Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don't Dance (Codependency)

The "dance" of codependency requires two people: the pleaser/fixer and the taker/controller. This inherently dysfunctional dance can only happen with one partner who is a codependent and another partner who is a narcissist (abuser or addict). Codependents do not know how to emotionally disconnect or avoid significant relationships with individuals who are selfish, controlling, and harmful to them. They find partners who are experienced with their dance style: a dance that begins as thrilling and exciting, but ends up rife with drama, conflict, and feelings of being trapped.

When a codependent and narcissist come together in a relationship, their "dance," unfolds flawlessly: the narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Because the codependent gives up their power, the dance is perfectly coordinated: no one gets their toes stepped on.

Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners give to them. As a "generous" but bitter partner, they seem to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for "next song," at which time their partner will finally understand their needs. The codependent confuses care-taking and sacrifice with love and responsibility. Although they are proud of their self-described strength, unselfishness, and endless compassion, they end up feeling deflated, empty, and yearning to be loved, but angry that they are not. They are essentially stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the potential of receiving the same from their partner. When they dance, they often pretend to enjoy the dance, but usually hide their feelings of bitterness, sadness, and loneliness.

The codependent's fears and insecurities create a sense of pessimism and doubt over ever finding a healthy partner, someone who could love them for who they are versus what they can do. Naturally, the narcissist is attracted to the codependent's lack of self-worth and low self-esteem. They intuitively know that they will be able to control this person and be able to choose and control the dancing experience.

All codependents want balance in their relationships, but seem to consistently choose a partner who leads them to chaos and resentment. When given a chance to stop dancing with their narcissistic partner, or comfortably sit out the dance until someone healthy comes around, they choose to continue to dance. The codependent dares not to leave their narcissistic dance partner because their lack of self-esteem and low sense of self-worth manifests into the fear of being alone. Being alone is equivalent to feeling lonely, and loneliness is an intolerable feeling for a codependent.

Without self-esteem or feelings of personal power, the codependent does not know how to choose healthy (mutually giving) partners. Their inability to find a healthy partner is usually related to an unconscious motivation to find a person who is familiar…someone who reminds them of their powerless childhood. Many codependents come from families in which they were children of parents who were also experts at the dance. Their fear of being alone, compulsion to control and fix at any cost, and comfort in their role as the martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient, is a result of roles they observed early on in their childhood.

No matter how often the codependent tries to avoid "unhealthy" partners, they find themselves consistently on the dance floor dancing to different songs, but with the same dance partner. Through psychotherapy and, perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, the codependent begins to recognize that their dream to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity, and mutuality, is indeed possible. Through therapy and/or change of lifestyle, they build self-esteem, personal power, and hope to finally dance with partners who are willing and capable to share the lead, communicate their movements, and pursue a shared rhythm.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten Rule for Being Human

Ten Rules for Being Human

by Cherie Carter-Scott

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it's yours to keep for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called, "life."

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial, error, and experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately "work."

4. Lessons are repeated until they are learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There's no part of life that doesn't contain its lessons. If you're alive, that means there are still lessons to be learned.

6. "There" is no better a place than "here." When your "there" has become a "here", you will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."

7. Other people are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.

8.What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answers lie within you. The answers to life's questions lie within you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is Sex Addiction Real?

Unlike for alcohol or drug addiction, there is no formal diagnosis for Sex Addiction in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM IV). According to Chester Schmidt, chair of the DSM-IV Sexual Disorder Work Group, there is “no scientific data to support a concept of sexual behavior that can be considered addictive. (1)” Schmidt believed that what is called sex addiction is more likely a symptom of other psychological problems like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or bipolar disorder.

According to Benoit Denizet-Lewis (2), "Believers in a sex-addiction diagnosis point out that for many years, doctors and psychiatrists similarly dismissed alcoholism, refusing to accept that it was a serious problem in itself, not merely a symptom of something else." Many of practitioners in the sexual addiction field are hopeful that the DSM V, which is due out in 2012, will include expanded diagnostic choices for process addictions, including sex, gambling, spending, eating, and/or religion addictions. According to Elizabeth Hartney, "a working group of professionals has recently suggested diagnostic criteria which may be considered for the next edition of the manual, due to be published in 2012."

According to John M. Grohol, Psy.D. (3) "What is both amazing and a little disturbing, however, is to see entire professional societies, such as the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, spring up around a disorder that isn’t even officially recognized as such. And despite no clinical agreed-upon criteria for sex addiction, the Society estimates that 3 to 5% of Americans have it." According to the Mayo clinic, sex addiction is estimated to affect 3 to 6 percent of adults in the United States.

