequal in 2014. There is a joke we tell of how it’s ok to be anything except a middle-class white guy. All my bosses are women. My wife’s a woman and she is perfectly capable of handling me if she chooses. I usually hang around with women. Women aren’t equal?

There are a ton of things to write about here but I like looking at the weird stuff. It may not surprise you to learn that men, by the mean, have difficulty understanding, on an emotional level, what it feels like to be just shy of five-feet tall. I’m 6 feet plus 2, I have a black belt so that I can be blissfully misinformed. I grew up with lots going on and excelled with a ball in my hands (shut up Cory). I have no idea what it would be like to have a partner who can beat the crap out of me on a whim. My wife could take me, I’m not allowed to hit girls. My mother will hurt me. My father would be disappointed, a man in his 70’s whom every woman loves. I dare you to take the challenge.

I have never known physical violence that I didn’t initiate or deserve.

So when I tell you that I am only now beginning to understand, I ask you to excuse my large frame of mind. The sheer volume of fear I have listened to has begun to ring true. I learn slow. Of course I know this stuff intellectually, I can read. But I am still partly a man, and most of us have difficulty with emotional intelligence when it comes to this kind of stuff.

So many women who live with fear every day of their lives. I could never really understand, as a younger man, why women were afraid to walk alone. I love walking alone. It’s zen, baby. So when you told me the first few hundred times, it sounded a bit ridiculous. I’m not excusing what was. I’m the tallest one in my family. I hang around with ninjas. I’m a white male who plays with weapons.

To all my patient female friends who have not given up on me, you win. It was a good fight, figuratively speaking, but I might be getting a taste. I am constantly amazed at the burden others can carry, and fear has to be one of the worst emotions with which to run a tab. The anxiety, the depression, the trauma, it may not be biological. Imagine you have emotional Fibromyalgia. Everything hurts and it doesn’t make sense and everyone is a potential problem. People with Fibromyalgia live in a body that is constantly in varying states of shock.

Some people live in that state, on an emotional level as well. I have heard the stories. She ran into the McDonalds only to find the two sketchy males in hoodies were only 11 or 12. The right makeup to wear if you have a bruise. What mood is walking through the front door tonight? I always believed that my home was my safe place. What if it isn’t? Any counsellor can tell you that living in that heightened state of tension releases chemicals all over your body. Things change in your core. Things are released in your brain… and in your mind. You learn words like cortisol and neurochemistry. The diet can take a hit. You no longer sleep through the night. The motor is already running and you haven’t even had coffee yet.

Here’s Wikipedia: Cognitive conditions, including memory and attention dysfunctions, as well as depression, are commonly associated with elevated cortisol,[9] and may be early indicators of exogenous or endogenous Cushing’s. Patients frequently suffer various psychological disturbances, ranging from euphoria to psychosisDepression and anxiety are also common.

Cortisol is a good thing that can become a very bad thing. Other things happen neurologically that are not in your best interests. The words self, medicating, and behaviours, are used one after another in the same sentence. Fear can do that to a person, to an emotionally vulnerable person. Let’s be honest, most of us are emotionally vulnerable. You know how this sentence ends. Weight gain or loss, body image, self-esteem, problems with relationships, fear, anxiety, the whole toolbox from hell.

This is the kind of stuff people like me hear all day, every day. It’s not an isolated incident and if you can relate to any of this I will remind you that there are hundreds out there. Thousands. Millions. You have been saying it for years and you are absolutely right. Everyone does have mental health issues. We didn’t know this because there was a time, not so very long ago, when talking about this thing of ours was not really popular. People who went to see a counsellor were somehow “less”. Well baby, it’s now 2014 and daddy’s got a new pair of pants. It’s all good, all of a sudden.

I have become firmly convinced that each and every one of us needs some help, sometimes. It is the human experience. I do not think I could do this without a great deal of help from a couple of people who walk life right beside me. I have at least two other worlds of friends from different hats I have chosen to wear. I need those people very, very much. But I digress.

What does it feel like to be small? I walk around blissfully ignorant of the war that women feel everyday in every part of the world. Or am I wrong? Here’s the thing – this is a blog. It’s not in my book yet so it doesn’t have to be a finished product. Could this be true?

Like I said, I’m recent to this. Time for class. Talk to me.

Why Some Relationship Counseling Doesn’t Work

Listen to people talk about their problems long enough and you begin to realize that there isn’t very much we can do about some situations. Take for example the person who comes to talk to me, complaining that their spouse drinks too much, is too insensitive, is unappreciative, too angry, (insert complaint here). Most are hoping that somehow, things will change. I tend to disappoint people…

Live long enough and you begin to realize that it’s very difficult to change anyone else. Sure if you whine enough, or threaten enough some things can change, though usually temporarily. If you are talking about a major character flaw or mental health issue, however, the likelihood that you can remonstrate enough to create real change is slim to none. Very few of us are willing to make and maintain major life change because someone bitches continually.

Unfortunately we know that the only person we can really change is… me.

I am not very good at marriage counseling. I tend to want to focus on personal change when many couples are there because they want to air their dirty laundry. How can they move on, they allege, until these issues are dealt with?

Ever try to “deal with” twenty years of broken trust or hurt? The word ‘impossible’ comes to mind. Couples who want to get over all that historic hurt usually end up in divorce court. Sorry but it’s true. Some of that stuff simply does not get fixed by talking and pleading and begging for forgiveness. How long does it take, you might ask, to restore trust when the other person is barely capable of understanding how you really feel (especially if that other person is from the other sex)? Brokenness breeds mistrust faster than most people can get over their problems.

Hoping my spouse will decide to make radical change is also a trap. To be honest, most people don’t change. I often point out here that counseling rarely works because often the cost of changing is too high. The time it takes to work through decades of abuse and pain is extremely difficult and it is probably unreasonable to expect someone else to go through years (ya that’s not a typo) of counseling, introspection, prayer, accountability and humility that is necessary for fundamental psychological and emotional change (wow, now that’s a run-on sentence…).

MeditationKnowing now what I didn’t know then I have come to realize that the only person I can count on to do all that work is me. I can dedicate myself to working on myself, whatever the cost. I can invest hours and dollars and effort to become something I never realized I could be – whole.

