Loathing, Lust, & Longing: Why We Obsess so Much

My son amazes me. He has his obsessions, but they’re about his music, his philosophizing. He’s so different from the adolescent me of thirty-five years ago. He’s calmer and freer to learn. He’s funny, and takes creative risks with language. He accepts people with all their weirdness. At his age, I worried a lot. I fretted about my social life so much that I smothered my vocabulary, my empathy, and my sense of humor in the process.

My boy pays little attention to having the right shoes or the right jeans. I take care of his wardrobe before he asks (because at 15, I wished my mom would have done this). When he disses the shirts I bring home, I exchange them. He waves off shopping. He’s comfortable and un-perturbed about how he looks.

He knows . . . I’ve got his back.

And where I was boy-crazy and so afraid of being an ugly old maid, my young man seems comfortable to let it happen (or not), let others worry about romance, and just enjoy life where he is now. He likes it when girls pay attention to him, but he shrugs it off when they don’t. He laughs at his faux pas, his breakouts, his bouts of ennui. Ginormous difference. 

So, in my way, I craft a theory to explain it . . .

My son’s emotional needs are noticed, anticipated, and met (maybe to a fault) . . . especially the ones that I did not have met. Back in the 70s and 80s, my parents resented each other to the core. I felt their disconnection and anger every day and absorbed it into my own nervous system – as if I was in a lonely, rejecting marriage myself. I learned that true love was rare. But in 2016, my son’s parents love each other, imperfectly but deeply. We’re nice to each other. He can see, every day, there’s plenty of love in the world for everyone. No need to worry.

Think about the implications here. When we obsess over religion, rules, sex, drinking, eating, or being sinless, we NEED something that feels missing. Our addictions, our compulsions, our fears, our hates . . . tell us what we need.

Perhaps you need: Rest, Friendship, Sweetness, Comfort, Color, Protection, Change, Nurturing, Challenge, Order, Forgiveness . . .

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When we obsess, hate, and fear, we show our gaping needs. . . which formed a long time ago.

For instance:

I must achieve more, or I’ll be a loser. = I have to make something of myself because my father did not.

I must find love or I will have failed. = I haven’t been loved enough (or my mother/father hasn’t been loved enough).

I need a better body – mine will never be good enough. = I have little worth beyond my body (or I watched my mother deal with being overweight).

I don’t have enough money – I can’t afford _____. = There’s not enough love (or food) to go around. So I could die or be cast out.

I must always be prepared for an attack. = Nobody has my back.

I must eradicate sin and evil. = I must keep proving my goodness, because I’m really so very bad.

If you see your obsession in here somewhere, trace its urgency back as far as it will go. Notice the fear there. When do you first remember having that fear?

Now, close your eyes and picture life without the obsession or the fear. How do you feel? Who can you love more easily?

Take three long, slow breaths and hold this idea: There’s enough for everyone, always.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

 

 

Relationship Disconnect: How it affects our health.

Relationship disconnection is trauma.

Relationship Disconnection is Trauma.

Everyone I love needs to read these four books.

  1. The Birth of Pleasure, Carol Gilligan
  2. The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  3. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
  4. How Connections Heal, Maureen Walker & Wendy Rosen (Eds.)

These books have all changed my life. But today, I want to focus on #4. How Connections Heal is written for therapist-types, but it explains the basic nitty-gritty about relationships and should be required reading for every high school senior and should be in every hotel nightstand drawer and every dentist’s lobby. I think it’s that important.

It’s about Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), which posits that when we have mutually-affirming connections, we feel understood and valued. We thrive and get more creative and do our best work. We feel energy and excitement. We take better care of ourselves.

But when our relationships (even just one of them, if it’s important) make us feel diminished or one-down, when we lack equal power and voice……we suffer. We become depleted, depressed. We feel lost, lonely, bloated, unattractive, unstable, dull, unwanted, and out-of-touch. We eat and drink too much, shop too much, stare into our devices and stop looking forward to things. We feel unliked and unlovable. We wear gray and withdraw from social life. We doubt our sanity.

