Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Do Men Really Have The Higher Sex Drive




And Is This Really The Right Question?*

A long clung to stereo-type is the whole “men are more visual and men have a higher sex drive than women” First things first though! Whatever you are doing I want you to get to a calendar as FAST as you can. Google calendar is fine, the one on your phone or on your wall. But just check in on the year. I’ll wait.

So now that we’ve had that little update let’s all say the year together:

2017.

It’s 2017!

That means we are here. In the present. And I have to say, sometimes we live a lot like we are in the past. We still carry around strange old stereo-types like they are badges of honor. And one of the favorite old-school narratives is: men have a stronger sex drive.

I wonder if we can break this one down a little? What are the implications of this? Personally it’s a well-used and (quite worn out I might add) power play. Implications are as follows:

I, a man, have a stronger sex drive than you therefore:

-I need sex
-I lust all the time
-I can’t help but look
-I am visual
-If I cheat, you know why.

Now excuse me while I go barf in the trash next door.

Now I know I am not a scientist. I am not a professional researcher. I don’t study biology full time.  I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and from my experience both professionally and personally this whole thing is a bunch of poop shit. (saying poop twice gets the point across more I think). Men and women both have sex drives and while they might express themselves DIFFERENTLY that does not mean one gender has a higher sex drive then the other.

But in case you are skeptical of my highly scientific and highly researched data (aka my personal and professional experience and all the books there ever was) below are five reasons why we might be able to finally call B.S. on the nonsense of “men have a stronger sex drive than women”. *

So here are Five Reasons why this data just might not be all that accurate anymore

      1. Some Research is Biased.
Who were the ones who created the research on this in the first place? If we look at the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) it’s easy to note the gender gap. Men have dominated this industry for a very long time. So if we continue along this line of thinking we might presume that largely white straight men have been creating and driving this line of thinking that men have higher sex drives right? When you think about it, it’s absurd because so much research has lacked a female perspective or even perspective of different ethnicities especially in the science field. It seems to me that this research comes out of a patriarchal and sexist mindset that only (at least appears) to benefit men and not women. Basically we know what white, straight men think but what do the rest of us think when it comes to this topic? (and you do know that a white man came up with the tampon 

2.     Our Sex Drives Are Different.
This does not mean men have higher sex drives and that women have lower sex drives. It means they are different and show up differently. In some ways male sex drives are more linear and straightforward. Women’s sex drives tend to vary from high highs to low lows especially when you think of the female menstrual cycle and the way hormones levels change and interact throughout the month. There are even  a couple of studies done by Meredith Chivers that shows some difference between men and women’s desires. What she found was that women were aroused physiologically by a much wider range of stimuli than men.

3.    Hormones!
Speaking of hormones, sex drive has more to do with hormones than with gender. Estrogen, testosterone and progesterone make up part of the sex drive. Everyone lands on a spectrum of sex drive and each person has varying degrees of libido often depending largely on our hormone levels.  

4.    Cultural Constructs Matter
The stereo-type of men having a higher libido might be more of a cultural construct than a biological truth.  Different sexual expressions are often a byproduct of socially constructed norms. Biological differences can arise from social conditioning such as telling males their whole life that they have a “strong sex drive” and will struggle with lust affects how they perceive the world. In the same way perpetuating the stereo-type that “you’re a woman and you don’t crave sex” has conditioned women to feel shame about their sex drive, hide it or completely repress it and therefore they don’t believe theirs is very strong. A survey in the UK showed that 47% of men would give up sex for 6 months for a 50-inch Plasma TV. Women would only make that trade 35% of the time. So look how gender priorities are reversed!

