Two ducks float peacefully along in their pond; suddenly one crosses too far into the other duck’s territory. A fight starts – fast and furious. It lasts for only for a few seconds before just as suddenly they float off in their respective directions. As they do so, they flap their wings furiously, and then they return to their peaceful floating as if the fight never happened.
Such wisdom in the little creatures! How do they return to a peaceful life immediately after the fight? Why don’t they suffer afterwards, like most humans do? Why don’t they have any “wounds to lick”? It’s simple. When they flap their wings, they work off the energy and emotions they’ve built up in the fight – they purge it fully, they feel it fully, so it doesn’t snarl up in their system.
Why do humans, for all our supposed sophistication, not follow this simple pearl of wisdom from nature? We suffer throughout life and we build up so much energy and emotions. Fresh emotions are healthy, if fully felt and properly expressed. But many of us don’t purge them, and like physical wounds they never get a chance to heal. They get infected, like a cut on your body, and begin to rot.
Do you have these rotting wounds inside you? It is nearly impossible not to. How many of us are allowed to fully feel our emotions? And the wounds that you have suffered – fights and arguments are only one of the many injuries possible. You can probably think of the other instances in your own life. And you’re already unhappy about them. Isn’t that purging, you might think? No. There’s a good chance you are repressing it. There are many forms of repression and denial, including some very subtle ones that we don’t know we are doing. And it all combines to kill us slowly from the inside.
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Out of Control Behavior and Sex Addiction NYC
There is a lot of media coverage lately about the concept of "sex addiction," and with a recent Newsweek cover story and the release of a major independent film "Shame," that coverage has only intensified. However, there is still a lot of confusion about what sex addiction actually is and even whether it is a real diagnosis. Numerous authors and researchers have thought about this phenomena in a number of ways - ranging from seeing this kind of out of control sexual behavior as an addiction akin to a chemical dependence, to a compulsion, to a form of obsessive disorder akin to OCD. All of these viewpoints have brought with them a heated debate that even has political undertones, as many critics have pointed out that the concept of sex as an "addiction" plays into the hands of a sex-negative perspective that allows itself to be co-opted by various conservative and religious groups, etc. Because of the political and religious implications, this has become quite an intensely debated, "hot topic" issue.
However, focusing too exclusively on any of these specific pet theories has the potential to obfuscate the real life experiences of individuals who really do struggle with their sexual behaviors. It may be very easy to jump to a stark position by advocating either the extreme of abstaining from all sexual activity or the other extreme of denying any negative consequences and encouraging a bold acceptance of the behavior as a means of taking on a sex-positive stance. However, any of these clinical positions may not properly serve the needs of the individual, since they are pre-determined and formulaic in nature, without taking into account the subjectivity of the individual.
In addition, a rigid adherence to any particular position has the added effect of "compartmentalizing" the individual's struggles, separating them from the totality of that person's experience. For example, an addiction perspective externalizes the difficulty as an addiction, yet does not adequately address the other areas of the individual's life that may be affected by or may be affecting his or her sexual experience. Other approaches may also focus too narrowly only on the presenting problem by medicalizing or politicizing it, which again negates the internal experience of the individual, while also foreclosing the opportunity to view this situation in a holistic perspective as it relates to the individual's thoughts and behaviors in their entirety.
Because of these concerns, the Sexuality, Attachment and Trauma (SAT) Project, based in New York City (NYC), prefers to view out of control sexual behaviors in their global context, as characterological and systemic components of the entire person's psychological makeup and behavior. For example, compulsive sexuality may also display itself in such ways as compulsive eating, compulsive caregiving, narcissistic or isolating behaviors, rigidity in thoughts and communication, superficial relationships, and controlling behaviors. In other words, the sexual difficulties cannot be isolated and compartmentalized in such a way that neglects to carefully examine the global nature of that individual's characterological makeup.
By refusing to adhere to rigid clinical dogmas or formulaic approaches, the clinicians at the SAT Project are able to assess the etiology of the individual's presenting sexual difficulties on an individualized basis, taking into account the individual's complete psychological makeup, and viewing the presenting difficulties as just one aspect of an integrated perspective of the global nature of the individual's difficulties. In this way, the clinicians at the SAT Project are able to bring in diverse clinical and theoretical approaches into their work, incorporating attachment, trauma, and object relations perspectives in informing the clinical work.