I am finding, to whatever degree I am growing, that the more I am ok with me and the more I am complete in myself the less I need someone else to fill those holes in my heart. As I mature I am able to better maintain my center, even if the world around is crazy. Working on me may, in point of fact, be even more important than working on “us”.

I am trying to get to the place, as I often tell people, where I no longer need my wife. No longer need her to feel good about myself. No longer need her to complete me, or fix me, or even approve of me. I am endeavouring, with varied success, to come to the place where I no longer need my wife, though I really want her. I can’t help but think that if I can be that guy then maybe, just maybe, I will be a better husband and a better man.

Sex, Junk, And Menopause

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating...

I like talking about sex. After you have spent hours talking about depression, stress, marriage break-ups and anxiety it’s nice to talk about the clitoris. There is also the fact that I grew up in a conservative, Canadian culture that didn’t talk about female anatomy unless you are making a lurid joke; so there is the added risqué factor. I have actually caught myself, while in a conversation with a couple about their sex life, wondering, “Am I allowed to talk about this?”. It’s a childish, prudish attitude but frankly that makes it a bit more fun.

It will come as no revelation to anyone that women come to counselling far more than men. Without any verifiable data on hand I would guesstimate that at least 85% of my clients are female. This factor alone has radically changed my own life and taught me more about relationships, women, men, and psychology than any schooling or book. I am able, on some rudimentary level, to understand women far better than I ever did while working with men. I am still a Neanderthal, I admit, but hopefully a teachable one.

But I digress.

Sex is, unsurprisingly, a complicated thing for couples. Heterosexual couples have the added challenge of differing equipment, among other differences. Many men, surprisingly, still do not really understand female anatomy. True confession – as a teenager I didn’t know where women pee’d from. I didn’t have the advantage of an extensive and lurid porn collection and assumed women pee’d from that hole somewhere. My parents were actually very progressive and open about sexuality and I still didn’t figure it out. Laugh if you want – then ask your young teen. We’re dudes, our junk is on the outside and free to peruse at our leisure. Ok, now I feel like an idiot. As they say, laugh at yourself and you’ll never run out of material.

But I digress.

Menopause is another area that men don’t really understand. Why are you sweating without covers on? What do you mean when you say, “I feel like a furnace, the heat comes from the inside”? Can you really have a period for a month? Or not at all? Why does it suddenly hurt? Don’t you desire me anymore? Don’t I do it for you anymore?

Why are you crying? And once again, stop sweating!

It is easy to be critical of men and assume they are clueless about women because… well… we are. No one took us aside (outside of pornography where women all want sex all the time in every position imaginable and orgasm in about a minute) and explained your junk, or how to communicate, or even how to act like a man or a passionate lover. You don’t make any sense to us and we are usually too embarrassed and insecure to ask you for directions.

I love getting directions. But then again, I’m weird.

Women who are with men would do well to understand that we have not been properly taught how to understand you. Our teachers were our fathers (Neanderthals) and the dark side of the internet (run by Neanderthals). We don’t stand around at the job-site and ask each other about our feelings or talk about our relationships (at least not in a way you would appreciate). Few of us are in touch with our feelings and we do not understand how to ask for guidance or input in such a way that you won’t get disgusted or laugh. Telling me to “stop that!” only scares the hell out of me and further entrenches my belief that you are an alien species who cannot be understood. Add the male communication handicap and you have a recipe for misunderstanding. When it comes to the bedroom arena, couples really should spend at least as much time talking as they do… kissing. Creating an atmosphere free from ridicule or shame is the best gift you can give to your sex life. Talk, then touch. Then talk some more. You will be glad you did.

Are you done sweating yet?

Stop Dating Until You Don’t Need To

"A serious relationship"

I often tell clients not to date until they don’t need to. The fundamental premise behind such a cliché is that if I am unhealthy, or needy, or on the rebound, or broken than any legitimate concerns I have become massive, obsessive. I begin to catastrophize what is going on. I lose my objectivity and it isn’t long before I have a hole in my heart that I am looking for someone else to fill. Dating when you are vulnerable or broken is a sure-fire recipe for relational strife, no matter what Cosmo tells you.

Finding the right person has less to do with romantic bliss than we have been led to understand. Being the right person – whole, happy, not needy, that is the right goal to pursue. If I am healthy enough that I do not need another to fix me or complete me (gag) should be our goal. Dating then becomes an opportunity to share who we are with another without the needy blinders on. Settling for whatever is available isn’t even an issue.

Singleness is not a disease.

I was a single parent for years and after I got over the self-indulgence, the pity, the tears and the loneliness I began to realize that it was awesome to be alone. The healthier I got the less I needed a woman to approve of me or assure me I was ok. By the time I did date again I was not an emotional vampire that needed to be filled. I found I was no longer as needy as I once was. I began to like who I was. All of this was only possible once I learned to live with myself.

I can honestly say I like myself today (I find that hard to write). I still don’t like what I look like in the mirror or some of my obvious faults but for some reason that doesn’t hurt like it once did. Singleness was a gift that I never wanted. It was a gift that changed my life.

If you are single today it is perfectly normal to experience loneliness and momentary unhappiness. I believe they call that “life”. You are not a second-class citizen, a third wheel, or the odd person out. You are free to be who you truly are. Don’t miss the opportunity, like I almost did, to allow yourself to learn who you really are apart from someone else with all their baggage, needs, quirks, foibles and insecurities. If you aren’t complete without someone else filling that hole in your heart chances are you won’t be complete with someone there.

Trust me on this – don’t date until you don’t need to.

Married To Jesus

A true story given to me by a friend of a friend of a guy I used to know. It’s been sitting in my Inbox for some time now and I couldn’t find any good reason not to share it with you. It’s about living with a very nice Passive-Aggressive…

female jesusI used to live with Jesus, or so I thought. She was different from the people you would probably know – after all, most people don’t ever get a chance to even meet the Messiah, much less live with her. But I did.

People usually act differently in public than they do when no one is there to see what they are doing. Not Jesus. It was scary how consistent, how absolutely unflappable she was. Life is an exercise in guilt when you are married to the Holy of Holies. How do you get mad at someone who is always the same? How can you fight with someone you sometimes believe is always right? When you are married to the King of Kings it’s always your fault. Feel unloved? It’s your problem. Frustrated by her lack of empathy or the fact that she never panders to your emotional needs? Get over it, this is Jesus we’re talking about.

