Category Archives: jsj therapy

The Art of Making an Apology

This was too good not to repost. Here in full with a few light edits.
by Tatu (via fetlife)


People are people and whenever they encounter one another,
occasionally they do something that perhaps injures. I’m not talking about physical injury, but words or actions that injure or alienate another. Someone says or does something that harms or offends.

Now one would think that this is basic preschool stuff that we should
have learned from our parents at home, but there are those who
obviously never learned “The Art of Making an Apology”. I say “Art”
because if not done so in a way that communicates and touches the soul
and somehow breathes a new and more positive energy; we will come away
feeling like we totally wasted our time with this person.  It is an art to listen and live beyond the pain.

Now I have to say I have heard a lot of “nambie pampie” excuses for an
apology in my years. Given I spent the 1st 20 or so years of my
professional career involved in relationship, marriage and family
counseling; and the last 15 expanding it into the legal services
business; trust me I think I have probably heard just about
everything; from dealing with the angry child or the rebellious
teenager, to the cheating spouse; and even interviewing the child
molester in jail for a case about to go to trial.

The online world has generated a minefield of potential relationship catastrophes due to the ease of not being in the actual presence of real human being, and the relative perceived anonymity of sitting behind a keyboard looking at an electronic screen. I mean like who’s gonna care, really? They’ll get over it, right?

What happens is that it is relatively easy for people shoot their
mouths off in an instant without engaging hardly any brain cells. It’s
sort of like the illustration of how there is only enough blood in a
man’s body to supply his brain . That’s why when a man gets that testosterone pumping his head drops, his brow lowers. Picture the Neanderthal here.

Same thing happens on line, especially for the males. They get that
testosterone pumping and they start typing. Before you know it they
are popping out all kinds of discourteous verbal abuse to the nearest
bystander or in some cases the object of their focused attacks. They
will puff their chest out and show the world how great they are by
attacking and putting down someone. Their tools are vile language,
ridicule, harassment, baiting comments and / or pointing out how
stupid you are for that typo and how you are just not “real” as they are.

They are people who have such a low self-esteem that they feel it
necessary to try to pull others down to their level in order to make
themselves feel as good as someone else, or they are egotistical
assholes bent on being heralded as superior to others, condemning you
to their holocaust of inferior beings.

Now with our western society having too few tools in the areas of
politeness, common courtesy, and respect; this means all hell can
break out in an instant in the online forum; or even in a local real
time community.

Sometimes however a real person steps forward and realizes they were having a bad day and see immediately that they need to make things right. Occasionally one comes to understand that they have a real problem with an issue and need to address it with counseling. He or she has left a path of destruction and chaos in their way. People have been hurt, and not always simply the person you directly abused in some way. Either way they know they need to rectify the situation and make amends.

The Honest Desire to Rectify the Situation

Before any reconciliation or healing can ever occur, one must come to
the realization that they truly did something wrong and desire to do
something to make things right.

Honesty with Self

The next thing I would say is for an apology to have the result one
truly hopes for, you must be absolutely honest about what it is you
did. To figure this out you must take some time to think about what
happened; perhaps put yourself in the other person’s shoes; see and
feel what it is you did to them. They are hurt, offended by what you
did, you need to find out and understand why?

In fact however you may come away at this point unable to fully grasp
why this person is so upset with you, or has withdrawn their
friendship and is acting in a very distant manner. You just know it’s
there, and you know something is not right. You may have a little
idea, but don’t assume. One of the best principles in life I have ever
discovered is “never assume”. Assuming anything at this point is not
what you want to do. Be transparent enough, that you
can honestly see what is. There could be some other issue at play that
you have not considered; be open.

Yet it is a positive thing to simply realize you messed up and you
need to make it right.

Communicate Openly and Honestly with the Person

So when you go to that person, it is vitally important to limit your
comments and simply listen.

