It was like one of those magical blind-date scenes out of a Hollywood rom-com, without the “rom.” I met Brian, a New York screenwriter, a few years ago through work, which led to dinner with our wives and friend chemistry that was instant and obvious.
We liked the same songs off Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” the same lines from “Chinatown.” By the time the green curry shrimp had arrived, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Our wives were forced to cut in: “Hey, guys, want to come up for air?”
As Brian and his wife wandered off toward the No. 2 train afterward, it crossed my mind that he was the kind of guy who might have ended up a groomsman at my wedding if we had met in college.
That was four years ago. We’ve seen each other four times since. We are “friends,” but not quite friends. We keep trying to get over the hump, but life gets in the way.
Our story is not unusual. In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.
No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.
But often, people realize how much they have neglected to restock their pool of friends only when they encounter a big life event, like a move, say, or a divorce.
That thought struck Lisa Degliantoni, an educational fund-raising executive in Chicago, a few months ago when she was planning her 39th birthday party. After a move from New York to Evanston, Ill., she realized that she had 857 Facebook friends and 509 Twitter followers, but still did not know if she could fill her party’s invitation list. “I did an inventory of the phases of my life where I’ve managed to make the most friends, and it was definitely high school and my first job,” she said.
After a divorce in his 40s, Robert Glover, a psychotherapist in Bellevue, Wash., realized that his roster of friends had quietly atrophied for years as he focused on career and family. “All of a sudden, with your wife out of the picture, you realize you’re lonely,” said Dr. Glover, now 56. “I’d go to salsa lessons. Instead of trying to pick up the women, I’d introduce myself to the men: ‘Hey, let’s go get a drink.’ ”
In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.
Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now. “You tend to focus on what is most emotionally important to you,” she said, “so you’re not interested in going to that cocktail party, you’re interested in spending time with your kids.”
As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added…
"We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent. For me genius is defined by that irrationality; how can he talk like that? Play like that? Kick a ball like that? A talent that was not sculpted and schooled, educated and polished but bursts through the portal, raw and vulgar. Always mischievous, always on the brink of going wrong, dangerous and fun, like drugs.
Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.
What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?
That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?
What I might do is watch Mrs Doubtfire. Or Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting and I might be nice to people, mindful today how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire.”
“The disappearance of mourning rituals affects everyone, not just the mourner. One of the reasons many people are unsure about how to act around a loss is that they lack rules or meaningful conventions, and they fear making a mistake. Rituals used to help the community by giving everyone a sense of what to do or say. Now, we’re at sea.”—Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye
Most people enter therapy wanting something. They seek relief from debilitating symptoms. They want help making a life-changing decision. They long to heal past hurts. Couples need tools for communication. Some want better self-control. Others search for the ability to reach their potential. The list goes on.
If their therapy has the right formula of therapeutic competence, perseverance, compatibility, and good fortune, those individuals will likely reach those goals. They’ll learn what they need to learn, internalize the therapist’s message or voice, and charge into the next challenges of their life.
But many people find that therapy also provides some unexpected benefits. When they leave, they realize they’ve gotten more than they bargained for—sort of a bonus for engaging in the experience. Here are four unexpected benefits of therapy I’ve seen in my own practice:
Depth: In polite society, we’re accustomed to having mundane conversations revolving around the weather, bullet points from work, some celebrity/sports highlights, and the story we just heard on NPR or Fox News. We skip along the surface because doing so is safe and universally accepted. Therapy pushes beyond the superficial to deeper introspective questions of personal experience, historical precedents, deep feelings, and drives—a variety of topics that would never end up on a Facebook status update. When people realize talking on this level is not just interesting, but also productive and healing, they want to recreate this depth in other relationships.
Empathy: It’s kind of ironic: The majority of people come to therapy wanting to understand their own problems and why other people impact them the way they do. But once they delve into their own issues, they discover insights that help them understand their lovers, their friends, their co-workers, and their bosses on a whole new level. A light bulb goes off and they may think, “Oh, that person’s worst experience was when he was abandoned by his dad. I understand why he reacted so strongly when I bailed on our plans.” People often learn to understand the people who inhabit their lives nearly as much as they understand themselves. Or maybe they become curious and ask a few more questions, which leads to this deeper understanding.
