Fear and Its Effect on Relationships

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Fear isn’t just about physical danger. Emotional fear can look a lot like anger. But relationships do not thrive in anger or fear.

People who behave with fear, generate fear in others. People who behave with love, generate love in others.

Think about your relationships. Is there someone (…you?) who is behaving with fear? What are the effects of that behavior?

Healthy relationships are built on emotional safety, honesty and trust. Does your shame and fear cause you to punish those in your life for expressing emotional honesty? Will they continue to be honest with you if they fear your response? Emotional intimacy will suffer as they pull away from you and your shame-based and fear-based tactics.

Parents:  If you are yelling and shaming your children, you are generating fear in them. If your children yell, are oppositional and harm others, if is clear proof they are learning in an environment of fear not love.

If you function in a fearful mode, ask yourself: What are you afraid of? Rejection and abandonment? Exposing vulnerability and weakness? Failure and self-doubt? Shame and guilt?

What would happen if you loved yourself instead of got angry at yourself? What if you completely accepted yourself and others, rather than reacted with shame, fear and anger?


The Correct Way to Interview Donald Trump or Argue with Any Difficult Person

Watching a journalist interview Donald Trump is a lesson in psychology, regardless of your political viewpoint. Trump exhibits a complete lack of accountability for his behaviors, the key attribute of what I call “Other-Blamers” in my new “Self-Acceptance Psychology.” Because he is filled with self-shame and feelings of inadequacy, he has learned to develop some successful ways of managing (avoiding) additional shame.

One tactic of Other-Blamers is what I like to call “zigzag” arguing — a visual description that helps people recognize it when it shows up.

Other-Blamers like Trump have great difficulty admitting they are wrong or acquiescing to any fault. So when challenged with an irrefutable fact, they change the subject. They zig-zag to Topic 2 with such speed, ease and poise that the questioner is often pulled unwittingly right along in this scheme. Suddenly the argument is about Topic 2, rather than Topic 1. Success for the Other-Blamer! He gets to distract from his real misbehavior and escapes from the shaming experience of being held accountable. Sometimes this zigzagging can go on for dozens of topics.

I am amazed at the number of national journalists who do not recognize this behavior and do not immediately stop the zig and address it:  “No, we’re not going to talk about Topic 2. I asked you about Topic 1. Why did you do Topic 1?” And when Trump or any Other-Blamer inevitably changes the topic again, the questioner should doggedly but calmly return to Topic 1 and point out the zigzag behavior directly: “I notice you changed the subject — again. It seems you are uncomfortable addressing Topic 1. We need to address Topic 1, so that’s what you’re going to do.”

Many submissive, placating people come into therapy feeling they are “crazy” and taking on all the fault for relationship problems. These “Self-Blamers” are clearly in relationship with an “Other-Blamer” who blames, makes excuses for his behavior, deflects, denies, and zigzags, to the point where the partner loses a sense of reality and starts to assume she is the one who is incorrect, at fault, and even a bit nuts.

I personally experienced this deflect and distract style of arguing hundreds of times with my second husband, so I know it can be quite confusing. I was left emotionally exhausted and bewildered after many arguments, and my Self-Blaming patterns became more entrenched. My father and sister also have excellent skills at Other-Blaming and zigzag arguing, so I experienced this behavior throughout my childhood and early adulthood.

As I have experienced, the lack of any factual basis to their arguments does not stop Other-Blamers. This can be disturbing to many people who do like to base their arguments on some sort of reality! Don’t be unhinged by the lies.  Recognize that this lack of factual basis is exactly the problem — and then address it.

In therapy, I educate the Self-Blamers on the behavior of the Other-Blamer, especially the tactic of zigzag arguing. It takes mindfulness, calm and self-discipline not to get pulled down the rabbit hole of zigzag arguing. But it can be very productive — although the Other-Blamer will not like it one bit. That strategy has served him very well throughout his life and he will not enjoy being called out on his behavior.

As is proven on TV news on a daily basis, Trump behaves this way very, very frequently. But I suspect he also behaves this way in personal and business relationships. His extreme feelings of inadequacy mean that he is unable and unwilling to be humble, accountable, and admit fault, even when the facts all say he is wrong.

The key to fixing this behavior is to develop self-acceptance, so that you can tolerate shame in a healthy manner without Other-Blaming tactics.

Announcing My Latest Project: Self-Acceptance Psychology

Self-Acceptance Psychology-2Consider this…

Why are normal human reactions — such as fear, shame, self-criticism and the need for love and belonging — labeled as “mental disorders?”

Could compassionate self-acceptance be the solution to commonplace self-doubt — and even help people find permanent solutions to anxiety, depression and other supposed “mental disorders?”

