Election Anxiety

The unusual USA presidential election season is having an impact on people around the world. It is increasing anxiety for people both in the USA as well as in other countries. It is a major topic of conversation. People inside and outside the USA, especially where I have been traveling Latin America, wonder if we have lost our collective mind. And the answer is, yes.

Anxiety comes about when there is an uncertain outcome. In past elections, where there might have been big political differences, there was a similarity in how the political system was viewed and used. In this election season, all of the previously accepted norms seem to have been tossed out the window. No one, especially on the Republican side, has any idea what is going to happen. Someone has taken the deck of 52 cards and two Jokers and tossed it into the air; where the cards will land is anyone’s guess.

So how is this public brawl impacting people?

It is similar to a slow motion train wreck. Everyone knows it is going to be ugly but, they can’t take their eyes off of it. Frozen in horror and fascination at the same time.

But it increases anxiety. Watching a 90-minute horror movie will increase your anxiety, but you know it is going to end, so the end does not really matter. Neither of those applies in the election of the President of the United States. We will have to live with the consequences. As a result, people are acting strangely. Even for a political season, there is a great deal of candidate-bashing and extreme positions taken by seemingly intelligent people in private/public conversations on Facebook. Friends are being unFriended. Families are battling. All over what *might* happen. It has certainly brought into the open the undertow of frustration about the deadlock in our political and government life.

Now that the 'genie’ has been let out of the bottle, is it possible to put it back? Can we or do we want to return to being a civil society? Time will tell.

What I believe will happen as a consequence is:

-An increased number of marriages and divorces: People may either leave unhappy marriages or leaving isolation to choose marriage, both in an attempt to increase their sense of safety or control. “I don’t have to do this or face this alone”. Or “I am better off dealing with this alone”.

-An increase in suicides/attempts: People who are suicidal are in a great deal of internal pain. Our nation is now reflecting it shared pain externally and that can push some people over the edge to suicide, because there will be no relief or sanctuary from the pain inside; if they turn on the TV or internet, it's still there. And as relationships are strained by the continued conflict about people’s beliefs and ideals, it can also increase the isolation of people that are already feeling isolated.

-Family/Friendship Fractures: Religion and politics are two of the most divisive things that people can talk about. This election season has tons of both. So families and friends across the spectrum who have managed to have a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ relationship about areas of strong disagreement will often find the pressure of the current environment too much to keep silent. Just as there is clearly a political realignment in our country going on, I believe this will speed up personal and family realignments as well.

What can you do about it?

Reduce your time spent on reading about and watching the election. After 9/11 people watched video of the twin towers come down, again and again and thus were even more traumatized than they needed to be. Take your eyes off the train wreck. Whether you watch or not, it is going to happen. Less is more: more perspective, less trauma from watching all the silliness of the season.

Spent time reading largely neutral websites (not TV) that use fact checking to help keep a sense of reality about what is real and not. I would suggest, CNN, Politico and the BBC for example.

Do some good: Volunteer, make a donation to an animal shelter or the food bank, do something that is contributing to making this a better world.

The upside of all of this is that when the truth is told and pain exposed, even if it is ugly, there is the potential for healing. Until we face our truths and pain we cannot begin to examine the truths and heal the pain.

The downside is the loss of relationships that is inevitable in this conflictual process. Perhaps they were not healthy relationships to begin with, and people were holding on to them for the wrong reason. There is an opportunity to be freer and healthier with people who are more aligned with who they are.

So the imagined consequences of today's increased anxiety may be real, but hopefully healing and growth will still be a positive result of this unusual season.

Weak Gods

When I hear about people being killed or threats to kill them by people enraged that they had insulted their God, I am amazed they would worship such a weak God. An enitity that created all of this is incapable of taking care of himself? He needs us lowly humans to defend and hold people accountable for their disrespect or disbelief? How can that be true?

Of course it is not true. Any entity that is capable of creating everything can handle people that don’t like him, her or it. Also, isn’t that what the final judgement is supposed to be about? Meeting your maker and getting their judgement?

What I think it is really about, is the believer themselves. These people have no internal or a very fragile, internal sense of who they are. Meaning when they close their eyes, there is no one there inside. They are empty. So they fill that space with drugs, alcohol, food, music, and there are endless distractions from that emptiness. Using religion, or ones interpretation of religion is a very old stand by and is socially acceptable in mixed company.

