One of “Those” Conversations – No Not THAT One.

Have you ever had one of those conversations that you prepared for and worried about and practiced… only to have it end up being absolutely no big deal? You almost feel let down that there is no big emotional explosion because your spent so much time preparing for it. Somehow it is almost like you have been cheated. We had one of those yesterday with our daughter, Charlie, who is 10 years old.

Charlie has been playing along with us for years on the whole Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy thing, and though we suspected she “knew” the truth, she never acknowledged it to us. Jason (my husband) and I decided it was time to have “the talk”. We wanted to let her into the grown up club because we suspected she was onto us and, if not, we didn’t want her to get teased for still believing. C’mon – 10 is kind of old for Santa.

So… we created this amazing game plan and practically scripted the whole interaction. We planned to take her out for a walk after Easter dinner and discuss it all. We thought the fresh air might calm her down. We walked a long for a bit and then I asked THE QUESTION – something along the lines of, “Where are you at with this whole Easter bunny thing?”. Smooth, I know. Charlie then got a smirk on her face and said, “I know it is you and Daddy.” We were a little stunned. She then continued, “Same for Santa.” We then asked with a little quiver in our voices, “What about the Tooth Fairy”. Her response with a shrug, “You.”

Well, crap. She then broke it to us that she has known for several years and had been playing along for two reasons: 1. It seemed really important to us and 2. She was afraid the fun and gifts might stop. We assured her that we were OK and that we still loved the holidays and nothing would change our celebration.

I have to admit, I felt a little let down, but also a little relieved that all the sneaking around was over. This was confirmed by her last comment on the subject – “You know, you don’t have to put the Tooth Fairy money under my pillow anymore. You can just hand it to me in exchange for the tooth.” Great. Like a crack deal.

Advertisements

Superhero Self-Help

Sometimes when I am out for a run, my mind begins to wander. I usually like when this happens because if my mind is wandering I am not thinking about how much farther I need to go and how soon I can be done. While my mind is wandering, I often stumble on some unusual things. Yesterday, I started wondering what it might look like if superheroes wrote self-help books. Weird, right? I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I thought I’d flesh it out here with you. I am focusing today on the male superheroes – if there is interest, I’ll focus on the ladies next.

Here goes:

  1. Captain America: What can we learn from Captain America? Hell, he could write a ton about perseverance. Steve Rogers wanted desperately to be a soldier and go to war to fight for the United States. Unfortunately, he was on the puny side and had a number of health issues that precluded his ability to enlist. Did he give up? Nope. Now, admittedly, he ultimately used a super serum to turn him into a super soldier, but it was only his good nature and intrinsic sense of right and wrong that saved him from becoming a villain drunk on his own power. Captain America could write several books about not giving up and the importance of taking care of others – especially those who are weaker and in need of help.  Title: Letting out your Inner Super Soldier
  2. Power Rangers: I know a couple of these heroes are female, but for this blog, I am going with the majority male rule. These superheroes each wear a specific color jumpsuit and can fight individually, but when the battle gets really tough, they band together and fight even harder. Their book would promote the importance of friendship and being able to work with others. It would be all about how much more you can accomplish when you work together than you could ever dream of doing alone. Title: It’s Morphin’ Time!
  3. Thor: Mighty Thor is a warrior prince from the planet of Asgard. He has strength, endurance and resistance to injury that had caused him to be arrogant and selfish. Thor’s self-help book would be about the power of change – how you really can choose to become a better person. Through his time on Earth, Thor learned about the importance of protecting and caring for others. Title: The Power to Change is Stronger than Mjolnir
  4. Superman: Superman was sent from his home planet (Krypton) as an infant when the planet was about to explode. His parents sought to send him to safety – he landed on Earth and was taken in by an American family who raised him as their own. Despite his amazing abilities (super speed, flight, x-ray vision, heat vision, strength, and impermeability to injury), Superman has one great weakness – exposure to rocks from his home planet. These rocks are called Kryptonite take away all of this powers and make him an ordinary man. Superman’s self-help book would focus on the importance of having awareness of your weaknesses. He could write about how only in knowing our weaknesses can we overcome them. Title: In our Weaknesses, We Find Strength
  5. The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner is a scientist who is exposed to massive radioactivity that turns him into the Incredible Hulk whenever he gets angry. He could totally write a book about anger management. Much of Bruce’s later journeys focus on learning to manage his reactions to people and situations, so he can control when and where the Hulk appears. Title: Anger: The Beast Within
  6. Iron Man: Tony Stark was a billionaire playboy who had inherited tons of money from his father, Howard Stark, and then parlayed it into an even more impressive fortune using his own intellect and skills. Here is the thing, Tony always felt that his father hadn’t approved of (or even loved) him. This caused him to act out in so many ways. His book would definitely focus on parent-child relationships and the importance of believing in yourself even when you doubt others do. Title: My Father, Myself
  7. Wolverine: Logan is an ageless man who quickly heals from all injuries. A secret scientist organization operated on him and lined his skeleton with adamantium, a virtually unbreakable metal. He now is nearly indestructible and also has adamantium claws that erupt from his hands whenever he is in a fight (hence the name “Wolverine”). What Logan really suffers with is difficulty accepting his own mutations and those things that make him different from others. He could write a great book about being proud of who you are. Title: Looking Past the Claws: Loving the Man in the Mirror
  8. Spiderman: Peter Parker was an unassuming, quietly nerdy high school student who happened to get bitten by a radioactive spider. This spider bite led to super speed, super strength, web shooting, precognition, and healing. We all know the classic line from the movie, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Peter learns from the tragic loss of his uncle that his powers come at a cost – he is charged with caring for others. His book would stress the importance of appreciating what we have and to give back to others. Title: With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility
  9. Batman: Bruce Wayne was the happy only child of the fabulously happy (and rich) Wayne family when tragedy struck and his parents were shot during a robbery. Bruce then dedicated himself to fighting the criminal element under the disguise of Batman. He would pen a book about building something positive out of trauma. He would talk about reframing the negative experience and focusing on what you can make out of it. Title: Rising from the Ashes – Finding Your Inner Phoenix
  10. Flash: Barry Allen was a police scientist (with no special abilities) who was doused with chemicals and acquired super speed. He then used his super speed to protect the citizens of his town and take out the bad guys. Even after he had developed his special skills, Barry continued to use his scientific skills to aid the police department in catching the bad guys – while also helping to “run them down” himself. His book would focus on the importance of using the skills you are given to the best of your ability – everyone is good at something! Title: The Race to Know Yourself

So… what do you think? I am feeling relieved to have gotten all of this out of my head! Did I get it wrong? Any suggestions or modifications? Sadly, what I really realized is how much I would love to write each of these books! Time to start thinking about all those powerful ladies in superhero land!

* Correction: I made a correction on 4/7/15 – The previous version indicated Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) was either a reporter or a scientist depending on the version you watched/read. I was corrected – he is always a scientist though he trailed by a reporter who seeks to out him. Sorry!

How is a Sexual Assault Victim Supposed to Look/Act Like?

It seems like I have written a number of entries over the past several months about sexual assault and rape. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/11/21/rape-it-has-to-stop/; https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/10/20/date-rape-is-rape/). Every time I write one, it is because something in my personal or professional life has triggered my need to say something – whether it is a news item involving a sexual assault (Hello, Bill Cosby) or a client sharing her own difficulties – something happens and keeps bouncing around in my head until I put in on paper (or computer screen).

I have had a number of clients bring up the Rolling Stone magazine article depicting the alleged gang rape of a university freshman (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119). I will not revisit the article (please feel free to read the original article), but be aware there are allegations the girl made the story up and supposedly the fraternity mentioned in the article is planning to sue the magazine (http://www.universityherald.com/articles/17184/20150324/university-of-virginia-fraternity-considering-lawsuit-against-rolling-stone-for-gang-rape-article.htm).

I do not presume to know what did or did not happen in this specific situation, but it has incited a number of interesting conversations in session. Most specifically, what does a sexual assault victim look and act like? This is an impossible question to answer because there is no simple answer. Someone who has been raped may be sad or angry or may act like nothing at all happened. They may continue the “relationship” with their perpetrator and may not talk about the assault for a long time – if ever. Why? Well, because sexual assault is a confusing experience.