Contagion: I can’t count the number of individuals who came to therapy to learn more about themselves and before long, their friends were interested in finding their own therapist. It happens all the time. People feel empowered and excited about growing. Their mood, attitude, and/or behavior changes, and their friends are intrigued. Occasionally, individuals in an entire friend circle will seek their own help and everyone relates on a deeper, more functional level. Fixing your friends is not a reason to seek therapy, but it sure can be rewarding when this is the outcome.
Listening: When a person spends significant time with a professional listener, that person often develops the ability to listen. They sit for many hours with someone who keeps eye contact, pays attention, and indicates reflecting or recalling past information. People in therapy know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention and are more likely to replicate that for their loved ones. They’ve reaped the benefits of close focused attention, had it modeled for them, and can now show it to others.
At the risk of sounding too pro-therapist, the common thread here is that therapy helps people learn to adopt some basic therapeutic characteristics. They learn to talk on a deep level, to empathize with others, to discover the thrill of self-knowledge, and to listen well. This is to be expected, as we humans often take on the characteristics of the people we spend time with, from attitudes to behaviors to communication styles.
Like I said, these are the bonuses of therapy. The main objective is helping people relieve their symptoms and underlying issues. But if they can resolve their problem while becoming better listeners and empathizers with an ability to discuss deep issues in a way that positively impacts their inner circle, what’s the problem?
Sounds like a bonus to me.
Ryan Howes, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, the founder of National Psychotherapy Day sponsored by GoodTherapy.org, and a writer for the Psychotherapy Networker Magazine.
How your sense of humor can improve your health, get you pregnant, and even save your life
by Julie Beck
Laughter is the best medicine, or so the cliché goes. Actually, given the choice between laughter and, say, penicillin or chemotherapy, you’re probably better off choosing one of the latter. Still, a great deal of research shows that humor is extraordinarily therapeutic, mentally and physically.
Laughing in the face of tragedy seems to shield a person from its effects. A 2013 review of studies found that among elderly patients, laughter significantly alleviated the symptoms of depression . Another study, published early this year, found that firefighters who used humor as a coping strategy were somewhat protected from PTSD . Laughing also seems to ease more-quotidian anxieties. One group of researchers found that watching an episode of Friends (specifically, Season Five’s “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”) was as effective at improving a person’s mood as listening to music or exercising, and more effective than resting .
Laughter even seems to have a buffering effect against physical pain. A 2012 study found that subjects who were shown a funny video displayed higher pain thresholds than those who saw a serious documentary . In another study, postsurgical patients requested less pain medication after watching a funny movie of their choosing .
Other literature identifies even more specific health benefits: laughing reduced arterial-wall stiffness (which is associated with cardiovascular disease) . Women undergoing in vitro fertilization were 16 percent more likely to get pregnant when entertained by a clown dressed as a chef . And a regular old clown improved lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease . More generally, a mirthful life is likely to be a long one. A study of Norwegians found that having a sense of humor correlated with a high probability of surviving into retirement .
Unfortunately, there’s a not-so-funny footnote to all this: the people who are best at telling jokes tend to have more health problems than the people laughing at them. A study of Finnish police officers found that those who were seen as funniest smoked more, weighed more, and were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than their peers . Entertainers typically die earlier than other famous people , and comedians exhibit more “psychotic traits” than others . So just as there’s research to back up the conventional wisdom on laughter’s curative powers, there also seems to be truth to the stereotype that funny people aren’t always having much fun. It might feel good to crack others up now and then, but apparently the audience gets the last laugh.
“What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. The trouble is that we use knowing in bits of our lives where it doesn’t work, or where it’s actually not the point.”—Adam Phillips
Are we measuring basic facts about children? Or basic facts about rich kids?
by Jane Hu
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past few years, I’ve gotten used to lots of things that would probably seem strange in other cities. Commuting on a unicycle? Sure. Rampant midday nudity? Everywhere. Vegan dinner fundraiser for your Burning Man art car? Of course. So I hardly bat an eye when a 4-year-old says, “My favorite food is edamame.”