Relationship Disconnection Is Trauma. Here’s a story of non-mutuality (disconnection) in a friendship.

Sabine and Rachel’s friendship changed suddenly, and Sabine was confused. Rachel seemed distant and stopped returning calls. Sabine felt her friend pull away, but when she asked about it, Rachel waved her off and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just been super busy.” Then the distance got even worse over the course of six months and Sabine found herself excluded from gatherings of Rachel and their other friends. She felt abandoned and ashamed with no idea how to address the obvious rift in their connection. She thought, it must be my fault. She wondered, how do I feel so hurt when Rachel obviously feels nothing? Sabine got sick. First, a bronchitis that hung on for two months. Then, shingles. When she came to see me, she was having panic attacks and thoughts of suicide.

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Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

Disconnection and non-mutuality happen in marriages and work relationships and families. If I (like Sabine) consistently share more, express more vulnerability, reach out more, make myself more available, I will probably, at some point, feel bewildered and blame myself for being needy. If my feelings or perceptions are brushed off or laughed off, I will start to lose essential energy: an emotional hemorrhage that I can feel in my body. In RCT terms, this is Condemned Isolation and it causes us to doubt our essential worth in the world.

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you may have traumatic disconnection in your relationships. Your body responds to condemned isolation like it responds to a physical assault. Contact me if you’d like to talk more about how to bring mutuality back into a relationship – or how to recover from this type of trauma and rebuild your confidence and zest for life.

No Judgment Here: 10 Things I Love about Group Fitness

 

No Judgment Here

No Judgment Here

No Judgment…but lots of Very Cool Surprises.

Group fitness bears a huge resemblance to group therapy. Who knew? I did not. But doing group fitness at The Bodysmith has changed my life and now I can’t stop talking about it. It helps me recover more quickly from setbacks. It places my fitness in a social context. It allows me to hear from lots of other people about their normal struggles – things we worry about in common and things we’re celebrating or learning to let go or accept: aging, illness, our kids…We come from different backgrounds and generations and occupations, but we share so much, including our desire to be fitter and more conscious human beings.

I LOVE…

  1. That everybody has a different shape.
  2. Burpees: Now I can do twelve of them without stopping.
  3. Mutual soreness.
  4. That I see how we all fluctuate through our lives: leaner, fatter, more and less swollen, depending upon how stressed we’ve been lately. No need to worry about it. I can allow myself to be human and inconsistent. In this way, I’m just like everybody else.
  5. Getting stronger and being able to lift things I couldn’t before.
  6. My friends holding me accountable to come to class.
  7. Learning not to judge myself or compare myself to others. Learning this doesn’t help or matter to the forward movement of my life.
  8. That everybody knows my name there (think neighborhood pub, only without the beer).
  9. That I feel connected to my community: I learn what’s going on around me from people who go to different concerts and read different books.
  10. I bounce back more easily from those weeks of bad food or bad self esteem. It’s never the end of the world.

I’m starting to think group fitness IS group therapy. I’m starting to think you might get more bang from your buck by joining a Pilates class than by doing a traditional talk-support group (not that those aren’t great). I’m starting to see there’s no real separation between body and mind. I’m starting to get that recovery from trauma has to be part muscle, part blood vessel, part neuron, part emotion, and part imagination.

Call me if you’re curious about how fitness and trauma recovery go hand-in-hand. Or talk to anyone at The Bodysmith to learn how you can start this part of your healing.

Contact Deborah

How to Know when it’s Time to Say Goodbye

The necessary edges between things.

Every creation requires sacrifice.

I have trouble letting go. Mostly when it comes to saying goodbye to unbalanced relationships. You know, the kind where you feel you should be helpful but no amount of help seems to make a difference? So here are some thoughts about change and letting go of what no longer serves us.

Change is constant. We learn and gain insight – so we’re not the same people we were last year. We have more skill, experience, and sense of our true selves. We see our goals more clearly. We crave new experiences and the company of people who have knowledge we need. This is normal and good.