All too often, I hear that an alleged victim is not believed because she did not “act like a victim”. Many women have told me (especially in the case of acquaintance or date rape) they might be confused about what actually happened. They may hold mistaken ideas that rape is something that happens when you are grabbed in a dark parking lot and are held at knife point, not when a boyfriend refuses to take no for an answer after you have been voluntarily making out for hours. While they are trying to make sense of it all, they may even initiate continued contact with the perpetrator. This is often misconstrued by the police or media or the world as proof that the woman engaged in consensual sex. This is not always the case – it is just such a complicated issue.

I’ve even have clients who felt they were not believed because they were not perceived as attractive enough o have been raped. Can you believe it? Total BS. Sexual assault is about violence and power – not romance. People from all ages, races, sizes – basically every possible option out there – are sexually assaulted. I hate the idea that a survivor of rape feels the need to justify their “rape-worthiness”. Load of crap.

So…. what is my takeaway message here? I just recommend that you keep an open mind. Don’t assume that anything  having to do with sexual assault can ever be a simple issue. I am not advocating you always take the alleged victim at face value, but try your best to remember there is no one way to react to trauma. Just because someone is not acting like you assume you would, does not mean the trauma did not occur.

Turning Off Your Humanity

We’ve talked before about how I am basically a teenage girl trapped in an adult body – I watch TV shows and movies geared toward this population, read their books and listen to their music. Many will chuckle and assume all this stuff is really juvenile and offers little insight into “real life”, but you might be surprised.

Case in point: There is a TV show called “The Vampire Diaries” on the CW. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but needless to say, it is a show about a bunch of teenage/young-adult looking vampires and how they interact with each other and humans. Exciting stuff, right? Anyway, on the show the vampires all still experience strong emotional reactions including sadness, loss, love and anger. These same vampires have the option of “turning off their humanity” which means they no longer feel pain or sadness or guilt. They are willing to do anything to anyone and experience no remorse. That is until something happens and their humanity is turned back on which causes all of those emotions to come flooding back. Interesting concept, right?

Now, we “regular people” do not have the option of turning off our humanity to stop experiencing our feelings – no matter how much we may want to avoid them. What I have observed in my practice is that people start using drugs and alcohol to achieve the same result. Something happens in their life that causes them so much pain that they will do anything not to feel it anymore. As long as they continue to use the drugs, the feelings are kept at bay.

An addict almost has to “turn off their humanity” in their efforts to continue their drug use. They cannot feel remorse about the people they might hurt or the crimes they may commit. They are so focused on getting and keeping the high, all other feelings would only interfere with that pursuit.

Sobriety is when their humanity gets turned back on. Not only must they deal with whatever it was that chased them into drugs in the first place, but now they must also deal with everything they did while using drugs and alcohol as well. This flood of emotion is typically overwhelming and frightening. It is one of the many reasons I recommend that individuals in rehab or who are working on their sobriety also participate in therapy. They can benefit from the support and need to develop appropriate coping skills to deal with all of these negative emotions. All too often, clients have told me they are unable to manage the feelings and escape back into their addiction.

So… the next time someone belittles your entertainment choices (go teen fiction!), remember there are amazing insights everywhere – you just need to know where to look.

The Beautiful People are not Perfect – (and it’s OK)

We all know that celebrities are fabulously attractive people – they are pretty and thin and seem to glow from within. Another thing we know is we can’t trust the images we see of these same celebrities – there is amazing lighting, hair and makeup experts and, of course, Photoshop. There were a number of stories in the media recently showing photos that were leaked of female celebrities before the photos could be Photoshopped prior to publication. There are pictures of Beyonce from a L’Oreal ad campaign depicting less than perfect skin (http://www.entertainmentwise.com/news/165572/Beyonce-leaked-pictures-Untouched-photos-of-LOreal-campaign) and photos of Cindy Crawford’s photo shoot for a Marie Claire 2013 issue (http://www.justjared.com/2015/02/16/cindy-crawfords-unretouched-lingerie-photo-goes-viral/) showed she may no longer have the body of an 18-year-old. (Hello, she just turned 49!) I do not think either woman’s representatives have confirmed or denied the photos as real, but in my ever-so-humble opinion, it doesn’t matter at all.