As a developmental psychologist, I test children to learn basic facts about kids, such as how they learn language, navigate social interactions, and gain knowledge. These things seem like they should work about the same way for any young human. But there is growing evidence that the timing and efficiency with which children learn these general skills vary a lot based on experience. A huge amount of a child’s early life experience is determined by the family’s socioeconomic status—how wealthy and educated the child’s parents are. The edamame-loving professors’ kids I’ve been testing are unlikely to be representative of an average child, or even an average American child.
There’s a term to describe the types of people who participate in most social science studies: WEIRD. They are weird in the sense that they are unusual compared with most of the world’s population, but WEIRD is also an acronym describing the white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic culture they come from. A trio of psychology professors coined this term in a 2010 paper, pointing out that fields studying human behavior often use participants who are “Western, and more specifically American, undergraduates.”
US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had a record-setting World Cup game today (despite the unfortunate 2-1 loss to Belgium), has been dealing with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD issues since childhood. This article and accompanying video details Howard’s struggles and his continuing efforts to inspire others and dispel the myths and ignorance around TS and associated disorders:
"The United States goalkeeper in his third World Cup doesn’t mind being asked about Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder he has suffered from since childhood.
In fact, despite it being cruelly used to single him out early in his career he welcomes the inquiry and embraces the condition, proud of having controlled it and determined to raise awareness for the benefit of others afflicted.
He might be the most ideal ambassador for a cause that you can imagine, living proof that those with Tourette’s are normal people with the potential to be exceptional. And, with a brush of humor, he dispels the myth that it is simply a condition that makes you swear a lot.
"You know, we don’t all curse," smiled Howard, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports. "I do on the field, unfortunately, to get my point across, but it’s not because of my condition.
"It’s defined as involuntary motor tics, twitches if you like. Some of it is blinking, clearing my throat, different muscle tensing of different body parts. Unfortunately it’s misconstrued and portrayed in a comical way, particularly in Hollywood and movies and stuff." "
Talking with my 88-year-old mother, four and a half years after my father died from a brain tumor, I was surprised to hear her questioning herself. “You’d think I would be over it by now,” she said, speaking of the pain of losing my father, her husband of almost 60 years. “It’s been more than four years, and I’m still upset.”
I’m not sure if I became a psychiatrist because my mother liked to talk to me in this way when I was young or if she talks to me this way now because I became a psychiatrist, but I was pleased to have this conversation with her. Grief needs to be talked about. When it is held too privately it tends to eat away at its own support.
“Trauma never goes away completely,” I responded. “It changes perhaps, softens some with time, but never completely goes away. What makes you think you should be completely over it? I don’t think it works that way.” There was a palpable sense of relief as my mother considered my opinion.
“I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not over it?” she asked. “It took 10 years after my first husband died,” she remembered suddenly, thinking back to her college sweetheart, to his sudden death from a heart condition when she was in her mid-20s, a few years before she met my father. “I guess I could give myself a break.”
I never knew about my mother’s first husband until I was playing Scrabble one day when I was 10 or 11 and opened her weather-beaten copy of Webster’s Dictionary to look up a word. There, on the inside of the front cover, in her handwriting, was her name inscribed in black ink. Only it wasn’t her current name (and it wasn’t her maiden name). It was another, unfamiliar name, not Sherrie Epstein but Sherrie Steinbach: an alternative version of my mother at once entirely familiar (in her distinctive hand) and utterly alien.
“What’s this?” I remember asking her, holding up the faded blue dictionary, and the story came tumbling out. It was rarely spoken of thereafter, at least until my father died half a century later, at which point my mother began to bring it up, this time of her own volition. I’m not sure that the trauma of her first husband’s death had ever completely disappeared; it seemed to be surfacing again in the context of my father’s death.
Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence. I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder. There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster. One way or another, death (and its cousins: old age, illness, accidents, separation and loss) hangs over all of us. Nobody is immune. Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific advancement, outside our ability to control it.
My response to my mother — that trauma never goes away completely — points to something I have learned through my years as a psychiatrist. In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth. As a therapist, I can testify to how difficult it can be to acknowledge one’s distress and to admit one’s vulnerability. My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others.
