Friday, August 4, 2017

How to Listen to Pain

--by Jill Suttie, syndicated from Greater Good, Feb 25, 2016 interview with Brené Brown

Why do we feel shame and how does shame change us?




Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It's the fear that we're not good enough. --Brené Brown

According to Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston, shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It’s an emotion that affects all of us and profoundly shapes the way we interact in the world. But, depending on how we deal with it, shame can either shut us down or lead us to a new sense of bravery and authenticity.

Jill Suttie: Why do you think it’s important to study shame and vulnerability?

Brené Brown: Because they are such a big part of our emotional landscape and daily experience. For shame, it’s about shining a light in some dark corners and normalizing some universal experiences that by definition make us feel very alone.

As for vulnerability, a lot of people believe that vulnerability is the centre of dark and difficult emotions that we don’t want to feel; so they guard against it. The truth is that vulnerability is the centre of all emotions. We’re emotional beings, and to understand our emotions is going to require a bit of uncertainty and risk

JS: What do you mean by vulnerability being at the centre of all emotion?

BB: Based on the research, I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. When we feel dark emotions—when we feel grief or shame or fear, scarcity, disappointment—we feel risk and uncertainty, and we feel emotionally exposed and raw. But vulnerability is also the birthplace of love, joy, belonging, trust, intimacy, creativity, and all of the good things. If we’re practicing a guarded heart life, we’re pushing away the things we’re most desperate for.

JS: Can you talk about the difference between shame and guilt?

BB: The easiest way to separate shame from guilt is to say shame is “I’m bad” and guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behaviour. An easy parenting example would be saying, “You’re stupid” versus “You’re a great kid that made a bad decision.” It’s very hard to get out from underneath shame because, if that’s who you are, what is the potential for change?

JS: Why should we engage with shame in the way you describe in your book when it’s so painful? What’s the benefit to that?

BB: Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Those are not authentic responses. So, dealing with shame while maintaining authenticity and cultivating more courage, connection, and compassion in your relationships is what’s needed. It’s a tall order. But one of the by products of being able to move through shame constructively is that people who come out the other side by default feel braver, more connected and compassionate.

JS: Do you have advice for people who grew up in families where emotions were ignored or downplayed?

BB: I’m a big believer in therapy. I could not have done this work without a really great therapist. I don’t think we can do this work alone, because we were never meant to. It’s not how we’re wired. We’re wired for connection, from mirror neurons on down, and in the absence of connection, there’s suffering. So, I think just starting small conversations with people we trust and care about and being honest about wanting to learn more and do more about our shame is a good step. It’s all about being in connection while we’re in this learning process.

JS: What do you hope people will most take away from your work?
BB: I hope more than anything that it starts a conversation. I hope my work helps people feel less alone and gives them the permission and the language to talk about the most important parts of being human—both the hard parts and the most beautiful parts.



Brene Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston.

Her TED talk on the power of vulnerability is the fourth most popular talk of all time and has been viewed by over 23 million people, while her books are all bestsellers, including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and her latest book, Rising Strong.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How can I stay motivated to deepen sexuality and intimacy


This blog was written by Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity.



How can I stay motivated to deepen sexuality and intimacy between us, if my partner isn’t onboard with me? -- Gabriella, 44

Often in a relationship, there is one person who drives the closeness, intimacy, and connection (the pursuer). And another partner who tends to sustain distance, aim for space, and emphasize autonomy (the distancer).

This is typical in any relationship. The fact that one person wants more closeness than the other is not unusual. Gabriella feels like she’s the only one in the partnership who cares about their intimate connection, and her partner does not value it. If she feels alone, this can lead to a ladder of escalating negative emotions: Rejection > Ashamed for wanting connection > Questioning self worth > Feel unloved, etc.

If there is a solid foundation in the relationship, this type of conversation is one I recommend for many of my pursuer partner clients: “I totally understand that you’re on a different page than me right now. We don’t feel the same way. But I do need to know that you care about me, that you have empathy for what I’m going through, and that I’m not being dismissed. I don’t need you to want what I want, but I do need that you care about what I want, and you value that I what it.”