So if a person uses their religion to organize their internal sense of being, then anything that threatens that organization threatens them. "Your attack my religion it is an attack on me." They have no way of separating the two parts.

We let them get by with this by-pass (avoidance of the lack of self) because we are not really willing to call people out on their nonsense because it can be dangerous. These are sick people, hiding behind religion because they have no real sense of themselves. That makes them dangerous on many levels. Just to be clear here, I am talking about all religions. This is not just the east or the west issue, it permeates all cultures and is a disease that feels like it is consuming our progress and rational thinking. Not all religious leaders are narcissistic, but there are plenty of them.

So the next time you see or hear someone doing something stupid or violent in defense of their GOD, just know, they are in a lot of pain.

Stop Shaming HIV- Gay Men

I got another note in my Daddy Hunt in box today. It was from a HIV+ guy, with the purpose of “educating” me about why I was wrong to state in my profile that I choose to only be sexual with HIV- guys. I had stated in my profile: I want to have no boundaries to our intimacy in case we that we come to love each other. 

I found his note to me self-serving. Instead of cheering and being supportive of someone that has gotten to his mid-50’s and is still negative, he was critical and unsupportive. 

He made my HIV status, and how I choose to keep it, about him. From my perspective as a psychotherapist, that suggests to me that he has not worked through his own feelings about being HIV+ and is trying to get me to 'validate his being okay' by insisting that it is okay for me to have sex with HIV+ guys. Often in my experience, HIV+ guys that have truly processed their sero status choose to sero-sort with other HIV+ guys. They would not wish being HIV+ on anyone else and they would feel terrible if they transmitted the disease to another man. Sadly enough, not all HIV+ men have that much regard for other men. 

Lastly, it takes a lot of balls to criticize another man about how he chooses to stay HIV-. This shaming of HIV- men has got to stop. How ever a man chooses to protect himself from HIV, whether it is sero-sorting, PrEP, abstinence, “always using condoms”, etc., it is his choice and he should be supported by the entire gay community, both HIV+ and HIV- alike. 

Those of us who have been around from the beginning understand the long-term consequences of the disease, both the cognitive and physical toll that HIV and the medications take on the body and mind. Personally, it brings up a lot of anxiety when I am sexual with a man that is HIV+. I choose to sero-sort and to always have protected sex because it keeps me healthy and my anxiety stays at a reasonable level. And no amount of ‘education' is going to change that. I have too much history and knowledge about HIV and I am not buying the spin of the HIV establishment and the pharmaceutical companies that drugs are the answer. I have considered PrEP, but I have seen the impact of long term use of all the other drugs on my brothers' bodies and do not wish for those side effects, even if I could tolerate the drugs. 

So it is time for the community to support HIV- mens efforts to stay negative and most of all, to support their choices to stay HIV-. HIV+ men that find that offensive need to look inside and deal with their personal shame and stop trying to make the rest of the community responsible to make them feel better about themselves. We all have to deal with the societal shame that we absorbed growing up being gay. it is not the straight community's  job to make us feel better about ourselves. That is our task to work through the shame and become whole. Once we do, then others have no power over us. HIV+ guys have yet another layer of shame to work though. Once a gay man has really processed the shame of being gay first and then the shame of having HIV+, and there is shame attached to any STD in our society, then he will simply understand that each man has his preferences, whether it be about height, weight, age, race, HIV status, etc. And if he has worked through the shame, then he will be a better man and have better relationships. It is crucial that we as a community stop looking outside of ourselves for validation that we are okay. 

This is not the first time I have gotten one of these notes or got a lecture from some guy that did not put his HIV+ status in his profile and then is shocked that what is clearly stated in my profile is still true. I have had clients talk of being bullied by HIV+ guys that refuse to accept that they are unwilling to date or be in relationships with HIV+ guys. I have had dates with guys who have been called PrEPed whores by other gay men. This is shaming HIV- men for how they choose to protect themselves. Not all HIV+ guys do this and there are plenty of HIV- guys who tell me I need to be educated. Both are wrong to attempt to shame HIV- men into doing something they are uncomfortable with, and to take on what they consider to be risky behavior.

Each of us gets to find our level of comfort in protecting ourselves from HIV. Each of us gets to make choices. It breaks my heart each time I see another 18 or 22 year old that is HIV+. We as a community have failed them. I hope that situation changes and one of the ways that change will come is to support men in staying negative, however they choose. 

Vacations Vs Trips

I have seen many articles about how United States workers take less vacation time or time off from work then our European counterparts. Why this is so and what to do about it is for another article. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between a trip and a vacation. 