Look, in my book (Life Lessons for the Teenage Girl – http://www.amazon.com/Life-Lessons-Teenage-Girl-Inspiration/dp/1630472026/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1424926550&sr=8-1), the amazingly multi-talented Miss Kat Graham shared with my readers, “what you read in magazines and see on TV isn’t real.  That it’s sometimes the furthest thing from reality.” How are we so shocked that Beyonce may not be perfect – she might actually have a pimple – or two! Cindy Crawford might actually have slightly loose tummy skin after carrying two children and living for nearly 50 years. Seriously? Let’s have a reality check, my friends. They are beautiful people to be sure, but they are people. This means they have flaws – we all do. If we don’t recognize that celebrities might have flaws, how will we ever accept those flaws in ourselves.

Taking the High Road

It seems there are a lot of people in my life lately (both personally and professionally) who are processing through a divorce. None of them, unfortunately, are currently in that friendly divorce stage we all fantasize about. You know that fantasy stage, right? The one you talk about when you are still happily married and joke how , if you ever get divorced, you would keep it super friendly and civil and would ALWAYS put the kids first before any hurt feelings. I love that fantasy stage, but I can say I have rarely, if ever, actually seen it. The closest I have ever come has been several years post-divorce, when all the garbage has already been resolved.

OK, as I was saying, I have experienced a lot of divorces in my life lately. People who are getting divorced are inundated with advice from anyone and everyone at all times. Everyone feels entitled to give insight based on their own experiences. They are told not to be the “nice guy”; to fight for themselves; to lead by example and take the high road; to love the kids more than they hate each other. So much conflicting information!

I am here to advocate for the high road. You are not doing this for them, but for yourself. You can get consumed by anger and hurt and rage and not be able to recognize yourself in the mirror. Your Ex may not deserve the high road you are taking. They may deserve all of your revenge fantasies (and worse). But, and here’s the big but, you don’t deserve what that negativity will do to you and your life. You are not letting them off the hook by taking the high road, you are letting yourself off.

You are free to think they suck, to be disappointed they were not who you thought they were, and to generally not like them as a human being. But, I want you to focus on you. Focus on finding happiness in your own life. Choose positivity instead of negativity. If you have to see your Ex because you share children, be civil – you don’t have to ever be friends, but make it easier on yourself (and your children) and be civil.

I am a firm believer that people ultimately get what is coming to them in life. You don’t have to be the harbinger of their doom. Live your life. Focus on positive things for you and yours. The high road is all about you.

Vilifying the Victim

Have you ever noticed people often have the tendency to attempt to vilify someone they have wronged? Think about it – how many people do you know that have cheated in a relationship, only to explain away their behavior by making their Ex out to be a bitch or an asshole or frigid or whatever? It’s almost as if they need to depict this person in the worst possible light in order to justify their own behaviors.  There seems to be a need to vilify the person who they have hurt in order to alleviate their own guilt about the wrongdoing.

It’s like they have to decide between two choices:

  1. I did a horrible thing which makes me a bad person.

-or-

  1. I did a horrible thing, but he/she is a bitch/asshole so I am justified.

When I was in college (many moons ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth), I had a brief “thing” for/with a college friend. This “relationship” was never going to go anywhere (he was wholly unsuitable for a long term partnership and he, honestly, never thought of me that way anyway), but there were feelings involved. One night while we were all at a party, he drifted away with one of my good friends (not my best friend, but the one with whom I spent most of my time – an important distinction). I didn’t realize it until the next day, but he had never gone home and had spent the night with her. At the time, I was temporarily “devastated” – upset, perhaps more so, by the perceived betrayal of her friendship than by the loss of any “relationship” with him. Now, everyone could have gone their separate ways quite easily, but I quickly learned through the grapevine that she was angry with me. She was telling anyone and everyone she was going to kick my ass” (not the most mature way to express her anger, I know).

