Zakiah and Negative Self-Talk

Disclaimers: 1. I am not a Christian Counselor and my comments about the New Testament character, Zakiah, is not meant as a biblical lesson. 2. My comments are based on my recollection of the story of Zakiah learned as a child, not recent biblical research or the views of any biblical scholar.

A woman was recounting to me a situation in which she received feedback from her supervisor on a project she felt she had completely poorly. The supervisor was very pleased with her work. She was flabbergasted….completely surprised. She kept describing the contrasts between what she was saying to herself about her work and what her boss was saying.

As she spoke, the story of Zakiah came to mind. As I recall, Zakiah was a short man and the village people where standing along the road that Jesus was expected to walk. Not being able to see, Zakiah decided to climb a tree. Zakiah knew this was a bad idea.  He would be ridiculed by those around him for climbing the tree but he wanted to see Jesus. Zakiah climbs the tree and watches as Jesus walks by. Suddenly, Jesus stops and looks up into the tree. He tells Zakiah to come down, go home and prepare dinner as he, Jesus, will eat at his house that evening. Zakiah jumps down from the tree and runs home to prepare dinner. Later that evening, so excited by his quest, Zakiah announces to Jesus that he will make good on any accounts he has that he has cheated on.

My focus is that Zakiah was talking poorly to himself about his idea of climbing the tree…but the end result was that Jesus chose Zakiah to dine with and…Zakiah, so inspired by his guest, resolved to make other changes in how he was living that, no doubt, further added to his (Zakiah’s) self esteem.

I see the same with the woman I was talking with. She was convinced of her poor work….was beating herself up with negative self-talk. Meanwhile, her boss loved her work. How often do we do this? How often (and how long) do we berate ourselves for our work when we later find we were doing great work? How much courage it takes to believe in ourselves and withhold judgment until all is said and done?

A lot!

Have courage. More later….

A Woman Alone at 60

“If I leave him, I will be sad. If I stay with him, I will be sad…..It is like I am meant to be sad….no matter what I do…..”

She is 60, divorced twice and her current boyfriend insists on paying his ex-wife’s bills. They have not had sex in months and he doesn’t initiate any intimacy. She has tried to initiate closeness, tried to talk with him about the distance between them, his relationship with his ex-wife, their future. He doesn’t listen, walks away or gets mad.

She made a promise to herself she would stay with him for the next 6 months to save up to get her own place and move out. We were discussing her life and what the future holds when she commented (above).

This is a classic and heart-wrenching situation.

I empathized with her…..but told her that her conclusion was wrong.

While yes, currently, she is or will be sad if she stays or goes. But will she stay sad? That will be up to her and her choices.

I asked her what singles do when they retire….she struggled. “GRANDKIDS!” I practically yelled (She has 2 grandkids she lamented not spending enough time with.). She looked at me. “…or travel (yes, by yourself or find a girlfriend you can stand), or volunteer, or take up watercolors or read and join a book club or buy a motorcycle!” We both laughed.

“This is not what I expected my life would be when I was 60.”

“Me neither… I am a ‘good little Catholic boy’ who got divorced, with a motorcycle, 9 tattoos and 17 Norfolk Pine trees in my house and office, 7 of which are 5 ft or higher.  Have a 59 years old girlfriend…that I describe her as a “younger women” since I am 60. I have a 16 lb dog that thinks he weighs 106 lbs, is constantly getting in my spot in bed when I get up to pee at night and who sits on my back porch and looks in at me making me feel guilty for not taking him for a walk! I didn’t plan on any of that and I deeply appreciate and love those parts of my life all of which occurred since I turned 48. Since when did anything in your life turn out the way you thought it would be like?”

A Mother and a Teenage Son

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a mother of an 18 yr old son. He had been remiss on his responsibilities around the house and she spoke to him.

She pointed out to him that if he had the time and energy to go to his girlfriend’s house and hang out with his friends, he had the time to empty the dishwasher, bring his clothes down for her to wash, take out the trash and pick up his room. She told him he had until the end of the week to do his chores (He was already about 3 days past the expected time for him to have done such.).

I asked her about her decision to give him a few days to do his chores. She, an educator, explained that when confronted, she’d always had good luck with giving her students a few days to get past work done.

We discussed how her husband would have addressed the situation. She suggested he would have confronted the boy using much the same verbiage but would have insisted he, the son, do the work then….that minute, and not give him a few days to do it on his own. She also suggested that her husband’s manner in such affairs lead, in her opinion, to there being tension between the father and son.