A trip is when you are going to the Vatican and want to see as much of Rome as you can in the 3-10 days you have there. Very scheduled. All about how much you can do and experience. It is busy and outwardly focused. 

A vacation is when you go somewhere and stop everything. No schedule, no agenda aside from doing what you want when you want to at that moment. A vacation is leisurely and slow. It is about remembering and reconnecting to oneself. 

Many if not most people use the terms interchangeably. I see them as quite different. I understand the desire to make the best use of your time away from work. Taking in new experiences. Americans especially seem to get precious little time off, and they certainly don’t use all the time they are entitled to. Wanting to change the environment and be distracted is certainly important at times. And trips can be fun. What they generally are not is relaxing and renewing. I have seen many people come back from a trip exhausted. Running around taking it all in, but never resting. Trying so hard to get the most out of the time away and coming back even more depleted.

It takes time for the body to stop, to unwind and begin the process of renewal. In my experience, the real renewal begins at about 10 days off. At that point, the mind has cleared, the body is no longer sleep deprived and there is a connection to self that has been long lost in the rush of daily life. Meditation is one of the ways that people stay connected to self, but vacation is still necessary to remove the distractions, to catch up on rest and to remove the ever-present fatigue that most people live with as normalcy. 

When we are at rest, our creativity can come online. We get clarity about our wants and needs when we are removed from the needs and wants of others. It is like coming home and remembering who we are. 

I often suggest to my clients who are parents that at least once a quarter, they take a weekend (or more) to themselves. They should go away, check into a hotel or go camping by themselves to just stop, and especially stop caring for everyone else. They should pay attention to their needs and be selfish for a few days. It is renewing and allows for staying the course without the need for the body to force a stop through illness or injury. Even while they are not able to take a real vacation, those who parent face a many-year process of giving up their needs for others. 

I know plenty of people that shudder at the idea of stopping. They are convinced that it would drive them crazy. There is a difference between being distracted and being active. A person who is used to an active lifestyle may very much need to exercise, hike, swim, etc. This is fine if it is done as the body tells you its needs and is not used to distract from the self or your feelings. 

Too many people stay busy, exhausted, high or drunk or still connected to work even on vacation, so as to not have to feel. While a true vacation will not solve their underlying problems, it is a beginning for perhaps finding a different relationship with the self. Getting to clarity about what you feel can change your life for the better. 

Going to see family is a trip, not a vacation. There are too many agendas and complicated relationships with families for most people to find that kind of visit truly relaxing. I am sure there is a rare family out there where being back together feels like and is a vacation. But for most, it is not.

gain, trips can be wonderful. It is important to experience other cultures, history, play and see the world. Just don't mistake it for a vacation. 

Time being alone, time with no agenda, time to stop is the key to remembering yourself. It makes life a lot more livable and can even bring joy and happiness. 

Redefining Family

The holidays bring up fantasies of hearth and home, the lovely family gathering to reconnect and reaffirm their love and commitment to each other. When it works and goes well, it can be a powerful antidote to the stress and isolation of modern life. Sadly, despite the TV commercials, it is the exception rather than the rule. 

Families are exotic collections of personalities and their own realities. The mix is shaped by the childhoods of each and every person involved. So many expectations, so many movie memories of what it is supposed to be or should have been. Disappointment, hurts and reverting to survival mode are all too often the leftovers from a holiday gathering. 

FAMILY

So what is a family? What should a family be?  What if it were based on love rather than blood? Many cultures instill in their children the obligation that it is their job to take take care of their parents and siblings. That is why they had children, so they would have someone to take care of them when they get old. They gave them life, so it is their duty and responsibility to fulfill the contract by staying connected, no matter what negative history they may have together. And often in my experience, the more abusive the childhood, the greater the guilt carried about the supposed obligation to pay back the parent(s) for their sacrifice in having children. 

Mic Hunter, a well known author of books about boys sexually abused as children, defines child abuse 'as anytime an adult uses a child to meet the needs of the adult.' Having a child so that you have someone to love you, or having a child to take care of you, both fall within Hunter's definition. I am often stunned at the mother that bred and raised her children can suddenly become so helpless in adulthood, that the child is forever put into the care taker role. We’re not talking about caretaking for an seriously ill or elderly parent here, but another adult who should be able to function without constant support. The regression to childhood by the parent and putting the responsibility for happiness and support back onto the child deprives their child, even the adult child, of having their own life.