5.  Don’t Forget About the Individual Experience
 It is too black and white and inaccurate to claim that all men have high sex drives and all women have low sex drives. We cannot reduce or oversimplify humans in such a way. Yes SOME men do. And yes, SOME women do as well. According to research 1 in 5 men would rather do anything else but sex.  It is not helpful in fostering closeness between partners and it disregards individual experience, season of life, hormone levels, age, ability, current stressors, medication side affects and the actual relationship. If anything, this stereo-type harms both males and females. Men feel constantly pushed into being the initiator, the more sexually aggressive one, the one who is visual and needs sex constantly. If they don’t feel this way internally they experience shame and question their masculinity. In the same way when women find themselves with a strong sex drive, wanting to initiate sexually and being aroused easily it can create shame because it feels like they are acting out of what is seen as abnormal for their gender.


*Sidenote let’s for one sec just pretend men do have the higher sex drive. (like we’ve pretended for the LAST MILLION AND ONE YEARS). Well I have a question; um since women are the ones who PROCREATE after all, shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned about helping females out with their SEX DRIVE? AKA why have we literally poured billions into Viagra to help men keep a penis awake and done nothing to help out women out?! I am completely baffled. 

**Also men and women both agree that bacon is better than sex. Agree or disagree?



Monday, September 25, 2017

Marital Strengths




This weekend I am helping out with a Hold Me Tight couples retreat with some other amazing therapists I work with! The retreat is based off of the book called, Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson who is the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

I am so looking forward to this retreat! I know that EFT has helped out so many couples in distress and has helped them foster a secure attachment. In honor of this retreat coming up I decided to take a little bit of time to think about my own relationship. I thought of our strengths as a couple and what helps continue to foster our secure attachment to each other.

It's ironic (and sad and sometimes humorous) that our culture and media shows us what "strengths" are relationally and how often these so called "strengths" are never what really helps a couple thrive. Often what we see on simplistic romantic comedies (which I love by the way so no hating) as strengths are as follows:
  • The couple is super hot (and if not, the woman is super hot)
  • They have sex constantly or at least want it constantly (they can barely function, go to work or pay their bills BECAUSE SEXUAL TENSION)
  • There is a serendipitous moment (a meet cute) or just a moment of knowing this is the other person's soul mate. How they discover this? Through background music and staring into each other's eyes and moving VERY SLOWLY. 
  • Usually a very weird and easily avoidable misunderstanding/miscommunication. 
  • An exit and then a chase of sorts (due to disastrous communication). Someone will invariably try to leave by plane, boat, train or on foot (due to their terrible lack of communication skills) and the other will chase them down by plane, boat, train or on foot.  

Things like consistency, trust, loyalty and putting in the effort (to learn some freaking communication skills) are not exactly highlighted or showcased in the media, movies or books. In defense of romantic comedies if they whole thing was one dialogue about "what makes you feel safe relationally" for example we would all fall asleep. The couple would be more happy but we wouldn't be very entertained. We love our chases! 

I thought I would share some of Scott and I strengths that I experience day to day that help us feel connected and securely attached to one another. When we have conflict I think about the things that are positive about our relationship. I remember that we are so much more than a fight or irritating argument. Some are super simple like shared experiences or hobbies (which helps us feel connected as we spend quality time together) and some are more complex and something we've had to work on (like asking for space when we need it.) 

  • We both love reading together. 
  • We both like to explore coffee shops and try out new coffee. 
  • We both highly value winning prizes.
  • We respect each other's space and independence.
  • We are thrifty and sneaky financially and somehow figure out how to go on trips together.
  • We are creative.
  • We take time to hear about each other's day. 
  • We ask the hard questions. 
  • When we we mess up; we say sorry.
  • We like to dream about our future together.
  • We both share a deep passion for COZY. (soft blankets, candles, fun drinks)
  • We are rock stars because we have different internal clocks. (when Scott is wide awake in the morning I am asleep and when I am buzzing around at midnight he is snoring)
  • We make time with friends and family a priority and encourage each other to do the same.
  • We verbally affirm each other regularly.
  • We feel safe enough to ask for what we want and need.
  • We write each other little notes.
  • We usually win at board games when we are on the same team.
  • Scott is a good cook and I am good eater.
  • We have rituals (date nights, morning coffee dates, evening prayers)
  • We are both love spending time with our little pup and taking him to new places, beaches, and parks to explore. 
  • We both care about our neighborhood.
  • We are deeply and soulfully invested in our faith. 
  • We both care about our spiritual growth.
  • We list out our gratitudes to each other every night. 
  • We both love nature and the outdoors but hate laying on the sand at the beach because ITCHY.
  • We are pretty decent candlemakers.
  • We are really INTO each other.
  • We connect well intellectually.
  • We both love making the other person laugh. 
What are some of your relational strengths?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Refreshing Gin Tonic



