Do You Mind?

Dr. Dave’s Golden Rules

Doesn’t it seem ironic the people who seem to talk the most about not wanting drama in their lives end up creating a lot of drama around themselves?  People want their lives to be less complicated, less problematic and less having to put up with other people’s stuff.  Unfortunately, people often don’t realize how they are responsible for 90% of the drama they experience in their lives.  Honestly, I don’t have a lot of drama in my life.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and how I got here.  I certainly remember plenty of times when my life was more complicated, problematic, and drama-focused.  What changed?  I recently realized that, somewhat unconsciously, I was developing a perspective of interaction with the world which was actually helping me to reduce the incidence of drama in my life.  It’s about having good boundaries but I can describe it in three Golden Rules which I now live by.

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be:  The financial guru Dave Ramsey says to not lend any money to anyone ever.  He says if you give money to someone; give it as a gift, never expecting it back. I never lend anything to anyone.  Equally important, I don’t ask for anything either.  You have to give as good as you get.  Asking people to lend you stuff, not only creates a dynamic of “borrowship” that always has the potential to become problematic, but also has the psychological effect of teaching you to rely on others to solve your problems rather than yourself.  You are more resourceful than you think.  So is everyone else around you.  Give them the freedom to work things out on their own.  Besides, I don’t know many people who are anxious to relay stories of when they lent or borrowed money and it turned out well.  Leave it for the banks.

Don’t Take in Strays:  I mean this more in the metaphorical sense rather than the cat or dog who comes to hang out in your yard.  However, just like the cat, there are plenty of people who their apparent being in need of a helping hand has actually become an unconscious survival skill. You think you are acting out of the kindness of your heart but end up feeling used and taken advantaged.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in mentorship and giving people the opportunity and tools to grow.  I’m very careful to not put myself in positions where I will feel betrayed by my kindness.

Don’t Get Involved:  Probably the most important rule and most overlooked by general society.  Every day on Facebook I see situations where I could get involved, perhaps even be useful (in my opinion only probably), but I don’t because I realize it’s none of my business.  Every day I encounter face to face conversations where I could get involved, but again, realize it’s none of my business. I have found letting people work through their life issues without the benefit of my vast knowledge, experience and social know-how, is not only better for me, but better for them as well.

Here’s the reality:  people don’t want your advice or opinion nearly as often you think.  Then there’s the law of reciprocity:  If I give you advice, it automatically means (to you) I want the same from you. People may want your help and/or your money, but most of that is an unconscious survival skill that will not give you the anticipated good feeling and gratitude as a result.  Here’s another reality:  I can say with a high degree of certainty no one who knows me thinks I’m cold, a jerk, or even unhelpful. I’ve just learned to have good boundaries.

Managing Your EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a governmental entity that regulates the way Americans interact with the environment, but we each have an individual “EPA” that governs how we individually interact with the environment. In that caseEPA stands for expectations, perceptions and attitude.  Whether you realize it or not, whenever you walk into a room you already have a preconceived notion of what’s going to happen, what the “climate” of the situation will be and how things will turn out.  In some cases it can be largely unconscious, especially in routine matters, but others can be very much in the forefront of your mind. Let’s take a look at how your EPA forms ideas about things.

Expectations – Do you think other people, such as your parents, friends, co-workers, supervisors, children, etc., put expectations on you?  How well do you live up to those expectations?  Do you care?  The fact is we put expectations on everyone around us and everyone around us puts expectations on us.  For either bad or good, we have to deal with these expectations every day.  Often they can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting.  Frequently, relationships last in turmoil for years or become destroyed due to the pressure of expectations that never change.

Perception – I define perception as our tendency to see reality as a perfect construction from our point of view. In other words, we tend to believe what we believe is real.  Anything that defies that belief is suspect.  The real reality is reality is subjective.  I grew up in an era when we were taught as kids most of life is comprised of fundamental truths and undeniable facts and anything challenging that foundation is evil and against God.  There are still plenty of people who would prefer that than consider reality is actually subjective.  The reason for that is, in our search for individual meaning, we want something we can hold on to; something outside ourselves to believe in.  It makes us feel real.  Unfortunately, it also can make us very short sighted.

