Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Falling Back In Love

Thanks to J&B for letting me use their photo
A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
- Mignon McLaughlin
Remember that time when you were madly in love with your partner? It was enough to be in the same room with them to feel happy. Going for hikes, skiing, dancing, cooking together, having fascinating conversations, learning about each other, laughing at silly things, and staring each other in the eyes... Sometimes looking back it may be hard to believe that you two actually enjoyed each others' company so much... Things have changed. Some of it is time, some of it is habituation, but some of it is the gradual decrease of effort. Drifting apart is not uncommon amongst couples who spent many years together, however the real question is: can this be reversed? Is it possible to fall back in love? Even though I do not have the answer to this question, I have decided to play with an interesting idea that actually may turn out to be a part of the solution...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Easy Fixes in Therapy and in Life

Photo by Moko 2014
"Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."
 - Booker T. Washington

I have been using an internet marketplace to connect to people in need of therapy. I was very surprised to see how many people who are trying to incorporate a positive change in their life seek hypnotherapy instead of psychotherapy. It made me wonder what it is about hypnotherapy that makes it so appealing to so many people. According to The British Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis:"In therapy, hypnosis usually involves the person experiencing a sense of deep relaxation with their attention narrowed down, and focused on appropriate suggestions made by the therapist." To me one of the differences between hypnosis and therapy is that in the former things are done to the client, whereas in the latter things are accomplished with the client (hence requiring a lot of work). Maybe that is where the popularity of hypnotherapy comes from? We don't want to suffer and work hard ourselves, but we do like to see quick and radical effects. You don't have to invest time and energy, you don't have to consciously work on painful material- you simply get hypnotized and when you come back to  consciousness - poof! - the problem is already solved for you. Unfortunately most deep, lasting, and meaningful changes are not that drastic, and definitely not that quick.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Principles, Integrity and Relationships "Fading Away"

'Fading Away' Photo by Moko 2014
When I first heard about the concept of "fading away" in regards to ending a relationship, I thought it sounded pretty romantic. I imagined a silhouette of an ex-boyfriend slowly drifting away in a fog of distant memories. His voice, at first so vivid, fading into the abyss of memory, the details of his appearance slowly losing their sharpness... Anyways, it was not even close to what I imagined. "Fading away" does not apply to the process of recovering and naturally distancing oneself from an ex-partner after the breakup, but rather it is a new way of breaking up.
Or more precisely, avoiding breaking up by withdrawing slowly from someone else's life. How does it work? When you're no longer interested, you simply stop seeing the person you once dated and replace personal contact with text messages or e-mails that progressively become less and less frequent... until they completely cease. You become a void (at least in theory).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Trapped In Endless Choices

Photo by Moko 2014
"The difficulty in life is the choice." 
- George A. Moore

I recently read an interesting interview with Renata Salecl, a Slovenian philosopher and author of the book, "The Tyranny of Choice"*.  According to Salecl, the multitude of choices that we are exposed to in the modern world is responsible for the heightened anxiety that so many of us experience (see my post on anxiety). We are convinced that we can make rational and optimal decisions in all areas of our lives. However, with each choice comes suffering caused by a sense of loss of other options. We end up living with regrets, constantly wondering that maybe if we had chosen something else we would be happier.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Committed to Porn

Photo by Moko 2014
Linda and Jerry were a great couple. They truly enjoyed each other's company, had great
conversations, and laughed a lot together, even six years after they got married. There was one thing however that was not great: their sex life. At least Linda didn't think it was great. They both seem to have low libidos, which didn't seem right for how young they were. What was even more surprising was that Jerry didn't mind having sex rarely and sporadically, which Linda thought was strange for a 33 year old man. Linda and Jerry decided to go to couples therapy where the therapist suggested some exercises aimed at increasing the passion between the partners. During one of the exercises Jerry mentioned that maybe quitting watching pornography would also help. Linda was very surprised when he mentioned pornography, as she didn't even know that was an issue. She also didn't want to know how serious the problem was, as Jerry promised to stop watching it. After a while things have gotten a little better, until Linda walked in on Jerry masturbating in front of his computer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Prisoners of Personality II

Do you ever wish you were as mellow as your friend who never gets angry with others? Or as outgoing as your partner who always seems to be the heart of the party? Or maybe sometimes you wish you were a little more spontaneous so that you could enjoy your life as much as your colleague who just quit her job and left to travel for a year in South America? Perhaps, to the contrary, you wish you were much less spontaneous and more organized, so that you could get a steady job and start a family like your older brother. In this post I will continue discussing personality from the angle of specific traits that, to a large degree, constitute who we are. As mentioned in my previous post, understanding and accepting one's personality is the first step to positive change. Our personalities impact our lives and we cannot really reject them or completely change them. What we can do is better understand the aspects of our personalities that tend to bother us and get in the way of accomplishing our goals. Only after understanding our innate predispositions we can learn to control them and work with them.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Prisoners of Personality?