Living with Jesus is hard on your sense of self-esteem. After all you are clearly not worthy. People often remark, “I know why you married her but why did she marry you?” You are in love. You worship Jesus. You have a very twisted marriage.

But she wasn’t really Jesus. It wasn’t until much much later that you realized she was actually very repressed, very emotionally unavailable, distant. She was a textbook illustration of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder. There was a whole world of anger and pain all closely hidden from the world, hidden even from you. You literally had no idea she was even remotely unhappy. That person whom you thought was perfectly happy and reasonable was in fact a deeply wounded and angry little girl who clearly had issues with self-awareness and vulnerability. There was even what some would call a passive-aggressive arrogance – quietly confident that in every situation she was always right.

The lack of emotional vulnerability contributed to my growing sense of neediness and romantic starvation. Jesus was apparently above feeling horny or expressing romantic intention. She also did not like to throw around phrases like “I love you”. She was an island and she expected everyone else to be likewise. Years later her best friend would confess, “I really never knew her. I don’t think anyone really did”.

No she wasn’t Jesus. In fairness she never asked to be put on a pedestal. I think. I was looking for a soul mate and she was looking for a business partner.

After almost two decades of being a burden she cut me loose to go “find herself”.

She said she couldn’t stay with someone who was needy.

It has been a while now and time has given me the insight that all those years of marriage could not. It turns out I was a pretty decent husband after all. Spending every day trying to impress the Christ will do that to a person. Apparently she was not perfect, though I would never have believed it.

No one is disappointed in me today. I haven’t failed yet today.

It’s going to be a good day.

You’re Yelling Again



I don’t yell. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m fairly certain it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism.
Maybe it was because I had relatives that yelled and I repress such expressions as a response to that situation.
Maybe I’m just too shallow.
Maybe I just like it rough.

As a mental health professional I am, of course, horrible at analyzing my own stuff. I self-diagnose all the time. I’m just not that good at it.

I am one of those lucky people who gets to hear people yell on a regular basis. Some professions have it much worse, but I do get my share.

Yelling is an interesting psychological and sociological issue. I have watched spouses curl into the fetal position as a madman controls the situation and hurls verbal abuse. Notice the almost orgasmic effect that “letting off steam” has on the angry screamer. I have seen that horrible energy transferred to the victims as they get emotionally gut-punched. Long after the yell-er is satisfied the object of their derision still suffers. Yelling is a very selfish act.

There was a time when clinicians would tell the angry young man to go home and punch his heavy bag for an hour till he “worked it out of his system”. Today we realize that constantly giving in to that urge to ‘boil over’ only builds a dependence on purging yourself of emotion – a very poor model for impulse control. Such need has little to do with control and more to do with complete surrender. It is no wonder, than, that people have been known to even stop making sense when they are in the throes of an angry outburst. Anger can literally make you stupid. The effect is almost sexual.

Have you ever considered stopping?

Many people do not even realize that it is possible to go for years without yelling. Screaming is just “how our family is”. It is such a normal part of life that no one realizes how abusive it is. There are so many dysfunctional aspects to yelling that I literally do not have enough energy to fully define its ill effects right now. The act is so intrusive, so esteem crushing, so negative, so unloving, so socially acceptable. I am suggesting that we strip away the veneer and identify it for what it really issue – a lack of self-control.

If you are struggling with yelling, this is not intended to make you feel like garbage. Many, many, many of us struggle with this as well. Yelling is so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely even addressed anymore. We blandly accept that angry person without offering any accountability. Our children grow up believing this is an acceptable form of communication and… the circle of life.

If you struggle with this difficult problem talk to someone who can help. Read about it on the web, look up phrases like “cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anger, or yelling, or impulse control. Find out what is behind that anger – after all, that is really the issue now, isn’t it?

Don’t give up. You can do this.


Women, Why You Don’t Make Sense

You have told him fifty times that your relationship is in trouble and you need to connect better emotionally. So why isn’t he trying? He doesn’t want you to nag or belittle him, you’ve tried and tried and he can’t get it. How much more obvious can you be? Why should you be the one trying again?

Counsel any woman in a heterosexual relationship long enough and these kinds of complaints will emerge. What is it about some spouses that they seem to care so little for emotional and relational intimacy? How did this relationship get so stale so fast?

Unfortunately the problem cannot not be entirely laid at his door step. What seems ridiculously obvious to you may not register the same way on his radar. He isn’t a woman and therefore cannot think like a woman. Only someone who has been living alone under a rock still believes that male and female brains are exactly alike. We understand on a cognitive level that we must speak in such a way as to be heard but this does not mean we know how to do this. He does not know what you mean by relational intimacy, for example. He has tried to “connect” a million times but you don’t seem to notice.

You aren’t talking Man-glish.

You want to connect more on an emotional level. You want to “talk”. I thought we have been talking. You haven’t shut up in twenty minutes. What the hell were you even talking about? I took you to dinner and a movie. How come you are still mad?

What many women fail to understand is that, for many men who have not grown up in a metrosexual environment, that ‘dinner and a movie’ thing was a sincere, even stretching expression of his emotionally availability, whatever that means. Many men have difficulty connecting on anything beyond the most shallow pool unless beer is involved. Dinner was his attempt to connect. Sad huh?

Sometimes that lousy attempt to connect was in fact the top of his game. He was playing his best card but you are still upset. What can he possibly say at this point to appease you/impress you? He’s already shot his best load and now he has to come up with a response that will diffuse your anger and convince you he knows what you are trying to yell at him. But he doesn’t.

Learning to think like someone else is an extremely important, albeit difficult skill to learn. Chances are your perfect plan to gradually win him over to your side hasn’t worked by now and you realize that relationships that aren’t working just get worse and worse. It is almost impossible, once a couple has grown apart and there is misunderstanding involved, for reconciliation to happen. We simply lose our will to keep fighting and it’s extremely difficult to get back.

Take a relationship course. Send for my free session on “Speaking Chick and Talking Dude. Read a book or listen to an mp3. Learning to understand your partner is like taking any foreign language, there are few shortcuts to literacy.

You Don’t Know How Intimidating You Are

Anger Management

The first time someone told me I didn’t believe them. It was not possible, I wasn’t even angry.  I have heard it since a few times, less the older I grow. Apparently I can be fairly intense and even intimidating when I am fully engaged in an argument or discussion. I throw out a great deal of energy. Someone who once was in a creativity brainstorming session with me described me as a “fire hydrant”. I have had to spend time working on myself.