Ask the person for a special time to talk. Face to face, eyeball to
eyeball is best, but in the online world that is not always possible.
If it is give them a call and ask to meet over coffee one day.

If you are close enough to share on the phone; that would be 2nd best.
I cannot stress enough the fact that you need to hear their voice; and
they need to hear yours.

So you might start off emailing this person and asking them if perhaps
you could call them and ask what would be a convenient time, that you
want to make things right.

Once you have come together what do you say?

I would suggest that you tell them that you have come to the
realization that what you did was wrong and if possible you want to
make it right.

Describe the situation that occurred simply and honestly.


If you start making excuses, your apology is worthless. You have to
truly take ownership for what you did. If you start trying to shift
blame in any manner whatsoever, it’s never going to be resolved. You
are just making a bigger ass out of yourself.

To shift blame is communicating, that you are not really sorry; you
just want it to all go away. You don’t want to suffer any
embarrassment for what you did.

So I recommend that you say something like this:

If you deceived someone, consider saying something like this:

“I lied to you the other day when I said (such and such); I know it is
wrong to deceive you. I won’t do it again. I am asking that you please
forgive me.”

Here are some other examples:

“What I did the other day, ridiculing you and calling you names, was not appropriate; what I did was not polite or courteous. I’m sorry.

For the person with anger of verbal abuse issue, perhaps you should
say something like this:

“I was very rude to you the other day when I said (such and such); I
was very wrong for saying what I said. It was rude and verbally
abusive. I’m going to see a counselor about dealing with my anger issues. ”


Next you need to listen. They may need to say some things you weren’t
expecting to hear. Don’t let it throw you. If your heart is honestly
in a place for reconciliation; your response should not be excuses,
but to include whatever in your apology.

You may need to ask:

“What do I need to do to make this right”? …and be willing to act accordingly.

Now, if you are the one who offended another, after you have made an honest apology, there is nothing you can do about this. It is up to the person who you offended to offer their forgiveness.

They may tell you to go take a hike. If that is the case and you have
done what you should have done in making an honest apology with no
excuses. It is no longer your problem, but theirs. If you however
attempted to cloak your apology with excuses or shifting the blame.
Then you deserve to be told to go take a hike.

In society when someone commits a crime, they are adjudicated guilty and they have to pay some price for their crime. It might be a fine or it might be time in jail.

When you harm someone in a human relationship, there can also
potentially be a price to pay. Alienation is probably what it will
come to. That person will not want to be around you and unless you are
a complete sociopath you will find it very uncomfortable being around

Understand that your victim does not have to forgive you. As we said earlier, if you come to them with a bunch of bullshit excuses, they will know you are not truly sorry. Excuses only communicate that you

are ego filled that you want to shift the blame and want the situation
to go away so you don’t have to suffer the true humiliation of an
honest introspective look within.

They could tell you to go take a hike, and sign you out of their lives
if they want to. You cannot control their response.

So when one truly forgives a debt, there is nothing else to pay. If
the offended party says they forgive you, but then dish out all kinds
of crap in revenge, they have not truly given forgiveness.


When one comes to you honestly asking for forgiveness, no excuses, no
justifications, no shifting the blame; and you grant them forgiveness;
that is the end of it.

So what happens if you don’t forgive them? One asks forgiveness, but the other says hell no! They live on in misery, month after month, year after year. Then one day the offended says “I have decided to forgive you. You know what the they will likely say? “Forgive me? I don’t need your forgiveness, you have put me through hell for the past 5 years.”

You know what, they are right. They are not in need of your
forgiveness anymore. They already did hard time.

It is true, however, that a relationship may be irreparably scarred.
It is possible to forgive, heal and for the relationship to continue and
grow and be okay. It is also possible that the harmed partner / spouse
may forgive you, but is not willing to move forward with the
relationship any more, or it may take some time and counseling until
they feel they can trust you again. This is honest reality.

A Public Apology

This is the part that is going to separate the truly sorry from the
pretenders, because it is going to involve humility before others.