Hi guys! I know this is not a life-style blog but sometimes I like lifestyle things especially if it has anything to do with fall, growing an urban garden or attaining the perfect bikini body (bahahaha) And since it's still hot out in San Diego even though it's September (September is generally our warmest month) I decided to share my favorite refreshing cocktail with you.

Scott and I toured a gin distillery when we visited St. Andrews, Scotland last year and ever since then I've been stuck on gin cocktails. This one is super simple. I don't like complicated ANYTHING in the kitchen so it's very accessible. It's an easy crowd pleaser too.

Grapefruit Gin Tonic

Ingredients:
Grapefruit
Gin
Rose Lemonade
Ice

Directions:
Quarter slice of grapefruit at bottom of glass
Fill glass with crushed ice.
Add 2 ounces of gin for a double (We love New Amsterdam or Ballast Point Old Grove)
Fill the rest up with rose lemonade (We love Fentimans which you can get on Amazon)
Garnish with a small slice of grapefruit (you can add a lime too!)

You're welcome. 



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The World Is Scary So Let's Wrangle Some Joy



So the world is a scary place right now.

There are many many reasons for this.

Threats of nuclear war

Death and injuries dues to Charlottesville white nationalist rally

So much racism.

So much sexism.

So much violence.

So much bigotry.

The refugee crisis.

Break-ins and burglary in our neighborhood on the regular. (pretty mild all things considering amiright?)

Oh and there are some crazy creepy white supremacy blogs out there. (free advice: sometimes it's best to forget research and go outside so you can avoid losing your mind)

And there is the usually downpour called every day life. Scott got sick with the flu. We ran out of Nyquill, Advil, toilet paper and paper towels all around the same time. The car didn't pass the smog check. Leonard threw up. We spaced paying car registration. We ran out of quarters to do laundry etc...

Besides that; Scott and I have been going through a tough season  (outside of the normal mundane type stuff). The details are private right now but I can tell you this WE ALL NEED A LITTLE BIT OF GOOD NEWS.

So I just finished Jen Hatmaker's new book, Of Mess and Moxie and if you haven't yet, stop whatever you are doing and go buy it!

It made me laugh so hard you guys (and I can't even relate to her content on having teenagers but it was so funny all the same!)

I really needed to laugh. Jen talks about wrangling joy and delight out of life. I love the idea of wrangling something like joy. Because right now? We have to wrangle it. I don't find that joy and happiness is going to just waltz on in without a bit of request or wrangle if you will.

We have to wrestle it in. We have to dig down deep into the gusto and guts and grit of our soul and find the ability to make something of what we have. You remember Jacob and how he had to wrestle a bit to be blessed? (Genesis 32:26) I'm imagining something like that for us.

So here's what I did: I created a little acronym called HOPE* to help wrangle a bit of joy into my every day life. In the mornings I am walking through this practice to pray, set an intention, embrace my values and yes pull joy in like a kite that wants to fly away in this strong and chaotic windstorm called the world.

HOPE: What Is Bringing Me Hope Today About The Future?

Look you guys, it can be ANYTHING. Don't try to be fancy or philosophical about this. Here's my list:
  • Fall is coming. (There are already pumpkins at Marshalls and I cannot be sad knowing this)
  • My sister is due Sunday (YAY for being an auntie!!!)
  • I COULD win the lottery. (don't analyze this. think big you guys!)
GOOD NEWS: Who Can I Bring Good News To Today? (P.S. I know that my "O" is a stretch here but work with me...)