If you want more intimacy with your partner, but you seem to be on different pages, these questions may help generate a conversation like the one above:

What is going on for you right now? What is holding you back?
What can we do to change this together?
Is there anything you need from me so we can proceed in a direction that gives both of us what we are looking for?
What is going on for you sexually?

You want to try to understand if the reasons have to do with the relationship, with you, or if they are really the struggles of your partner, which he or she needs to take responsibility for him or herself.


Ganga Daryanani, RSW

Ganga@holisticcounsel.com

416 769 6810

www.Holisticcounsel.com

www.TorontoCounselling.blogspot.com

If you think this blog may be of interest to someone, please feel free to forward.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We bicker all the time… What should I do?

By Ester Perel who is a sex and relationship therapist, best-selling author of Mating in Captivity and a consultant for the hit Showtime  series The Affair

“We bicker all the time, she’s so critical of me and I don’t feel like I am doing anything right. What should I do?” – Anthony, Boston



Anthony’s question is powerful because it is so common.
I think of bickering as low intensity chronic warfare. Ongoing criticism can lead to the demise of the relationship. And if we criticize as a way of asking to be loved, well then we will often produce precisely the opposite effect of what we seek: to be loved and to feel good about ourselves. If we spend much of our time feeling lousy, unloved, devalued, inadequate and inept, we are on the wrong side of the tracks. So what can we do to reset this negative pattern?

Pay Attention to What’s Working
When our relationship is in distress, we tend to overlook the good and overemphasize the bad.
To counter this, try keeping a daily list of everything that your partner does that is positive, everything that you appreciate, everything that you can be thankful for. Do this for ten days in a row.
Each note can be as simple as: “Made me a cup of tea” or “Locked door on way out”. Instead of elevating the annoying, elevate the minute details of your partner’s generosity and thoughtfulness.
Focus on what is working. Pay attention.
The ratio of appreciation is crucial to a good relationship. Take the log one step further and make a big deal every time the other person does something positive.
This will kick you out of a defeating cycle of negativity. And will motivate your partner towards acts of kindness.

Let Yourself Be Vulnerable
What’s important to understand about criticism is that it sits on top of a mountain of disappointments of unmet needs and unfulfilled longings.
Every criticism often holds a veiled wish. When your partner says to you, “You’re never around”, what they may actually mean is “I’m lonely, I miss you when you’re not here.”
When Anthony’s partner tells him he never brings her along when he goes hiking, what she is also trying to tell him is “I wish we would go hiking together”.
I recommend that Anthony and his partner both say what they want and not what the other did not do.  
Often I suggest this to couples and they complain, “But I already did exactly that and I got nothing”. Try again.
It is tempting to launch into anger instead of experiencing the vulnerability of putting yourself out there, asking for something and waiting for the possibility that you won’t get it.
For many, anger is easier to express than hurt. Anger can feel like a confidence booster and an analgesic. Yet the more we communicate through anger, the more anger we get in return, creating a negative cycle of escalations.

Reflect & Take Responsibility
If you have ever done any breathing exercises, or yoga classes, you may have noticed that there is a space at the end of each inhale and exhale. A moment to pause. Similarly, economists and psychologists often encourage this moment of pause before making a large purchase.
Instead of shifting into instantaneous blame, take a moment to shift from reaction to reflection.
Why am I angry?  What do I want?  Instead of going for the jugular, take responsibility for what you feel and state it.
When couples come to therapy and they are in escalating cycles – things change when each person begins to take responsibility. This is true for both Anthony and his partner.


Remember, seek professional help at the early signs of relationship difficulties.  Waiting too long is never worth it, because you get stuck in negative patterns of interaction that become increasingly automatic, rigidly entrenched and more and more difficult to change.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Monogamy?



According to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of:"Hold me Tight " and" Love Sense": Monogamy is getting a bad rap these days. We're told that we should all grow up and accept that it's impossible and that we're just naturally promiscuous. Monogamy is more and more portrayed as a state of deprivation, where deadening familiarity robs us of magic and thrills in the bedroom and beyond, and cheating is viewed as inevitable.

But most of us (about 75% of us, according to several different studies) do not cheat on our partners. And, even though, until recently, we had no map or any kind of scientific understanding of love to guide us, more than half of us manage to stay together for a lifetime.

