I sat in front of my clinical supervisor for my fortnightly meeting in which I was supposed to talk about how I was coping, and how my work helping others was going. “I’m feeling really stressed at the moment.” I started off by saying. This was not an unusual way for me to start supervision sessions. I was hesitant to even bring this up, because I’d talked about my work stress often before and things didn’t seem to be any better for doing so. “How would you rate your stress from 1-10 at the moment?” She asked me in response. “I’d say an eight.” “Eight’s pretty high.” She said, then asked: “What are you doing for self care.” I rattled off a few things I was already doing, meditation, running, spending time in nature. All of the right answers, but I was already doing these things, and was still feeling stressed, and truth be told, pretty unhappy. I quietly despaired, pretended that I’d have a go at the further suggestions for self care that she made, and changed the topic to the work I didn’t want to do with drug and alcohol addicted citizens of West Auckland, who mainly didn’t want to get state mandated help from me, either.
Eventually, sick enough of the work and the workplace that skipped over the surface of the real social and personal issues, I left, a decision I never regretted for an instant. Looking back, I see this experience of so-called self care as actually being the managing of both clinicians and citizens - a substitute for real connection and healing, and certainly a substitute for addressing the disempowerment of both workers and the poor of West Auckland.
Read the rest of the article by Michael Apathy here...
When people have a child, they are generally congratulated on the birth of their new baby. 'Congratulations on the birth of your son!' or 'So wonderful to hear you have a new daughter!' This is because babies are considered an achievement, a blessing and a generally all round good thing most of the time. But what of the baby? A baby is not often congratulated on its parents, perhaps because it would seem absurd on the face of it.
Because as much as being born is generally considered to be a great thing (we call it the gift of life), the simple fact is that a great many people, myself included, are born to parents who have deep scars on their psyche and troubles with addiction that the baby slowly comes to realize as it matures – and not only to recognize as a problem, but be intrinsically shaped by.
What congratulations are in order for that child, who, born entirely innocent finds itself in the care of a person who cannot properly care for themselves? What sympathy do we have for the sorrows which are heaped upon a yet unformed mind, heart and psyche? A baby is not congratulated on its parents because a baby has no choice in them. It is the passive passenger of genetic chance. Instead of congratulations, all anyone can really offer an infant is a well meaning 'good luck'....
(This is a snippet of a piece written by an anonymous client of Lucid Psychotherapy & Counselling. These pieces will be part of a new series of writings on counselling/psychotherapy; a client's perspective.)
To understand more generally about the concept of defence mechanisms, and how they relate to psychotherapy and counselling, please read prior posts in this series. To learn more about the defence of this post: sexualisation, please read on.
When we use the defence of sexualisation we imbue something (or someone) with sexual significance in order to avoid our anxieties around feelings such as aggression, dependence, or loss. Like other defence mechanisms, there is something remarkable about our capacity to do this. We not only avoid experiencing something painful, but through the pleasure we receive through the sexual association, we may actually be able to make that experience pleasurable. In general, a psychotherapist or counsellor will only confront a client with their defence if it is hurting them. This seems worth pointing out given our propensity to make judgements around sexuality. Sexualisation isn't bad, and is not something to be ashamed about, but sometimes it gets in the way of living a fulfilling life.
To clear up another possible misconception, the defence of sexualisation is quite a different concept from the concern about people (usually children or women) becoming sexualised. According to Duchinsky this different and later use of the term sexualisation developed in the USA in the 80s, to describe a maladaptive form of socialisation which causes a premature entry by the child into adult forms of sexual subjectivity and desire. It seems likely that many of those who have been prematurely sexualised in this later sense of the word will then resort to the use of sexualisation as a defence mechanism, but they are different ideas.
To bring this out of the heady realm of theory, it might be useful to give a couple of common examples of the defence mechanism of sexualisation. Because men are often taught that we must be independent, many of us feel uncomfortable with dependence. But, inescapably, being social animals, we are dependent on others for social connection. When men who are uncomfortable with their need for dependence feel lonely or disconnected they may sexualise this threatening sign of dependence. Instead of seeking out intimate emotional connection, they may go out on the town looking to "get laid" and having the sort of sex that leaves them feeling more empty and alone than ever. (This pattern is not restricted to men, but seems more common in men due to masculine socialisation to be independent.) In extreme form this can result in men (or women) seeking psychotherapy or counselling for sexual addiction or other sexual problems that are really problems with emotional intimacy.
A more common example of the defence of sexualisation amongst women can arise in women who have been taught in one way or another that women are weak and men are powerful. Such women, being afraid of powerful or aggressive men, may sexualise this fear to the point where they instead feel attracted to powerful or aggressive men. Another side effect of this is feeling understandably envious of the power that men are perceived to (and may actually) have. This form of sexualisation is actually the basis of Freud's much maligned and misunderstood concept of penis envy, which (depending on how you interpret Freud) can be seen as a sympathetic and understanding view of the terrible impact on women of patriarchy. Women (or less frequently men) who sexualise in this way often come to psychotherapy or counselling having had a string of very painful relationships with men.