This area of treatment is at the heart of the Sexuality, Attachment, and Trauma (SAT) Project's mission. The SAT Project is an outpatient clinic and research think-tank, based in New York City, that provides sex addiction NYC therapeutic intervention using effective and evidence-based treatment techniques to help individuals with sexual and relationship difficulties and conducts cutting-edge research on the etiology and treatment of out of control relational and sexual difficulties.
Can Parents Teach Their Children To Be Emotional Masters?
I was all ready to discuss another topic in this post when I received the following email from a reader the other day:
"There is a huge difference between telling a child to ‘suck it up' and do their homework, and telling them to suck it up when dealing with emotions. My son reads your advice and interprets that any time his five-year-old son whines at all he needs to suck it up."
Of course, no parent likes to hear their children complain. It's frustrating and just plain irritating. It's easy for parents to think that they have a whiny child and that you need to nip that behavior in the bud by just telling them to shut up (especially when a blog post from a so-called parenting expert seems to advocate that approach!).
But let me be very clear, though I totally support teaching children to ‘suck it up' when they complain about having to do something that they would rather not, I do not by any means suggest that parents should tell them to ‘shut up' when they are expressing their emotions-even though that is what they would love to do sometimes!
The fact is that children's emotions are the most essential, yet most neglected, aspect of their development. Most essential because there is nothing more important to children's future success and happiness than the development of what I call emotional mastery. Most neglected because, despite their importance, children don't get any "formal" training in mastering their emotions, no classes in emotions nor do they learn it from their parents in any thorough way.
In attempting to protect their children from feeling badly, many parents prevent them from feeling emotions at all in the mistaken belief that feeling "bad" emotions, such as anger, sadness, or frustration, will somehow scar their children. To the contrary, not feeling so-called bad emotions hurts children in two ways. First, emotions are like two sides of the same coin; children can't feel good emotions, such as excitement, joy, and inspiration, unless they are allowed to feel the bad emotions too. Second, without feeling bad emotions children never learn to deal with those emotions. This overprotection leaves children wholly unprepared for the "real world" where unpleasant emotions are just a part of life.
The challenge for parents is to be able to look beneath the irritation of the emotions that are most readily evident and get at the true emotions that their children are experiencing. For example, when children have a temper tantrum, anger is rarely the real emotion. It's easy to label a child as having "anger management" issues or as "acting out," but these are just labels assigned by parents and mental-health professionals in an attempt to simplify the incredible complexity of children. Anger is a defensive emotion aimed at protecting children (and adults) from more painful emotions such as fear, sadness, and shame. Similarly, whininess is the overt expression of children feeling frustrated, not getting their needs met, or feeling out of control (all of which, I might add, is a normal part of being a kid). When parents understand the true emotions that children are feeling, they are then in a position to teach them how to become masters rather than victims of their emotions.
Children learn their most basic emotional habits from their parents through observation and modeling. The development of emotional mastery is greatly facilitated when parents possess the qualities that their children need to learn. The reality is though that most parents-as human beings-carry with them some unhealthy emotional baggage and habits from their childhoods that, if left unchecked, will be passed on to their children. As a colleague of mine noted so insightfully, "A parent's unconscious is their child's reality." I find that observation to be particularly terrifying. If a parent has persistent anger, it is likely that their child will ingrain this anger in their emotional lives (or, if they take the brunt of that anger, develop a fearful personality). If a parent is constantly frustrated, their child may adopt that emotional style. Conversely, if parents are emotional masters, they will likely instill positive emotional habits in their children. One of the strongest recommendations I can make to parents is to explore their emotional life and ensure that they are capable of teaching their children to be emotional masters, so that their unconscious doesn't become their child's reality.
Emotional mastery is not the absence of emotions or suppressing the emotions that children feel. Instead, it involves children being able to recognize what emotions they are experiencing, understand what is causing the emotions, and being able to express the emotions in a healthy way.