But: One, how do we know when it’s the right thing to push ahead and say goodbye? And: Two, what does it mean to walk away from people or institutions that no longer help us grow? First, here are some signs it’s time to go.

  1. You feel resentful. The colleague or partner you’ve been with is a decent enough person. But you no longer feel positive feelings about the collaboration or relationship. You feel exploited or dragged down by it.
  2. You dread contact. The group or institution that once fed your spirit now makes you want to stay away.
  3. You feel guilty, sad, stuck….and more resentful. There’s a sense of obligation you have toward your partner/friend. It’s like feeling sorry for someone but also tied to them like a conjoined twin you can’t shake off. When you think of stepping away, you see yourself as a terrible, selfish, mean-spirited person. This is the Pity/Anger Paradox.
  4. You feel drained. Thinking about the person or group distracts you from creative work – it drains your productivity and energy. You get sick more often than normal. You have trouble exercising. You want to crawl into bed and stay there for a week or two. Your projects languish….

If any of these is familiar, consider talking or writing about your situation. Get your worst fears onto the page or spoken aloud to a trusted confidante. EMDR therapy can also help us let go of tired, old requirements that no longer serve us.

Does this make us selfish? Good question. Maybe it does. But I’m learning that if I don’t behave somewhat selfishly at times, I drown in other people’s needs. Just like some organism dies every time I eat (and I’m a vegetarian!). To survive and breathe, I have to say:

NO, THANK YOU.

I AM UNAVAILABLE FOR THAT.

PLEASE GO NOW.

I NEED SPACE.

I WILL NO LONGER BE GIVING TIME TO THAT.

This kind of “selfish” work frees us to rest, create, and move forward with grace. I often use EMDR to help clients envision their true goals and desires, so they can achieve them. Sometimes this entails saying goodbye.

But Goodbye brings Hello. For all parties. Every time.

Contact me if you’d like to talk more about letting go of what you no longer need. The result will be good for everyone involved.

 

Hands are Not for Hitting: Let’s End Corporal Punishment

Hands Are Not for Hitting

A Tree of Healing Hands

Hands are Not for Hitting (and not for Shoving, Slapping, Swatting, Pinching, Jerking, or “Spanking”).

We read this book to my son when he was three. Hands help and love and wave goodbye. Hands paint and cook and communicate. But some adults still use their hands for corporal punishment of children. Maybe you know someone who still hits. Please share this post with them. Corporal punishment destroys natural impulses that are healthy and creative – it breaks relationship and leads to a host of emotional problems.

I work mostly with adults. At least 80 percent of my clients were hit as children by someone who was supposed to love them. Most do NOT want to talk about it. They come to me for other reasons, such as anxiety or difficulty concentrating. But their adult symptoms are usually related to their experience of physical punishment as children.

 

Being hit as a child is so horrifying, so degrading, so demoralizing, we resist even allowing ourselves to remember it happened……much less connect it to our current problems. So let’s analyze the practice a bit, so we can see how it affects us long-term.

Kids get hit for:

*going against their parents’ instructions

*forgetting to do something

*making too much noise

*making too much mess

*having open conflicts

*saying things that upset their parents

*adding stress to the parents’ experience (e.g., whining, complaining).

These infractions come mostly from impulse. And children are creatures of impulse. Kids need those impulses to learn and define themselves in the wide world. We rely on our parents to calmly teach us how to use our impulses in an organized, regulated way. But being hit teaches us something else:

                                                     ……….if we express ourselves honestly, if we have needs or desires, if we’re not always on the alert for our imperfections, we could get whacked.

Exercise: Make a list of offenses for which you were hit as a child. How has this list affected your adult life?

My list created an inner censor that stops me from speaking up when I should. It taught me: I’m not safe to speak or move or act. My novel, Wife Material, deals with religious abuse and child maltreatment and the repression of all sorts of natural impulses and voice……things that would be good to have…….natural elements destroyed by hitting.