Recently I watched a couple argue in my office. It was fascinating to watch. One of the characters was incredibly intense – wagging his finger, raising his voice, swearing. His entire posture was set to attack. Now zoom across to the other person in the room.

She is not set to attack. You can watch her slowly close her posture. Her feet come up to her chest, she wraps her arms around herself. Her chin lowers and within a few minutes you can see clearly how she is rolling into the fetal position. The situation screams out for attention but neither of them can see what is happening in the room.

They have been told, more than once, that they have communication problems.

Anger is a very powerful emotion, perhaps the most powerful. It transforms a conversation into a fight. It gives birth to abuse and slander and arrogance and belittling. There are courses in every city on Anger Management. While these courses adequately address the symptom of anger few get to the “why” questions. Why can’t I control my emotions? What is going on in my life that has formed this angry person? Dealing with anger can appear so daunting that many people believe they cannot control their anger and have basically given up trying.

Anger person, you are scary. You come across as very authoritative and very very intense about things others apparently don’t care as much about. You are talking much louder than you think but God help us if we mention this. Your eyes tell me that you are enraged. It is very difficult to match your energy so most people opt to shut down. This generally makes the angry person even more frustrated, but what can the other person do? You sound prepared to do anything, wreck anything, hurt anyone to win this argument. It’s just not worth the fight and the pain.

This does not need to be a terminal illness. Once I began to understand how other people perceived me I was eventually able to recognize this in myself and control it. I shot video of myself and analyzed my posture. I learned STOPP Therapy to control my need to fight back as well as learned to put things in perspective so as not to become wounded. I haven’t arrived by any standard but I am able to exercise WAY more control over my emotions and responses than I used to.

Anger is powerful.

Every Time We Split He Would Have An Epiphany!

From ladywithatruck: I was in an abusive relationship as you know. I went back to him many times. Why? Because every time we split he would have an epiphany and realize and admit to and apologize for everything he did wrong. I would feel validated, heard, valued, loved and willing to look at my part in things and do my part to save the relationship. We would get back together, I would be putting 110% into “us” and he would recant or “forget” ever admitting fault.

His article is dedicated to her insight.

When I read these words, comments on a recent post, I had a bit of an epiphany myself. I realized, maybe for the first time, that in virtually every relationship I have worked with, if the woman is the one to leave, the man will have an epiphany a day or a week later. I myself was full of epiphanies, that breakup those many years ago that shaped my life. As a guy I knew beyond doubt that if I could just do something, I could salvage this thing. I needed to do a bunch of sentimental things, placating things, say the right words and this situation would be fixed. This was what I would set my mind to until things were back to normal.

The worst part was that I knew better, was a proponent of better. I was a professional, but I was still a guy.

That was the day my journey really began. But I digress.

English: Patrick Warburton in January 2007.

I know full well that there is something in men that ignores a situation if it seems too daunting or unwinnable. I cannot tell you how many times wives tell me that their husband no longer communicates, no longer wants to date, no longer spends hours in conversation (or minutes). It is very difficult for women to understand that this is a very natural and learned response for many of us, and just because it seems unbelievable to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. As I have written many times men, especially men over thirty, do not grow up in a culture that encourages or teaches emotional connection. Our social connections were and remain mostly shallow. Patrick Warburton in Rules of Engagement is not as much a caricature as we would like to believe. Few men spend hours a week trying to connect emotionally with anything, it’s a lot of work.

Years later, when the relationship breaks up it usually comes as quite a shock to the guy who is left. Things were going along swimmingly, everything seemed “ok” even if she wasn’t interested in sex anymore, at least with him. She was always sort of frigid. What does she want, anyway?

As bizarre as it seems to the leaver, your choice to go really was a shock. Sorry but it’s true. We have an amazing capacity to compartmentalize our lives and ignore issues which are going to cost too much emotionally. It comes as no surprise then, that when men are confronted with the immanent demise of their relationship they tend to do the wrong thing – they do things. ‘Doing’ is an area where I am comfortable and I understand the rules. Women are incredibly difficult to understand (believe it) and there will be so much anger, so many long conversations, so many hours spent talking about stuff that I don’t care about. Even if I did care half as much as you I still would not understand what to do and you refuse to tell me. I need to figure out a way to placate you.

Women who leave understand that they have gotten their hopes up and expected more than he was willing or able to give. Men like projects, and projects end. Understanding that emotional investment in a relationship is a lifelong project is a lot for a man to get his head around. Becoming that guy is a huge commitment (to fundamentally change your personality) and takes a hell of a lot of work with little or no initial rewards. You won’t suddenly enjoy those long talks about things that don’t seem to matter. There is no instant payoff for giving unselfishly and relentlessly to a woman who is suspicious of your motives and prone to become overly critical. And nothing wounds me deeper than a condescending spouse.

Is it worth it? I cannot answer that for you. I only know that for me, the work has occasionally become part of the pleasure. The more I learn about my wife, the better I see her motivations and personality, the easier and more fun it gets. For some reason it isn’t as hard as it used to be.

She certainly seems to be thinking more like me lately…

Loyalty Is Hard

Most of us can count on one hand the number of authentic, lifelong friendships we have. We would like to believe our friends at work and play are deep and meaningful but we know, because it has happened before, that after we leave we will gradually lose contact with people we have cared about. This is a natural, even healthy part of life. Friends come and go, the circle of life.

We have all been hurt by someone who said they would always be there for us. Perhaps we were more invested than they were, we made assumptions and believed that the other person cared as much as we did, but we were wrong. I too have been blindsided, more than once, by someone I loved with abandon only to find out that they had completely different feelings and assumptions.

Every day I counsel people who have been damaged by someone they loved. It helps, perhaps, that I have experienced a little bit of that pain and know at least something of what it is to ‘endure’. People disappoint and rare is the friend who you cannot shake, cannot offend enough to leave. I aspire to be someone like that, as many of us do.