I am excited to announce the start of my newest project, based on “Pack Leader Psychology,” but taking those ideas to an entirely new level. Self-Acceptance Psychology is starting as a 55-page booklet for clinicians and website, but I hope to grow it into much more.

That’s because I am so passionate about challenging the mental health profession’s inaccurate, unscientific myths. The current disease model falsely asserts that “anxiety,” “depression” and “ADHD” are caused by imbalances in brain chemistry or inherited traits. Harmful drugs are then pushed as the only solution to these allegedly “lifelong” conditions.

What if there was a system for understanding human emotions and behaviors that….

… was more accurate than the current psychiatric diagnostic model?

… could bring about a real understanding of the causes of human behavior?

… could improve the quality of your relationships with others?

… could improve the relationship you have with yourself?

… could lead to real, permanent change without the use of drugs — bringing contentment and an improved sense of connection?

At the risk of sounding boastful, I believe that system is Self-Acceptance Psychology.

To learn more right now, you can instantly download a 55-page PDF book for just $5. While Self-Acceptance Psychology is aimed at psychologists, social workers and counselors, the general public will be able to fully understand the concepts.

Please share this blog post with any mental health professionals that you know and join me on social media to stay up to date. I’ll be blogging soon on and major anti-psychiatry website — more to come soon!

“Be kind to yourself….”

Book Review: “Feeling Loved” by Jeanne Segal, PhD

41iNFKQs-QL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished a very readable and helpful new book by Jeanne Segal, PhD, “Feeling Loved: The Science of Nurturing Meaningful Connections and Building Lasting Happiness.” (2015, BenBella Books)

Her simple, but powerful thesis: “Feeling loved depends on our ability to communicate emotionally.” (p. 18)

I see problems with emotional awareness, expression, and attunement all the time in therapy. It is especially noticeable with couples and families. Even when in a relationship it is possible to feel lonely, ignored, and misunderstood if your partner lacks the ability to attune to and respond to your emotions or if you lack the ability to properly express your real emotions.

Segal makes an important distinction when discussing her daughter’s suicide death. “Our daughter’s death made me recognize the gap that can exist between being loved and feeling loved. Morgan Leslie was deeply loved by her family and by all who knew her, but I don’t believe she felt loved.“ (p. 10)

“You can tend to someone and provide and care for them, but if you don’t slow down enough or know how to create an emotional connection, you won’t experience feeling loved. Someone can go out of their way to meet your every physical and intellectual need, yet completely miss opportunities to notice and respond to your emotional needs. If they don’t look at you, they may miss the fact that you’re feeling sad. If they don’t hear the frustration or fear in your voice, they may respond in ways that make you angrier or more fearful. When this happens, you realize that you’re well cared for, but you don’t feel loved. Without the facial, body language, and other nonverbal signals that convey emotional understanding and connection, you won’t feel loved and be emotionally fulfill.” (pp. 23-24)

Segal’s work is based on attachment theory, a concept that is essential to me in my work as a psychotherapist. Attachment theory is a very well-researched and well-accepted concept that explains that humans learn relationship patterns starting at birth based on consistent emotional attunement, responsiveness, and empathy of primary caregivers.

A “secure attachment pattern” teaches a child to accept care and develop a sense of connection with others. This helps the child learn a positive model of how another person feels about him and an abiding belief in self-esteem. It predicts that a person will likely grow into someone who has healthy, loving relationships with others and with himself.

Secure attachment also gives a person the experience of trusting relationships, which underlies future behaviors involving empathy and control of aggression.

In contrast, if a parent is emotionally unavailable and unable to develop a strong, nurturing bond with an infant, that child can develop deep-seated fears that he is inadequate and unlovable. “Insecure attachment” in childhood leads to fear and emotional reactivity when a person perceives he will be abandoned or rejected, even later in life.

Those who have insecure attachment often do not learn skills, such as emotional awareness, emotional regulation, self-acceptance, or self-compassion, which are key to self-attachment and good emotional health. In severe cases, because they fail to learn healthy emotional giving and receiving, they fail to learn social reciprocity skills and appear with flat affect and lack of emotionality.

With lack of attachment, a person fails, in some measure, to learn to speak the language of emotions — the unspoken, heart-felt way that humans seek and achieve a deep sense of belonging and acceptance. If you fail to learn this language, you may struggle to connect to your emotions, losing self-acceptance and self-understanding. You may also struggle to connect with others, thereby losing the potential healing power of attachment and emotional connection with others.

With the loss of both connection to self and others, this can cause of an important source of human suffering – loneliness.

Attachment even has implications for the development of neural connections in the brain during infancy.