Rigorous survey data from the University of Chicago also shows that long-term committed couples are the happiest, most satisfied, have more sex and report that their sex lives are more thrilling. Here are five reasons, why monogamy — especially now that bonding science shows us how to shape and hold onto love — is no dysfunctional delusion. It is simply the best way to be.

1. It's in our nature to hold onto and protect the bond with a chosen mate.

We are mammals who must collaborate closely over time to rear extremely vulnerable young. A clear preference to mate, stay close to, groom, care for and protect one partner is the norm in such mammals. This does not mean that recreational sex never occurs; it means that it's an occasional side show, a deviation from an adaptive norm, not a better option.

2. Love is an ancient survival code designed to keep a trusted loved one close.

We now know that this need for safe haven connection with an irreplaceable other is our most compelling drive, one that has shaped our chemistry and our nervous system. Sex in mammals is a bonding behavior. We mate face to face, touch and caress, and we are flooded with the bonding hormone, oxytocin, when we “make love.”

Oxytocin turns off fear, turns on reward hormones and moves us into calm contentment. No wonder we long for love. When usually monogamous mammals like prairie voles are given drugs to block oxytocin, they are more likely to stray; when given extra oxytocin they practically groom their mate into the ground.

3. The cost of infidelity is high.

Partners are generally unable and unwilling to share the one they love. Sam, like most partners tells me, “I don’t even know why I did it. It wasn’t like I was consumed with lust for my secretary or was hankering after a different partner. I had lost my connection with my wife, Kim. Nothing seemed to work between us. I was depressed and lonely. Taking my secretary out for coffee was comforting and it felt good that she liked me. I told myself that Kim wouldn’t find out and that it wouldn’t really change anything. The whole thing just seemed very separate from my family.”

Sam denied and compartmentalized, but he was wrong about Kim’s response. She felt traumatized and betrayed. Since we have such a deep need for a secure bond with a lover we can count on, it is natural and inevitable that Kim experiences Sam’s affair as a significant threat. She asked Sam to move out. With help, this couple were able to move into forgiveness. So yes, you can reconcile after an affair, but often the damage is irrevocable.

4. A secure bond with all its mental and physical health benefits requires focused attention and timely emotional responsiveness.

This is hard to pull off if you are investing in more than relationship at a time. Amy tells her husband Jacques, “I want to come first. You don’t even have time and energy for me, let alone a mistress. You ask me to accept this and adapt, but we spend all our time setting rules and fighting over who gets your attention and when. I can’t count on you to be there for me. You have to leave.”


5. Most arguments against monogamy stress the “sex with the same person becomes a bore” mantra.

One study out of my research center shows that when couples become more open and emotionally connected, their sex life improves. Recreational sex — sex without emotional engagement — is way overrated. It's like a dance without music. Flat. One dimensional.

The partners who report being the most open to one night stands and short term sexual relationships are usually into avoidant bonding strategies. They tend to be phobic about depending on or being vulnerable to others. In bed they focus on performance and “hot” sensation.

Ironically, studies report that these same people enjoy sex less and have less frequent sex than more involved bonded partners. The evidence is, securely attached, fully engaged lovers, are happier and more caring.

They also have better sex lives; they are more open to exploring their sexual needs, they communicate better in bed, and can co-operate and solve sexual problems together. They dance in a more attuned and responsive way, in bed and out of it.

The idea that passion has a "Best-before" date and is incompatible with long term love was trendy before the new science of love came on line. Now it’s out of date. The take home message is: be monogamous and shape a joyful, secure bond with your partner. Don’t worry, you’re not missing a thing. If you learn to make sense of love, you can fall in love again and again with the same precious lover. You can have lasting, caring, intimate connection AND the time of your life in bed. This is delight, not deprivation.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

How to Ease the Holiday Blues

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” – Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown immortalized the uncanny dissonance of the holiday blues in this classic Christmas tale. I first heard about the holiday blues when I was working at a psychiatric hospital in Cambridge and my colleague said to me in September: “These beds will all be full by the beginning of December”. I thought it was strange that at a time centered around happiness, fellowship, harmony and family, people find themselves lonely, sad, depressed — even suicidal. Clearly, the holidays are laden with expectations – expectations that have been built upon a foundation of years of nostalgia or, alternately, disappointment.