At the time I was flummoxed (I really like that word – flummoxed). But now, eons later, I can recognize what was going on. She wasn’t comfortable being the person who had slept with her friend’s crush – this was not consistent with her vision of herself, so she needed to distance herself from our friendship. I needed to be a horrid bitch in her eyes, so she wouldn’t have to be one instead. I have no idea what happened to her after college, but, hopefully, she no longer wishes me ill.

Consider this the next time you feel someone who has done you wrong has unfairly turned the tables on you with regard to blame/responsibility. Chances are – it’s not about you. It’s what they need to do to live with themselves. It doesn’t make it fair, but maybe it, at least, explains it. Maybe you can pity them rather than fear them and you can gain comfort in knowing you probably didn’t do anything to deserve it.

Jillian Barberie just recommended leaving a woman to be beaten

OK – I need to vent a little. I was driving home after dropping Charlie off at dance class (a full-time job, I swear) and I was listening to talk radio killing some time. Here in Southern California there is a station KABC 790 AM which airs various talk radio format shows. At this particular time it was “The Drive Home with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips”. Jillian was sharing how she and a friend were at El Pollo Loco in the greater So Cal area over the weekend and had witnessed a man beating on a woman, screaming at her in Spanish. She further shared her conviction he was on drugs and was upset the woman had used up his supply. Jillian then shared that her friend had wanted to run out to her car so she could use her cell phone to call the police and get help for the woman. Jillian explained how she had talked her friend out of it and told her not to get involved. She made some reference about how she knew the woman would just get back together with him anyway (in fact they were probably already back together now) and it would be such a waste of time to make a report. She complained about the pain in the ass it would be to have to put her name to the report and maybe testify.

I was absolutely horrified by this response and John Phillips’ seconding the notion she should pretend to see nothing (“like a referee in professional wrestling”). Really? What if this woman is killed? I understand we need to consider our own safety – no one is saying you have to let loose a flying tackle on the guy and risk your own life. But – call the police. Try to get help. Maybe he is her boyfriend and maybe she will take him back, but that should never stop us from doing the right thing. Our moral compass is not supposed to be based on outcome, but on doing the right thing because it is right. The end.

Do you remember the story of Catherine Genovese? In the 1960’s, Catherine Genovese was walking home from work when she was attacked by a man with a knife. She screamed repeatedly for help, but no one came. When lights turned on in neighboring apartments, the perpetrator ran away, afraid he would be caught. He then noticed no one coming and returned and killed her. It was later noted that no less than 38 people heard or saw some part of the attack and did nothing. The police were never called until she was dead. (The attack itself lasted over 30 minutes.)

If we followed Jillian Barberie’s example, we, too, would have stood by and waited for her to die without lifting a finger to come to her aid. I don’t care if the woman at El Pollo Loco ultimately went back to her abusive boyfriend (assuming that is even who he was), but I would have had the comfort of knowing for one night I did what I could to help and keep her safe. After that, it is up to her.

Bobbi Kristina: The Perfect Storm

I was recently contacted by a journalist writing an article about Bobbi Kristina Brown – she was seeking information how domestic violence can occur within a celebrity household, why a famous person would stay and what friends and family could have done to help her. We’ve talked about domestic violence in this blog before and the facts we discussed don’t necessarily change just because someone is famous. There was a whole twitter campaign following Ray Rice’s videotaped beating of his now-wife in a New Jersey casino elevator (#whyIstayed) that deals with all the myriad of reasons people have stayed in abusive relationships. I won’t rehash this conversation. If you have time, I really suggest you Google it and read what these people have written. It was very interesting and very moving.

From what I have gathered, there is not definitive “proof” that Bobbi Kristina was in a domestically violent relationship, but there have been a number of allusions to it. I am going to have this discussion as if this is true for the sake of conversation. There are a number of additional reasons why Bobbi Kristina may have stayed in an abusive relationship – the death of her mother, Whitney Houston, three years ago rocked her world and further estranged her from her father, Bobby Brown; her relationship with Nick Gordon was reportedly not well received by friends and family which created separation from those who loved her; and her issues with substance abuse might have caused her to feel trapped in a relationship with a man who had become her whole world. She was raised in a household rife with domestic violence and parents with substance abuse issues. Her life being so chaotic might have actually made it feel normal to her.