When disasters strike we may have an immediate empathic response, but underneath we are often conditioned to believe that “normal” is where we all should be. The victims of the Boston Marathon bombings will take years to recover. Soldiers returning from war carry their battlefield experiences within. Can we, as a community, keep these people in our hearts for years? Or will we move on, expecting them to move on, the way the father of one of my friends expected his 4-year-old son — my friend — to move on after his mother killed herself, telling him one morning that she was gone and never mentioning her again?
IN 1969, after working with terminally ill patients, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross brought the trauma of death out of the closet with the publication of her groundbreaking work, “On Death and Dying.” She outlined a five-stage model of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Her work was radical at the time. It made death a normal topic of conversation, but had the inadvertent effect of making people feel, as my mother did, that grief was something to do right.
Mourning, however, has no timetable. Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away. The closest one can find to a consensus about it among today’s therapists is the conviction that the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay. The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.
While we are accustomed to thinking of trauma as the inevitable result of a major cataclysm, daily life is filled with endless little traumas. Things break. People hurt our feelings. Ticks carry Lyme disease. Pets die. Friends get sick and even die.
“They’re shooting at our regiment now,” a 60-year-old friend said the other day as he recounted the various illnesses of his closest acquaintances. “We’re the ones coming over the hill.” He was right, but the traumatic underpinnings of life are not specific to any generation. The first day of school and the first day in an assisted-living facility are remarkably similar. Separation and loss touch everyone.
I was surprised when my mother mentioned that it had taken her 10 years to recover from her first husband’s death. That would have made me 6 or 7, I thought to myself, by the time she began to feel better. My father, while a compassionate physician, had not wanted to deal with that aspect of my mother’s history. When she married him, she gave her previous wedding’s photographs to her sister to hold for her. I never knew about them or thought to ask about them, but after my father died, my mother was suddenly very open about this hidden period in her life. It had been lying in wait, rarely spoken of, for 60 years.
My mother was putting herself under the same pressure in dealing with my father’s death as she had when her first husband died. The earlier trauma was conditioning the later one, and the difficulties were only getting compounded. I was glad to be a psychiatrist and grateful for my Buddhist inclinations when speaking with her. I could offer her something beyond the blandishments of the rush to normal.
The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.
Mark Epstein is a psychiatrist and the author, most recently, of the forthcoming book “The Trauma of Everyday Life.”
“One of the most profound and universal realizations of later childhood, a realization that probably is never totally integrated, is the discovery that one’s parents are not necessarily representative of the human species, that one has grown up in an idiosyncratically structured family with its own peculiarities and dramas.”—Stephen A. Mitchell, Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis
"If you have a conversation with Ellie, her creators say, she will be able to suss out symptoms of anxiety, depression, and—of particular interest to DARPA—PTSD. The avatar can also, they say, help to prepare soldiers before they’ve gone to the battlefield. ”You want to train people on non-verbal behaviors,” Morency puts it; so, for example, soldiers can be attuned to subtle facial cues from people they might encounter in a theater of war.
Morency and his team have been demonstrating Ellie and her fellow virtual-psychologists in Los Angeles, to people curious about what it’s like to be analyzed by an avatar. So far, more than 500 people have talked to her. And—here’s the surprising thing—they seem to enjoy the experience. The set time for each demo was initially 15 minutes; Morency says people kept extending their time with Ellie, however—up to 30 minutes. That’s because, Morency figures, “they don’t feel judged” by her.
And that’s in turn because, as he puts it:
"Ellie is an interviewer, but she is there as a computer. She doesn’t have judgment directly. So people love talking to her…. they’re more themselves. They’re really expressing and showing something that usually if you know that people are around you—or as an interviewer—they think, ‘Oh, I’m going to be careful.’ But with Ellie, they’re more themselves."
Morency compares the appeal, actually, to that of pets. “People, after talking to Ellie, they feel better,” he points out. “Some people talk to their dogs; even though the dogs don’t understand it… I think there’s a little bit of that effect—just talking with someone makes you feel better.”