"I am what is mine. Personality is the original personal property." - Norman O. Brown

I have always been fascinated with personality and its impact on our lives. Personality determines how we interact with the environment, and through that it shapes our experience and our lives. Personality is considered to remain stable throughout life, hence it can be looked at as our life sentence, or at least our destiny. It is okay if we like our personality traits, it is much more challenging if we don't. We don't want to be prisoners of our innate predispositions; we want to believe we are capable of changing. As a therapist I firmly believe change is possible - my whole work revolves around helping others to change. However, it is not that the personality changes in the process of therapeutic work, but rather the way we utilize and express our personalities in everyday life. Our personality is our original personal property and since we cannot reject it or deny it, we should learn to respect it. But first things first: What is personality?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Things That Matter the Most

Photo by Moko 2014
Let's hurry to love people, 
they vanish so quickly

And all that's left behind 
are empty shoes, a deaf phone...

Only what's unimportant drags on forever,
That what really matters happens much too quickly...

Don't be certain there's still time,
for certainty is uncertain...

We constantly love too little, 
and perpetually, too late... 
                              - Jan Twardowski

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Assert Yourself!

This post is about your right to communicate your thoughts, wishes and intentions in a clear manner. It is about assertiveness. Most of us occasionally forget about this important right and then have to suffer the consequences of compromising our own needs. However, lack of assertiveness can be especially damaging if it becomes a rule rather than an exception to our functioning in relationships with others. Whether submissiveness is one of the challenges you're frequently struggling with, or a sporadic slip that causes minor frustration, this article may be a good reminder of the importance of clear, confident communication.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings...

Note: In psychology there is a differentiation between the terms "feelings" and "emotions", but for the purpose of this article I will use these terms interchangeably.  

According to George Orwell, "Not to expose your true feelings to an adult seems to be instinctive from the age of seven or eight onwards." I would take Orwell's claim to the next level: adults not only avoid exposing their true feelings, but they are having difficulties acknowledging them and honoring them even in their own minds. Why are we so wary of following our own internal responses? What makes us dismiss our feelings so eagerly? And finally, what are some possible consequences of rejecting this important intrinsic feedback that evolution prepared for us? 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Worry Overkill

The Scream - Edvard Munch, 1893
"I can't get to sleep, I think about the implications of diving in too deep, and possibly the complications... Especially at night - I worry over situations I know will be all right, perhaps it's just imagination... Day after day it reappears... Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear..." The music group Men at Work very accurately described a state of anxiety that many people are struggling with. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, generalized anxiety disorders affect about 6.8 million American adults, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and preventing them from fully enjoying their lives. Even though we all know that "Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength,"* this knowledge does not prevent us from preoccupying our minds with the fears of the future. What are the roots of this worry overkill that so many people suffer from and how can we change the exhausting patterns of a fear-laden life? This will be the focus of today's post.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cost of Conformity

A few days ago I was reminded of how uncomfortable practicing nonconformity can be. In a professional group of adults that I attended, participants were asked to share very personal information with the group. As I did not feel like sharing anything personal, nor did I know the group members very well, I decided to go rogue and announced I won’t be participating in this activity. I was surprised to find out that I was the only person who went against the expectation of the group, even though I would not be surprised if many of the people wanted to do the same. I have to admit that being the only person in the group who did not conform was anxiety provoking and I did not like the feeling of being singled out. This situation triggered some thoughts about conformity and its function in our lives and evoked some questions that I am trying to answer in this post. Why do we avoid standing out even at the cost of compromising our own values and beliefs? Why do we fear being different? And why is the fear of being different so often greater than the need to speak one’s truth or stand up for what one believes is right?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Grow Old Along With Me...

Photo by Moko, 2014

Grow old along with me... Two branches of one tree... Face the setting sun when the day is done... This is a beautiful vision of a relationship that lasts until the end, presented by John Lennon in his song. Many of us dream of a relationship that will last forever (i.e. until we or our partner die). And most of us know couples that actually did last together until they died. However, to me the real questions are: Were they happy spending their lives together? What was it that kept them together for so long? Was it "True Love,” or maybe simple commitment, not even related to valuing loyalty, but rather associated to their perceived social expectations or religious rules? Is it even possible to enjoy the same partner one's whole life? In this brief post I would like to talk a little about the triangular theory of love by Robert Sternberg and the component of the relationship that is a good predictor of not only being able to share your whole life with your partner, but actually enjoying your life together. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Unbearable Lightness of Being

Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is one of my favorite books of all time. The title itself describes a state that many of us are just too familiar with. It is a state of dissatisfaction, emptiness, a void that is there even though seemingly all of our needs are satisfied. Life is not hard - it is not presenting you with any challenges, you have a good job, your relationship works well, and you even attempt to include some entertainment into your schedule by socializing with your friends, traveling, or picking up a hobby. But something is still missing. Seemingly everything is fine and the lightness associated to the lack of problems should feel good. But it doesn't, and it feels like something very important is missing. Viktor Frankl summarized this state of unbearable lightness in a simple statement, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Pulling Yourself Up By the Bootstraps