The difficulty really comes in what friends and family can (and can’t) do for loved ones struggling with substance abuse and/or domestic violence. If the individual in question is a legal adult, your options are somewhat limited. We, as adults, are free to make whatever decisions we choose – regardless of how detrimental they are. As doctors we have the option of involuntary hospitalizing someone if they are a danger to themselves, a danger to others or gravely disabled, but, unfortunately, substance abuse and domestic violence do not apply. Though these can often be a slow-ride to suicide, they do not apply as a “danger to self” situation.

So what can you do?

  1. Express your concerns. Often times this can alienate your loved ones. It is a delicate balance, but they need to know you have concerns and what you are willing to do to help them. You might offer your place as a safe place to start over or to research rehab programs. Try not to spend too much time bashing the violent partner – you don’t want to create a Romeo & Juliet situation where you end up pushing them closer together.
  2. Recognize the limitations of what you can reasonably do. You cannot want their health and safety more than they do. You will make yourself miserable (and frustrated) if you spend all of your time brainstorming ways to get them out. Sometimes they may need to hit bottom before they are ready to change.
  3. Identify when you are becoming more of an enabler than a friend. Are you doing things to make it easier for them to remain in the relationship (with the person or the substance)? Do you help to make excuses for the abuser? Do you give money to cover when she is short because her money was spent on drugs? Support the person, not the illness.

Finally:

  1. Know there is only so much you can do. You cannot force sobriety or the end of a relationship. It is possible the outcome might be bad – very, very bad. In the case of Bobbi Kristina, it seems likely she will pass as the result of her relationship (either with drugs or with Nick Gordon or both). This can happen even when people repeatedly try to save someone. If this happens to your loved one, it will be horribly, profoundly tragic, but it is in no way your fault. You need to find a way to put the responsibility where it truly belongs – the addiction, the perpetrator or both.

Relationship Reincarnation

Have you ever noticed some people keep going back to the same jerk over and over again? The jerk can be the same jerk even if he (or she) is in a different body. You’ve seen this, right? Maybe your friend consistently dates guys who cheat on her. Maybe you are only attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable or are total commitment phobes. Maybe your brother is only into people who are emotionally needy and cause him to run in the other direction. They are consistently unsatisfied in these relationships, but keep getting drawn back into them again and again.

This reminds me of part of the theory of reincarnation. The idea is people keep getting reborn to the same life until they resolve whatever problem/issue is keeping them from moving on. There are a number of religious and/or philosophical doctrines which follow these tenets. Basically, people are faced with a life challenge and, if they do not overcome it, then they will be reincarnated as a human to face the same challenge again. This happens until they finally overcome it and are able to move on.

I see relationship repeaters the same way. They don’t need to die and be reincarnated per se, but, instead, the relationship is reincarnated – over and over and over again. These individuals are doomed to repeat their relationship until they are able to identify their specific challenge and conquer it. This will enable them to move on and find a healthier relationship in the future. In my teen years and early twenties, I repeatedly dated “the player”. (I blame this on “Daddy issues” – mine is a bit of a man-whore and so were the guys I was dating.) Maybe I was trying to fix my dad through my relationships. Somehow I needed to “fix” him and turn him into a relationship-valueing guy. Huh? Gross. It finally came down to recognizing I didn’t need to find a guy to change, but rather a guy who was already relationship-quality.

What I want for you is to recognize when you are in a repetitive cycle – are your relationships on a self-destructive loop? If yes, take a moment to work on why you are being drawn back to this same type of person. What is the challenge they are representing to you? Do you need to learn how to accept healthy love? Do you need to learn “drama” isn’t necessary to feel excited about someone else? Are you learning you don’t have to “make” someone love you to have worth? Whatever it is – work on sorting it out. Hopefully you can break the cycle before you are too many incarnations into it.