While I praised that calmness with which she addressed the son and utilized a technique that has worked for her in the past with students, I also advocated her using her husband’s method…namely, to insist that the boy do his chores…NOW!

My reasoning: All young men need to experience their mother or some older woman authority figure, when and where appropriate (as in this case), insisting he stop what he is doing and do as he is told by her.

Why? As a result of their developing bodies (hormones and physical strength), young men can come to look down on or disregard that opinions of women, especially their mother’s. This is not pathological! This “test of strength” is and has already been going on with his father and other men of authority. This is normal/natural. It is how men come to understand where they “fit in” or stand with other men. This process also needs to happen with the women in the boy’s life.

Why? Because at some point, he will have a female boss/authority figure in his life and he will need to understand that he must concede to and obey her to…keep his job and fit in to society as a whole.

Further and more importantly, at some point, a female (who is not older than he and who doesn’t have more authority over him) is going to tell him “No.” and he will be faced with making a decision….to obey her or overpower her.

So, mom, the next time he “forgets” or puts off his chores, don’t be scared to insist that he stop everything and do NOW what he has failed to do. Do this with a calm voice, no attitude and with firmness of resolve.

More later….

PS….Yes, my mother did do this with me….and I have turned out fine and I still respect her for it.

 

The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me

I recently sat with a woman who had decided to terminate a 3 year plus relationship with a man who she’d thought would be the man of her dreams.

She grew up the daughter of a factory worker and although she saw her father as a wise and caring man, she dreamed of marrying a man who worked in an office building; one who wore ties to work or a suit, who could afford perhaps a occasional extravagant vacation, who would bring her flowers, ask her about her day, dance with her and set them up well in retirement.

Her first love was a boy she met in high school. While he had “clout” in the school hallways, he did not have such. He got a job in a factory, began to drink and would call her names.  She was frightened and confused but she stayed with him…..for 7 years. She left him after he beat her.

Her second husband was a business man who treated her well…. in public. He felt contempt otherwise.  He was so good-looking and looked well as a husband….why couldn’t he just love her all the time, not just with friends or at parties? They decided, after a few years of sleeping apart, to divorce.

Her third partner was gay. He lavished her with love….. as a sister or close girlfriend. But by then, she was just happy he didn’t hit her, yell at her, call her names. And if he didn’t want to have sex…. well ok. It was not what she dreamed of but it was better than before. She wondered about (but didn’t question) his sexuality. He left her for another man.

Her current relationship began like a “fairytale”. He was a businessman, attentive, giving; she was excited, happy. After a short courtship, she gave up all she had created living alone for 5 years to move in with him. Three months later, she began noticing money missing from their checking account, his habit of stepping outside to take phone calls, texts late at night or early in the morning and the constant presence of his ex-wife on the periphery of their relationship. When confronted, he’d fain ignorance, followed by admissions of contacts with and money given to his ex-wife, apologies and promises to stop…followed by more of the same.

So, she called and scheduled an appointment. She told me about her life and her decision to leave her businessman. She cried and told me she had wasted her life.

As she talked, I thought of a song, “The Sadder but Wised Girl for Me” from the 1960’s musical, Music Man, starring Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. In the film, Mr. Preston sings a song about wanting not a young and beautiful woman to marry but rather the girl that has lived life a little and experienced some of its harshness in life and love. His theory was that the young and beautiful woman would be very manipulative to get what she wants. The other woman however, would be more realistic and thereby more appreciative of his efforts. They, in turn, would both be happy.

I told her about “the sadder but wiser girl”. I further affirmed her decision (influenced by her father’s life and her own want for a better life) to marry “up”.  I challenged her to recognize that her previous decisions (to be with the men she had been with) were her best efforts at the time to create her hoped for life. I also challenged her to evaluate if living alone would not be better than the lives she had been living.

I encouraged her to grieve that loss of her dream and give honor to her father I further encouraged her to praise the dream her younger self (to marry an attentive business man and provided her a modest amount of the better things in life) and yet to tell this younger woman that she would, from hence forth, be in charge of her life dreams and would be remaking the dream she would live and strive for.

Ironically, at the end of the session, she told me of an old friend, a man, factory worker, who lives in a nearby town and who has, for years, periodically called her, asking how she was and if she would like to go for coffee.

More later…..

 

 

“Don’t Touch the Stove!”

Do you remember being told that as a child, “Don’t touch the stove, you will get burned!”? I remember that. And, by the way, I did touch the stove as a child….tried to pick up the bright orangish-red grill….and burned the crap out of my hand!!!!