Because sex is a part of normal human functioning, it is difficult and at times a scientific challenge to compare sexual addictions to chemical addictions. Both "normal" or pathological (addictive) sexual patters are open to diverse and often controversial definitions. Clearly, factors such as personality, psychopathology, gender differences, sexual preferences, cultural differences, socio-economic status, and other "filters" have made a clear consensus for a definition of sexual addiction that much more challenging. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that topic of sexual deviance and/or sexual pathology remains as one of the most taboo topic in our society. Individuals with a sexual addiction are often the subject of ridicule and harsh judgment, whereas others suffering from drug/alcohol or other more accepted process addictions, ie gambling, spending, elicit more social acceptance.

Another ironic twist is that the co-founder Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, was considered a sex addict. According to biographers and Alcohol Anonymous historians, Bill Wilson not only was an alcoholic, but was also a sex addict. Wilson was flirtatious, had multiple affairs, and according to biographer, Susan Cheever (4), "had an inability to regulate his behavior with women” and was “often accused of groping and unwelcome fondling,” However, he was married to the same woman for 53 years.

Until sex addiction is formally included in the DSM V, we currently derive a "diagnosis" through assessments protocols specifically designed for this addiction. Such protocols are provided by specially trained qualified mental health practitioners. Clinicians, such as myself, utilize uniquely designed instruments that are designed to collect relevant information necessary for a diagnostic conclusion. Information collected during the assessment includes: sexual history, drug/alcohol history, psychosocial assessment, mental health history, and other relevant information. Additionally, an assessment involves interviews with the client, affected partners, i.e. spouse or partner, and if possible, mental health providers who have or who are providing services to person being evaluated.

According to data collected by Patrick Carnes, many sex addicts also have other addictions. For example, in Carnes' research, of the individuals who were diagnosed with a sex addiction, 42% were chemically dependent, 38% had an eating disorder, 28% were compulsive workers (workaholics), 26% were compulsive spenders, and 5% were compulsive gamblers. Ruling out cross addictions is an important component of the assessment. Because of the high prevalence of cross addictions, the sex addiction evaluator must have a background in the general field of addictions.

When a cross addiction is present, it is important to identify which addiction requires attention first. This is crucial when it is determined that the sex addict is also addicted to a drug/alcohol. In these cases, detoxification (detoxing) of the drug may require medical services in order to ensure that the client physical health is not compromised. The experience of physical withdrawals can potentially create medical risks.

As many practitioners and sex addicts know, that despite a formal recognition of this disorder, it is indeed very real. Lets the intellectuals battle out what is and what is not a diagnosis. In the meantime, lets provide the much needed services to those who are suffering from this disorder.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Life Is A Series of Choices

Fortune cookies are true…so I now believe. Two days before our Friday December 2008 wedding, my wife to be ate at a Chinese restaurant, where, at the end of a good dinner, her fortune cookie read: "A lifetime of happiness lies ahead of you." The next day, on Thursday, she went out for Chinese again and the (next) fortune cookie read: “The coming Friday will be an exciting time for you." Was this a coincidence or was a specific message brought by the Universe to my lovely bride-to-be?

The fortune cookie story doesn’t end here. Last night I shared my career ambitions, goals, and dreams for my life with my wife. I explained why I believe I have been blessed with a wife and son who I adore, a wonderful family, great friends, and a successful career. I explained to Korrel that I have achieved such riches because of my growing capacity to love, commitment to personal growth, dedication to my career, belief in my dreams, and most importantly, my ability to make the right choices at the right time. An hour after that discussion, at a Chinese restaurant, my fortune cookie read, “Life is a series of choices, today yours are good ones." I knew then, I had to write something.

Life is a Series of Choices

Life comes from the right choices at the right time, as well as the willingness to pursue the goals inherent in these choices. Robert Frost nailed the “choices” challenge in his poem The Road Less Traveled. In this poem, he saw the value of ending up at a “crossroads” in life.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could”

At this crossroad, we face two distinctly different paths, which have two equally distinct different outcomes. Perhaps, at this crossroad, we are brought to the biggest choice of our life: in which direction do we proceed? Do we take the path that is more familiar to us, the one that we can navigate in the dark—with our eyes closed; or do we take the path that is unknown, frightening, and strewn with obstacles and unpredictable outcomes.

The familiar path offers predictability and safety, but only a limited version of "success." However, the “road less traveled” is risky in nature, but has the possibility of ultimately changing your life. When you travel down the road less traveled, there is no turning back; life is forever changed and you can never return to the old life of safety and predictability. This risky path is where choices manifest into dreams, and dreams manifest into reality.

“Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference."

Paul Coelho, the author of “The Alchemist,” believes that we all have the ability to achieve our “personal legend,” which is the best possible version of ourselves: the person of our dreams. Mr. Coelho believes by pursuing your personal legend you have then chosen “the path God has chosen for you here on Earth.” It is a path toward the life you believe in, goals that you have chosen, and dreams that you know belong to you. Through difficult choices, a commitment to moral and ethical principals, the courage to see mistakes or bad outcomes as gifts, and the humility to not lose yourself in moments of success, one can achieve their “personal legend.”