Parents can facilitate their children's understanding by engaging in "emotional coaching," in which they guide their children in the exploration of their emotional worlds. Parents can identify situations as opportunities for their children to learn about their emotions, such as hurt feelings over a disappointing performance or anger over a conflict with a friend. Children can easily separate negative from positive emotions, but only with experience can they learn the differences between different negative emotions. When children feel bad, they need to be able to distinguish whether they are, for example, fearful, angry, frustrated, sad, or hurt. Parents can describe to their children different ways they might feel in that situation and compare those feelings with what their children are feeling at the moment. Research has shown that emotional coaching can act as a buffer against a variety of psychological problems and children who are coached emotionally focus more effectively, are better learners, and do better in school.
Children can get so wrapped up in the negative emotions of the moment that they are unable to step back and see that their reactions are not serving them well. And they can't readily access tools to help them deal constructively with their emotions. This is a point at which parents can intervene. With parents' help both as role models and emotional coaches, children can learn to recognize and identify their emotions. They can then search themselves and their environment for possible causes of their emotional reactions. Seeing the reasons for their feelings provides children with further information about the emotional experience and gives them greater understanding and control over what they feel. This process also encourages children to "step back" from their emotions, which lessens their intensity and impact. It also provides children with the opportunity to express what they feel in a healthy way that serves them best.
Developing emotional mastery is a life-long process that requires awareness and practice. The power of parents lies in their ability to send regular instructive messages about emotions and look for teachable moments in which to instill emotional mastery. Each time children make the right emotional choice, they are making it easier to choose the next time. The great thing about emotional mastery is that it is self-rewarding. When children make the correct choice, they not only feel better, but the situation improves as well. The ultimate goal of emotional mastery is for children to be able to fully experience the entire spectrum of emotions, embrace the positive emotions, and resolve in a healthy way the negative emotions.
Couple Relationships: Mindfulness and Emotional Mastery
Ever notice how many of your thoughts, during a communication with your spouse, take you out of the present moment to future worries or past laments? If you’re not aware of what you tell yourself in your mind (self-talk), and uncertain about how to return to the present moment, you are at risk of mismanaging your emotions in sensitive discussions with your partner.
The thoughts you think inside your mind end up on your lips. Life-draining thoughts cause similar emotions that, in turn, produce unwanted behavioral outcomes, such as reactivity, in your discussions. And, the point is to obtain great outcomes for both, right?
Now, there is a proven solution: developing a practice of mindfulness to master your emotional states.
Mindfulness is a learned ability to live in the present moment experience of life. Emotional mastery, according to Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 groundbreaking bestseller Emotional Intelligence, is the “capacity for recognizing [your] own feelings and those of others, for motivating [yourself], and for managing emotions well in [yourself] and in [your] relationships.”
The two together form a mindful process of attuning your awareness to what is going on in the present moment—your emotions, feelings, thoughts, yearnings, and so on—and doing so in a way that connects you authentically to both your heart and the heart of life around you.
This is where mindfulness can play a major role in allowing you and your partner to remain empathically engaged with one another in challenging moments. In his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, MD notes that certain areas of the brain receive “intuitive” wisdom from visceral parts of the body, such as the heart and the intestines.
The bottom line is that, in order to remain in rapport, you and your partner’s hearts need to remain open to one another. Mindfulness helps you retain a calm heart-centered awareness in challenging moments by making it easier for you and your partner to:
- Focus your attention regardless that other thoughts may be vying for time.
- Manage your body’s reactions with conscious awareness and response choices.
- Calm any reactivity that would interfere with your ability to communicate.
- Notice any limiting thoughts that cause emotions of fear, guilt, shame, and so on.
- Better understand yourself and others as human beings on a learning journey.
- Let go of fear-inducing beliefs and replace them with life enriching ones.
- Choose the thinking-feeling state you want in a given moment.
- Set an intention for what outcome you want to produce in your communication.
In sum, mindfulness works as it allows you to get comfortable with the inherently uncomfortable aspects of emotional intimacy.
In any moment, for example, you simply pause to mindfully set an intention for what outcomes you want to produce in your communications. You have a lot more control over the outcomes of your relational communications than you think. You have a choice in what you think and feel.
Mindfulness offers practical tools, such as deep breathing, meditation or imaging, for making emotional self-mastery a lifestyle. All of these are powerful choices on behalf of your life and relationship—and your present moment communications.
Inner calmness is strength that keeps your heart engaged and fears at bay where they cannot control your responses.