While some of us look forward to the holidays, others dread the impending stress that comes from overdrinking, overeating and over consuming. Many of us remember those who are no longer with us — family members who have passed, marriages that ended, and relationships that have been severed. Holidays propel us back into old family conflicts which faithfully resurface each year, which can deepen our sadness and unease.
Here are some ways you can lighten your expectations and ease the holiday blues. They are a holiday offering for you. Pick and choose as you like, rather than another dreaded list of to-do’s that you must get done by the year’s end.

Reassess your priorities
As the year closes, we feel pulled by an array of demands: attending office parties, cooking elaborate meals, traveling and spending beyond our means. What would actually bring you the most pleasure this holiday? Make a list of your holiday “shoulds”. Get inspired by Ellen Burstyn’s “should-less” days. See if you can cross off at least two or three items from your list.
Then, make a new list – of things that will bring you meaning and pleasure. How can these two lists be combined? For instance, if you want to reconnect with old friends but you are planning to cook a complicated meal to impress them, what if everyone brought a dish, instead? Collaborate with family and friends by letting them know how you feel about the holidays – you may be surprised to find they feel the same way – and together, find creative ways to ease holiday anxiety.

Give to those who need it most
The old adage is true: there is nothing that makes you feel less alone and less unworthy than to help others. For years, when my children were young, we would volunteer in a soup kitchen on Christmas day. The holidays offer so many opportunities to give to the community. And you will find that your act of altruism has the benefit of making you feel better, while also creating a sense of meaning that cuts through the superficialities of the holiday season. Here’s a list of possibilities for helping others in Toronto, or to find opportunities in your area, a quick internet search should lead you in the right direction.

Surround yourself with your family of choice
Many of us do not spend the holidays with those that we love the most. What I seek in the holidays is gathering, conviviality and warmth – a beating back against the cold through the fellowship of others. Create a place where you can be with those who accept you, free from judgment and awkward political conversations. If you feel isolated, far from your family, have a gathering of “the exiled and orphans.” This kind of fellowship brings great solace during the holidays.

Find some time for spiritual introspection
When I lived in Jerusalem, despite being Jewish, every year I would pick a different church to attend midnight mass. Regardless of your religion, being in a room where songs are sung, candles are lit and humans gather together can be uplifting, helping you to shift your focus from doing to simply being.

How are you handling the holidays this season? I’d love to hear from you
ganga@holisticcounsel.com




Friday, October 21, 2016

Where does Love Go Wrong?



The Demon Dialogues That Can Wreck Your Relationship
By Dr. Sue Johnson,
Author of Hold Me Tight

Unhappy couples always tell me that they fight over money, the kids, or sex. They tell me that they cannot communicate and the solution is that their partner has to change.  “If Mary would just not get so emotional and listen to my arguments about our fiancés and the kids, we would get somewhere,” Brian tells me. “Well, if Brian would talk more and not just walk away, we wouldn’t fight. I think we are just growing apart here,” says Mary.

After 25 years of doing couple therapy and couple research studies, I know that both Mary and Tim are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Submerged below is the massive real issue: both partners feel emotionally disconnected.

They are watching their backs, feeling criticized, shut-out and alone. Underneath all the loud arguments and long silences, partners are asking each other the key questions in the drama of love: “Are you there for me? Do I and my feelings matter to you? Will you respond to me when I need you?”  The answers to these questions, questions that are so hard to ask and so hard to hear in the heat of a fight, make the difference between emotional safety and emotional peril and starvation.

We know from all the hundreds of studies on love that have emerged during the past decade that emotional responsiveness is what makes or breaks love relationships. Happy stable couples can quarrel and fight, but they also know how to tune into each other and restore emotional connection after a clash. In our studies we find that seven out of ten couples who receive Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT can repair their relationship. They do this by finding a way out of emotional disconnection and back into the safe loving contact that builds trust. But why can’t we all do this, even without a therapist? What gets in our way?  The new science of love tells us.

Our loved one is our shelter in life. When this person is unavailable and unresponsive we are assailed by a tsunami of emotions — sadness, anger, hurt and above all, fear. This fear is wired in. Being able to rely on a loved one, to know that he or she will answer our call is our innate survival code. Research is clear, when we sense that a primary love relationship is threatened, we go into a primal panic.