Attitude – this is how we feel about the reality we perceive.  If my perception of reality is pleasant, and my expectation is that reality will continue, then my attitude will be happy.  If my perception of reality is unpleasant because someone expects me to be someone I’m not, or do something I’d rather not, then my attitude is unpleasant.  Unfortunately for most us, we see our attitude as purely reactionary.  “I only feel this way based upon what is happening around me.  I have no choice to feel differently.”  If we choose to take an active role with our attitude, we can truly turn our world around.  I’ve often heard many times throughout my life, and seen it posted on Facebook many times, “Happiness is a choice you make.”  It’s a very hard concept to wrap your head around when things aren’t going the way you want them to, but the more I study and meditate on it, I realize it to be true.

So how can you improve your EPA?  Recognize the expectations of others are about them, not about you.  Think of them as a suggestion rather than a mandate.  As Madonna says, “Poor is the man, who’s pleasures depend upon the permission of another.”  Also take stock of the expectations you place on those around you?  Who is fighting you back?  Perhaps it’s time to look at those relationships in a new way to see what needs to be renegotiated. You have to realize what you are doing is not working. You also have to realize “reality”does not rest solely on our perspective of “what is.” Ask yourself the old question, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Additionally, know your attitude about your life every day is something you choose.  If you choose it to be reactionary, then you become a slave to it.  Own it and set yourself free.

Who Are You?

I have spent countless conversations with clients about the need to develop a good sense of self.  “sense of self” is one of those phrases often bandies about by people who don’t really know what it means.  They see it on facebook, and think, “oh, what a great thing to say to people when they seem confused!”

 

“It sounds like you need to develop a good sense of self”

 

It’s just like the phrase, “Being present in the moment”.  I hear people say that all the time, like it’s something that you just get up and do.  Being in the moment is hard, hard work.  I will spend the rest of my life trying to get halfway there.  It’s not a goal it’s a process of learning.  I find that every day, I discover new ways of being in the moment and recognizing the many ways I’m rejecting the moment.

 

Having a good sense of self is just as complex.  I gre up without having a good sense of self.  OF course, when you grow up in an outgroup like I did, it’s almost part of the bargain that you are plagued with self doubt and wrestle with your own self concept.  I remember as a little kid, watch cartoons on Saturday morning and seeing one of those educational shorts, where I was instructed to “just be myself”.  I remember thinking, “I have no idea what that means”.  Consequently, I could only interpret that as “There must be something very, very wrong with me.”

 

As an adult, I’ve listened to all the platitudes about self-concept development and tried to follow the rhetoric about becoming me.  I’ve tried to look at my values, understand what I believe in, and become more aware of all the roles I play in my life that identify me.  That’s all well and good, but I don’t think it helped me to really, truly understand who I am.

 

As most things in life, the answer is simple, but does not lie in the obvious.  What really helped me to develop a good sense of self are two things:  developing good boundaries and ascribing to clarity and integrity when communicating with others.

 

I used to hate to tell people “no.”  I want people to like me, so it became easy for me to assume that if “no” is oppositional and oppositional people don’t get liked.  It was extremely hard to change this behavior.  What felt like standing up to people (even though its often not that serious) made me weak in the knees and I was sure that I would push people away from me.

 

I also used to avoid saying things that need to be said.  I would allow people to behavior they way they want around me because it was so much easier than saying, ‘I;m not comfortable with that”.  Sometimes I would even agree with things I didn’t agree with because it seemed easier.  I thought to do otherwaise, would make me adversarial and adversarial people don’t get like.

 

So, I spent my life behaving this way not realizing the damage that it was continuing to do to my self concept, until I realized that I am allowing people to make me in their own image of who they think I should be.  There’s no getting a good sense of self from that!

 

I recently had a client tell me that he really didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore and was never really in love with the guy in the first place.  It just seemed like the other guy wanted to be in a relationship with him so badly, and it just seemed easier to go along to get along.

 

If you want a good sense of self, stop living for the convenience of others.  I’m no Pollyanna.  I know how difficult this can be.  People around you put a lot of pressure on you to be who they want you to be.  Every day of your life people will try to take your time, money, or attention.  That is a fact.  You can get resentful about it, you can let it overwhelm you until you are lost, or you can recognize the reality of it so you can learn to work with it.

 

When I started setting boundaries with others and dedicating myself to be clear with my word and speak with integrity, my sense of self came automatically.  Far from losing friends, I gained respect, which was an unexpected surprise. When I stopped living in the images created for me by others, it was easy to see myself.

