Mistakes

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.

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UW – Whitewater Counseling Program Welcomes JSJ Therapy

University of Wisconsin -White Water Counseling program hosts JSJ Therapy and Awen Therapy in the class room.  Dr. Cindy Anderton, the rest of her department along with her students are interested in learning about Alternative Sexuality and how to work with these kinds of clients and topics.

We are thrilled to be guest lecturers this semester! The importance of providing information, insight, and inspiration to other potential therapists is crucial. I deeply believe in providing a safe knowledgable place for clients to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and relationships that have a basis within alternative sexual expression. I am eager and continue to help other therapists starting out or in the field to navigate the complexity of LGBTQIA, power dynamics, kink, bdsm, non-monogamy, and sacred sexuality .

The lecture we will be providing is on what Alternative Sexuality is, how to talk about these topics, knowing your boundaries, where to find information and support, and how to help these clients move forward in their lives in the most strength-based-sex-positive way. This is another step forward in my work with CARAS to help develop an alt-sex curriculum for Counseling Psyche Sex Therapy Classes.

If you happen to be on the UW-Whitewater campus today you are welcome to join us from 1-4pm. We look forward to continually working with the Whitewater Counseling Dept in the future.

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!

We are all in transition

Within a therapy sessions, I work with many clients that are transgender and in various stages of transition. There is often an assumption that one has to know exactly who they are and how they want to express as they come to term with their authentic self. I respectfully disagree with this premise.

I’m not sure if I know anyone that feels they are 100% certain of who they are, what they like, and how they want to express themselves. It is possible that those people exist and I would enjoy talking with them. However, I have found that pretty much all of us are in transition.

One doesn’t have be trans, genderqueer, open, poly, into kink, interesex, lesbian, asexual, gay, or lesbian to be confused by the landscape of who you are or are becoming.  Those individuals that are in transition have a leg up on everyone else, I will admit.  They have the wonderful curiosity of looking at themselves and the world around them outside of tidy little boxes.

Don’t get me wrong, our current societal norms make it a tough road for trans individuals to feel comfortable. However, they have this amazing part of them, that pushes beyond to discover who they are and want to be.  How glorious is it to conquer your own preconceived notions, challenge the status quo, and have the courage to live your life openly and fully!

Being transgender requires so much strength, directness, ability to navigate fear,s and live your life in a totally honest way. It isn’t easy to brave the hardship of being rejected or ridiculed…we all are scared of this.  Most of us  do whatever we can to not openly draw attention to ourselves because we are so afraid of this. And yet, someone in transition has to take on these fears head on daily. Impressive!

This is the point, we are all in transition. We are all a work in progress. We all are learning to tackle our fears as gracefully as possible.

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.

Kick when they are down?

I have read Penelope Trunk’s words for years. She has an amazing ability to write a good story and explain her life in such an honest way that sometimes it is even painful or embarrassing to read  (although I consider this one of the many positive aspects of her directly addressed Aspergers). Despite her past and present trauma she is successful, she continues to push ahead even with all the obstacles.   Penelope’s life took another interesting turn according to her blog.

Recently Penelope wrote a recent post about how she and her partner got into a physical argument   (possibly triggering, read with care and awareness).  She talks openly about the ideas and concerns that many go through right after such situations. It was confusing, scary, and in part she wants to go and in part she wants to stay in her relationship. Figuring out what is what in those moments is very difficult. There is nothing easy about the choice to stay or leave and weighing all the different variables.

After the incident of violence, Penelope got a lot of people who responded to her blog post. This is to be expected. She is rather high-profile, she can debate logically, and is prolific by nature. Readers expressed a wide range of emotions  to the traumatic event: horror, disbelief, anger, frustrations, care, fear, anger, sympathy, and confusion just to name a few. Penelope  then experienced a  phenomenon that I have heard many times before, she was verbally attacked because she considers staying with her partner even after there was violence.

So even after all the pain, she is then treated poorly by others because she shared her range of emotions and thoughts. She too went through numerous ideas and feelings about the whole situation.  This is all understandable and normal behavior for anyone that has experienced a traumatic event, there is confusion and multiple emotions that can easily appear to contradict one another.  Penelope responded to those that attacked her in a recent blog post, it is tough to read and she makes points I have often considered. 

I provide all of this as a backdrop for my own perspective on Penelope’s recent violent interactions.  I do not know Penelope, I have only read her various blogs throughout the years. I don’t know the details of what goes on with her and her partner. I can not assess the people involved or situation directly. Everything I know is what you or anyone else would know from reading her own words.  This by nature means that what is provided is the account of one person’s understanding of the events. Hence, making a fair and rational judgement call on all parts of the complex situation is near impossible. At best, it is ill-advised to make assumptions in any direction.

One doesn’t have to have a philosophical or moral stance one way or the other about what to do after an act of relationship violence.  However, it does make sense to b there  for someone in a time of tremendous hardship. Right?  Does it really make sense to judge, belittle, yell at,  or shame someone after they have experienced trauma?

Shaming someone won’t change their mind. It just teaches them to not reach out.

Just give some thought to if  attacking another is really warranted after someone has just been through trauma. If you are upset about the situation, afraid of what it means to others, or what it even means about you, or even want to help change occur, then explain it. However, attacking a person while they are suffering make little sense. It is cruel and doesn’t provoke change Hence providing a safe, comfortable, and non-critical ear can be one of the best things you can do!

Now to my point, beyond all the details, facts, or perspective…it is nearly impossible for me to understand how  or why others would want to be mean, harsh, or shame another person after such an experience? Research clearly indicates (see: Brene Brown) that blame and shame do not activate change.  Rather it is emotional vulnerability that  brings about change and connection. How does someone get to the point where they think that yelling at another person after a traumatic event will help? Maybe they aren’t thinking. Maybe taking a few breaths and re-centering on what their goal is in that moment would be more helpful?

I’m not here to dictate morality. I am here though to bring alternative view points. And no matter what you think or don’t think about Penelope or anyone else in violent situations, I would encourage you to act with compassion and tenderness towards anyone that has suffered. If at any moment you forget, try to remember for one instance what it was like to be in such fear and pain and what it was like when someone made you feel even worse. Yep, now you got it.