In his book, You Can Make A Difference, Tony Campolo tells the true story of two men who were traveling together on a train out of Victoria Station in London. Twenty minutes into their journey, one of the men had an epileptic seizure and if you’ve ever seen this happen they you know how frightening such an attack can be. The man stiffened and fell heavily out of his seat onto the floor of the train. When this happened his friend immediately took off his own jacket, rolled it up, and put it behind the stricken man’s head. Then he blotted the beads of perspiration from his brow with his handkerchief and talked to him in a quiet manner to calm him down. A few minutes later when the seizure was over, he helped lift his friend gently back into his seat. Then he turned to the man sitting across from them and said, “Mister, please forgive us. Sometimes this happens two or three times a day”. And then, in the conversation that ensued, the friend of the epileptic explained. “My buddy and I here were in Vietnam together, and we were both wounded in the same battle. I had bullets in both my legs and he caught one in his shoulder. For some reason the helicopter that was supposed to come for us never came to pick us up. My friend here picked me up and he carried me for three and a half days out of that jungle. The Viet Cong were sniping at us the whole way.

Understand, he was in more agony than I was. Repeatedly I begged him to drop me and save himself, but he wouldn’t let me go. He got me out of that jungle, mister. He saved my life. I don’t know HOW he did it and I don’t know WHY he did it…but he did. Well, four years ago, I found out that he had this epileptic condition, so I sold my house in New York, took what money I had, and came over here to take care of him”.
Then he looked at his friend and said,
“You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”


Real love is like that. When you truly love someone, not just think you do, but love them with every part of yourself there is nothing they can do to drive you away. I love my family like that. There is nothing my children could do, no crime or indignity they would commit, that would make me love them less. I’m reasonably sure you can understand what I am saying. Friendship, however, is not held together with blood. There is no legal contract, no external pressure forcing you to care. Friendship is about loyalty.


I do not hear much about loyalty, outside of movies and documentaries about the mafia.

Trust, faithfulness, sacrificial love, unselfishness, commitment –  character traits that are not automatic or easy to assimilate. Loyalty is inconvenient, it is costly. It walks in, as they say, when everyone else is walking out. It’s easy to talk the talk, make promises, spew platitudes; but it is another thing altogether to walk the walk. Loyalty shows up at three in the morning and holds your head when you throw up. Loyalty doesn’t keep track of slights or demand tit-for-tat.

Loyalty is hard.

Why Do I Care What You Think?

We are a people who struggle with self-worth. I meet few people who are happy with who they are. We are the chronically under-valued and the terminally insecure. We have a tendency to look to other people for approval and live our lives in order to be loved. We tell our children to love themselves, but battle with self-loathing.

For years I considered myself a rebel, a person who lived outside the box, who didn’t give a damn about what others thought of him. Looking back it is easy to see how this was a coping mechanism, a way of finding acceptance, if only with myself, as a marginal personality who did not easily “play well with others”. If I couldn’t win at fitting in I would give the finger to the establishment and act as if their opinions did not matter. I gave the impression that I was vain, when in fact I was insecure.

I can see, now that I am getting older, the temptation within myself to act like a performance monkey. Seeking to fit in does not end after high school.  We have been programmed since birth to base our feelings of self-worth on what others think of us and what we do. For some reason we are extremely conscious of the opinions of those around us. Those people who choose to criticize us may, in point of fact, be idiots and subjective to the highest degree but this seems to matter very little. Jumping through the hoops of people who don’t even respect is what we do.

There was a time in my life when it seemed important that people liked me. I was running a non-profit and had shareholders who were strongly opinionated and often very negative. I was always available to help salve their broken lives and marriages, and they were always available to critique my performance. I remember vividly one meeting with a couple at a local coffee shop wherein they decided that I needed to be “fixed”. It was to be the last of several meetings, all designed to help me come to grips with my glowering flaws (in their opinion). Late in the conversation it finally dawned on me, I didn’t even really like or respect this couple. I knew their dirty little secrets, their insecurities, their propensity to be condescending and arrogant. I realized that if we did not have a shared vested interest I would never want to be their friend or hang out with them… ever. I had been emotionally prostituting myself in order to appease them – something that now seemed impossible to do. My fear of their disapproval and perhaps disengagement from the non-profit had created a sick codependence.

It is one thing to seek to be kind and a person of integrity. It is another thing altogether to base your self-worth on the opinions of fallible and fickle people whose opinions should not matter. Wholeness is found in the realization that I cannot jump through enough hoops, suck up to enough people, to fill that hole in my heart that wants to be loved. Chasing that dragon is like chasing any other addiction, it just leaves us broken.

Accepting who and what I am, right now, is a daunting and difficult task. Letting go of our need to make everyone happy feels completely wrong. If people had to accept us for who we are would anyone still like us?

In counseling I admonish single clients, often fresh out of dysfunctional relationships, not to date until they don’t need to. They usually look at me funny and I find it necessary to explain – don’t bring your garbage to your next relationship. Don’t use that next person to fill that hole in your heart. Don’t depend on someone else to make you whole or happy. Don’t date… until you don’t need that person to fix anything. Become emotionally self-contained. Work on becoming whole.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Pucker Up! How To Be A Better Kisser

Kissing Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys lud...

A lot goes on when two people kiss. If it’s a romantic kiss, you’ve probably gazed at each other and imagined getting closer. When your lips touch, you cross into a zone of intimate touch and smell. You literally breathe each other in.

A kiss can determine if physical attraction will spark or fizzle. “The kiss is the thing early in a relationship,” says Katherine Ellin, PhD, MSW, DTR, licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist in Cambridge, Mass.

When a kiss is right, it’s magic. But a kiss that goes wrong is the stuff of tragedy. In this article, WebMD reveals the secrets behind a good kiss, and how you can become a better kisser.

1st Secret to Kissing: Pay Attention to Your Partner

“Kissing is almost like dancing with your lips,” says social and personality psychologist, Jeremy Nicholson, MSW, PhD. Kissing styles range from closed-mouth pecks on the cheek to passionate French kisses. “You need to read your partner and figure out what style of kiss they’re interested in,” Nicholson tells WebMD.

You can be a better kisser with attention and practice, Ellin says. “Just like with anything sexual, you need to learn the technical skills first. Then you can add the artistry.”

No matter what your level of skill and experience, kissing is not like riding a bike. Good kissers do not kiss by rote. Your ability to immerse yourself fully in a kiss plays a big part in whether your lips remain engaged or get shut out in the cold.

2nd Secret to Kissing: Start Out Slow

You might start by kissing your partner’s face. “Around the lips, but not on the lips,” says Ellin. Then lean back and gaze at your partner. If the object of your affection is leaning toward you, it’s a good sign to continue. “It’s better to leave your partner wanting more than feeling imposed upon by your kiss,” says Ellin.