"Reading a lot about the science of human behavior can make you cynical, sometimes deservedly so, but cynical nonetheless…The world is not always fair. The bad are not always punished and the good do not always prevail.
But there are plenty of reasons, scientifically tested, to have hope and be positive about the future…”
"On a cold winter’s day, a group of porcupines huddled together to stay warm and keep from freezing. But soon they felt one another’s quills and moved apart. When the need for warmth brought them closer together again, their quills again forced them apart. They were driven back and forth at the mercy of their discomforts until they found the distance from one another that provided both a maximum of warmth and a minimum of pain. In human beings, the emptiness and monotony of the isolated self produces a need for society. This brings people together, but their many offensive qualities and intolerable faults drive them apart again. The optimum distance that they finally find that permits them to coexist is embodied in politeness and good manners. Because of this distance between us, we can only partially satisfy our need for warmth, but at the same time, we are spared the stab of one another’s quills.”
(See also: Elizabeth Gilbert on Schopenhauer’s dilemma and “having that critical little space, in which to be a little bit self-contained—to create your own warmth, your own sense of your own humanity—so that you could be close without being stabbed. The path to that is as close a secret to happiness as anything I’ve ever learned.”)
Some types of psychotherapy are short-term, lasting a few weeks, while others are long-term, lasting months or years. Some focus mostly on the problem at hand, while others encourage people to speak freely about whatever comes to mind…
“A happy life and a meaningful life have some differences,” says Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He bases that claim on a paper he published last year in the Journal of Positive Psychology, co-authored with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Stanford.
Baumeister and his colleagues surveyed 397 adults, looking for correlations between their levels of happiness, meaning, and various other aspects of their lives: their behavior, moods, relationships, health, stress levels, work lives, creative pursuits, and more.
They found that a meaningful life and a happy life often go hand-in-hand—but not always. And they were curious to learn more about the differences between the two. Their statistical analysis tried to separate out what brought meaning to one’s life but not happiness, and what brought happiness but not meaning.
Their findings suggest that meaning (separate from happiness) is not connected with whether one is healthy, has enough money, or feels comfortable in life, while happiness (separate from meaning) is. More specifically, the researchers identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.
•Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life. Therefore, health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not meaning.
•Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.
•Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you. Although social connections were linked to both happiness and meaning, happiness was connected more to the benefits one receives from social relationships, especially friendships, while meaningfulness was related to what one gives to others—for example, taking care of children. Along these lines, self-described “takers” were happier than self-described “givers,” and spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones was linked to meaning but not happiness.
•Meaningful lives involve stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.
•Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example, considering oneself to be wise or creative was associated with meaning but not happiness.
One of the more surprising findings from the study was that giving to others was associated with meaning, rather than happiness, while taking from others was related to happiness and not meaning. Though many researchers have found a connection between giving and happiness, Baumeister argues that this connection is due to how one assigns meaning to the act of giving.
“If we just look at helping others, the simple effect is that people who help others are happier,” says Baumeister. But when you eliminate the effects of meaning on happiness and vice versa, he says, “then helping makes people less happy, so that all the effect of helping on happiness comes by way of increasing meaningfulness.”
“Be not the slave of your own past - plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“At the end of our lives, each of us will look back and wonder what really mattered. It won’t be busyness. It’ll be that we were able to love and be intimate with others, that we enjoyed beauty and were creative in some manner. That we lived our lives fully.
The busyness now is in pursuing some accomplishment, commodity, or recognition we think we want. We race to the end of our lives. Then at the finish line, we realize we’ve barely skimmed the surface.
“Freud suggests that we imagine our lives as a story in which three parts of ourselves are always involved; that in doing any one thing we have a least three projects: we are satisfying a desire, we are sustaining a sense of moral well-being, and we are ensuring our survival.”—Adam Phillips
It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. It’s mandatory. It’s practically the only way the process truly works.
Over and over people come to therapy hoping that this will be the one relationship where I won’t ever do the one, awful, terrible, hurtful, intolerable thing that everyone else has always done to them.
And then I do it. Or something kind of like it, or something only a very little like the terrible thing, but similar enough to bring it all back in a flash and make you feel the darkest déjà vu: “It’s happening AGAIN.”