Anyway, the focus of this blog is the importance to learning to let go of childhood teachings like, “Don’t touch the stove!”, and replacing them with more relevant principles to live by.

I spend a lot of time in my office working with people who are successful in many areas of their lives but get tripped up by old childhood teachings. “Don’t touch the stove” is only one example of such. Others include:

“Good girls don’t”,

He should call her….ask her out for a date….and pay,

Masturbation is bad,

Saying “No” (especially if you are female),

Not always wanting sex or wanting to cuddle (if you are male),

Boys don’t cry,

Good parents never yell at their kids and

God will be angry with you if you divorce.

The best way to identify your childhood rules is to “follow your shame”. When we are children and are told important rules, most of us take these rules in at a very deep level. So deep that when we break them, we not only feel guilty, we feel ashamed. We feel not only was it bad that we broke the rule but that we are bad.

Just as you know, now, that you can touch the stove, it is important to look around in your life and identify other rules about which you still feel guilty and ashamed.

The link below is to a radio show on NPR, The Moth Radio Hour. This is a show during which participants tell stories about significant events in their lives. During the December 1st episode, entitled “Pizza, Polar Bears and Rock Stars”, a participant, Moshe Schulman recounts the very first time he (a devout Jewish young boy) ate sausage pizza (Pork is prohibited in the Jewish faith.). His description and the emotion in the story took me back to many rules I have worked to let go of (and some I still struggle with!). Worth a listen

 

https://themoth.org/stories/then-you-will-know

 

Family Picture

I recently talked with a gentleman that commented that he was having a family picture taken soon with his wife and 2 sons. He commented on how much of a sham eh thought the picture would be in light of the struggles he had been having with his wife. In truth, he was struggling with his wife but it was nothing I would consider extreme or relationship-threatening. The issues were important but resolvable.

Anyway, I got to thinking about his comment about the picture being a sham….the ideal picture of the happy family and everyone smiling….and him knowing the reality…namely that recently, she and he had had some big fights.

After considerable thought, I realized some things:

  1. With all (family) pictures, there is the reality of the picture and what is behind the picture. There is the wonderful closeness, for example, of a couple or family all together and happy (when we are at our best) and the un-photographed moments of the angry looks, accusations, actions (when we are at our worst). This is life.

 

  1. With that having been said, there is the factor of degree to be considered. The more extreme the ugliness that occurs between the people in the photo, the more unreal or fake the happiness is presented in the picture. And, likewise, the less extreme the ugliness is, the more genuine the happiness is in the smiles of those in the picture.

 

  1. Be aware, if the ugliness behind the picture is extreme and the couple stay together, then, yes, the picture is a sham of what it represents….that of a happy family.

 

  1. Further, if the people are really not happy together (if the picture is a sham), then it, the picture, can be an unhappy motivator for one or both people of the couple to do something to change things in the relationship; either get into therapy or divorce, etc.

 

  1. Finally, our society looks upon a family picture as an iconic or status symbol in achieving happiness and success in personal maturity, marriage and living life in general. This can have a detrimental effect if there is extreme struggle present in the relationship and/or the couple needing therapeutic assistance. Simply, because the couple looks so good in the picture, they don’t want to acknowledge the reality that they are in fact unhappy together and need help.

 

Things to ponder.

More later….

Why Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I am working with a young woman, 33, beautiful, industrious, business-owner, intelligent….but struggling to break up with a boyfriend.

If allowed, she would spend A LOT of time talking about how thoughtful he can be, how giving he is, etc. Only when pushed however will she talk about how unstable she feels when around him, how unpredictable he is, how he can turn on her and yell at her for 30 minutes straight AND THEN apologize, telling her most of what he just said about her was “not fair”.

They have been together 3 years. They became intimate shortly after they began dating and he moved in within a few months thereafter given his lease ran out (He thought it was foolish for them to both pay rent especially if they were always going to be together as they had been up to that point.  She thought that made sense.). Their relationship was characterized, almost immediately, with fights and arguments followed by intense love making and intimacy. Gradually, he began to leave her and live with friends for weeks/gradually months. They broke up many times….only to start talking after a few weeks and his eventual move back in.

She wants to break up with him…knows she needs to.

She reports a history of dating men similar to her current relationship – frequent fights followed by passionate sex.

I picked her to discuss because her struggle with breaking up demonstrates how important one’s thinking plays in the process of making important decisions.