Start with a soft mouth when you first kiss your partner’s lips. “You could have your lips overlapping and kind of nibble a little, maybe pull the lower lip out gently,” suggests Ellin. “Some people like a little bit of teeth pulling on their lip and some people don’t like it at all.”

To graduate from technical skill to artistry, pay attention to your partner’s sounds and body language. Some people like to have their faces touched, others don’t. Some people like to be held very tight, others feel smothered. If the kissing progresses, it may naturally become wetter and sloppier as both of you get more aroused.

Women vs. Men: What You Want From a Kiss

It may come as no surprise that women and men often want different things from a kiss. A survey of 1,041 college students put science behind this assumption. Women described kissing as a way to start a relationship and keep it going strong. Men were more likely to see kissing as a prelude to sex.

This difference plays out around the globe. Arpita Anand, MSc, a counseling psychologist in Goa, India, has seen a sharp rise in couples seeking relationship advice in the past decade. As women in that country have become more independent and vocal in their relationships, kissing has risen in status.

“Traditionally, physical tenderness between couples was an alien concept,” Anand tells WebMD. “But women crave tenderness. They want their husbands to kiss and cuddle with them to show they care about more than just having sex.”

Plan for a Lifetime of Kisses

Attitudes toward kissing can change with time. Today, men and women both value cuddling. A survey of men between 40 and 70 years old found that those who kissed and cuddled with their wives or girlfriends were happier in their relationships. Likewise, women who said they kissed and cuddled with their partners reported being more sexually satisfied than women who kept their hands to themselves.

Are you missing out? Nicholson suggests couples make time for a variety of kisses — kissing for closeness and kissing for sex. This means a lot of kissing, and that’s a good thing. Kissing reduces stress hormones and strengthens relationships. “When I evaluate couples, the happier couples spend a lot more time kissing and cuddling,” Anand says.

If you are in a long-term relationship, you may need to remind yourself to stop and kiss your partner.

“People talk about mindfulness. Kissing is mindfulness in a relationship,” Ellin says. She suggests couples take at least two minutes a day to stop everything and kiss each other. If you focus on the moment, on your partner, and on getting grounded in your body, kissing can be like a meditation.

Don’t Let Bad Breath Dampen Your Romance

Ask a woman how well you kiss, and it’s likely your breath will play a large part in her answer. Bad breath, unhealthy looking teeth, or a foul-tasting mouth reduces your kiss-ability.

The state of your mouth shows your partner how well you take care of yourself. Bad breath can signal sloppy hygiene, bad health, and poor long-term prospects. And while men and women both consider a clean mouth important, women seem more sensitive to the taste and smell of their partner’s mouth.

And Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Most important, have fun when you kiss. “Kissing is too important to be taken seriously,” says Ellin. Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or meeting someone new, your lips can take you to new places when you make time for a good kiss.

Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature

Four Difficult Ways To Simplify Your Life (That Are Worth It)

Life is a precious gift. Don't waste it being ...

Sometimes you need to do hard things that you don’t really want to do because they’ll make your life easier. I mean … probably.

See, I always feel weird about writing these advice columns, because there are people who do them better than I do, and because my most important advice will always be I”m still an idiot so please don’t listen to me. But there must be a few other idiots out there, because I occasionally get messages from readers with questions. Questions about life and stuff, instead of questions about the area of my expertise (nothing!). So I’ve put some answers together, with the warning that I don’t know if these are the right answers; they’re just the things that work for me that I’ve found to be true, right at this particular moment. Expect me to come back next year with a brand new set of answers (“Ignore everything I said previously and invest all of your money in gold!”). Until then …

#4. Let Go of That Sweet, Sweet Anger

Nothing feels more satisfying than having baseless anger validated. It’s why you smile when a politician you don’t like gets caught up in some terrible scandal. It’s one of the weirdest evolutionary developments to happen to the human brain. A new co-worker shows up at the office, and you make a split-second decision that you don’t like him. Something about his face or the way he speaks or dresses fills you with venom, but you have no reason for having all of that animosity, so you keep quiet about it. Suddenly, you hear a story about this person leaving a mess in the bathroom, or finishing off the last of the coffee without refilling the pot, or drinking too much and acting rude at a company function, and then a part of your brain lights up and whispers Yes. We were right. We were right to hate this person, and now we don’t have to be silent about it anymore. Now our hate can focus and burn bright. Yes.

I get that way. I get angry a lot. I have a short temper. I’m always ready to fight. More than anything, I have rules. I have a strict, very black-and-white set of rules in my head, and if someone breaks one of those rules, even if the rule is stupid, even if I’ve unconsciously broken that rule myself in the past, even if I never explained the rule to anyone, I will hold a grudge. Passionately. I’m great at it.It’s my least favorite thing about myself.Eventually I realized that none of the most positive moments in my life were centered on how angry I was at someone or something. I figured out that when I showed off photographs from some great party or some important milestone day in my life to friends, I didn’t point out all of the people who weren’t there because we were on bad terms at the time. I learned that none of my favorite anecdotes started with “I was still not speaking to [random person] when I went on [crazy adventure].” None of my greatest memories were made greater by the absence of people I was feuding with based on some perceived slight.But we’re so good at feuding. How can it be a bad thing?

Your life won’t be measured by how angry you can get. No one will eulogize you for your reputation as a dedicated grudge-holder, and if they do, you’ve failed.You have to learn how to let go. You have to learn how to let go of the anger, even though cutting someone out of your life entirely might make everything appear simpler by virtue of the fact that you have one less person to humanize or care about. You have to learn how to let go of the anger, even though you have no cosmic guarantee that anyone else will let go of their anger. You have to learn how to let go of the anger, even though, when it burns brightest, it feels so fucking good.

It’s not as simple as making a decision. It’s like anything else you want to be good at: You have to work at it. And, like anything else that takes work, you’ll feel better when you master it.