I’m DONE being inhibited by my list of punishable offenses. I’m ready to bust out of that list. I’m ready to paint really outrageous things and write insurgent poetry and use words like bastard. I’m ready to go up to strangers in the mall and say, Please! Hands are not for hitting! You with me?

Please send this to everyone you know.

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about recovery from childhood trauma, including being hit – or if you’d like to make amends with your own child and start making better use of your hands.

It Must be My Fault

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“It Must be My Fault”

Beth gets the guilt like a reflex if anything goes wrong…..Especially if it involves her partner or her kids.

“If Stuart’s in a bad mood, I assume it has something to do with me.”

She feels responsible for her divorce.

“If I had been calmer and less upset, we might have made it.”

Beth blames herself for her ex-husband’s affair, which ultimately led to their divorce. When she talks about this, huge tears form in her eyes. If only I had been less kid-focused, more marriage-focused, he wouldn’t have strayed.

“I’m a failure at love.”

As we explore her history, we find more events for which she believes she is responsible.

  • Her parents’ constant fighting.
  • Her younger sister’s illness and eventual death.
  • Her parents’ divorce when she was thirteen.
  • Her mother’s drinking problem.
  • Her father’s absence, remarriage, new family, and complete emotional cutoff from adolescent Beth.

As adults, we know she could never have caused her sister’s cancer, but she feels as though she did. Part of Beth’s brain, the part that recorded all the childhood traumas, got stuck in a loop of images, emotions, and body sensations many years ago. In fact, the neuro-cognitive self-blame loop formed before she could even talk……way back when Beth’s young parents were struggling to survive early job loss and financial devastation.

Children blame themselves for their parents’ suffering. Children absorb their parents’ emotions into their own nervous systems. Yes, children absorb guilt that belongs to someone else.

The guilt-and-self-blame loop triggers Beth to drink too much, eat too much, and feel like a failure. Beth needs help rewiring her brain circuitry. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy does this, literally, by jump-starting conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The talk between brain hemispheres actually produces new information.

Imagine the lids from two cans of paint – one red, one white. Now picture someone taking a brush and drawing it across both lids – back and forth, until you see lines of white in the red and lines of red in the white….and soon pink paint!

EMDR works like this…..the new information, like the pink paint created in this illustration, triggers neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other in a different way. New working groups of neurons form. These new neuron groups change the very route through which both old and new information travels, allowing it to produce new meaning and emotion as it picks up new data along its new route through the nervous system.

That new information leads to an emotional change – the ability to feel the truth in what our adult brains know to be true:

  • It’s not my fault.
  • I did the best I could.
  • I was a child.
  • I deserve love.

When I see this process unfolding in my clients, I watch them calm down. I watch them acquire new, imaginative ideas, parent more effectively, and become more spiritually centered.

Call me to find out more about EMDR therapy, calming down, and letting go of guilt.

Contact Deborah

I’m Thankful for You.

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Profusion Purple from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2015

Every time I see you, I say a little prayer of thanks that you’re in my life. You help me more than you know. Continue reading

How to Deal with Dissociation

Dissociation takes us out of the moment.

Yesterday, I stood in the MSU music building while my son warmed up for a violin performance. All around me, young pianists and violinists practiced their Chopin, their Mozart, in separate cubicles, getting ready to play for a judge. My husband sat near me in one of the hard plastic chairs. He reached for my hand. I waved him off, annoyed…

Second-grader me, surrounded by the sounds of my passion and my failure, in a silent loop of shame and guilt. If only I was in room 25, playing the Chopin, then I would be a success as a person. If only I was in room 26, playing the Mozart, then my parents would like me, be proud of me…..

This moment should have been completely about my son. But the familiar setting, the music seeping out of practice rooms, the smell of pianos, triggered old memory material and whisked me away to an earlier time – immersed me in feelings of longing and worthlessness so there was little left of me, the partner, near my spouse, the only other person who parents this talented boy of ours.

I dissociated. I exited the moment – without realizing it.