Based on the way the brain is structured, we are capable of thinking cognitively or emotionally. Cognitive (logical or rational) thinking is located in the Cerebral Cortex, the outer shell of the brain. Emotional thinking originates from the Limbic System, especially the Amygdala, located deep inside the brain.

Typically, we will use a mix of both types of thinking and the type of thinking used is selected automatically based on how we interpret our environment, but we do have the ability to switch from one type of thinking to the other.

Now, let’s look at the situation this young woman is facing and her thinking. She is trying to think through her situation with her emotional brain:

  1. She likes to focus on being “in love” with him…how wonderful it is to make love with him, how he is when he is thoughtful, caring, giving, etc. She is ignoring a larger picture…that he is also unpredictable, hurtful, mean, etc.; realizations that come from thinking logically through the situation.

 

  1. “If I break up with him, will another man like him (passionate, kind, thoughtful) ever come along.” emotional thinking. And she thinks this despite her long history of picking out guys exactly like him.

 

  1. “It feels so right”. This is emotional thinking again and FYI, the logic of affairs; “…it feels so right (when I am with my lover), it can’t be wrong”!

 

  1. “If I break up with him, I will never find another man.”…ignoring the fact that she has a lot of offer someone else and the fact that she has had a long string of boyfriend thus far!

 

  1. “It would all be ok if he just wouldn’t get so mad”….but he does, repeatedly, historically!

 

More later.

 

 

What is Love? via “Meet Joe Black”

Very frequently, I discuss what love is in my office with the people I see. Literally, I focus them on how love looks in relationships. Few times have I found a better description of it than that description given in the film, “Meet Joe Black”.

In the film, Death takes a holiday and visits earth as a human being, in the body of Brad Pitt, going by the name of Joe Black. He visits a particularly successful businessman played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, and his family. Death’s true identity is unknown to all but Hopkins; they are under the impression that Joe is simply a business associate/advisor. At one point, Death/Joe has a discussion with Hopkins’ son-in-law, “Quincy”, played by Jeffery Tambor.

Joe: “Quin, I find myself a little confused”

Quincy: “Confused…huh. What about?”

Joe: Love.

Quincy: Love. Ah… (Chuckles). Oh man…and I thought I had problems!

Joe: You love Alison (Quincy’s wife), don’t you.

Quincy: Yes!  I do (seriously, earnestly).

Joe: How did you meet?

Quincy: Well, I was this world-class loser and she was a happy little rich girl…and

for some reason, she took me in.”

Joe: “…but Alison loves you…?”

Quincy: (smiling broadly, he nods affirmatively)

Joe: “But how do you know?”

Quincy: “Because she knows the worst thing about me and it’s ok.”

Joe: “What is it?”

Quincy: “No…it’s not just one thing. It’s an idea…huh…it’s like….you know each

others deepest, darkest secrets…”

Joe: “Your deepest, darkest secrets…?”

Quincy: “Yeah…and then (with enthusiasm) you’re free!”

Joe: “Free…?”

Quincy: “…you’re free…to be with each other, love each other…totally. And there is

no fear…because there’s nothing you don’t know about each other and it’s

Ok.”

Joe: “Oh…”

I think that is a very good definition.

I read a book once about women and finances. It suggested before a woman marries, she and her espoused should sit and completely reveal to each other their personal finances, completely. I think they described this as “finding out who you are really getting into bed with”. Sounds like a very good idea, especially in the state of Illinois where spouses are held equally responsible for their partner’s debts.

You can see the similarities between this idea with finances and Quincy’s idea with revealing all your secrets with your lover.

I think the idea and practice is worth consideration, discussion and practice.

More later.

Guidelines for Sex After 60

Below is from a handout I received while attending a workshop recently.  Having reached 60 this past August, I found the ideas very compelling.  The information is worth a read and conversation with your partner.

 

  1. You are a sexual person throughout your life, no matter what your age.  Age does not cause sexuality to cease.

 

  1. Key to maintaining a vital sexuality is to integrate intimacy, non-demand pleasuring, and erotic scenarios and techniques.

 

  1. Contrary to popular mythology, when couples stop being sexual it is the man’s decision in over 90% of cases because he finds sex frustrating and embarrassing. He makes the decision unilaterally and conveys it non-verbally.

 

  1. Sexuality is more likely to remain functional and satisfying when both the man and woman value a variable, flexible, pleasure-oriented couple sexual style rather than an individual performance-oriented, pass-fail intercourse test.