#3. You Have to Be Jealous of Everything

It’s not hard to see why jealousy stuck around, out of all the things that could have evolved within the human brain. You have your tribe, and you have things, but you worry that this other tribe might have more things or, worse yet, better things. You can’t let that stand. For the good of your tribe — for the good of you — you need to hate the other tribe, resent them for what they have, and, if possible, take it.We don’t really live in tribes anymore, but we’re still governed by jealousy. Sometimes it still inspires social bonding, or a bit of healthy tribe competition, but mostly it just makes one guy cranky at another guy because his Xbox is better.I learned the most important lesson about jealousy from a comedian whose name I no longer remember, which is very unfortunate. She was speaking off the cuff about jealousy in some interview, and she said, “If you choose to be jealous of someone, you have to be jealous of everything.” It sounds simple, and maybe you had that thought before, but you’re much smarter than me. I’d never considered it, but it’s important.

The times that I’d been jealous, I’d been jealous of an opportunity that another person got. Or I’d been jealous of someone else’s relationship. Or I’d been jealous of someone else’s height, or rent, or patience, or ability to grow substantial facial hair, or any other damn thing. But you can’t do that. You can’t pick one thing to be jealous of. If you’re going to be jealous of someone’s nice car, you have to be jealous of everything else in that person’s life. Are they living in a terrible apartment in a bad part of town to be able to pay for that car? Then you have to be jealous of that, too. Are they insecure enough that they think they need a nice car in order to be liked? Then you have to be jealous of that, too. It’s not a straight trade.

You don’t get to trade your shortcomings for someone else’s best assets. It’s a package deal. It’s the full suite, or it’s nothing.Thinking about jealousy in that way was one of the healthiest decisions of my life. It turns petty jealousy into nothing, and it turns real jealousy into genuine awe.For example, here is one of the greatest piano players in the world. He puts a cover song on YouTube once a week that he shoots in one take, with no rehearsals, playing from memory and by ear. Maybe you’re jealous of his skill, but you need to remember, you have to be jealous of everything. So, if you covet his skill, you also have to covet the years he spent practicing and studying and learning instead of doing anything else.Also, if you’re jealous of his talent, you have to be jealous of his physical limitations, too.

See, he got so good at the piano because he had a hard time moving around as a kid, because his entire lower torso was butt. No legs, just stacks of butt. Butts on butts. You may want his musical talents, but would you give up your legs? And replace them with butts?

#2. No One’s Keeping Score

There’s an important distinction I want to make right up front: Earlier this week, my co-worker David Wong explained how you might be accidentally making people hate you because they feel you owe them one. He’s right. That sort of thing happens all the time. I’m not trying to contradict him, even though one person believing that another owes them might sound like a score is being kept. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m saying that no one is keeping track of how many times in your life you were right.

I help make this show about people arguing over pop culture at a diner because, before I worked at Cracked, I used to argue over pop culture at a diner with friends of mine. Usually we just traded jokes while breaking down our favorite movies and shows, and every once in a while we’d get into an argument over a pointless bit of movie trivia. I’d claim that Bill Paxton was the one in Twister, my buddy would swear it was Bill Pullman, and another friend entirely would be convinced that it was actually the pig from Babe: Pig in the City (which I maintained was the same pig as in the first Babe movie, which started an entirely new fight).

This was before smartphones, so we usually just let the argument die. Or, rather, everyone else let the argument die. I went home and watched Twister and confirmed my rightness. Then I’d wait until the next time I saw my friends, and I’d say, “Oh, hey, just so you guys know, it was Paxton. In Twister. So …” I didn’t do it to be smug, although, yes, I was insufferable. I genuinely thought “Everyone probably wants to know the truth, because we argued about this, which means it must be important. They’ll all be so happy when I share with them this truth!”

Totally insufferable. And totally pointless. I have an easy time writing for After Hours because I remember every single time I was right and wrong in my entire life. It’s a tally that occupies space in my brain, space that is supposed to be dedicated to remembering birthdays and my pin number, both of which I’ve since had to tattoo on my chest.

The bottom line? No one else is keeping score, and you’re not doing them a favor by correcting them or keeping score for them. You’ll never accumulate enough check marks in your “right” column to be deemed infallible by your friends, and you won’t get points for pointing out someone else’s mistakes because you don’t get points for anything, because there are no points.

#1. The Important Stuff Won’t Happen

The question that I get asked on Tumblr most often is “When did you know you were going to be a writer?” “What made you decide??” “What was the moment where you learned ‘Yes, it is decided: I AM WRITING!‘”

Kids will write to me, usually right before or after they start college for the first time, saying that they might want to maybe someday consider writing, but they also have a lot of other interests, and they’re wondering where they need to go and what they need to do to get hit by the Big Decision Bus that tells them, unequivocally, what they want to/should do with their lives. And they assume, because I’m a working professionalish type person, that this bus clearly must have hit me at some point.

I guess the moment I knew — really knew — that I was supposed to be a writer was when a very nice company paid me enough money to do it instead of doing my old job, which was bartending.

That’s all. I mean, I wrote and I studied English in college, but I also studied a ton of other stuff, and I would have pursued something else or continued my education, but I got offered a job doing a thing I liked that happened to have “writer” on the business card, so I took it. I know that a lot of extremely creative and interesting artists talk about their decision to write or act or perform music like it was preceded by some cosmic, life-changing event, and that my answer sounds very dry and heartless by comparison, but it’s true. No light went off. No switch was flipped. A famous writer didn’t collapse at my doorstep, hand me a pen, and croak out “This burden is yours now” before dropping dead.

I’ve always been nervous about answering with rules, because if you tell someone there’s a “right” way, they’ll immediately freak out if they’re thinking they’re doing things the wrong way. Like “When I was a sophomore in college, there was a MOMENT — one of those profound moments that all real writers have — and then I knew, from that day forward, ME: WRITER.” I don’t want anyone’s takeaway to be “But I’m already a senior and I still don’t know and OH MY GOD I’VE DONE EVERYTHING WRONG!” And I don’t want the takeaway to be “Got it: Sophomore year. Sophomore year of college is when I’ll know what I’m supposed to do. Phew!” No. Not phew. There’s no moment, no one ever knows. I still don’t know. I’m writing today, but that’s right now, not my whole life.

If you’re anticipating some grand moment, then you’re wasting all of your time waiting for the universe to tell you what to do when, really, the universe doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and doesn’t have time to tell you to study dance magic, because the universe is too busy coming up with ways to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth.

Don’t wait for the universe or anything else to give you a sign to tell you what to do with your life. That’s crippling. Just do things.


My Woman Keeps Telling Me I’m Emotionally Unavailable!