If you involved others in your offensive act(s), then you need to make
that apology public. If you verbally abused someone, lied, ridiculed,
stirred up a rumor, anything in an online forum or in any public
manner, then you need to apologize not only to the person you directly
hurt, but post an apology to the group. The community needs to know
all is ok, so they can relax, breathe and know the negatives
have been removed.

So a public apology would go something like this:

“The other day I said (this and that) about Billy. What I
said was not true, and how I said it was rude and discourteous. That
was wrong of me. I personally apologized to Billy yesterday and he was
kind enough to offer his forgiveness for what I did; so I hope those
of you that witnessed my lack of courtesy will find it in
your hearts to forgive me as well.”

No excuses, no shifting the blame; just the facts and apologize.


I wish for more for our world. It begins one on one, honest communication, asking for and offering forgiveness; resolve in your heart to make things right.


JSJ Therapy presenting at CARAS conference

It’s almost time for alternative sex therapists and researchers to get together and talk about big ideas in the field.

All are welcome to attend the upcoming CARAS Conference in Chicago on May 24th.  I’ll be presenting with Awen Therapy on the topic entitled :

Using the D/s Dynamic to Reach Therapeutic Goals In and Out of Session

This is such an important group of individuals who are looking to bridge the gap between therapy-research-and-community. This is going to be a great conference, join us!


A client relayed a story of integration to me the other day:

One second she going about her day, the very next she was putting her cut finger under the water faucet. She felt the pain right away… but that wasn’t the part that got her. She was able to patch herself up quickly enough, however the negative thoughts  that followed were not as easily addressed.

Thought after  thoughts about her foolishness, distract-ability, and self-worth came tumbling through. From a mistake, the mindset was immediately about every inadequacy she had as a person. How is this even possible? It was an accident! These things happen. You live long enough, you run the numbers, and things are bound to occur.

She was caught in a very common negative thought pattern, where one small thing derails you and you end up feeling terrible about something small.  Here is the rest of her story about how she is working on changing that:

She stopped herself and remembered that she didn’t have to chase down every emotion or thought. She realized in the moment that the self-talk she was so willingly participating in was not something that was actually doing any good.  She took a deep breath and a few more for good measure. She felt her body center and came back to a more balanced state of mind. She had a choice… she could continue down this path of negativity or she could do something differently.

Notice that she didn’t have any expectation that she needed to feel or even think differently. She instead focused on what she could control right then and there. She stopped the autopilot of negativity, made the conscious choice not to attack herself further, and then went outside and took in the beauty of the clouds.

She still had that lingering feeling that somehow this represented all her worth (or lack there of). However, she also knew that logically this was not the case. Who she is as a person (her values, passions, and actions) is not based on a cut finger. It really makes no sense at all, however that is how old negative thought patterns work.  They just no longer fit in to what is going on within your life.

The client would like to say that she won’t have these feelings ever again, however that isn’t very realistic, and she knows it. Instead, she looks forward catching these negative thoughts faster, shift them more fully, and work to no longer have this pattern as her default when accidents happen.

The way it works is when you know better (the hurt finger is not a reflection of self-worth), you do better (stop the negative self-talk and do something centering/positive), you feel better (emotional responses will align more fully with the situation).  It isn’t easy to stop yourself and make the choice to do it differently, when in the moment you get little reward. You just want to not feel that way, but integration rarely hops-to in the way we want.  It takes work to change the patterns that are so well-worn. The payoff however is great and the effort is worth it!

You don’t have to be trapped in the same mind-set. Mistakes will happen it is about how to grow from the experience that makes all the difference.

Nature + Nurture + Choice

In therapy, there is a lot of talk about being a good or bad person. Intellectually, we know that such shallow judgement calls do not apply to a majority of us. We are intricate and complicated in our conscious and unconscious drives.  Our understanding of morality often feels internally objective and externally subjective. Scientific research continues to mirror the findings that reality shows us daily.