 

  1. With aging your hormonal, vascular, and neurological systems function less efficiently, so psychological, relational, and psychosexual skill factors become more important in maintaining a healthy, resilient sexuality.

 

  1. The best aphrodisiac is an involved, aroused partner – you turn toward each other as intimate and erotic allies.

 

  1. The “give to get” pleasuring guideline has a particular value for the aging couple. This promotes mutual stimulation, multiple stimulation, and accepting asynchronous sexual experiences.

 

  1. The major physiological changes in male sexual response are that it takes more time and more direct penile stimulation to obtain an erection, your erection is not as firm and more likely to wane, and there is a lessened need to ejaculate at each sexual opportunity.

 

  1. The major physiological changes in female sexual response are diminished vaginal lubrication that usually necessitates using a vaginal lubricant, thinner vaginal walls, increased time and stimulation required for arousal and orgasm, and less intense orgasmic response.

 

  1. Small doses of estrogen replacement for women, use of Viagra for men, and testosterone for both men and women are not “magic cures.” However, these can be positive resources for sexual function when integrated into your couple intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism style. These need to be prescribed and monitored by a physician, not purchased from an Internet site.

 

  1. Positive, realistic expectations are crucial in maintaining a health sexual relationship. Do not compare sexuality in the 60’s to the sexuality you experienced when you were 20. Focus on quality and pleasure, not quantity and performance.  The good news is you can be sexual when you are in your 80’s.

 

  1. Sexuality is more than genitals, intercourse, and orgasm. Sexuality involves sensual, playful, erotic and intercourse touch. Not all touch can or should result in intercourse.  Couples who enjoy the Good Enough Sex (GES) approach report high levels of desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction.

Him and Compliments

Recently, I spoke with a woman who had received a promotion and raise at her work. She was quite excited and told her husband as soon as he got home. “That’s great, babe” was his reaction as he passed her on the way to the bedroom to change his clothes. She was hurt at his lack of excitement but called her mother and soon there were plans made to celebrate her accomplishment the following weekend; her parents and brothers would be there, they would go out to her favorite restaurant, etc.

A week later, he, in passing, told her that his mother had called and said they, his parents, were not coming to visit as had been planned. “Oh honey, I am so sorry. I know you were looking forward to them visiting.” “Yeah, well….” was his only response as he booted up his video game and began to play. He plays video games a lot, especially when upset.

I have seen this dynamic before, in mostly younger couples….him having little sense of how to and the importance of compliments in a relationship and the inability to verbalize disappointment. In my experience, this leads to a lot of hurt feelings on her part and a lot of pent-up frustration and anger on his.

A couple of points….

  1. Women are taught and are hormonally geared to focusing on the needs and feelings of others. Girls watch their mothers, teachers, nurses, etc. take care other others. Further, their primary hormones are estrogen and progesterone and these facilitate the care-taking reaction with the people around them. Men, on the other hand, are taught to set, focus on and achieve their goals and provide/do for others, primarily their family; typically seen in the forms of a paycheck and “doing” things around the house. They have seen other men do this when they were young and their primary hormone is testosterone, which facilitates these actions. This explains some of his reactions above.

2. My experience is that men need to be taught how to give and the importance of compliments, especially when it comes to their partners. I                    have worked with a number of couples in which he really didn’t realize how important his compliments are to her…and had no idea how she                wanted to be complimented….and these were men from fairly well socialized families!

In therapy sessions, I frequently check out how he responds to her accomplishments…what he says to her, what he does, etc. and what his thinking is when he is not complimentary. Often, he will tell me he doesn’t think his compliments are that important…to her or anyone. He will also frequently report he had never seen any of the significant men in his life compliment their women. Men have told me they didn’t think their opinion/compliments meant that much to her or others and that if anything were to show his admiration for her success, it would be something like taking her out for dinner or buying her something (…or not complain when she does make such purchases.). You can see the male socialization impact in his reactions….doing is more important and saying and being (a provider) is more important than being present.

My suggestion: Women…understand your man may not know how important his compliments are. Explain this to him. He may not know how to compliment you, especially what to say. Tell him what to say when complimenting you. Only you know what the words you most want to hear.

Men…you need to develop this skill (unless you like sleeping with a sad, frustrated and/or angry woman!). You need to watch for opportunities to compliment her. You must learn it spot them. You need to think about what to say to her when complimenting her and/or ask her what she most wants to hear when being complimented and then say such at the appropriate times.

 

More later….