Drama Addiction

I wrote a paper in my doctoral program entitled “Drama Addiction: The tempestuous Relationship”.  I was intrigued by the topic at the time, because I myself suspected I may be addicted to drama in relationships.  The paper is long gone on some forgotten 3.5 disk, but the idea behind it is not.  Back when I came up with the idea, the internet didn’t exist for much and I remember being able to find only one book related to the subject at the Barnes and Noble. Now, a Google search for “drama addiction” yields over 21 million returns.  I didn’t look through them all, but even a glance at page 10 revealed many of the returns are actually related to the idea of a tumultuous relationship becoming so routine it can feel not only normal, but also become addicting.

I don’t remember all the fine points of the paper, but the general ideas come back to me.  I’ve updated the terminology to better reflect the current time. There are three main categories drama addiction can all into:  Fantasy, Maelstrom, and Longing, or “FML” for short.  Let’s explore each of these in more detail:

Fantasy – this is mindset of being in love with love.  A lasting relationship does not have a chance with this person, because he/she is unable to make it past the romantic stage.  Once the romance wears off, the relationship ceases to become interesting and then all sorts of problems arise until the relationship ends.  Typically the fantasist will feel very hurt and wondering why he/she can’t find the right relationship, only to bounce back very quickly for the next person who turns his/her head and the pattern repeats.

Maelstrom – So many behavioral patterns can fit into this category, but the behaviors are largely focused on anything creating turmoil:  fighting, suspiciousness, insecurity, controlling behavior, defensiveness and judgment.    This person is unable to relax in a relationship and give him/herself the opportunity to trust the other person.  He/she really and truly thinks while a long-term loving relationship is the number one priority, there is the likelihood something will go horribly wrong at any minute, so it’s best be on guard and ready to fight.

Longing – this person is attracted to people who are unavailable in some way, either emotionally or physically, unwilling to commit, or not able to reciprocate the attraction/feelings for whatever reason.  This person will fall madly, truly, deeply in love with anyone who fits the above criteria, only to fall into despair and bewilderment about why he/she can’t have this person to love and cherish.  It could all be so wonderful, if only…

People who become addicted to these dynamics have a hard time recognizing how destructive they are.  Typically, it appears the real problems lie elsewhere. Like we so often do, we tell ourselves lies to shield us from the fear of being vulnerable:

F – I know I can be amazing in the right relationship.  I am so good at giving love.  I just haven’t found the right person yet who is truly deserving of all the love I have to give.

M – I want to be in a relationship, but the right person is hard to find.  Everyone has an agenda, everyone plays games.  I thought I had met the right person in the past, but he/she always turns out to be someone different than who I thought.

L – Why doesn’t he love me?  We would be so perfect together.  No one can love him like I could.  I just don’t understand why he can’t see what is right for him.

It all seems so crazy when you look at it on paper, but many people are easily seduced into this behavior.  Why?  There are several reason for doing so.

Biological – first the brain, being distinct from the mind, likes to be stimulated.  The brain loves to fire its electro-chemical impulses.  That’s why any addiction is so powerful.  Anything that can cause increased neuronal firing can create an addiction:  alcohol and drugs, sugar, anger and experiences that create excitement like gambling and being in love.  The problem is the brain doesn’t distinguish between good stimulation and bad stimulation.  That is the mind’s job.  For the brain any stimulation is good stimulation and will be sufficient.  It can be a very powerful pull that can confuse the mind.

Behavioral – We tend to learn about the world by watching how others deal with the world.  Since there is no school for relationships, we learn from others what relationships look like and what people do in relationships.  Media and art make us believe romantic love can and should last forever; television and social media also teach us partners are not to be trusted and we deserve to be with the people we love, regardless of whether or not he is actually a suitable choice for a mate.  Also, a majority of people do not know how to cultivate a successful relationship.  It is a skill the majority doesn’t learn, and probably aren’t aware of the need to learn.  Therefore, there are more bad examples to follow than good.

Psychological – The main reason why people find themselves in all this distracting behavior is they don’t want to deal with their own stuff.  It is hard to look at your unconscious processes and motivations and to truly understand why you do what you do.  It is not only difficult, but sometimes it is pretty ugly too.  It feels too uncomfortable and it’s easier to ignore it and distract yourself with all of these really big problems, for which there are seemingly no answers.

So if you’ve read this far and found yourself anywhere above and think, “I really want to be different.  I want to fix this”, what do you do?

