Posts Tagged ‘Therapy’
I wanted to devise a way for women to be there for each other to express the honest realities of their lives without having to risk anything; to be able to speak openly without worrying about losing, offending, or being judged by, anyone. So I created my anonymous Women’s Realities Study to that end.
I invite any woman who’s interested to participate. There are 63 open-ended questionnaires on the major themes of being female, and you can respond to as many or as few as you like, and write as much or as little as you want.
Here’s part of my motivation for this undertaking. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you witness two girlfriends who run into each other and do the polite social exchange thing:
“Hey! How are you?!”
“I’m great! How are you?”
“Fine thanks. Things are good. Things are really good.”
Now let’s imagine each of these women is on her way to therapy. I’ll give you a list of just four of the hundreds of completely feasible scenarios that might be played out in the ensuing sessions.
1. “I just ran into a friend on the street. She and her husband always look disgustingly happy together…I bet THEY have sex. Then there’s my marriage. When do you decide there isn’t enough there to make it work?”
2. “I just ran into a friend on the street…I felt really self conscious. I told her I was fine, but I worried she thought I looked like shit. I drank so much again last night.”
3. “I just ran into a friend on the street. She works with John, but she doesn’t know about the affair.”
4. “I just ran into a friend on the street, and it was all I could do to pretend I was fine. She thinks my life is perfect. She’d be blown away if she knew how depressed I am. I hide it so well no one would believe it.”
Many parts of our realities are fiercely protected by our choice to keep them private. This is usually the case when we fear we’re the only ones thinking, feeling or doing something, and when we anticipate being judged. These fears are standard fare in therapy, but because we keep them secret, just as our parents and grandparents did, the general public isn’t fully aware of their abundance. Consequently, we tend to operate under the illusion that just because someone hasn’t confided something in us, they’re not going through it, and it makes it easy for others to make the same assumption about us.
It shouldn’t be that only therapists and priests know what’s truly going on under the surface of people’s lives, because it’s information we could all use to deepen our understanding of what we have in common. We’re more alike than different but our secrets complicate our ability to be soothed by this.
Having a more realistic view of what takes place at the most authentic level of our lives would build empathy and reduce judgment by having the power to influence the way we see ourselves, and the way we perceive others. It would make it easier for us to work through whatever was going on in our own lives, as well as to make us more compassionate toward those we’d otherwise be likely to judge out of hand.
To address the dilemma inherent in the battle of the safety of privacy versus the freedom of honesty, my goal is to gather these anonymous stories, put their psychological and emotional meaning into context, and make them available to women so we can learn from each other. One of the mediums through which I can do this is my Huffington Post blog.
Here are some excerpts from what hundreds of women 18-105 have wanted to share so far. I’ve selected quotes that reflect the full range of human experience, from the light and humorous all the way to the tragic, to illustrate that no matter what you want to share, or what you hope to hear from other women, there’s a place for it.
(Both questions, same woman.)
Q: In your most intense moments of love, what are your thoughts about your partner?
A: That he is the most wonderful, caring, kind, passionate man I could have dreamed of.
Q: In your darkest moments of anything approaching hatred, what are your thoughts about your partner?
A: That he is an absolute ignorant asshole with no social skills.
Q: Do you think our culture draws a distinction between single women who have never been married and divorced women? If so, how, and what are your feelings about this?
A: Yes – for divorced women “it happens” but for single women, there’s more of “why is she still single?” I feel somewhat defensive, sometimes embarrassed that I’m single, like somehow I’m (for lack of a better word) a failure in this aspect of my life. It’s like there’s something not normal about it. I feel like if I were divorced, I, and other people would say that at least I managed to get married. I also feel like I’d rather be single than married to someone I want to divorce.
Q: Please describe in detail the physical and emotional experience of an incident of abuse that stands out to you to this very day. What is the quality of this memory that makes it stand out?
A: My ex-husband in a drunken rage told me I was a fat pig-fuck attorney. I remember it because it was an unusual insult.
Q: What did you feel about surrendering your body as you knew it to the pregnancy? Did you worry about weight gain, stretch marks, Caesarean scars, breast enlargement, etc.? How was this for you?
A: I fully surrendered and assumed that none of those things would happen to little ol’ me! I didn’t get stretch marks on my stomach…I got them on my ass!!! Both cheeks look like a cat tried to make a flying leap onto them – but slid down.
Q: What do you want others to understand about your experience of your affair/s?
A: That it’s not as simple as some would like you to believe. Not all men are philanderers who have an adoring wife at home who just doesn’t understand them. Not all other women are desperate lonely women willing to settle for anyone who comes along, or women who just want to prey on other women’s husbands. Often it is a case of two people finding each other too late in life. Obligations have arisen, i.e. children, that make it hard to leave. People say we are selfish…I think sometimes, it is more selfish to leave rather than to stay. As one who left, I sometimes feel selfish. My son would have preferred I’d stayed married…
(81% of respondents to this questionnaire report having suffered from depression for over 15 years; 90% of those report hiding it.)