I will be late, or forget your partner’s name, or double-book, or lose an e-mail, or push too hard, or seem preoccupied, or be masking a dip in my own personal energy, or be over-protective, or have a “tone” in my voice, or misunderstand, or misconstrue, or f-up.
And you will be absolutely sure that it’s proof that I don’t care, don’t value you, that I am crazy, or just like your ex-wife, or your father, or that I am too fragile, depressed, not keeping up, or that I left you – or am about to leave you – alone.
Sometimes it will happen right away, sometimes not for a few weeks, or even years.
But – inevitably – I will do it.
If I don’t, we probably aren’t connecting. We aren’t approaching the realm of intimacy. The terrible, messy, liberating sacred zone where your unconscious Self pulls on mine – and we slip, momentarily, into the black hole of our core conflicts.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
But that’s how it works. Really.
We all repeat patterns in our relationships, and the therapeutic relationship – although unique, with important parameters – is still a relationship. As we fall into our favorite tried-and-true dance steps, we all pull and lead our partners to fall in line. Even if we want to learn new steps – even if we want to quit dancing altogether – the old rhythms return.
So, whatever it is you want to break free from, we should expect it to happen, watch for it to happen. And when it does – that is our moment to strike! We can see it happening, live, in vivo, in our laboratory. If we can catch it, we can deconstruct it, we can explore what was at play, assign language to it for the first time, or rewrite the narrative, we can transform it, re-work it, create a new experience.
But, I will step in it. If you stay long enough, and want more from the process than some company while you wait out a disruptive brief crisis, I always do.
And so will everyone you ever love.
The road to all intimacy leads straight through the deepest hole of our worst fears and crashes smack into our darkest core conflict.
Lets not hope that it won’t happen. Lets hope that it does.
In Generation Like, an eye-opening follow-up to FRONTLINE’s 2001 documentary The Merchants of Cool, author Douglas Rushkoff returns to the world of youth culture to explore how the perennial teen quest for identity and connection has migrated to social media — and how big brands are increasingly co-opting young consumers’ digital presences.
“Today’s teens don’t need to be chased down by corporations,” Rushkoff says. “They’re putting themselves online for anyone to see. They tell the world what they think is cool—starting with their own online profiles. Likes, follows, retweets, and favorites are the social currency of this generation.”
(click link above to watch the full 56 minute documentary)
“I think people’s attitudes need to change at a deep psychological level about how they view these different personality styles. For introverts particularly, to get rid of the guilt and the shame that they feel about who they are, but also for how the world looks at them.
As far as the world is concerned, I’ll give you three concrete places where it needs to change. Number one is in the establishment of psychology itself. What I do in my research, I was actually amazed at how biased psychology is against introversion. I expected it not to be that way because so many psychologists are introverts themselves. But I think it’s just the nature of the field that it mirrors whatever the biases are at the current time. So it used to be biased against homosexuality, biased against introversion and other stuff too. Right now, for example, they’re in a process of revising the diagnostics manual. And the last I heard is they’re considering an entry for something called introverted personality disorder. And that, to me, is just appalling.”—It’s OK to Eat Alone: Q&A with Susan Cain (the author of Quiet)
One of the great divides in male-female relationships is the “chick flick” — movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “The Notebook” that often leave women in tears and men bored. But now, a fascinating new study shows that sappy relationship movies made in Hollywood can actually help strengthen relationships in the real world.
A University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group. Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive therapist-led methods.
The findings, while preliminary, have important implications for marriage counseling efforts. The movie intervention could become a self-help option for couples who are reluctant to join formal therapy sessions or could be used by couples who live in areas with less access to therapists.
“A movie is a nonthreatening way to get the conversation started,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study. “It’s really exciting because it makes it so much easier to reach out to couples and help them strengthen their relationships on a wide scale.”
The initial goal of the study was to evaluate two types of therapist-led interventions called CARE and PREP. The CARE method focuses on acceptance and empathy in couples counseling, while PREP is centered on a specific communication style that couples use to resolve issues. The researchers wanted a third option that allowed couples to interact but did not involve intensive counseling.