First, you have to identify the behavior and admit to yourself it is real.  Second, you have to ask yourself, “What is it I think I’m achieving through this behavior?  What is my goal?”  Very often, you might realize your goal is to give love and receive it in a way that doesn’t put you at risk for being hurt or being vulnerable.  Now you have to ask yourself again whether you truly believe those behaviors constitute the best approach to solving the problem or achieving that goal.

Probably not.

I very often see everyone so concerned with not getting hurt in relationships they create all of these distractions and barriers that end up hurting them more than if they were to do nothing in the first place.  Love that lasts and supports does not come from a place of defensiveness and suspicion.  It comes from a place of giving without scorekeeping.  It comes from a place of making a continual and very conscious effort to act in the way of the perceived greatest good for all concerned.

It is a very hard task which takes a lot of work.  Everyday.  It’s probably why so many people don’t do it.  It’s not uncommon to want something and think you are willing to work for it, but then not really put in the effort required and still wonder why it doesn’t work out.  It’s human nature.

There are no easy answers to this.  If it were easy then everyone would already be doing it.  However, here are some places to start:

  1. Define what love means to you.  Love doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.  We are programmed to think it does, but every person needs something a little different.  Once you define what love means for you, it will be easier for you to find it with someone else.
  2. Learn how you use your behavior and your communication as a weapon to control others.  Decide to give it up.  Instead learn and practice communication that facilitates understanding and growth.
  3. Understand a relationship is like anything else in your life you want to keep around: your job, your car or your dog.  It needs your attention every day and you have to invest in it every day.  You have to want it to be successful, which is not necessarily the same as getting everything you want anytime you want it.  The world doesn’t work that way. If you went to work and just assumed your job will do itself with as little input from you as possible, how long would you last before you were fired?
  4. Accept the partner you choose is not a person to be changed.  He will only give you his best in an environment that supports and draws it out.  Suspicious, controlling behavior does not bring out the best in people.  Neither do efforts to change them.
  5. Practice respect.

Love, like life, is complex and there are no easy answers.  It doesn’t mean the answers aren’t there.  The answers are learnable.  It may take time, but you may find the time is well invested.

Sssssshhhhhh! I’m Hunting Wabbits!

Do you remember the cartoons with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd?  The scene usually opens with Elmer tiptoeing through the forest, gun poised.  His eyes are wide open and he appears intense and focused.  It is clear he thinks of himself as an expert hunter, constantly aware of everything that is going on around him.  Then Bugs Bunny comes up, jacks his elbow on the gun barrel, and asks his trademark, “what’s up doc?”  To which Elmer always replies, “Sssssshhhh!  Be vewy, vewy, quiet.  I’m hunting Wabbits.”

 

I think this is a great allegory for people.  We like to think we are hyper-ware of our surroundings, able to recognize and respond to anything and everything that is going on around us.  Unfortunately like Elmer, we often are unaware of the very thing we need to be paying attention to.  This is usually because on an unconscious level, we are afraid to know.  So we busy our minds with what he’s doing, or what she’s wearing, or some minor irritation that convinces us we really don’t need to pay too close attention.

 

The problem is refusing to know, whether consciously or unconsciously, affects our relationships in negative ways and the quality of our relationships forms the basis of how we define our lives.  Here are some of the most common problems that are created by our lack of awareness:

 

Relationship going stale:  This is the number one problem in the world, as a matter of fact.  Think back to the beginning of your relationship.  Remember the amount of time, energy, and love you put into keeping the relationship exciting and interesting?  Many people think a relationship can be put on autopilot after the commitment is made, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. If your relationship is not where you want it to be, don’t look at your schedule, your children, your deadlines, or even his or her distance or cheating as the cause of the problem.  Most likely the problem is because you’ve stopped giving it the energy you once did.

 

Job going stale:  Same thing.  Remember how hard you tried to impress when you first got hired?  You really wanted to make this position work and perhaps grow with this company.  Then the daily routine set in, and doing your best no longer became a daily exercise.  Perhaps some things have happened with your boss or co-workers along the way that have soured you a bit.  Maybe you’ve started to feel like you’re doing them a favor by even showing up.  Life doesn’t always go the way we want.  We have conflict with family members and loved ones, too, and sometimes we don’t get from them what we want.  Does that mean we stop trying to have a relationship with them?  Sometimes, yes, but a lot of times no.  We deal with it and keep investing in the relationship.  Ask yourself how much are you investing in your current work position on a daily basis.

 

Body going stale:  Fitness does not happen by accident.  It gets harder as we age too.  Statistically, we are the most overweight, unhealthy society on the planet.  We blame it on the fast food and sitting behind computers all day, but that’s an excuse to not be aware of our responsibility to our body.  We have to take care of it, love it, and be aware of what it needs to stay healthy and able to serve us well.  You can say the same for your brain too.

 

There are many other ways in which we “check out”.  As I said before, we do it because we’re afraid it will be too much work.  It doesn’t have to be.  If you get in the habit of asking yourself everyday, “what is the one thing I can do for my relationship today?  What is the one thing I can do for my job today?  What is the one thing I can do for my body today?” in six months time, you would be a completely different person than you are now. And also more aware.

Money, Money, Money

When we think of health, we typically think of exercise and diet (see my past blogs Eat Right and Exercise), but we seldom think of money as having anything to do with our health.  In actuality, money plays a huge role in our overall health.  I’m not talking about the ability to afford healthcare. I mean our one-on-one relationship with money.  Whether we realize it or not, we all have an emotional relationship with money.  The three most important and enduring relationships you will ever have in this lifetime are with 1) yourself, 2) time, and 3) money.  All other people, places and things can come and go and will not be permanent.

 

Most people don’t realize they have an emotional connection with money, or how to figure out even if it’s healthy or not.  Unfortunately, more people than not have unhealthy associations with money.  They tend to fall into four categories:

 

Avoidant Relationship – You don’t want to think about money or talk about money.  You are uncomfortable discussing money in transactions with others.  Money is mysterious, cannot be controlled and might even be feared.  Having to think about money can cause anxiety.  The problem with this perspective is money remains ever-present in our lives and must be dealt with.  It cannot be better understood or controlled by avoiding it or evading discussing/dealing with it.

 

Deprivation Relationship – Money is never around when you want it or need it.  There is never enough of it and even if there was, it wouldn’t be with you because you don’t deserve it.  Money is for other people and other people are infinitely happier because they have money. In this relationship money creates a lot of shame.

 

Worship Relationship – Money is to be adored, desired, and doing or having anything that exemplifies the status of having money must be bought or done. There is a greed aspect to this perspective which can  sometimes even create hording.  Obtaining money becomes the primary focus of action.

 

Adversarial Relationship – Money is dirty and evil and you don’t want it around.  You deny the need for having money in your life and try to keep it at a distance.  In this circumstance, money causes a lot of resentment.

 

I didn’t realize I had an extremely unhealthy connection with money until a few years ago.  I had a deprivation relationship with money.  I never had enough, even when I had some.  I constantly worried about not having money and I figured it would be that way for my entire life.  I was convinced money and I could never be united because I wasn’t in money’s league.

 

Once I realized this mindset existed and the nature of it, I began to look at money as a something I, like all my relationships, have the power to change.  I began to look for ways in which money seemed mysterious to me and I took steps to take the mystery out of money.  I think people can take different pths to doing this, but for me, I needed to look at and track every single penny going through my business and my personal account.  The key is you must take the mystery out of money. It can mean different things to different people.  Find out what it means to you.

 

I quickly began to see trends on where and how I spend my money and from there easily started to take more control of it.  When I started this project, I was in a considerable amount of debt and wondered when, or if, I would ever be able to pay it off.  Two years later, my debt is nearly gone and I was able to save money at the same time.

 

I changed my attitude towards money and my relationship with it.  I will never complain again I don’t have enough money or allow myself to sit in those fears.  I now realize it does nothing but hurt me.

Yoga Is a Metaphor For Life

This year along with my regular fitness routine, I’m taking a yoga class once per week.  It’s a beginner class and it isn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.  I can’t always keep up with everything, but I do what I can, and I am actually enjoying it.  During the class, I have a chance to be alone with my thoughts and my breath and I realize how many parallels there are between a yoga class and things we need to succeed in life.  Here are some comparisons I’ve made.

 

If you lose your breath you lose your practice.  “Practice” in yoga means keeping up with the class and doing the stretches and poses.Recently I conducted an experiment.  I allowed myself to think dark thoughts that make me anxious and tense and create worry.  After a few seconds of just allowing the thoughts to consume me, I checked in with my breath.  Every time I conducted this experiment, I was either breathing shallow and rapid, or holding my breath.  Slow, full breathing is the most basic thing you can do to get through the day easier.  We need full breath to help our bodies run efficiently and oxygenated brains think more clearly.  Our bodies are like an automobile, a complex piece of machinery in which nothing can work without clean gasoline.  Our breath is like gas for our bodies.

 

You should be at a 6 out of 10.  10 is excruciating pain. 1 is no pain at all. While we are stretching, the stretch should be unpleasant enough to push your body to move further.  The stretch should be just beyond your estimation of the half-way point.  Any more and you can get hurt.  Any less and you’re wasting your time.  In life, we should stretch ourselves every day just to a point unpleasant enough to encourage us to move further.  Too much risk can result in reckless decision-making.  Too little risk causes us to stagnate and become bored with ourselves.

 

The right side might be more flexible than the left side.  Next week it may reverse. A stretch I can do on my right side this week may not work as easily in the same way next week.  I’m programmed to think I should always be moving forward, making noticeable improvement in one direction with every class. My body doesn’t always work that way and it doesn’t mean I’m not improving.  It’s easy to get discouraged if things don’t go our way every day. It can lead to self doubt. That’s not always what progress or growth means.  Sometimes in life growth takes a meandering path. We have to learn to trust the process.  

 

Learn to appreciate the tension.  We are programmed by our environment to believe tension and stress bad – calm, relaxation good.  Tension and stress aren’t always bad.  We need a certain amount of tension and stress in our lives to keep us going, keep us creative and help us remember we are alive. It can give us an edge.  Without a little bit of tension we risk becoming apathetic.  We think we don’t like change.  A regular routine gives us a sense of security and reliability, right?  Actually, that is a myth.  When things don’t change, we stagnate and become bored with ourselves and our lives.  Then our brains either shut down and we become unconscious or we start looking for trouble. 

 

When you lose the practice, go to child’s pose.  In class, when you find yourself falling out of the poses and you lose your breath, the best thing to do is to go back to the beginning resting pose, called child’s pose.  In child’s pose, you can regroup, re-center, and get back the rhythm of your breath.  Then you can catch back up with the class.  How often in everyday life when you get frazzled our out-of-sorts do you remember to take a moment to regroup, re-center, and get back the rhythm of your breath.  Develop your own sense of “child’s pose” for use in everyday life for use when you need it.

 

Namaste. The word is a greeting meaning be well.  In all things you do, practicing being well.  Think about it.  Contemplate what it means in thought, action, and intent.  You could spend the rest of your life doing just that and still not be finished.  It’s a good way to spend your time and energy.  Namaste.

5 Things I’ve Been Thinking About Lately

I haven’t posted a blog update in a while.  I read all the SEO stuff telling me irregular blog updates are the web equivalent of being sent to purgatory.  It’s amazing how easily things can get put on the back burner…and then we tell ourselves it’s because we don’t have time.  I find it funny and embarrassing at the same time, because I’m so vocal about my great relationship with time.  I guess it is just the universe’s way of reminding me nobody’s perfect.  This is a perfect sequeway for things that have been on my mind lately:

 

Almost Every Moment Is a Learning Opportunity.  In one of the best classes I ever took in school, we spent the whole semester watching clips of popular movies.  We were asked to create psychological metaphors from the clips and it is probably the best therapist training I ever received.  It taught me to look for the lesson in everything, and anything could be an opportunity for growth and understanding.  I love to learn new things about myself and people and have found it’s quite fun to see learning opportunities everywhere.  I chuckle to myself when my yoga instructor says, “It’s not a pose, it’s a stretch”.  It reminds me about life in general.  In yoga, if you are not stretching, you are not working your body and therefore wasting your time.  So it is true in life as well.

 

Some seconds pass into obscurity, and that’s ok.  About two years ago, I started out on a mission to become the best version of myself I possibly can.  While I am still doing that, and it’s been a lot of fun (and not fun, sometimes), I realized my effort to make every single solitary moment of my life mean something is unrealistic.  Meanwhile, I have a very strong “pleasure principle” voice, or inner child, as some call it that wants to chill out.  It makes it hard to judge whether or not I’m relaxing too much because while I can realize it’s ok to spend time checking facebook everyday, that voice also wants to watch Judge Judy…and take a nap.  So sometimes I can get myself twisted wondering if I’m in balance. Bringing me to my next point…

 

While worry is not anxiety (thankfully), it still must be managed.  I had anxiety as a young adult.  Sometimes I had panic attacks.  All of that is long gone for me but I still have worry.  Like ringing in the ears, it is a low hum of commentary running in the back of my mind. I can ignore  it easily when focused on something else, but left to my own devices for a few seconds…I can hear it warning me, threatening me with the impended doom about a horrible something  sure to occur in due time.  Almost everyone has it.  To some people it is deafening and crushing.  Some people devote all their energy to trying to shut it up.  They drink, shop, eat, play video games, or will themselves to disconnect from it.  I wanted to master it.  I’ve come to realize it’s just another track the mind operates on.  It won’t ever go away.  I wouldn’t say I’m it’s master.  More like, we are trying to be good friends.  It is definitely better than trying to make it go away.

 

Spin is everywhere.  Everyone wants your attention.  The phone, The computer, the thing in the store, your partner, the tv, even your dog.  It should make you feel very important and special.  It probably makes you feel irritated and compromised.  I am amazed by how much energy is spent by various people, companies, and other entities to get you to pay attention to them.  Usually it’s because they either want you to do something for them (even if it’s just to pay attention) or spend money.  I used to be irritated and annoyed by the way people and things try to impose upon my time.  Much like above, though, it will never go away.  In fact, it will continue to increase.  Once I accepted that reality, It became interesting to me and now I look at it very differently.  Be aware of how and why everything around you is vying for your attention.  Choose wisely.

Get the Relationship You Want. Keep the Relationship You Have

We are defined by our relationships.  When our relationships are fulfilling and meaningful, life takes on more meaning and enjoyment.  When our relationships are poor or tumultuous, life is harder, stressful, and strenuous.  For most of us, having a working relationship is the most important thing in our lives.  We are genetically, biologically and culturally programmed to pair.  Unfortunately, we seem to have the least amount of knowledge and education on how to create this most important thing in our lives. How can something so integral to our nature be so elusive?

 

I don’t pretend to have it all figured out.  There are too many variables to consider.  If getting and keeping love where a completely solvable problem, I’m sure someone would have figured it out long before me.  Therapists are supposed to be relationship exerts.  Especially in my case, being a gay therapist to a largely gay community.  We gays have been told for decades our love isn’t real, so it becomes especially important for me to figure some of this stuff out.  Although I don’t have all the answers, I’ve discovered a lot about what gets love and what keeps love.  Here are a few of them:

 

Get the Relationship You Want

  1. Attractions = Values.  This is the number one problem I see with people who get in unsuitable relationships.   For example, I used to (probably still do) have a bad-boy complex.  I was very attracted to, and pursued, guys who were tough, strong and usually even criminal.  I like a guy with a record, and I don’t mean “Whitney’s Greatest Hits”.  My favorite pick-up spot was the release room of the county jail.  I had deluded myself into thinking I was going to fall in love with a thugged-out tough guy and we would have this perfect little relationship. Wrong.  I had to realize I was entertaining a fantasy.  I had to redefine what I could find attractive based upon what I really wanted for the rest of my life.  It worked.  I see this happen with people every day.  They are attracted to and pursue people based upon a fantasy experience which really has nothing to do with the kind of relationship they want. You must formulate an image of your ideal relationship.  There are people who will fit nicely into that profile, based upon who they are, what they do, what they want, etc.  There are also people who may look nice, but have little similarity to your ideal.  Learn to know the difference.
  2. Envision Your Ideal Relationship. If you don’t know exactly what it is you want, how will you know when you find it?  More likely, you will choose people that attract you.  Attraction does not necessarily equal values.  If you are in the market for a relationship, before you ever join an online dating site, before you ever go out the bar, you have to know what it is you are looking for in terms of a future.  What is the profile of a partner that fits your life long-term?  Is he a homebody or party boy?  Does she want a career or family first? What are his values?  What does she respect?
  3. Embrace the Process.  When I ask clients their views on dating, I often get, “oh, I hate dating!” They hate putting themselves out there.  They believe dating is a chore and they are immediately at a disadvantage because there are a lot of “freaks” out there and who knows who is who? Simply, if this is the attitude you have, this is the experience you will get. There is an old saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” Learning how to date well is a skill.  Learn to embrace the thought of dating and be excited about the future you are trying to build.  Also, once you have developed your ideal partner profile you can begin to think about where does that type of person spend his/her leisure time?  Where am I likely to find him/her? Think of it as a puzzle or quiz to be solved and you will be surprised how quickly you start to understand the answers.
  4. Be the Partner You Want to Attract.  Take a hard look at yourself.  Would you want to date you?  What are your best qualities?  How can you emphasize them more? Spend less time on what you dislike about yourself, especially things you are afraid you don’t have the ability to change.  Focus on building your strengths and routinely putting your best foot forward. Pay attention to your attitude too.  Attitude is the easiest thing to change and the most often overlooked.  Cats are the only creatures that can be suspicious and cynical and still be worthy of love.

 

Keep the Relationship You Have

  1. Communication is Everything. There is no school or formal learning environment for effective relationship communication.  How you communicate in a relationship is what you’ve picked up from your surroundings as you grew up.  Imagine if I said, “I have based my psychological training on watching Frasier”.  Look at the key relationships in your life, especially your parent’s relationship.  Is how they communicate a model for you to emulate?  If not, you must teach yourself how to communicate more effectively to have the relationship you want. Seek out a therapist who specializes in relationship communication.  Read a book on the subject.  Talk with people you know have great relationships and ask them what they do and how they manage feelings and negotiate conflicts. You owe it to yourself to learn these lessons.
  2. Recognize How You Manipulate and Control.  Everyone seeks to manipulate and control others to some degree.  It is the first behavior we learn.  As babies, we cry or make noise when we are hungry, need changing, or want attention.  It is the first behavior that is successfully reinforced over and over again because it works!  Is it really so strange, then, we spend the rest of our lives trying to achieve that same level of nirvana where we get what we want, when we want it, by exerting control over others?  What works at age 1 ½ doesn’t look pretty at age 35.  Learn to build what you want in your life by communicating your needs clearly and confirming understanding. Most importantly, learn to negotiate conflict without “reality tv” behavior.
  3. Never Stop Discovering the Value of Love and the Meaning of Commitment. When I meet with couples, I ask them to provide me a written list of their resentments.  They eagerly fill out the list thinking “FINALLY my relationship will be happy because Dr. Dave is going to make him/her stop/fix all those things he/she does which are ruining this relationship.”  I look over the list, then I throw the pieces of paper in the trash can (I pick them out after the session, because I need them for the file). I say, “Well, that’s the relationship you’ve built and been living, now I want to focus on the relationship you can have.”  Then we start to explore and identify strengths and things in the relationship that feel good.  Love is a daily exercise in trying to make the best decisions possible for the good of all concerned.  It is not about winning.  Commitment is a daily choice to accept the bad and focus on the good.  It is not about coercion or control.  Yes, part of couples work with me is teaching conflict negotiation skills, but I don’t like to entertain the laundry list of resentments and seeing “who’s right” for each item.  It just adds to the maladaptive dynamic.  I inform each person he/she is responsible for working out his/her own resentments, rather than waiting for the other person to fix them.  We, as a society, are very invested in needing, wanting, and insisting others change their behavior to accommodate us.  This brings me to my next point…
  4. Let It Go.  Spring clean your mind.  98% of what you are holding on to can be thrown out.  Most mental illness, suffering, frustration, resentment, and dissatisfaction of life are caused by not letting it go. You don’t need it as much as you think you do.

 

 

I recently had a client play a recording for me he had made when he visited a psychic.  What I found most interesting was her choice of words.  When she talked about energies or dead relatives of his, she always told him “You’re pulling this person to you” or “You’re pulling this energy to you” I took it to mean if such things exist as contact from the other side, it occurs because we control the energy that exists around us.  I am a big believer in what we have is what we have created.  We have much more control over our relationships than we think.  What kind of relationship are you creating today?

Tips To Overcome “Nice Guy” Syndrome – Love Cannot Be Bought or Bartered

Money is power.  There is a long tradition in relationships that the man earns money, be the financial provider, and ensures the fiscal stability and future of the relationship.  In many cases, it is a workable arrangement.  It becomes a problem when money is used to buy or barter love under the guise of being “the nice guy”.  In both straight and gay relationships, there are plenty of women and men out there who are willing to take your money and let you think you are potentially investing in a future.  You can’t invest in love with money.  Love stock is traded in terms of time, attention, respect, emotional vulnerability, and the development of a trust bond.  I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t share your money with someone with whom you are in a developing relationship.  Check your gut.  If you are spending money on someone who is not investing their time, attention, respect, willingness to be emotionally vulnerable, or develop trust, you are not being nice.  You are being manipulated.

 

The problem is so many guys who consider themselves to be “too nice” in actuality don’t have good boundaries with people.  They don’t understand the rules of attraction and pursue partners who tend to manipulate and use them. It is a myth nice guys can’t get a healthy, meaningful relationship. You don’t need to be less nice.  You need a deeper understanding of what creates lasting love.