We can also be contradictory in what we believe for ourselves versus what we believe others should do. Yet, we still come back to an extreme dichotomy of expectation for good and bad. There is very little middle ground when we are proclaiming our ethics. However, when we begin to push upon these stark concepts in therapy, quickly it is discovered that what is really going on is a messy generalization of thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is normal for humans in current society.  We take all the data and crunch it down into bite size pieces so we can actually live rather than be immobilized.

Still, I hear over and over again about the guilt, shame, fear, and tremendous hardship that person has placed upon themselves. True, many of these personal scripts are based on experiences that were extremely unpleasant. The brain wants to flag things that don’t fit into a generic mold and the exceptions become the highlight reel in our brain as the rules to live by. Again, this is normal so that we can determine things with the whole flight or fight. Let us not forget that choice plays a large role in forming us as well. That pesky little thing that allows us to move and shift depending on our own needs and desires.

Everything becomes so confusing when we measure who we are based on any one of these factors alone. Look, I’ll say this directly– researchers don’t fully understand what makes us who we are. Understanding humanity is in its earliest form. Basically we have no idea really what it going on in detail. However, we do have a crudely drawn sketch. This vague look at the hows and whys we do what we do is enough to push each one of us into contemplating some serious questions about ourselves.

A wonderful example of this is based on a documentary I just recently watched  about Good and Evil.  Without giving it all away, as truly it is fascinating. We might have a genes, background, and even tendencies towards things that make things hard on us. It is still each one of us as individuals that can make the choice to live differently.  A person can be predisposed, have terrible experiences, and yet still make choices that will put them on a path towards positive growth. If one really must focus on a singular idea, that will make the largest impact, it is personal choice.  What we tell ourselves on a daily basis and the actions we take matter in how we create the relationships around us. Nature and nurture both matter and even beyond those factors, for the majority of us, we can choose to live a healthier stronger life.  The choice is really up to you.

Finding the answers

Clients want answers. I want answers. We all want answers! It is a given that we are curious to find out what is going on within us. And I’ll say something that one is probably not supposed to say as a therapist, “I wish I DID have the answers” perhaps better said: I wish I had the ability to quickly allow other people to find the exact answers they want for themselves. I really do. I wish I had THE right answer for each person that comes with insight, introspection, and curiosity. I would love to place my magic-therapy-wand (patent pending) upon their heads and grant them the wish of pure personal understanding.

I’m not morally or ethically opposed to the idea of helping this way. The reason being is that I believe that the answers differs for each person. I have yet to see any person exactly match the other in how they come to understanding of themselves and the world around them. That is what is awesome and frustrating about how insight and choice works.

There is no right answer that works for everyone. Even as you read this, there are people who will differ with the premise that there is no specific answer for everyone. See what I mean? What works for you may not work for another. You can have shared values, ideas, and methods of expression and still come to your path in a totally unique way.

So when you come into therapy and hear me tell you that I can’t give you the “right answer” I’m not just pulling out a therapy cliché.  It is true. I don’t think that I can nor should provide the answer as to who you are and what you want and how to get there (save the magic wand possibilities now being tested in a secret lab). It is up to each person to dive deep, discover your own personal ethos, and move ahead in the face of it all.

Embrace that you may not have the answers right now… but that part of the adventure is seeking for them!

Intimacy & Desire by David Schnarch — Book Review for “Contemporary Sexuality”

JSJ Therapy was recently published in AASECT  “Contemporary Sexuality” with a review of Dr. David Schnarch’s book  Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship.

Schnarch’s ideas on adult differentiation are often used in our therapy sessions to help clients handle the anxiety of partner’s pressuring with a differing point of view. This most recent book also brings forth the newly structured Differentiation Scale published first in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy. The scale is also implemented in session as a measure of couple’s ability to tolerate discomfort for growth’s sake.

You can read a brief excerpt of the December 2011 review on the Highbeam Research site.