They came up with the movie intervention, assigning couples to watch five movies and to take part in guided discussions afterward. A fourth group of couples received no counseling or self-help assignments and served as a control group.
Going into the study, the researchers expected that the CARE and PREP methods would have a pronounced effect on relationships and that the movie intervention might result in some mild improvements to relationship quality. To their surprise, the movie intervention worked just as well as both of the established therapy methods in reducing divorce and separation.
Among 174 couples studied, those who received marriage counseling or took part in the movie intervention were half as likely to divorce or separate after three years compared with couples in the control group who received no intervention. The divorce or separation rate was 11 percent in the intervention groups, compared with 24 percent in the control group.
In determining the list of relationship movies that might be useful to couples, the researchers eliminated popular romantic comedies or “falling in love” movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally.” Instead, they put together a list of movies that show couples at various highs and lows in their relationships. “Hollywood can place very unrealistic expectations on romantic relationships,” Dr. Rogge said. “The idea that you are supposed to fall in love instantly and effortlessly is not reality and not relevant to most couples who are two, three or four years into a relationship.”
Some of the movies on the list, like “Couples Retreat,” are funny and not necessarily realistic. “But they are enough to get a dialogue going,” Dr. Rogge said.
Since completing the initial study, Dr. Rogge and his colleagues have been recruiting couples from around the country to study the effect of the movie intervention on different relationships, including long-married and same-sex couples. Megan Clifton, a 27-year-old student in Knoxville, Tenn., has lived with her boyfriend for nearly two years. Although she says the two have “great communication,” she opted to try the movie intervention.
While watching the movie “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell, the couple laughed at a scene in which the husband fails to close drawers and cabinet doors. “He leaves cabinet doors open all the time, and I become the nagging girlfriend and he shuts down a little,” Ms. Clifton said. “When we were watching the movie, I said ‘That’s you!,’ and it was humorous. We ended up laughing about it, and it has helped us look at our relationship and our problems in a humorous way.”
Matt and Kellie Butler of Ashtabula, Ohio, have been married for 16 years and also feel the movie intervention has helped their relationship. So far they have watched “Love and Other Drugs” and “She’s Having a Baby.”
“It’s kind of powerful,” Mr. Butler said. “It’s like watching a role play in a group-therapy session, but it’s a movie so it’s less threatening and more entertaining.”
Mr. Butler said that even though he and his wife have a strong bond, long-married couples sometimes forget to talk about their relationship. “We’ve been married 16 years, but it’s not something you sit down and have a conversation about,” he said. “When you watch the movie, it focuses your conversation on your relationship.”
Dr. Rogge noted that more research is needed to determine the effect on a variety of couples. One flaw of the study is that the control group was not truly randomized. While the couples in the control group seemed similar to other couples in the study in terms of demographics and relationship quality, further research is needed to validate the movie method.
“I believe it’s the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they do going forward,” said Dr. Rogge.
A: For the same reason that running comes so hard for fish. They don’t have the equipment. The ADD brain lacks internal organization that naturally leads most people to structure their lives. People with ADD must make a conscious, deliberate effort to build structure into their lives.
“For years mental health professionals taught people that they could be psychologically healthy without social support, that “unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.” Women were told that they didn’t need men, and vice versa. People without any relationships were believed to be as healthy as those who had many. These ideas contradict the fundamental biology of human species: we are social mammals and could never have survived without deeply interconnected and interdependent human contact. The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.”—Bruce D. Perry, M.D., The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook
“The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird’s-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as résumé. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all of our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to.”—
"Our attractions are forged in the deep space of our being, born of countless, often unknowable forces. When we encounter someone for the first time, our psyche and our heart begin an astonishingly complex scan, picking up obvious cues like physique and facial structure, but also noting myriad subtle cues such as body language, facial expression, the contour of the lips, the nuance of the voice, and the muscles around the eyes. We instantly process all this information without even knowing it. All we feel is desire or the lack of it. Scientists tell us that a silkworm can smell one other silkworm moth of the opposite sex from six and a half miles away. While our mating instinct may not be as developed as this species of moth, nature has bestowed an exquisite sensitivity upon our romantic radar, programmed to find just the right person to trigger whatever emotional circuitry we need to work through.