I caught myself in the free-fall.

Dissociation happens vividly, when we lose time, get lost or stuck or unable to make sense of things we ordinarily understand…Or subtly, when we freeze in horror or stress or shame or guilt…or any other feeling that takes us out of the moment. Dissociation looks like:

  • daydreaming, zoning out, a sudden panic attack or an unexplained back pain…
  • forgetting, losing our keys or phone or money, being unable to enjoy sex or closeness
  • binge-eating, binge-drinking, binge-shopping, or getting so paralyzed with anxiety we can’t leave the house
  • having no words, no feelings, just muteness or numbness or a sense of being zombified or feeling like a small child again

Dissociation looks different on everyone, but it works the same in the body. We stumble into a random sensory stimulus that takes us down a familiar neural pathway, once developed at a time of great emotional stress…and suddenly we’re no longer present in this moment. We lose consciousness or wakefulness.

Most traumatized people do not get help until much later in life (if ever). I believe this is why our world often feels like a scene from The Walking Dead. The pain of trauma from child abuse, from witnessing a parent live in emotional turmoil, or from never feeling good enough to deserve love continues in loops of electrical memory material, indefinitely…if it’s not addressed.

Effective trauma recovery therapy brings us back into the present moment by guiding us through neurological change. It reduces our need to dissociate. It makes the environment safe again, so we can rejoin those we love, right here – right now…for a touch, a concert, a child’s song, a lunar eclipse.

We get to be here, now.

I’m a trauma therapist and EMDR practitioner. Contact me to find out more about dissociation, effective trauma recovery therapy, and how EMDR therapy can bring more wakefulness to your life, right now.

Read more about how trauma therapy and EMDR can bring more present-moment consciousness to your relationship.

Contact Deborah

A short story about how EMDR feels during marriage counseling

Passion, Distraction, and Relationship Repair: A Short Story

A couple sits in my office during a marriage therapy session, both partners furious with each other, helpless, unable to budge, contemplating separation. The issue: Do you love me enough to _____? One says, “I need to know you’ll stand up for me.” The other says, “I need you to trust that I love you.”

“But how do I know you love me if you allow your friends to trash talk me?”

“I have no control over my friends. But I love you.”

“But it doesn’t feel like love when you won’t defend my honor.”

“What good would it do?”

“It would set the record straight!”

“But Honey, there’s no record. I love you. They’re jerks. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me.”

They sit facing each other, one with arms folded across chest – the other leaning forward, in tears. Then, suddenly, laughter, out of nowhere.

“What?”

“You’re making that face – sorry.”

“What face?”

“The one you make when you know I’m right but you don’t want to admit it.”

More laughter.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That one – there! It’s really cute.”

“I’m not making a face” (suppressing a smile).

“Okay, but the issue is…….” (lost thread, stumbling to regain position).

“The issue is you think I think you’re right and I won’t admit it” (suppressing laughter).

“Yes” (more laughter).

“Well, you’re wearing two different socks.”

“I am not!”

“Okay, I must be colorblind.”

Both partners lean over and examine the socks.

“OMG!” Both partners laugh, their eyes watering. One reaches out an index finger to the other and the other responds with their index finger and the two sit like that, touching fingertips, for several seconds.

At this moment, the problem shrinks to the background. Humor supplants it.

The next week, I meet with one of the partners who says, “We haven’t solved anything! I still don’t feel respected or protected!” My client squirms – breathing hard and shallow breaths.

We do some EMDR to target the awful feeling and the belief, “I’m not worth it.” My client’s breath slows and evens.

I say, “How’s your gardening?”

“It’s good. But I haven’t been out there much this week.”

“What needs doing out there?”

“I’m dying to plant sunflowers. I have three kinds of seeds.”

“I LOVE sunflowers! Wish I could grow them.”

“Oh, you can! It’s not that hard, you just have to know the secrets.”

“Ooooohhh, like what?”

“Like the right kind of fertilizer. Composted manure and a granular, slow-release fertilizer. Something organic.”