When I work with clients that are considering marriage, one of the most important questions I ask: Are you ready and able to put your partner first? Before your parents, before your siblings and before your friends. Are you willing to make this person the most important person in your life?

For some this is a shocking question. Cutting the apron ties, creating your own family and making it the first priority, separating from the family of origin and setting them free to have their life and to reap the rewards of their choices is hard to imagine, let alone the thought of not sacrificing themselves to save their family and friends from themselves.

My definition of codependency is: I will give me up, to be loved by you. In a healthy relationship there can be and probably should be a healthy degree of masochism, where you will hurt yourself to help another. This is described by David Schnarch in Passionate Marriage,  but it should be a conscious choice and it should be time limited.  And I am not just talking about doing this for primary partner. Giving of oneself to help another can sometimes hurt, so we should be particular when we do this. 

So what should a family be?

I believe that family should be defined as the people that love you for who you are. One of the gifts of a gay child coming out to a parent and family is that they get to find out if biological family members love them for who they are, or rather for who they wanted or expected them to be. On the other hand, this is a useful test everyone might try—how can you find out if your family loves you as you are, or for who they want you to be?  Perhaps not becoming a doctor or lawyer is unacceptable to your parents. Perhaps you married someone of the wrong social class, ethnicity, color or religion, in your parent’s view. Suddenly you are the black sheep of the family. Becoming an adult is about living your own life. Robert Bly's Iron John talks about the need of the son to steal the key to his power from underneath his mothers pillow. We all need to take back our power from our parents and live our own life. 

If members of your biological family are loving and supportive, then they should be part of ones 'family of choice.' If they are not, then they really are no different from strangers or acquaintances. To call some one family, is to know they are there for you. Many, many years ago a man tried to sell me a franchise. One of the things he asked me was how many people could I call at 3 AM that would be there for me without question. For his purpose, he wanted to know if I could relate to people and if I had formed deep connections, because it is important in sales to be able to connect with people. I found it a profound question and have used that as a measure of who I would call my family. Members of my family of choice don't always approve of what I do (and they let me know), but they love me and wish the best for me. Those people really do make a family, and yet blood is not a required part of the definition. 

So I encourage you to take a look at your family. Is it a family of choice, or a family of obligation and guilt? 

Growing up and being an adult is understanding and choosing who belongs in your life and who doesn’t. 

Choosing a Therapist

The average consumer has no idea that there are many forms of psychotherapy. If people treated choosing church like they choose a psychotherapist, they would simply walk into any "church like" building and expect to get what they are looking for. They would assume that all religions are alike and there is only one God to choose from. 

While it all started with Freud, the path from there has diverged greatly. Many “schools”, or styles of psychotherapy differ from each other, and some don’t even like or respect the other. They have different goals and often use dramatically different methods to obtain the outcomes they promise. 

Psychoanalysis is a world away from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Somewhere between those two are psychodynamic and humanistic therapies. And there are many varieties of each. 

In my experience, it is important that a therapist be trained in more than one modality. One size does not fit all. If a therapist is only Analytic or CBT then they do not have the ranges of skills that are  really necessary to meet the needs of different clients. At the same time, I feel it is critically important that therapists have a foundation theoretical orientation. When something really strange happens in therapy, and it does on occasion, it is important that a therapist have a firm foundation in some perspective that will guide the patient and the therapist through the process. 

I have a basic prejudice against a practictioner who might say they are “just eclectic”. That tells me they dabble in this and that theory but do not have a firm grasp of any of them; using what seems to be useful at the time. It is terribly important to know several approaches and at least a couple of them really throughly. When doing other trainings in new approaches, being able to integrate conflicting ideas and concepts is crucial to having a coherent approach to working with clients. 

I am a Gestalt/EMDR/Transpersonal Therapist. I do body orientated therapy. If the issue is not cleared from the body it is not cleared from the mind. I mix in Self Psychology, Bioenergetic, Ego Psychology, CBT, Psychodynamic, Somatic Experiencing, Life Span Integration, DMNS, and many, many more.  

Personally, I don't refer to another clinician unless they have EMDR Therapy (short for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing”) as one of their approaches. I believe it represents a paradigm change in psychotherapy and is an essential tool for helping people. It started as a trauma therapy and has expanded to a full form of psychotherapy. I highly recommend that when choosing a therapist that in their tool box be EMDR Therapy. To learn more about EMDR go to the EMDR International Association Website.