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.

Fart Humour And Teenage Boys (Or Why Men Have A Mental Illness)

No farting!

It’s almost interesting how quickly five or six teenage boys can stink up a room. On the weekend we had a birthday sleepover for our youngest, a sugar-fuelled night of X-box killing and toilet humor. At one point I turned to my wife and said, “And this, honey, is why men are not emotionally available or in-tune with women.”

It’s quite true, when you take the time to consider it. Women start connecting on an emotional level early in life. Even as children most females talk about their feelings, dreams, and interests with other girls. They are relational machines.

Boys talk about farting, snot and make inappropriate jokes as they attempt to punch their friends in the crotch. This may not apply to all males but it certainly does to those I have known and grown up with. Put two young teens together, and if one of them is my fifteen year old, it will not be long before they are mocking each other out and looking for weapons to castrate each other. Male youth culture is obsessed with violence and erogenous zones. We are not taught to share our innermost thoughts and fears with each other. To do so is a sign of weakness and you will be summarily maligned.

I do not know if I had a single meaningful conversation with another male prior to senior high.

As I have mentioned at other times men are not dumb. Many women have been raised to believe men are stupid. They are not. Most are, however, emotional morons with little or no experience talking about their emotions or connecting on a deep level. Women learn, usually much too late, that most of the guys they have been with do not understand or connect with them as they wish and the result is frustration and pain. By the time they get to my office they are usually so frustrated they are considering leaving the relationship.

Women tend to have unrealistic emotional expectations of men. Yes this is a generalization but I tend to write in generalities. Women often say to me, “Why doesn’t he talk about his feelings?” When I tell them what I have just described to you the traditional response is, “But I have asked him to talk and told him I need him to engage and he isn’t. He should understand by now!”


I have long argued that high schools need to teach things that are actually useful in life. Few of us come into adulthood understanding the opposite sex, relationships, finances, or how the real world works. I did not learn how to talk to women, how women think, how to emotionally connect. Few men do. Most of us think of women as some alien life form that cries too much and never seems to be happy, in spite of our attempts to fix her. I have already written dozens of articles on how difficult it is for women and men to speak the other’s language and understand the other’s messages. Relationships are tough and it doesn’t help that the sexes cannot even begin to get inside each other’s heads.

Ladies, the secret of a happy relationship if you are dating a male is three-fold:

1. Lower your expectations. We have a mental illness. You wouldn’t yell at a child with down-syndrome for misunderstanding you so why would you get mad at someone who have absolutely no idea what you mean and has no training in connecting with himself let alone with you. Sorry but it’s the truth. The secret to a happy relationship is lowering your expectations.

2. Help him to move forward. Any movement forward is good news for your relationship. All you really need in a spouse is humility and a desire to make you happy. You can work with that. If he doesn’t have those attributes than you have a bigger problem than just emotional connection. Get help.

3. Realize that we constantly think you are condescending. This is an absolute truth for most men I speak with. We interpret almost any nagging and forthrightness as belittling. Being spoken down to is a core trigger for men. Our psyche is built on respect. When you talk down to us we lose our minds. Learning to speak “dude” is a key to understanding the male heart. We can’t hear you if you talk like our mommy.

Communication is make-or-break for most relationships. Coming this spring I will be offering an on-line course called “Speaking Chick And Talking Dude”. It has taken me years to even scratch the surface of understanding when it comes to connecting with women and I do this full-time.  If you are in the Vancouver, Canada region I will be offering a group in Maple Ridge starting the end of January.

Good luck. I know this article is frustrating for many and brings up more questions than it answers. I did that on purpose.

(My editor added this comment: “Will you have the three secrets for the male – on how to survive with a relational being when you’ve never been taught how to be relational?”)

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Are We There Yet?

Christmas vacation, pack up the kids and head out. I remember as a kid taking our great big land boat from Winnipeg to Calgary to make the yearly Christmas trip to grandma and grandpa’s house. Some Christmas’s, because we were military, we would jump on a DC-3 and sit in the jumpseats for the trip which took almost as long as a car, but twice as fun.

The car was one of those big camel-coloured wagons with fake wood on the side. When I was a kid my grandpa told me that the wood siding was because cops radar wouldn’t work on wood. I had family issues. The ark car also had the extra seat that faced the back making it so you could seat nine people if you wanted to. My dad didn’t believe in stopping for anything. Straight through – Winnipeg to Calgary in like fourteen hours, no potty breaks. My dad used to say, “Scott that’s why God created pop bottles son.” Explains a lot about me doesn’t it.

I remember when the kids were young driving them, complete with pop bottles, to see their grandparents. We left the house here and started out early in the morning to Invermere or Saskatchewan, depending on the year.  We’re driving and we get to Oooooh….Hatzic (about five miles), and one of the boys would ask the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” (ok, so it was me). My wife would scowl at me and say, “Scott!” I would apologize and turn to the boys and say… “Are we there yet?” By the time we broke down in the big city of Redcliff AB we had it down to a science.. We set it to music (“frere Jacques”) – “Are we there yet, are we there yet, no we’re not. No we’re not”. We kept it up for hours like some kind of a pagan chant.

Remember when you were a kid and your dad had that big APE arm that he would swing behind him as he would try to belt one of you? I remember telling my mom “I gotta go” for probably the tenth time and her handing me a poop bottle, (some of you also had dysfunctional parents like that!). Now that was quality family time! I’ll tell you.

Are we there yet?

Lately I’ve thot a lot about the journey. It is so tempting to get bogged down in the fight, forget the finish line, and get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Since the world didn’t end on Friday I guess we are stuck with this journey for some time yet.

It’s Boxing Day in Canada, another excuse for a mandatory day off and a rabid trip to the shopping malls. Around our household we try to do something family oriented, something cheesy like bowling or pinball or pool or a trip. The Hobbit is going to work his way into our schedule somehow as well. I am reminded of the real meaning of life and the thing that keeps me grounded – my family, in all it’s weirdness and wonder. This year we have the addition of my new little reason for living, Angus Scott Williams. He reminds me, every time I see him, what matters most in this world.

I know the world is full of problems and pain. I see it everyday, usually. Today, however, I’m going to practice a little mindfulness and enjoy every minute with Angus I can steal. My prayer is that you will also find something beautiful to concentrate on this holiday.

Happy first Boxing Day buddy.

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.