We all need some happy news. We desperately do. Who can you advocate for today? Who can you encourage? What can you do practically? Maybe it is buying backpacks for your local elementary school. Maybe it's signing up to bring dinner for the neighbors whose house just burned down and are still recovering from the after shock. Maybe it's donating to the STARS program for teen girls involved with CSEC. (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children). Maybe it's volunteering your time to help walk some dogs. You can become a foster family. You can help fund kids to go to a Young Life camp. And keep calling your senators! 

Again, it doesn't have to be a huge life altering decision either. It can be sending a letter encouraging your friend who is going through cancer treatments. It can be telling your spouse you love them. It can be buying the person in line behind you a coffee. (actually forget everything else I told you: THIS IS THE TRUE GOOD NEWS). You can text them and tell them you are really praying for them. Or Amazon Prime them a prize. It's simple. It's a couple clicks and now you are seeing good news via the mail! Host a girls night and drink lots of Sangria. Make your friends a home cooked dinner. This IS always and always and forever amen good news. Good news comes in all shapes and sizes. Find someone and show them God's love. 

Here are mine:
  • Bringing good news to husband via gatorade and medicine and driving him to Urgent Care. 
  • Bringing good news to my clients by reminding them they have hope and they are rock stars. 
  • Bringing birthday presents to nephews + nieces. 
POSITIVE: What Is One Positive Thing In My Day? 

Think of something you're especially grateful for or thankful for today!
ENERGY: Where Do I Want To Put My Energy Today?

YOU GUYS. I'll lose it for real if I put all my energy on Trump lump okay? I cannot put all my energy into social media and battling the crazy trolls out there. We gotta forget that noise. I'm trying to put my energy into people I can see and touch and feel today. The people who live in my home, my neighborhood and my community. It's not that I don't care about what is going on "out there" but if I spend all day online trying to educate people on racism I will shit my pants (well wait... it's more likely I'll constipate my pants from gritting my teeth but this isn't really a saying so I digress) Also silver lining: Scott and I will become homeless if I spend all my energy and time fighting online instead of working and being present with my surroundings. 

So for today my energy is on:
  • Scotty and helping him recover from his flu virus.
  • My clients.
  • My puppy Lenny because feeding and walking him is the best use of my energy sometimes. 
So do you want to join me and practice HOPE on the daily? I feel like at the best we will feel a spark of joy and happiness and at the worst, maybe we will have given someone else a tiny ray of hope. 

* I also created a super neat acronym called POOP. It is to help you feel the opposite of hope and joy. Works in a jiffy.
P: Poop your pants (now that is a hope stealer if I have anything to say)
O: Get online. Stay online as long as humanely possible. You will quickly feel like poop in no time!
O: Offer to stand in line at the DMV for a friend. It's a nice thing to do.
P: Politics. Try to think about politics every second of every minute of every hour. You will feeling stunningly shitty in a matter of mili-seconds! But don't let that detour you! Keep thinking about politics.

For best results: Do not go outside, see the sun or smell fresh air. Stay inside where it's warm and cozy and stale and near your computer and phone and charger. And don't be silly, keep those blinds closed for heavens sake! 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

20 Reasons to Celebrate America Despite it's Glaring Imperfections.

This week we celebrated the fourth of July.

And if I'm honest I felt a little sheepish about celebrating.

America is not perfect and this past political season has showcased that quite clearly. (it's been ugly)

It's really embarrassing.

I'm pretty appalled by the values we have ignored and disappointed by what we have prioritized.

So I did what I do when I'm feeling a lot. I made a gratitude list. I created a list of things I am thankful for when it comes to America.