While I use CBT as needed, I believe it is counseling rather than psychotherapy. I would encourage you to read my article on the topic: Counseling vs. Psychotherapy.  Read this article for another opinion of CBT. Different styles and approaches work for different people. As a Gestaltist, I am more active and engaged with the client. More of me as a person is present in the relationship. While the therapy is about the client, we recognize that who we are impacts the client and the therapy. Some other approaches believe that the therapists should be as invisible as possible so as not to get in the way of the client’s process. So doing some education is important and shopping therapists is key to finding the right fit. 

People often ask me how to choose a therapist. First, see more than one. Ask them about their approaches and what to expect. Do some education about the different psychotherapies so that you have some basis to understand what they are telling you. 

Ask people you know in therapy about their experiences. What did they like, not like, etc. It can be very eye opening. There is a big difference between going to deal with a current problematic situation and going to see a therapist for many years to resolve long standing family and or emotional issues. As you start to see a therapist, your goals will possibly change as you gain insight into your own process. 

I believe that in the course of meeting the therapist and getting a feel for them, that while theoretical orientation is important, it is necessary that you have a deep intuitive trust for the person you are working with. If that is not in place, it is much less likely to be a successful therapy. 

Wikipedia has a decent list of the different types of psychotherapies. Check it out

The Forgiveness Trap

As a therapist I hear people talk about forgiving their parents, their abusers, their spouses, teachers, etc.

Forgiveness is in my opinion a religious, spiritual experience and post healing experience. Too often I see people that have had their child murdered or abused to immeadiately exclaim forgiveness to the person that harmed their child. In my experience, forgiveness is often used as a bi pass to try and avoid the painful feelings that must be worked though in order to let go of the harm and heal. 

As a therapist, I think forgiveness is the wrong goal. I believe the real goal is Acceptance. Acceptance is admitting that it happened to you and that it hurt. It has possibly altered your life forever and that you not only survived but it is part of the reason you are the person that you are now. 

Acceptance requires that you process the pain, all of it. Acceptance requires that you own the anger, all of it. Acceptance means that you have come to a place that it no longer controls you and that you can look at the abuser in the face and not give them your power anymore. Acceptance means that it is part of your past. 

Forgiveness is about the other. If they ask for forgiveness it is something you may or may not give them. It is not required on your part and should only be given honestly. Giving forgiveness too soon or at all may mean not giving the abuser really the opportunity own their responsibility and consequently avoid their healing. 

We are a product of our past. Denying it, trying to avoid it or trying to skip the pain is not useful and in the long run disabling. Acceptance means healing. 

 

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”


― Oprah Winfrey

Country Music Promoting Alcoholism

I was born in MO and raised on country music. Several years ago after a long flirtation with pop I primarily returned to my roots in Country Music. As a psychotherapist, the lyrics often make me cringe. It seems so many songs not only chronicle mainstream alcohol abuse but also seem to have crossed the line to promoting it. 

 

A short list of top Country Songs this year alone:

 

Whiskey in My Water

Cold Beer What Your Name on it

Bottoms Up

Drunk Last Night

Drink a Beer

Bartender

Drunk on a Plane

Drinking Class

Day Drinking

Sangria

Ain’t Worth the Whiskey

River Bank

Pontoon

and many, many more. 

 

A few years back, I went to a Brad Paisley concert. There was an amazing amount of drinking. There were guys passed out in their seats after everyone had left. When I hear a song talking about drinking her away or if I can remember the night, it was not a good party. That is enabling and encouraging alcoholism. I hear similar conversations between the waiters and busboys in restaurants. This has become part of the culture. The new song, Drinking Class is how many people see it. I am not advocating prohibition; we saw how that worked out the first time but some responsibility. Tim McGraw recently sobered up. he credited his wife, Faith Hill with helping him clean up. I am sure he is not the only one with a drinking problem or the first or last in recovery. People are impacted by the actions of celebrities; they imitate them like children do parents. They have a responsibility to think about what they are doing and saying publicly.

 

The other side of this is the destruction of the middle class. First, striving to be middle class is not enough anymore or a goal. Also, for men, often sex and booze/drugs are the only pleasure they feel in life. Both remove them from the despair they often feel about their past, present and future. Without hope and obtainable goals, this is what they have to look forward to. 

 

I will continue to listen to country music, but I will not continue to support those artists that promote drinking as a solution to life’s problems, or a life style to admired and emulated.