Photo by Moko 2014
How many times have you heard someone saying to themselves, "I should be able to stop complaining and pull myself up by my bootstraps"? How many times have you heard someone saying that to you? Maybe a well meaning parent, a friend, your partner? Finally, how many times have you said it to yourself? After hearing several clients refer to this saying while addressing their difficult situations, I decided I have some issues with it. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

“Once Upon a Time…”- A few words on the function of fairy tales in learning about the world

“Fairy tales to me are never happy, sweet stories. They're moral stories about overcoming the dark side and the bad.” - Joe Wright
Photo by Moko 2014
As a young child I used to love to hear dark stories. Happy, simple plots could only hold my attention and interest for a limited time, but the sad or scary ones stuck with me for hours, days, or even years after hearing them. My sister and I had a collection of beautifully illustrated books with stories that I adored. It was mostly fairy tales written by brothers Grimm and Andersen, completely “uncensored” with their rough and dark plots. In those stories, the Little Mermaid dies of sorrow (turns into sea foam) after she is rejected by the love of her life and Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by the evil wolf because she did not use caution. Cinderella is verbally and emotionally abused by her cruel stepmother and the lonely Little Match Girl freezes to death dreaming of a better world while not having a place in the real one. Snow White does not have anyone close and dear to her in the world and little Kai gets deceived by the beautiful, but evil, Snow Queen and changes from a kind and loving boy into a mean and cruel person. Hansel and Gretel, lost and alone in a forest, trust the wrong person and are forced to take a life in order to survive.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Healthy Relationships: The Art of Compromises, Not Sacrifices

Ava always wanted to have a house with a garden and a Siamese cat that she would call “Sphinx”. Growing up at her parent’s apartment she was not allowed to have pets because her parents considered them dirty and expensive. After finding a well-paid job she moved to a bigger city and rented a studio. She believed she was getting closer to fulfilling her dream of buying a house and getting a cat. Then she met Mark and married him. She still dreamt of Sphinx running in her backyard, but Mark preferred a modern apartment in the city, and was not very fond of animals. For the sake of their marriage Ava decided to drop her dreams - she bought a nice apartment in the city with Mark and was trying to forget about the cat and house she dreamt about for years.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Demystifying Psychotherapy

Ever since I started studying psychology I began to encounter people’s mistrust associated to my profession of choice. Friends started to joke, “You must have diagnosed all of us already,” (and based on their behavior I knew they were not just joking); family members suggested, “So maybe you could help me figure out what’s wrong with me,” and even strangers met on a train or at a party, after discovering my area of interest, commented, “You’ve probably been analyzing me the whole time!” These cases illustrate the uncertainty and fear associated to psychology, and specifically psychotherapy. Even though therapy has become more and more common and less stigmatized, people are still afraid that the therapist will be able to discover things about them they do not wish to reveal, or, that they will be judged by others should they find out they are seeing a therapist. Psychologists and psychotherapists are often perceived as wizards, who, by utilizing mysterious tricks not only are able to discover some dark facts about their clients, but will also manipulate them to behave in a certain way.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Year’s resolutions: Turning wishful thinking into actual change

Photo by Moko 2014
“Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it. New year's resolutions are often like that. We make resolutions because we know it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children. The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep.” – Peter Singer
2014 is almost here! Many of us consider this time of transitioning to a new year a perfect time to make changes in our lives. A new year is a tabula rasa, a blank slate that we get to cover in any fashion we want. New hairstyle, new diet, new partner, new health habits, NEW ME, is the way many of us dream to start a new year. It is very easy to get lost in the jungle of unrealistic resolutions Bridget Jones’s style, which can lead to a significant level of disappointment in our capability to change. That in result means starting a new year, a new chapter of our life, as we like to think about it, with a higher level of guilt and most likely lower self esteem (“If I cannot keep my resolutions that means I’m a loser!”). Especially during this time it is important to keep in mind that change is a process that happens over time. If we think that drastically changing habits can happen overnight, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holidays: In Search of YOUR OWN Tradition

Photo by Moko 2013
Note: I used the term “Christmas” instead of “holidays” as this is the tradition I grew up and am familiar with. Feel free to replace it with your own holiday!       
Christmas is around the corner, and as the famous song claims, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” The city brightens with thousands of holiday lights, the smell of gingerbread and evergreen swirls through the air, and the radio and TV emits joyful holiday music. Many of us when asked what is the most important thing about Christmas will say: family, relationships, and being together. But let’s not fool ourselves - shopping, gifts, and delicious food are important parts of the holidays, too. Furthermore, the stress associated to holiday preparations and gift expenses often times prevents us from fully celebrating the meaning of Christmas. Maybe then, the joyous lyrics of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” should be adjusted to “It’s the most stressful time of the year.” Should an occasion as happy as Christmas be the source of significant stress? If not, then why are we allowing our holidays to become a nerve-racking experience?