As usual, if you are interested in the full review you can contact me and I’d be happy to send you a copy.

What is real and/or true?

Recently there was a discussion I attended that brought up the concepts of reality and truth. I admit that I have used these ideas interchangeably many times. I will finesse the words as I see fit but the fact is that often times whatever is real to me is also my truth AND whatever is the truth often doesn’t feel real. It is all rather messy when pushed to differentiate.

Here let me give an example… I’ll say that I enjoy playing games. This is true. I _do_ like playing board games. However, the reality is that what I like about game play is the interactions of those around me. So, yes I do like playing games, but it is rarely about the game itself. Rather it is the dynamics of the individuals involved that are playing the game that holds my attention.  This is true and real and the complexity of it all comes together to provide a larger context.  Does it mean that I don’t like playing games for the sake of the game? No, I do enjoy specific games. However, I tend to enjoy specific games because of the way it involves the players in differing ways. Does this mean that I lying when I say I enjoy game play? No, but it does mean that I’m not sharing the full depth of what I mean when I share this information. It is a verbal shorthand of sorts. I’m describing something that is true about me within reality but it is not nuanced. One can see how even with something as simple as this, it can become confusing.

Beyond the philosophical debate of these ideas, I will ask you to consider how we tend to do this very thing with emotions. For example, we might state that  we are “angry” with another person. We expect them to just understand and then act accordingly to fix whatever is wrong. Neither of these things usually happens, and then we react even more strongly in the irrational  hope that more anger will explain the details. Again, this approach rarely provides us with the outcome we desire.

Instead if we are to consider the fuller spectrum of what we are trying to share, it might just help us in what we are seeking out from another. There is something that being angry means to us. It could mean that we are seeking to connect and don’t know how, we want attention and so we create something that isn’t real but feels truly upsetting (i.e. being lonely). Or perhaps a true boundary of ours has been crossed and we really want to make it known. Maybe someone or something that has no real connection has had an impact and we need a way to express our frustration. Sometimes we really and truly are unsure as to what is making us so upset. These are just a few possibilities for what could be going on when someone uses the shorthand of emotional expression.

It would be wonderful if we could all just easily explain what is real and true to each one of us. Life would be so much easier if we understood ourselves so quickly and deeply that when we rattle off “the obvious” that it made sense to everyone else. However, we have unconscious and conscious motives… many of which we don’t always want to share with others. Hence, the process of what is really true and truly real becomes almost a game of cat and mouse.

So what happens next? Ah, this question I do have an answer to… the best answer …is to ask questions. It is just as circular as the idea of reality and truth within the realm of feelings. Feelings are not facts but often times appear as such. This is to say, that it is a fact that you are experiencing an emotion, however that emotional response does not necessarily represent reality in full.  It can be difficult for anyone of us to sort out what is what. One of the best ways to go about this learning process is to query yourself  and others.

When you consider your personal values and what actions you want to take when you are at your best-most-centered (some say rational) self, what choices would you make?

If you were to give advice to a loved one, what would you say to them about the situation?

In the past, when you were unsure of your feelings or of those around you how were able to figure out what was the best option?

When you consider the possible outcomes what responses lead to what most directly reaches your goals?

Notice that most of these questions are about thoughts and actions. This is because emotional responses can shift around people, moods, and situations. It is totally possible to have emotions swing around from one end to the other. And yet our goals and our actions often reflect our deeper sense of personal convictions.

You may be confused about what is real or true within emotions but I encourage you to ask questions of yourself and others in an attempt to locate what is centered and sturdy over time. How do you want to act, how do you want others to remember your actions, and what principles do you want to live by? These kinds of questions will take you to the heart of your emotional responses and get you back on track when you are feeling lost.

What is truth or reality after all? In my opinion, it is a steady continual reflection of who we are from the past, present and future. You are  a complex matter of intricate data points: feelings, thoughts, and actions combined together to create your ethical framework.  It is really and truly wonderful process!