Most of us find talking about sex uncomfortable, perhaps especially if we're talking about a difficulty that relates to our experience of sex and desire. This means that often in therapy I've noticed that clients talk about everything other than sex. Therapists may be hesitant to ask about sex, out of fear of this being interpreted as dirty or seductive or leading by their clients. On the other hand, because of many of our shyness about discussing sex, if a therapist doesn't ask, often a client won't talk about sex. It's difficult. In couple's therapy, talking about sex can be particularly complicated, as sometimes the sexual topic that one couple feels they need to bring up, is the source of great shame for the other. There is no easy fix for this, but having a therapist who feels comfortable talking about sex, does help.
Leaving or needing to leave a relationship is a frequent reason for people to seek psychotherapy or counselling. For some people the process of ending a relationship, though painful, is relatively straightforward, and certainly does not require therapy. However for others, the process is agonising, protracted, and can even be disabling in terms of a person's ability to work, care for themselves, or maintain other important relationships.
Recent research suggests that addictive processes may be involved, for those who struggle severely with ending relationships. Particularly early on, relationships can trigger the dopamine system in our brain - that's the pleasure center that makes us feel really good. Drugs like cocaine similarly stimulate the dopamine center of our brains. The researchers of this study have wondered if the task of leaving a relationship or "falling out of love", for some, might be the equivalent of an addict giving up cocaine.
While I don't know enough about neuroscience to critique the research, certainly subjective addiction related feelings of craving, difficulty with self soothing, and obsessive focus on the substance (or person) of addiction rings true. If leaving an addictive relationship is like giving up a drug habit, then perhaps the following common features of counselling or therapy for addictions might be helpful for some:
Motivational interviewing: The therapist does not take sides about the need to leave or stay in the relationship (in contrast to friends and family who probably have strongly expressed opinions), but helps the client to come to their own decision based on weighing up the alternatives in a personal way.
Relapse prevention: Going back to an addictive relationship is common. Having a relapse prevention plan may help by identifying triggers, such as loneliness or comparisons with others who are in relationships, and making practical plans for coping with these feelings.
A supportive therapeutic relationship: Just as addiction is often isolating, and accompanied by immense shame, sometimes people feel ashamed of their difficulty leaving a relationship, and may have become isolated from supportive friends. A warm and non-judgmental therapeutic relationship can form a regular stable base in a person's life, from which they can make the courageous changes they wish to make.
Finding motivation and staying motivated for change can be hard. Whether you're trying to lose weight, improve your work performance, or become more focused in your sports training, these tips can help. How do we know this? These principles are drawn from a form of psychotherapy or counselling called motivational interviewing. The evidence shows that it can help with the hardest of changes, like getting an alcoholic to stop drinking, a heroin addict to stop shooting up, or even with stopping smoking cigarettes (which is more addictive than alcohol or heroin!) If this approach can work with these issues, then do you think that maybe it can help get you to the gym? You might want to try these tips in the order presented.
Tip 1: Explore the Ambivalence
Be honest, you want this change that you're thinking of, but you also don't want it. Change would be nice. If you get fit you might feel healthier, more sexy, your mood might improve from the endorphins, you might attract a partner, and lots of other benefits. Make a list of all of the benefits of making the change you want.
BUT! Making this change also won't be nice. Exercise is hard. At times you won't feel like it. You might feel awkward at first, or might be afraid of failure. Make a list of all of the reasons not to make this change. Be honest, there's a reason you haven't done it yet.
Now sit back and weigh up the pros and cons of change. It's not a guarantee that you'll pick change, but it will probably help you to move out of stuck ambivalence, which is tiring and frustrating.
Tip 2: Feel the Discrepancy Between How Things are and How You'd Like Them to Be
Our motivation comes from this discrepancy - things aren't how we'd like them to be... otherwise, we'd have no motivation to change. Spend some time reflecting on, or telling a friend about how things are and how you'd like them to be. You might start with the facts of the situation, but what really motivates us is feelings. When you can feel your dissatisfaction, rather than ignoring it, you're much closer to being ready to change. This might be a bit painful or scary or frustrating, but if you're focusing on something that's good for you, it may be worth it.
Tip 3: Focus on What's Possible
You might have done the above two steps and feel really fired up about making your change, but not do the necessary actions to make that change real. Why? If you don't think it's possible for you to succeed, you probably won't try. Make a small, realistic goal, or problem solve the challenges until you feel confident enough to actually try.
Good luck for making your changes!
Addiction has some common themes, regardless of the object of addiction. It often lives in the middle of intense, mind bending denial. It is fed by and lives in shame and guilt. It is fiercely protected by the person who is addicted, and it is often the very last thing to be sacrificed. It is incredibly contentious, and often better to not call addiction at all - after all, who wants to be the implied "addict." Often in the focus on addiction, those who are missed are the partners, children, and family of the person who is addicted. If that's you, these are some points to consider:
You are powerless over your loved one's addiction, but you are not powerless. You have choices that you may not be able to see, and you may benefit from working with someone who understands relationships and addiction.
You have probably become incredibly adapted to living with the addiction, by small increments, over a long period of time. You may not be living out of your own values at the moment, or even be sure what your values actually are.
It may help you to take stock of the impact of the addiction. Make a list of the ways the addiction but helps and hurts. You could do this in regard to the ways your loved one is helped or hurt by the addiction, but more importantly, do this list regarding the ways your are helped or hurt by the addiction.