I thought I would share it because even when things aren't perfect there are still silver linings and things to be grateful for. (and in no way does this EVER condone the mess we have made here)

Here's what I celebrated on the fourth of July (in no particular order)
  • The National Park Services
  • Public libraries
  • Trader Joes
  • Amazon Prime
  • San Diego beaches
  • Donuts
  • Stripes and stars are fun
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Jazz music
  • Baseball (especially the Padres and the Twins)
  • Steak
  • Fall in Minnesota
  • How obsessed we all are with our pets (especially DOGS)
  • Thanksgiving mashed potatoes and green bean casserole #yum
  • How big the sky is in Nebraska
  • Access to clean water 
  • COFFEE CULTURE and the whole take-it-to-go thing
  • Public education (as flawed as it is...)
  • Food portions are just large and it is awesome (especially ice-cream scoops)
  • All my friends and family that live here


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Better Than Before




I read the book, Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin for Blogging For Books . It's basic premise and question is, "how we change" and I believe her conclusion is that we change by developing and keeping good habits. She has a lot of practical advice paired with research for all her habits she discusses. 

She discusses four types of personalities when it comes to making habits, the upholder, obliger, the rebel, the questioner. She states she is an upholder and for upholders her material might be relatable. Her ability to empathize with those different than her seems to be a little bit short sighted. I am a rebel (according to her book) but I disagreed with rebels just breaking rules, struggling with discipline and being seen as lazy teenagers. Most people I know would describe me as very disciplined and mastering a habit has never been difficult for me. I like don't like the status quo and I enjoy breaking rules :) However, I know that discipline has it's dark side. 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked in treatment centers specifically for those struggling with eating disorders I was uncomfortable with all her talk about eating less sugar, exercising more and wanting to lose a few pounds. It felt so typical to me and completely unaware of a very large population who is so good at discipline and strict diets that they are now in treatment centers for starving themselves or over-exercising. I think I felt a bit protective of this population as she made it seem that everyone just wants and needs to lose a few pounds! (Does this have to be the American dream?!) I found the research to have many holes in it especially after working with nutritionists and diet techs in my profession. Anyway, I digress :)

I did enjoy her practical advice on organizations and un-cluttering her home. I did feel she might be over-functioning for everyone around her by offering to clean out their closets for them. It's one thing to do something for yourself, it's another to need to everyone to do the same as you to lower your anxiety or stress. 

I really enjoyed her previous book, The Happiness Project and I always think her goals on getting more sleep is absolutely admirable (and so important for everyone). It's always hard for me not to over-analyze an author whose book's genre is "self-help" especially when it seems that in order to be "happy" or "better" one needs to do all these things externally to create peace inside. I am more interested in books that go "inside" and because of this intentional soul searching and soul tending, are now able to change a few poor habits. Overall I did not love the book. I would probably rank this as a 2.5



Sunday, April 9, 2017

52 Books In 52 Weeks

Hello!

Spring is upon us and with it San Diego is experiencing a super bloom. I have never seen this place so green and lush with wild flowers sprawling all over.

I thought it is time to do a little update on my progress on one of goals Scott and I created in January 2017. Hopefully each quarter I will give an update :)

This year we decided to participate in 52 books in 52 weeks. We have both been out of graduate school for a number of years and also I recently passed all my state boards; so we figured we are in a unique place to accomplish such a feat. For one, we have the energy (because we are not studying) and two, we don't have kids (just a fuzzy puppy) so our evenings could be dedicated to reading over Netflix and Hulu. :)


On our vacation to the UK we were so inspired by all the beautiful bookstores lining the cobblestone streets (especially up in St. Andrews, Scotland) where tea was served and books of every category, genre and color weaved it's way around the room. We decided to make a list of all the genres of books we hoped to read and also created a few guidelines (I say guidelines because rules are a drag)

We decided we would each get to recommend 3 books to one another. And we also decided we get a maximum of 10 re-reads. (If we didn't have this guideline, Scott would read all 7 of the Harry Potter series probably three times).

Here are the categories we picked in no particular order:

Children Literature
Self-Development
Humor
Mental Health
Spirituality
Classics
Science
History
Biography
Finances
Memoir
Marriage
Poetry
Feminism

Scott and I picked our categories like we were picking team mates in gym class. Scott picked History and I picked Mental Health. He picked Biography and I picked Humor. We both picked Children's Literature because we loveeeeee it. We didn't pick 52 categories because we wanted to give ourselves freedom to read outside of these genres. Scott recently read a whole book on the former Padre's manager, Larry Bowa and I am reading a theory book on Internal Family Systems and neither of these fit entirely within our categories.