Similar to taking the “road less traveled,” achieving one’s personal legend may come at a cost. Life consists of a series of “mini crossroads,” where good choices, despite one’s best intentions, can result in failure and disappointment. For those of us who are pursuing our personal legend, we know that life’s loftiest and most heartfelt goals can sometimes end in failure and disappointment; but still we persevere. By dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of our very best version of ourselves, we are able to transform our moments of disappointment, disillusionment, or embarrassment, into achieved goals and dreams.

The words of Robert Frost and Paul Coelho have inspired me to understand that because life is truly a series of choices, we can achieve our dreams. We all come into this imperfect world, in imperfect families, and as imperfect versions of ourselves. All of us have our stories of dysfunctional families, economic hardships, medical limitations, self esteem challenges, etc. God intended us to all be able, through conscious choices, to grow and develop into something special. Without committing to a path less traveled or path toward our personal legend, we live our life, at best, in mediocrity: never quite knowing how far we could have progressed, who we could have become, and what effect on the world we could have made.

It is through a series of choices and the perseverance to pursue the goals inherent in these choices that we achieve our God given potential. Choices bring us to dreams.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Domestic Violence Is Not Just About Physcial Abuse

Over the course of my career, I have helped many clients pursue a sense of personal power and emotional health sufficient enough to be safe, strong, and healthy while working through relationships with aggressive and/or abusive partners.

Generally speaking, these aggressive/abusive partners flourish in relationships in which they are given the power to control a person. To maintain power and control in their relationships, they need to be in relationships with individuals who typically have poor boundaries, low self esteem and who have little to no self confidence (a sense of no personal power). Similarly, codependent or co-addictive individuals fall within the abusive partner's "radar," especially when they are an addict.

To retain power and control in the relationship, the abusive partner has to control the relationship in order to create an environment of fear, insecurity, and perceived powerlessness. Consequently, a complicated dynamic of domination and submission is created; one in which power and control is perpetuated by physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse, or the fear of the recurrence of such abuse.

Being afraid, not feeling like you have the power to stop the abuse, and secretly believing they couldn't find anyone better (being brainwashed), the victim partner believes they are powerless and therefore, trapped in a perpetual cycle of emotional, verbal, and/or physical violence. The cycle is maintained by frequent episodes of abuse which ultimately "brainwash" the victim partner in believing that they do not have any recourse (or resources) to stop the abuse. The cumulative effects of the cycle of abuse create further feelings of powerlessness, which further immobilizes the victim partner.

Contrary to what most people think, the most common mode of maintaining power and control is not through the use of physical violence. Most abuse is either done emotionally or verbally. Most victims of both physical and emotional/verbal abuse attest that the verbal/emotional wounds are deeper, hurt more, and take longer to heal.

The following list illustrates the tactics that the abusive partner uses to exert power of their victim partner that does not include physical violence.

1. Intimidation
2. Emotional abuse
3. Blaming, denying, and minimization
4. Financial control
5. Isolation
6. Turning their children and/or friends against them
7. Coercion and threats

The victim partner keeps "tied" into the abusive relationship due to their lack of experience and knowledge with relationships based upon mutuality, respect, and fairness. Often, the victim comes from a family in which they either experienced harm or neglect as children or witnessed harm or neglect to one of their parents. Often one or both of their parents were either an abuser or a victim of domestic violence. Therefore, the victim partner gravitates toward what is familiar, or unconsciously reminiscent of what they experienced as children. Although strange and paradoxical: what feels familiar is also seemingly safe.

Individuals, who are assertive or aggressive, bold, and/or edgy, seem to be the partners that the victim partner finds as "attractive." Although this prospective "attractive" partner seems safe, there are lurking red flags that are, at this point invisible. Likewise, the aggressive person is unconsciously attracted to a kind, forgiving, accommodating, and understanding individual, who they unconsciously recognize as someone they can control and who won't leave them when there abusive side emerges.

The relationships between these two types of people often start off with a bang: high levels of attraction/infatuation, poor boundaries, and intense and frequent sexual activity. Unfortunately, after the "chemistry" wears off, the unconscious elements come to the surface. The abuser establishes domination and the victim feels trapped and consequently falls prey to a role of passivity, fear, and powerlessness.

The saddest part of this relationship dynamic is that the victim partner unwillingly and unknowingly repeats the same patterns of their parents and their parents-parents-- all of whom incorrectly believed love and commitment supersedes respect, fairness, mutuality, and most of all, safety. "Love" is maintained at any cost.

There is help out there for the victims of domestic violence. Therapists like me offer a way out.

For further information: