How to Reconnect – Phase One: Recognizing the Exit Strategy

As I reflect on this American celebration  from this week, I want to give all my thanks to my faithful readers and supporters. I also want to thank all my patients who have trusted me and work with me to better ourselves and the world around us. Finally, I want to thank my family and friends and particularly the very special people who generously donated their time, support and love to carry me this past month through a most challenging medical time. Thank you!

Falling in love is exhilarating; staying in love is a labor of love! And so we relished in our romantic love, blind and happy, until we started sharing house and dirty socks! The red flags were there but our happy hormone pumped up self was oblivious to the potential smell of the dirty socks. Eventually of course, it started to stink along with our responses to it. So came the comments, then the remarks, the heated exchanges and the full fledge fights, all very gradually, until one day, the gap was so wide that we became estranged to each other, wondering how we got there.

Of course, some of us decide that “life is too short”, that “it’s not worth it”, that “there are plenty more where they come from” and use other clichés to justify our personal reasons to withdraw and start a new relationship. Some of us, however, for other personal reasons, do not feel so easily defeated. We want “to work at it”, “rekindle the initial flame”, enjoy the long term effect of companionship and acquire the trust and respect of the lover who over time also becomes our best friend. This choice is arduous and painful but rewarding and validating.

Because this choice is difficult, it is always a good idea to create an environment that will facilitate the process of reconnection. The first step is to close most of the exit strategies. Let’s go back to my lovely initial reference of unsavory household details. Overtime, we have developed strategies to avoid the smell of the dirty socks. We have justified longer work hours. We have made our phones our free-time full-time partner. We have declared ownership to the “do me” hip slogan and decided to go to the gym five times a week regardless whether our mate was available or not. We have made ourselves intimately unavailable because of the children, etc. I think you’re getting the picture. These are exit strategies.

Exit strategies are developed consciously or not to escape. When the relationship becomes tense, boring or conflicting, we disengage, disconnect and increase time away from our partner. Instead of calming the game, overtime, we intensify the disconnection. The key to start closing exit strategies is to examine your individual activities and find out your hidden motivation. Remember that the reconnection business is like meringue, salsa or tango, it requires two people! Also, the goal is to be successful, so no big leap to start with. Kafka, European philosopher, once said:”a path is made by walking it”.

Good luck! Next time, I will talk about phase two…

How To And Traumatic Events

I live on a Caribbean island and I have been through Hurricane Hugo in 1989… my thoughts are going toward all the victims who were in the devastating path of Hurricane Matthew. My thoughts are also going toward my friends, my neighbors and my fellow human beings who have recently witnessed traumatic events.

Witnessing a traumatic event can affect us physically, emotionally and psychologically. I am sharing with you today what is normal to feel, how to go through these feelings and the some of the best ways to support people around you.

The impact of a traumatic event can linger for a few weeks. Below are some common feelings you may have after a traumatic event.

  • Continued thoughts and images of the event.
  • Wanting to stay away from the scene of the event associated with feeling of fear, sadness and/or anxiety.
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling “dazed” or confused. Increased wandering around or just sitting and staring without direction.
  • Difficulty handling tasks or making decisions.
  • Feelings of anger and irritability.
  • Feelings of guilt or wishing you could have done something different.
  • Wanting to separate yourself from family or friends, feelings of withdrawal and sadness.
  • Physical feelings such as headaches or muscle aches, stomach ache or nausea, fatigue, change of appetite, nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

It is important to recognize these feelings in you or in people around you.

  • Use your support system: choose a friend, your partner, family, someone who is willing and ready to listen to you. Talking is really helpful to release stress. It may feel uncomfortable at first but it may help you feel better faster.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs to change your mood.
  • Keep active. A little exercise such as a short walk will help physically and emotionally.
  • Eat well and get a good night sleep. It is important to stay healthy during times of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy. Spend time with your pets. Keep busy with hobbies. Get away to a spot where you feel your best. Listen to some music or write about the event and your reactions.
  • Lower your expectations of what you “should be doing” and nurture yourself. Eat healthy meals, sleep plenty and take a hot bath, practice relaxation exercises and deep breathing.
  • Keep as normal a schedule as possible and focus on what you can control instead of worrying about what is beyond your scope of control.
  • Talk to a counselor if and when your reactions are impacting your daily life. Talking is the number one healing force.

You can help others cope with their reactions by offering your genuine concern. Here are some examples:

  • Acknowledge the event. Say you are sorry about what happened and are sorry about their pain.
  • Remember you cannot take away pain. You can share it and help them feel less alone.
  • Listen and allow the person to share at his/her own pace. Understand that periods of silence can be healing.
  • Let your genuine concern and care show.
  • Ask “What do you need?” Offer solid, practical help such as cooking an occasional meal or watching the children.
  • Provide a place of safety. Lower your expectations of the individual for awhile.
  • Offer your companionship. Gently encourage physical activity. You may ask if the person wants to join you for a walk, etc…
  • Understand that the following are normal stress reactions: reduced concentration, withdrawal, sadness, guilt, anger or frustration.

You are not helping when:

  • Avoiding the person because you feel helpless, uncomfortable or don’t know what to say. Do not pretend nothing happened.
  • Offering false comfort. Avoid clichés like “Be brave”, “Time will heal”, or “You can on with your life”.
  • Asking intrusive questions or push for details. Don’t change the subject when he/she is talking about the event.
  • Assuming that a person’s spiritual/religious beliefs are the same as yours.
  • Offering advice if it has not been asked for. Avoid saying “you should…”
  • Being afraid of a show of emotion. Don’t discourage tears.

These helpful strategies were gained through personal experiences, professional training (Cigna insurance assistance program) and many years of counseling practice. Please, share your ways and helpful tips in time of stress after a traumatic event and stay safe!


The Mask We Live In – A Psychologist’s Perspective

Before getting into the “meat” (excuse the bad pun) of my topic today, I would like to thank all of you for reading my posts and spreading awareness about the issues being discussed. Feel free to give your feedback or participate whenever you feel like!

Today, my mode of communication is going to be a bit more direct than usual. I must say that my source is itself quite eloquent! It is a documentary titled “The mask we live in” that you can find on Netflix.

As I was commenting to a friend of mine about my feelings about female stigmatization increase and male dominance in our society, I came across this powerful testimony to the intricate yet devastating issue of male socialization in the United States today.

My point is not to paraphrase the documentary. I would not do it justice. My point is to give you a brief summary of the progression of male gendertyping punctuated by alarming numbers. This alarm bell is for all of us: mother, father, family, brother, educators, coaches, writers, film directors, video designers, publicists, and you and ME.

Gendertyping is the conscious or unconscious coding of a person. It starts at birth and continues throughout ones’ life. Parents, educators, media and society contribute on a daily basis to this phenomenon. For boys, it starts with babies wearing blue, continues with truck or gun toys along with the “man up” do and don’t and the code of honor indoctrination.

1 in 4 boy reports bullying at school and only 30% of bullied boys notify adults.

Boys and girls have similar needs and emotions. However, boys are trained, harshly at times, to hide their emotions such as anger, sadness and loneliness behind a mask of domination, power and toughness. With fathers emotionally wounded themselves, absent or neglectful, the youth lacks a necessary male role model which, in turns increases the process of disenfranchisement of many of our teenagers.

Suicide is 5 times more prevalent in boys than in girls and it is the third leading cause of death in boys in the United States.

As boys reach puberty, education is not “cool” any longer. They give up school, resort to drugs, alcohol, gangs, sexuality and violence. They also take refuge in sports and try to prove themselves only to meet similar types of behavior. Overall, they are engaged in the “hypermasculinization” process that is so impacting their relationship with girls and later women.

Boys are 4 times more likely than girls to be expelled, 3 times more likely to be suspended, 2 times more likely to drop out of school.

Teenagers on average watch weekly: 40 hours of TV, 15 of video games and 2 hours of pornography.

99% of boys do videogames, 90% of games rated appropriate for children over 10 years old contain violence

50% of parents do not monitor ratings. 

By age 18, young men have already seen 40.000 murders on screen.

I am not a number person and I avoid statistics but let’s face it…these few numbers raised questions!

Do you know what your children are watching?

Are you aware that habituation/addiction start with repetitive behaviors and media education?

1 out of 3 women and 1 one out of 6 men has been assaulted or raped.

 Do we remember how it feels and how it has impacted our life, our society?

Did you not, at times, wonder whether our societal mixed messages were helping our young men and women?

Women, is it cool to feel like an object, the “it” thing such as in “I would like a piece of it”?

“We are living in a rape culture where violence against women is in epidemic proportion” and where 90% of homicides are perpetrated by male, half of them being under 25 years old.

Power, money, toughness and women are the stereotypes of the real man. Many young men thrive to achieve this status but what is the price?

I would like to share with you my latest experience…and you are probably going to laugh thinking that once again I prove to be a dinosaur.

Dating on line is not a rage any longer. It is a “normal” practice among millions of users. I wanted to experience the buzz so I could relate to those of my patients belonging to the category of “millions of users”.

I did experience the thrill of generating interest, the fun of unrestrained written exchanges and the adrenalin of exchanging contact numbers followed by, sometimes, phone conversations but rarely, so rarely, the ultimate goal of actually meeting the person, I mean the real person in flesh.

Rapidly, then, I would push to actually meet the person. I became that needy, what-do-you-want-go-to-the-point lioness who, when face-to-face with the person did not know how to convey friendliness without compromising myself ah ah. By the way, the feeling was largely reciprocal. What an experience indeed!

I started then to reflect on the advantages of “cyber” friendship versus actual human contacts and I came to the conclusion that words do not replace touch. Touching is magical. Touching convey far better, faster, stronger feelings than words. Actually, according to research, the impact of touch is 10 times superior to that of words. Positive touch reduces stress and, therefore, reinforces well-being. It creates bounds between people, trust, cooperation, empathy and gratitude. Touch is an essential tool to social communication.

Interestingly, there are scientific reasons to prove, if needed be, that the human brain is designed to understand touch on multiple levels. Our body is a gigantic receptive machine with 18,000 square centimeters of skin equipped with specialized sensory receptors to transfer information to our brain through our neural pathway. Some sensory receptors send information about pressure on the skin, temperature, movement, position, strength, etc. Others specialize in emotional input such as caress and send erotic messages to our brain when making love.

We have two brain areas in charge of sorting out these signals: the somatosensory cortex and the insula cortex. The first one deals with the fast messages sent by the sensory receptors of our hands, fingers, face and tongue. The second one, on the contrary, receives the slower emotional signals which allow for the insula to determinate with accuracy the speed of a physical contact. These signals come from our behind, thighs, back, shoulders, forearms, and scalp (that’s why we so appreciate scalp massages). By measuring the speed of a physical contact, the brain “knows” the meaning and the social and emotional intention of a physical contact. Pretty cool isn’t? So in essence, our brain is collecting information through our skin and tells us what to think about the kind of touch we receive. No room for playing games, my friends, not like with words!

That does not mean that I now have the go-ahead to jump on my next date! Indeed, many factors play a role in the time, place and ways to experiment with touching. Culture of course is the major factor, but also nationality, context, gender, sensitivity and the expectations of the person. We usually send behavioral signals indicating what is acceptable and what is not. It is important to learn to read human behavior so as to avoid awkward if not irreparable situations. We also need to remember that our needs are directly linked to our early childhood which does not make it right neither essential. It just means that we are different. Men often kiss each other on both cheeks in France when they are friends. I am not sure that I ever witnessed such behavior in America. It would be kind of weird, wouldn’t? What is most important to remember, however, is the importance and the positive impact that touch generates in our daily life. Let us encourage each other to more conviviality and human contact “live”!

From Adolescence to Adulthood

To some, the passage from adolescence to adulthood is challenging always but also exhilarating. From high school, to college, to internship, to first entry into their professional life, young adults pursue their dreams and launch their life without much major trauma, as a well-oiled machine.
For others, this transition develop unique physiological, psychological and sociopolitical consequences. In my practice on St Croix in the Virgin Islands, I have often been confronted with young adults returning from the mainland, the United States, in the middle of their college years or immediately after their first entrance in the world of work with multiple issues warranting attention if not therapeutic help.
For African-Americans, the bulk of my practice, the problem is acute. This transition is often challenged by systematic and institutional racial discrimination through residential segregation, aggressive policing and interpersonal racial hassles. These “microaggressions” have immediate and long lasting effects influencing their entire life.
These consequences range from physiological/biological, psychological and sociopolitical effects. Research shows that young adults harassed by cumulative and chronic discrimination suffer from elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate and high stress leading to instances of fight-or-fight responses. Stress level is high and risks for cardiovascular diseases and cellular aging increase. Sleep depravation from heightened vigilance may also be correlated to physiological issues.
The psychological effects may include depression and/or mood swings, suicide and/or suicidal ideation, violence, stress disorders and maladaptive coping strategies such as promiscuity and alcohol/substance abuse. These consequences develop alongside increased social isolation, loss of self worth and poor racial identity. For instance, African-American teenagers with dark skin consider themselves “ugly” when compared to lighter skin individuals. This discrimination is reinforced by current Internet reports and articles. As a result, civic engagement may suffer and further the isolation and desintegration of social tissue.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance for parents, caregivers and educators to foster positive development such as racial pride, coping-based interventions (value-based and self-affirmation programs) and mental health consultation. Furthermore, efforts must be made to create and/or reinforce positive interventions for civic engagement aimed at addressing institutionalized racial discrimination. Programs must also focus on reducing drug and sex risks, increasing positive attitudes toward education, problem-solving skills and positive identity formation.

Say “Yes” To What YOU Want

 What a dilemma!

I must learn to say “no” but yet I have to say “yes” to what I want…

What to do?

What about doing nothing and be myself.

Being myself is very appealing but it requires a great deal of self confidence. It means being oblivious to people’s judgment. That is a journey in itself but what if, despite my wonderful personality, I wish I would not have those little unsavory reactions with my friend, say? What if I would not put myself in situations that I regret afterwards? What if, at times, I would allow making myself happy? How to do that without making some changes? Would I be myself then? The world is pulling me in so many directions and the only thing I want is being happy. What does it all mean anyway? I am a helpful person. I always loved to give my time, resources and energy to my friends and family. I even have people I hardly know come to me for help. It’s wonderful. Yet, at the same time, I am often disappointed and I rarely have time for myself. I have been told to learn saying “no”. But if I do, I will not be myself any longer. I have tried anyway and it is so difficult. Each situation is different and I have involved myself yet another time without realizing it.

I could probably start by giving myself some time, take a couple of hours to think, wait the next day to give a final answer. The problem is that most of the time I can help. So, I feel like a cheat when I think of excuses. Yet, some of my friends do not really give me excuses when they are not available and I do not feel offended. How about just saying: “I understand but I cannot help”. It does sound pretty rough! Of course, it is the first time, pretty uncomfortable if you ask me.

Maybe it is uncomfortable for me only. I may very well project my bit of anxiety onto others. If I repeat the experience, the next time will be easier. I could even choose when to say “no” and continue to be myself without losing myself. It would be much more fun!

I am now saying “no”. I have lost a few acquaintances but I have a lot more time with my good friends. I still feel a little weird, though, because the change I have made sounds pretty negative. But what if in saying “no”, I allow myself more freedom as to what others expect from me? In fact, I am saying “yes” to more independence, more significant commitment to what I really want to do. I am saying “yes” to being myself and I have said “yes” to what really was scaring me so bad before: saying “no”! As my good friend is saying “yes” doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything that comes along your path. It does mean saying “yes’ to the things that scare you, the things that will make you a better person, push you beyond who you are today”.

The beauty of being in line with our intentions is beyond personal rewards. It is the quintessence of self-confidence versus arrogance. Enjoy the experience!

LOVE Abundantly & LIVE Abundantly

It is the end of April, already! So much time is spent around negative feelings, so much time lost in the pursuit of those little bits of joy which bring us happiness. The search for happiness was the topic of my last post.

Today, I continue to speak about happiness adding a new ingredient: love. I just read a book “Adultery” written by Paul Coelho”. It is the story of a young woman, wife and mother, who is searching for happiness and discovers that love is the secret to personal growth and emotional achievement.

Love Live

She discovers that only love, deep love, love for ourselves, for others, for enemies, for nature brings more love and peace. “When we abandon everything, we have nothing to loose any longer and so disappear fear, jealousy, boredom, and routine”. We then become able to open up to a new world, unknown, but full of propositions sometime unexpected but always pure of intention.

Love Live

Even the love for a pet gives a justification to a life. Life without love becomes worthless, empty. Love brings pain as birth leads to death because it is the cycle of life. When we make love the goal of our life as in acceptance, empathy, and wonderment, we can always find some degree of happiness…and so “we must love abundantly and live abundantly”.

Happiness & Aristotle

We have so many refrains about happiness: “don’t worry, be happy”, “Carpe Diem”, etc.

We have so many specialists and so many methods: spirituality, psychotherapy, alternative care, drugs under and over the counter, sports and biochemical, travel agents, love specialists, etc.

We have so many claims, research, testimonies, and experience in social science, health science, other science and in fields including everything men can use to provide answers to this “holy grail”.

All in all, except few specimens who claim they know how to live happy, we are faced with the same question, the same search, the same dilemma: “We want to be happy but we do not know how”.

I am not an expert since I am not happy every day and all the time but from readings and experiences both personal and professional, I have come to understand misunderstandings that we commonly entertain regarding Happiness.

  1.  I cannot pinpoint any given long term experiences such as marriage, child rearing, carrier, or any other endeavors that provide full time Happiness without a load of difficult moments.
  2.  I do not think that short term success is equivalent to Happiness as a long term achievement.
  3. Neither material reward nor belongings can maintain Happiness in a lifelong perspective.
  4. “Being in the Here and Now” does not equal Happiness. Being fully involved in the present moment does not necessarily give access to Happiness. It does, however, involved focus because it demands the use of all our sensing faculties and, therefore, provides a sense of peace from the stress an overworking mind creates. Taking the time to really commit to the present moment usually enhances the quality of the experience which delivers, in turn, moments of pleasure also called tiny bits of happiness.
  5. Aristotle said “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Could it mean that Happiness is greater than all the short moments of our lives during which we experience tiny bits of joy? No, it does not.  It means that one tiny bit of happiness leads to the next one and as we go throughout the day these moments have the tendency to expand and multiply giving us the impression of a good day. The concept here is that when we foster positive experiences such as a smile or a good word, acts of gratitude or support, observation or care of nature, just tiny bits of happiness, we tend to enhance and multiply positive experiences which linked together create the synergy of Happiness.

Tiny bits of can be located in many different places, situation and things. Most of us relish in social contacts. Some of us need alone moments without screens, food or drinks.  Quiet activities such as reading or listening to music are necessary for some whereas physical activities offer excellent therapeutic experiences for others. We must ask ourselves what it could be for us and collect these moments, connect them, enjoy them and rejoice at the end of the day for another great day, a whole that is now greater than the sum of its parts because it becomes Happiness!

Loyalty to a spouse or partner is the respect of sexual exclusivity. However, they are different forms of infidelity from a long term affair to lack of sexual life at home. As the Inuits have different words to designate the word snow according to its nature: powdery, heavy, wet, etc., we should have different versions of the word “infidelity”.

There is a huge difference between each type of infidelity and many subcategories to each. A “loyal” unfaithfulness over a long period of time is different from long term multiple unfaithfulness. What is a long time anyway: a week? Two weeks? A month? What about short term infidelity, for instance a quickie in the park? A night shot? A weekend? And then, can we label the abandonment of the conjugal room for the sofa, the computer or the office as infidelity?

The basic concept is that faithfulness involves the body and the mind. Therefore, infidelity is the scission of the mind and body. When the scission is prolonged, it creates a new dimension, a journey that influences and changes the couple’s reality. It endangers the intimate connection because it brings in a new element. Even if love subsists for the regular partner, the initial couple as a protection against the world has now lost its primary function. On the contrary, a short escapade as identity reinforcement or an exception to the rule may reinforce the couple especially when guilt is involved.

A partner involved in a long term love affair may save the couple by showing love, preference, involvement and protection to the regular partner. However, the erosion of the couple is unavoidable when faced with half lies, compromising information, prolonged absences, unusual expenses and absentmindedness. Overall, couples seldom resist long term infidelity because it destroys the assurance of knowledge and beliefs that were patiently build up. Trust is a long term construction that can be destroyed extremely rapidly and definitively.

Dr. Schnarch is a talented and successful sex therapist as well as an author. He is the first to have introduced me to the concept of differentiation. It is a concept that, over the years, I have tweaked and appropriated and it has resounded in numbers of my patients. I have integrated it in my journey to happiness and although it is very difficult to experience it consistently, it does greatly improve life’s quality.

Differentiation concept has many facets as well as many interpretations in its logic and in its reality. I would describe it as the ultimate balance between personal growth and connection with other(s). The personal growth is worked through the understanding that we are the sole responsible to replenish, improve and/or change the content of our own emotional “tank”.

The emotional tank is being worked out first through our understanding that we all grow with a great potential of strengths only matched by its opposite, a potential of issues or weaknesses generated from our genetics, environment and education since birth as well as our experiences. The goal is then to see and accept what we don’t like about ourselves, then jump the cliff to make a positive change without succumbing to our justifications and anxieties.

The connection with the other one is therefore not the vessel with which to accomplish this journey but rather the support and the recipient of each new positive step taken during our journey. The connection is not based on reciprocal need, greed and expectations but rather on the gift of our growth to the other one, the cherry over the cake, in a way.

This in turn requires establishing personal boundaries that allow for a balanced exchange with the outside. Boundaries are essential to allow each one of us to function within our emotional and psychological comfortable space. Being too tight lessens our opening to the world and prevents fluid communication whereas being too loose often ends up in some form of “emotional dissolution” of self.

Differentiation is the ability to travel on a parallel path of love, goals and ideas guided by a “free of charge” connection with the other one. It creates freedom, self-esteem, personal validation, and the strength to live life to its fullest. It chases away fears, submission, collusions, hate and disappointment. It provides us with everything that makes a good relationship.

Because this little explanation is rather simplistic you may want to know more. If it is the case contact me, or write a comment, or read David Schnarch.