There are only three ways to deal with our sense of impending loss and isolation. If we are in a happy basically secure union, we accept the need for emotional connection and speak those needs directly in a way that helps their partner respond lovingly. If however we are in a wobbly relationship and are not sure how to voice our need, we either angrily demand or try to push our partner into responding, or we shut down and move away to protect ourselves. No matter the exact words we use, what we are really saying is, “Notice me. Be with me. I need you.” Or, “I won’t let you hurt me. I will chill out, try to stay in control.”

If these strategies become front and center in a relationship, then we are liable to get stuck in what I call the Demon Dialogues. These dialogues can take over your relationship. They create more and more resentment, caution and distance until we reach a point where we feel the only solution is to give up and bail out. 


When folks caught in Demon Dialogues come in and ask, “Is there any hope for us?”  I tell them, “Sure there is. When we understand what the drama of love is all about, what our needs and fears are, we can help each other step out of these negative dialogues into positive loving conversations that bring us in to each other’s arms and safely home.

 

Monday, September 12, 2016

What Every Couple Should Know about Emotions

by Les Greenberg

Emotions are what relationships are really about.


Emotions are the glue that make people stick together and that bring us all the positive feelings that make us want to spend time together. They give us the spark of passion, the comfort of belonging, the pride of feeling special, and the enjoyment of feeling known and understood.

Unfortunately, emotions are also what make relationships difficult. They can overwhelm us, they can shut us down, and they can make us say and do things that give us a sense of being out of control.
A relationship can bring out the best and can bring out the worst in our human nature. They can lead a president to risk his reputation for a night of passion, and a football player to murder his wife out of jealousy and anger.
No wonder then that many people have an ambivalent relationship with their emotions: They both fear them and like them.
But no matter what your opinion is, it is clear that you need to learn how to understand your emotions and know what to do with them in order to be successful in your relationships with others.
The Fundamental Thing You Need to Know about Emotions:
One thing that was really helpful to me when I first started to study how emotions really work was the distinction made between primary emotions and secondary emotions. This distinction helped me understand my own emotional reactions much better and it has become one of the key principles of the many forms of emotion focused therapies that are currently being used to help individuals and couples.
Once you understand this distinction, you will have one of the most important tools at your disposal to turn negative interactions in your relationship around.
Primary Emotions and Secondary Emotions:
primary emotion is the first emotion we feel in response to a particular event in our environment. If we wanted to state it simply they refer to how we really feel.
In many situations, however, our primary emotions get covered over by secondary reactions to our primary emotions.
If I feel hurt or sad about my partner saying that he prefers to spend a night on the town with his guy friends, rather than a relaxing night at home with me, I might have an emotional reaction to feeling sad or hurt.
I might for example feel guilty because I don’t think I should need anyone and have learned that I should never prioritize my own needs over those of others.  However, I could also feel embarrassed or ashamed because I believe it is pathetic and weak for me let someone else have this kind of sway over me.

Another possibility would be that I feel angry that my partner does not want to hang out with me and get resentful because I do not want to feel pushed aside and demand to be a higher priority than his friends. All of these secondary reactions to my primary emotions transform this emotion into something else than what it initially was.

Secondary Emotions Distort How We Really Feel:
If I feel guilty about wanting more of my partner’s time and attention, I can then no longer express my sadness at not having my need met. The guilt blocks me from expressing my sadness. It may also block me from even admitting to myself that I feel sad, and so I may not even have the ability to comfort myself and deal with my sense of loss or disappointment on my own. Because the primary feeling gets blocked by the secondary feeling, I end up distorting my own original experience. This means that the original emotion cannot be resolved and can no longer be used to guide my actions. 

My primary emotion goes underground, and instead gets replaced by my secondary emotion, which may now lead to a quite different reaction. Instead of saying “it kind of hurt my feelings when I think you would rather spend time with others than with me”, I now instead end up withdrawing emotionally (guilt: I should not express my needs, I don’t deserve to have my needs met), or reacting with anger (I don’t deserve to be treated this way)


Les Greenberg, is a professor emeritus of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada and also director of the Emotion-Focused Therapy Clinic in Toronto