All of us are attracted to a certain type that stops us dead in our tracks: a physical type, an emotional type, and a personality type. Let’s say that there is a spectrum of attraction, from one to ten, and the people at the low end of the spectrum (like numbers one and two) aren’t physically or romantically attractive to us at all. But those on the “ten” end of the spectrum are icons: they’re compellingly attractive, they make us weak in the knees, and they trigger both our insecurities and our longing. Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, illuminates this phenomenon in a way which sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. He teaches that these people are so attractive to us in part because they embody not only the best, but also the the worst emotional characteristics of our parents!
Even though we may be adults, all of us have unresolved childhood hurts due to betrayal, anger, manipulation or abuse. Unconsciously, we seek healing through our partner. And we try to achieve this healing by bonding with someone who we sense might hurt us in similar ways to how we were hurt as children, in the hope that we can convince him or her to finally love and accept us.
Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we yearn for, but our unconscious draws us to the qualities which remind us of how we were wounded the most.
This explains part of why we get so awkward and insecure around people we’re intensely attracted to.
It also explains why our greatest heartbreaks often occur with these most intense, fiery attractions. Some of us react to these past heartbreaks by only dating those on the low end of the spectrum. We are frightened of the intensity and the risk of painful loss when we deal with people on the high end of the attraction scale. We often feel safest with people who don’t do much for us on a physical or romantic level because it just feels more comfortable that way. But the downside is usually boredom, frustration and lack of passion.
Many others only date people on the high end of the spectrum, just going for the iconic types, because they believe that that’s where real love and passion lie. With someone who is a “high number” on your attraction spectrum, you can tell that you’re attracted in a fraction of a second. While this can be achingly exciting, it’s rarely comfortable or secure.”
You’re worried about X, Y, and Z. You obsess about them for hours every day, maybe for weeks.
How do you know whether this is typical worrying, a normal way of processing something that’s important to you, or if you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Karen Swartz, M.D., the Director of Clinical Programs at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says the main difference between worry and GAD is that the symptoms are more frequent with GAD. In a Depression and Anxiety Health Alert, she mentions one study that found that people without GAD tended to worry an average of 55 minutes a day, while those with GAD worried for 310 minutes each day. That’s one hour compared to five.
She identified a few other differences, as well:
Normal Worry: Worrying does not interfere with your job or social life.
GAD: Worrying significantly interferes with your work or social activities.
Normal Worry: You feel that your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with at a later time.
GAD: You feel that your worrying is out of your control.
Normal Worry: Your worries cause only mild distress.
GAD: Your worries are very distressing and pervasive.
Normal Worry: A specific cause initiated your worrying.
GAD: Worrying began for no reason.
Normal Worry: Your worries are limited to a specific topic or a small number of topics.
GAD: You worry about a broad range of topics, like job performance, money, personal safety or the safety of others, etc.
Normal Worry: Significant worrying lasts only for a brief period.
GAD: You have experienced excessive worrying for six months or more.
Normal Worry: Your worrying is not usually accompanied by physical or other psychological symptoms.
GAD: Three or more physical or psychological symptoms occur with your worrying (such as sleep problems, irritability, tense muscles, problems concentrating, fatigue or restlessness).
“My anxiety can be intolerable. But it is also, maybe, a gift—or at least the other side of a coin I ought to think twice about before trading in. As often as anxiety has held me back—prevented me from traveling, or from seizing opportunities or taking certain risks—it has also unquestionably spurred me forward. “If a man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in anxiety,” Søren Kierkegaard wrote in 1844. “Since he is a synthesis, he can be in anxiety, and the greater the anxiety, the greater the man.” I don’t know about that. But I do know that some of the things for which I am most thankful—the opportunity to help lead a respected magazine; a place, however peripheral, in shaping public debate; a peripatetic and curious sensibility; and whatever quotients of emotional intelligence and good judgment I possess—not only coexist with my condition but are in some meaningful way the product of it.”—Scott Stossel, "Surviving Anxiety"