I was a little behind for awhile but right now I'm about caught up. I am 1/4 of the way done with meeting my 2017 goal!

Here are the books I've read so far:


  1. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink*
  2. Out Of Sorts By Sarah Bessey*+
  3. Flourish by Margaret Feinberg
  4. Sandy Toes by Robin Jones Gunn
  5. A Little Princess by Frances Hudgon Burnett*
  6. Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther+
  7. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by J.K. Rowling
  8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hudgon Burnett
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  10. Small Victories By Anne Lammott
  11. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
  12. The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger
  13. The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns+
  14. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui *+

*Favorites (It is so hard to pick favorites)
+ Would recommend

P.S. Try not to be offended that I didn't recommend Harry Potter to you. There will be many in the world who will. 

P.P.S. I'm reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. #staycalm

Saturday, March 4, 2017

5 Ways to Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship

For just a minute imagine all your friends. Imagine the people you spend the most time with, the ones you call when you need to vent and who you text when  you’re upset. Visualize your circle, your community and to those you feel you most belong. Close your eyes if you need to. What are the qualities or characteristics that come to mind when you think of those you share life with? Are they funny? Smart? Artistic? Do they sometimes belittle what you say or do they have trouble communicating what they want? Whatever the qualities are; stay curious about them. As Jim Rohn says, “We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with” so it’s important to take inventory from time to time regarding who we spend time with. They (you know those “they say” people, they’re smart) that in order to know what you’ll be like in 10 years all you have to do is see who you hang out with and that will give you a good idea of what kind of person you will be.



When NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) asked that I give a talk specifically on recognizing unhealthy relationships I was stoked! I love talking about relationships. I think I’m probably a bit of a buzz kill with my friends because I almost find it on the hobby spectrum, analyzing, assessing roles, seeing patterns, identifying cycles, discussing boundaries (so much fun!!!). So this past Thursday I talked about the 5 things that are signs of an unhealthy relationship. I (of course) made a  very long list of all the red flags, signs, and how to recognize un-health in relationships but I didn’t have 10 hours to speak, (I had one) so I had to figure out a way to trim it down. I landed on my 5 things that lead to an unhealthy relationship. I picked them because they are some of the most common ones I see among my clients as well as ones I have encountered personally.


1.     Criticism

According to the Gottman Institute a relationship that includes lots of criticism creates a very unsafe place for a relationship to survive. And by criticism I am referring to the expression of disapproval based off of perceived faults (yes just perceived). Gottman has discovered that there are four traits or qualities that will cause negative and unhealthy interactions in relationships, including criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. I picked criticism as my top one to focus on today because it is the most common one to pop up in my work with clients. Often there is some stonewalling or defensiveness but usually if people are really seeking help and treatment for their relationship they have learned to check those at the door. Criticism often comes up in different ways whether it’s criticizing someone’s cooking, their art, their body or intellect. Criticism is different than feedback. Feedback has an intention of being positive and helpful and is also requested when the relationship feels safe. Criticism can often feel like an insult and does not help a relationship grow or thrive.  Criticism is often linked to rigid standards, perfectionism and shame inducing behavior. It ultimately creates an insecure attachment in relationships where there is no safety or authentic intimacy.


2.     Physical, Verbal, Emotional, Sexual Abuse

I realize this one may sound like a no-brainer. Of course abuse is a sign of unhealthy relationships! But unfortunately knowing this and actually acting upon this knowledge and letting it change our relationship patterns is much easier said than done.  According to the National Collation Against Domestic Violence 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. So this shows that it is extremely common to be in an abusive relationship and often it is just hard to perceive. The cycle of violence diagram here shows how power and control can be a catalyst for abuse. Often it is hard for people to come to terms with accepting and (then getting help) that they are in an abusive relationship especially if there is no physical damage. Emotional and verbal abuse should be taken seriously and will never lead to a healthy and safe relationship. Many who experience psychological and emotional abuse experience depression and PTSD. It was only in 1993 that marital rape was finally considered a crime in all 50 states (which is crazzzzzzy) and was put under a sexual offense code.  So in a lot of ways, we are still learning and growing when it comes to understanding abuse and violence and how truly detrimental it is relationally.