Q: If you hide the extent of your depression, what influences you to do so? And what are your fantasies of what people will think?
A: I’m worried about people asking why, because I don’t actually know. And I’m terrified of being abandoned by my friends.
Q: Please describe in detail the physical and emotional experience of an incident of sexual abuse that stands out to you to this very day. What is the quality of this memory that makes it stand out?
A: My grandfather would get into bed and tell me stories about when he was a prisoner of war and then he would fondle me. I don’t remember everything. I would stare at the top bunk above me and disconnect from my body and kind of disappear. When I think about it, I either feel numb or I vomit.
***We are our greatest resource. I hope my study will help women maximize it at no personal cost, and if you decide to participate, I, along with the women who will benefit, thank you.
As a psychoanalyst, I wanted to seize the opportunity created by HBO’s “In Treatment” premiere to dispel some anti-therapy myths.
Myth 1. Therapy is for people who are either crazy, or the human equivalent of Jello.
For lots of people there’s still a stigma attached to seeking treatment because it’s taken as a confirmation of mental illness, or a sign you’re so spineless you can’t do anything on your own. But really, going to therapy for any reason, is at its most basic, an exercise in trying to improve the quality of your life.
We all come into the world wired a certain way, and who we become is determined by that, and a combination of life events and the extent to which we’re nurtured. Some of us have happy stories and others aren’t so lucky. But no matter what you’re struggling with, it’s normal and healthy to want to do anything within your means to feel better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re recovering from a psychotic break, wondering if you should leave a relationship, or feeling homesick your first semester at college. Wanting to be an active participant in trying to live your life as best you can is wise. Everyone deserves a shot at having the quality of life they wish for, and therapy is helpful to that end.
Myth 2. It’s all about blaming your parents.
This, understandably, holds a great appeal for many of us! But therapy isn’t actually about blame. It’s about understanding what happened so that you can make use of that knowledge to free yourself up enough to thrive.
Myth 3. Emotional life is frivolous.
Our emotional life informs absolutely everything we do. It’s what makes us fall in and out of love; it influences what we do for a living; how we raise our children; where we make our homes; who we choose as friends; and it impacts our physical health. Every single day, we’re continuously doing nothing more in our lives than trying to move closer to the things we hope will make us happy, and further away from anything that creates discomfort. From whether or not we choose to return a phone call, to how we hope to feel in those jeans, to how much we deposit in the bank this week, to why we get a mammogram…all are examples of how we’re driven by a desire to feel alive, connected, and safe.
Myth 4. The past is the past. Get over it already.
The history of a person is no different than the history of anything else. History actively informs the present; sometimes we repeat it, and sometimes we improve upon it. We need look no further than war to understand this. Therapy helps a person make sense of their history in a way that hopefully enables them to positively impact the course of their future. Another analogy is the life of a tree. If we were to anthropomorphize a tree whose root system was damaged, none of us would be inclined to think, “Oh suck it up and get over your root system already.” We’d probably think, “That tree might be in trouble.”
Myth 5. It’s the screwed up one in the family that seeks therapy. Everyone else is fine.
This is almost never the case…
Myth 6. You should be able to handle everything on your own.
We learn and grow both on our own and in the context of others. It isn’t shameful to collaborate in other arenas. We learn from teachers. We need doctors to set broken bones so they can heal. We require lovers to experience love. Why should therapy be any different?
Myth 7. Being stoic is strong. Being emotional is weak.
It takes strength to be in therapy. Any way a person survives adversity requires strength, but our culture tends to see an absence of emotionality as representative of mental health. If being stoic is what works best for you, then that’s how you need to go through strife. But I can assure you, allowing your feelings to surface even when you’re afraid to do so might take you so far from your comfort zone you don’t know if you’ll ever return, is brave.
Myth 8. You need your therapist to tell you how to live your life.
Unless you’re in cognitive behavioral therapy which involves exercises and assignments to a particular end, most therapists will only make suggestions. A skilled therapist should listen with a professional ear, and help you figure out what you want to do. The client is the one who does all of the work in between sessions.
Myth 9. Just take a pill.
Psychopharmacology is only one approach to relieving suffering. I’ve seen medication save lives, but I’ve also seen people over-medicated, or incorrectly medicated without proper care and monitoring. Pills address brain chemistry; therapy addresses understanding and self-awareness. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
Myth 10. If movies are any indication, one of two things will probably happen in your therapy: either you will somehow become involved in a deadly situation (most likely a murder plot), or your therapist will sleep with you.
Since neither of these situations has ever been disclosed to me by a colleague or a client, I have to assume these occurrences are rare. I say take the risk. (And here’s hoping Paul doesn’t sleep with Laura.)