“I must write this down!” I grab a notebook.

“Yeah, and you have to thin the seedlings.”

I write furiously. “So, I know you want something different with Tom.” I get out my iPad and pull up images of sunflowers.

“Yeah. But I know he’s trying.”

I share the yellow giants on my iPad.

“Look at these…..So, you know he wants to be closer.”

“Yeah. He has a good heart.”

I say, “Go with that,” and we do some EMDR to tap in the loveliness of sunflowers and a lover’s good heart.

Some kind of alchemy takes over the whole situation. My client breathes deeply, scrolls through the fields of green and gold, goes home to the garden, looks at things differently, has great sex after a long hiatus. Things grow out back. The air smells like late spring. A paradigm shifts. And we all live happily ever-after.

For more about how EMDR and marriage counseling can improve communication, check out these posts:

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Contact Deborah

How EMDR Trauma Therapy Helps Couples Reconnect

Trauma Therapy: Take Another Look (It’s not what you think).

Jim has a problem. His wife of twenty years sends him to therapy. She says, “I don’t like hanging out with you anymore.” He’s hurt and defensive. Jim has no idea what a gift his wife is giving him.

“I just don’t understand what she wants from me.”

Stephanie wants Jim, the guy she married twenty years ago. She traces the path they’ve been on, trying to see where she lost him.

“I always thought it was my fault…He never wanted sex…He preferred late night television to me…He drank, but I didn’t think he was an alcoholic…He stopped exercising and gained a lot of weight. He told me I shouldn’t badger him about it…I’ve been missing him for seventeen years.”

Jim has a drinking problem. But it’s not just alcohol that keeps him numb to the world around him. Overeating, sugary foods, overspending, and zoning in front of the big screen also dull his senses to the rainbow of possibility in his life. He medicates his pain, the hurt from decades of suppressing trauma memories…but he also anesthetizes himself to joy, the abundance and color of his family, the nature in his backyard, the friends who used to come over.

Jim has a process addiction. He does certain things over and over in an attempt to feel better. For a while, it was working too much. Then it was late-night bingeing. Then it was vodka. But the hamburgers and ice cream and alcohol take their toll. At 50, he’s no longer the sharp-witted guy Stephanie remembers. He’s mentally sluggish, grumpy, overweight, and easily set off by small threats to his control. When Stephanie tries to get him to eat better, exercise, turn off the TV, he either (1) barks at her to stop nagging, or (2) pouts silently. She’s done with both.

Jim realizes, in a small corner of his mind, that he needs help. He also realizes, on some deep, dark, neglected level, that his behavior is linked to how his dad treated him. Now that their own son is a teenager, Jim has trouble putting those memories behind him.

Jim says, “It’s not like I was beaten or starved.” He thinks “trauma” doesn’t apply to him. “It’s just that my dad wasn’t around. He had his own life. He popped in and out of mine when it suited him.”

What Jim’s little boy self learned from this was, “I’m unimportant.” And he’s been trying to cope with the feeling of unimportance for 50 years. He says it’s too late for him to change.

Trauma therapy for Jim includes EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing). We target whatever memories or emotions go with his problem, which lead us back to the point of origin…the place where it all began. We start with his addictions and his feeling of being unappreciated by Stephanie. We start with his fear of being a bad father to his own boy.

EMDR allows us to follow the pathways back to the original hurts, to reprocess the memory material there, and to install new templates for future behavior. After three or four sessions, Jim starts to feel calmer. He has new thoughts, out of the blue. I was a precious child, just like my son. I deserved better from my dad. Jim starts to attend AA, for support. He finds people who understand his struggle. With continued EMDR, Jim gets stronger, replaces the bad habits with new hobbies. Stephanie joins us for couple sessions. They reconnect.

It’s not overnight, but the EMDR process works. Trauma recovery works. Jim gets his life back – and Stephanie gets her Jim back. And although they still have work to do, the path to that work is now clear.

For more articles about couple’s therapy, check out these blogs posts:

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