3.   Poorly Differentiated Self

Differentiation is a term used within Bowen Family Therapy. It’s a theory that does a lot of work focused around the family system or an emotional unit. Differentiation refers to the ability to separate feelings and thinking. It is a process of self-definition and self-regulation. In life, we are constantly learning to balancing between togetherness and individuality, both of which can be tricky to do. So someone who is poorly differentiated may just become more and more like you the longer they date you for example. They may decide they like all your hobbies, your favorite colors and eat all the same foods you eat. Scott and I have a lot of similar beliefs and values and even some similar hobbies. But we also have some differences. He loves reading fantasy fiction and I have a difficult time engaging in that type of genre. He enjoys cooking but I think it’s stressful and annoying. I love staying up late and he is a major early bird. The fact that we are different in some areas is good, natural and normal. I don’t want to blend in to Scott and he doesn’t want to blend entirely into me. A person who is not secure in themself, relies on being the same in order to reduce anxiety. This comes up often in parent/child relationships as children become adults and learn how to interact with their parents from an authentic self. Things like having different politics, spiritual beliefs or even passions can cause the level of the anxiety in a family to increase. Bowen actually believes that “that people choose mates with equivalent levels of differentiation to their own. (We seek people at a similar level of development). Not surprisingly, then, the relatively undifferentiated person will select a spouse who is equally fused to his or her family of origin (equally sane or equally crazy)”

4.     Inability To Say No

One of the top ways I can spot an unhealthy relationship in my office or even in my personal life is how someone responds to the word “no”. Unsafe relationships are characterized by having no boundaries and a fear of saying no. Within this context generally there is a controller in the relationship and a person who submits to the control.  An easy way to spot this early on in the relationship is how a partner responds to someone’s sexual boundaries. If one person does not feel comfortable engaging sexually as soon as the other partner wants to this should be respected. If this boundary is pushed, mocked or ignored this is a red flag that there is little respect and an aversion to hearing “no.” With my clients I am constantly teaching them consent and what it means. Even little kids can come to understand their own personal boundaries or “bubbles” and begin practicing saying no. As BrenĂ© Brown says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” In order to have a healthy relationship it is absolutely essential to be able to say no.


5.     Not Communicating Wants and Needs

If there is one sign I can relate to struggling with most, this would be the one. I was in a very intense off and on relationship in my 20’s that seemed to embody this problem perfectly. Neither of us wanted to share what we wanted or needed. We were scared to be vulnerable and because of this we both tip toed around each other, guessing, hoping, mind reading and hoping that by some chance we’d figure each other out. Well since I don’t live in a chic flic this didn’t happen. (do you want to date a human or a mind-reader/psychic/fortune teller/someone magical from Harry Potter: you have to decide)
I can generally tell that a couple is devitalized by how able they are to express their personal wants and needs and desires (assuming of course they are not in an abusive relationship, now differentiated, able to say no).  In our American culture we are so preoccupied with appearing independent, hard working and “pull yourself up by the boot straps” mentality that we struggle with asking for help. It often causes us to feel shame to need help but the reality is we all need help. We all thrive better together. Unfortunately the media and many romance novels, or romantic comedies have made it look like we should be pursuing a relationship in which our partner can read our mind (they just always know how I am thinking and feeling). This is not our reality. We each have different brain functions and neural pathways and it is our responsibility to communicate how we feel and want we want. Assuming someone else will do this for us is under-functioning and not empowering. My husband and I practice this regularly and I think it’s so valuable and lo and behold we have found we have different desires and even sometimes needs and it okay (the sky has not fallen yet)! But we both have experienced so much security knowing we are each other’s safe place to share our wants and needs with.


Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Rewire your Brain after a Break-Up (so you can surviveValentine's Day)




I remember one February I went through a particularly hellish break-up, which according to research, is really frighteningly common. Sure break-ups are normal, most people have a few of them in their lifetime, but the scary part is the staggeringly high number of breakups that happen in February. In fact, more couples break up in February than in any other month with the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day being the most popular day on the calendar for couples to call it quits. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me two days before Valentine’s Day in Las Vegas, and I will never forget sitting slumped on the carpet in the hallway of the 11th floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. 

Break-ups are rough but they are the absolute worst in February. When you go through a break up, all those “I feel good” chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that are so prevalent when you were dating now start racing out of your system looking for the nearest exit. Your brain is literally depletes itself of good feelings, while cortisol, the stress hormone, rushes to move into the newly vacated real estate in your brain. 


This leaves you:

  • exhausted, because your adrenal glands are activated 
  • with a weaker immune system because dopamine and oxytocin actually help regulate that sort of thing 
  • quite possibly with head and body aches as inflammation in your body soars 
  • with an overall feeling of gloom and doom, because breakups suck and now you are sad.

But it’s not all bad news (I mean, it is mostly bad news but we have to find a silver lining somewhere right???) because the brain is made to heal itself and recover. Your brain literally knows how to create new pathways. While the month of February might be screaming at you to remember you ex every time you see another red heart or another special for a couples massage, keep in mind your brain is ultimately on your side. 

Here are five things you can do to help re-wire your brain while going through a break-up this month:


Pick Out A Mantra 

Whether it’s “this feeling will pass” or “I can do this,” mantras are powerful ways to stay present and mindful in the midst of chaos. And right now, your brain is in chaos. Repeat your mantra daily when you start to spin or feel anxious or fantasize about ways to seek revenge on your ex. As you repeat your mantra your brain will begin creating a new neural pathway that will be your lifeline when the gloom and doom hits. 

Try Something New
This one is a non-negotiable. Your brain is great with memories, especially emotionally charged memories. So the goal here is to create a new memory. Join a class and learn about art, music, or writing. Go on a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. Try a food you’ve never tasted before. Right now your brain needs new and novel experiences. Don’t be heading out to you and your ex’s favorite date spot or go-to coffee shop. At least for the first month, try something new and avoid the other stuff. There will be enough that will remind you of them (like the gaping hole in your heart). Don’t make it harder on yourself. 

Go Outside
According to this research getting out of the house and into nature can decrease blood flow to the subgenual pre-frontal cortex or the part of the brain that likes to obsess about stuff. If you want the part of your brain that loves ruminating to quiet down a bit consider getting out into nature. Take a hike, take a walk along the beach, or head to a local flower garden. Fresh air, new scents and a little movement in nature does wonders for the brain. 

Hang Out With Some Fur-Babies (read pets, not especially hairy infants…)
There are plenty of ways to volunteer when it comes to animals. The Humane Society offers many ways such as dog walking, pet bathing, administering medicine or cleaning out kennels to get involved. If you have a friend who has a pet, offer to take them for a walk. Pet owners (as I am one) love this. Sometimes you just need to snuggle with a fuzzy little dog or cat where you feel unconditional acceptance and love. When the brain feels safe and loved, the brain relaxes and this alone helps us to heal. 

Self-Care
I know many of these could fall under the “self-care” category but I want to address basic self-care such as eating, hydrating and sleeping. It’s easy to turn to coping skills that help us numb (i.e. drugs, alcohol, excessive shopping, under-eating or over-eating) but this is not the time to be cavalier about self-care, your immune system is already vulnerable. Lack of apatite might be normal after a loss, but your brain still desperately needs you to eat. The brain is made of fat and when don’t eat the foods we need, part of our brain begins to shut down. The same goes for sleep. When we don’t sleep there are all kinds of side effects such as increased blood pressure, impaired brain activity and a lowered immune system. If these things are not in place your brain will have trouble healing. Do what you need to make sure you have this part covered whether that’s reaching out to a trusted friend, a support group or a therapist.