As Segal notes: “[W]hen an infant feels loved, he or she undergoes profoundly positive effects in brain development. These studies also support the idea that feeling loved has beneficial impacts on our physiology, making us more resilient and nourishing our nervous and immune systems so we can better face life’s challenges. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that much of the loneliness, sadness, anger, and anxiety we feel are reflections of the emptiness we experience when we don’t feel loved.” (p. 2)

Seal’s book is based on current neurobiological research on the power of oxytocin, the “love hormone;” polyvagal theory; and the threat response. But it is eminently readable for the general public and is loaded with short case studies to illustrate her points.

I especially liked her emphasis on the need to slow down in order to feel loved.

“When we get too busy or too preoccupied to accommodate the slower pace required for emotional communication, we lose the hormonal rush that makes us feel loved. If we are always on the go, planning the next step, multitasking, or just too exhausted to notice, we will miss opportunities to feel loved or to make others feel loved.” (p. 31)

She offers a meditation for improving emotional awareness, a toolkit for change, and chapters on work and family relationships.

I’m looking forward to the book that is next up on my nightstand — Segal’s book “The Language of Emotional Intelligence: The Five Essential Tools for Building Powerful and Effective Relationships” (2008, McGraw Hill).

How to Spot a Bad Therapist

At the risk of appearing pompous and egotistical, I’m going to take a big leap here and criticize some in my profession. I do so not because I feel I am a perfect therapist, but because I hear so many tales of psychotherapists, social workers and counselors that make me angry and disappointed at their very obvious lack of professionalism.

Here are a few examples of incompetent therapists in action:

  • In the first session, the therapist asked the patient to hire the therapist’s daughter.
    • A clear boundary violation that the patient, correctly, took offense to. He quit the therapist immediately.
  • Therapists who talk excessively about themselves.
    • I heard about one therapist who told a suicidal teenager about her own teenage daughter’s suicide. True story! This therapist should never have taken on a case that triggered her emotions in this way. It should have been referred to someone else immediately. She should never have self-disclosed in this very harmful way that could have triggered this teen into acting on her suicidal thoughts.
    • Another patient told me she made no progress because the previous therapist spent most of each session talking about herself, her children, her weight loss issues, her marriage, etc, etc.
  • In the first session, a therapist told a couple to get divorced.
    • Making a judgment about a relationship of many years based on a few minutes of reporting by the couple is impetuous and possibly harmful. A therapist is, generally, not to be a judge or advice giver. And certainly not in the first session. The goal of therapy is not to have a therapist give advice or run a person’s life, but rather to lead the patient toward skills to be more self-efficacious, not less.
  • Patients report seeing a therapist for years and not making any progress.
    • In the first session, when I ask if a patient has been to a therapist before, I then ask what they learned or what helped. Many, many people answer: nothing. Certainly that can be a function of the patient’s defensiveness or inability to make emotional change. But I’ve had these same patients tell me: “I’ve learned more in this first session than I did in years of therapy with other therapists.” Ethical professional behavior requires that a therapist refer patients to another therapist if they are not making progress in a reasonable amount of time.
  • One therapist saw a couple for two years without having had any training in marital therapy. The couple made no progress, the husband had moved out and they were on the verge of divorce when they came to see me. They had come to believe they were “hopeless and unfixable.”
    • While it is impossible to gain specialty training in every area of mental health, therapists are ethically bound to be aware of their weaknesses and not take on patients that they are unqualified to treat. Look for a therapist who specializes in your issue.
  • Many therapists do not discuss emotions or help patients address how they experience emotions.
    • Going deep into the physical experience of and belief system about emotions is the only way to make progress in therapy. My rule is: A good therapy session should leave you somewhat emotionally affected. If you never feel wrung out or cry in therapy, it probably wasn’t worth your time and money.
    • Many therapists have never been in therapy themselves and so feel uncomfortable dealing with emotions. A therapist should have worked through his or her own issues with emotions, especially the emotion of shame, so they will be comfortable dealing with your strong emotions.
  • Beware of therapists who allow you talk endlessly about other people.
    • Therapy is about you. Certainly relationships in your life are important, but if, at some point, the therapist does not make you address your own emotions and behavioral choices, then therapy just becomes a venting session about others and you will make no progress on your own issues. Not surprisingly, your relationships will also not change.
  • Therapists who fail to show, run late or cancel appointments frequently.
    • Unprofessional. Enough said.
  • I have shared office space with therapists whose sessions with all patients involve repeated, loud laughter throughout nearly every session.
    • Certainly laughter is healthy and appropriate in the therapeutic relationship, but therapy is not a social relationship. If every session involves extended story-telling and humor, then I would question the value of this style of therapy. If a patient feels the need to entertain the therapist with humorous anecdotes at every session, this is actually a theme to be explored:  “I notice that you like to come to every session with a story for me to laugh at. Is this a pattern in your other relationships? What does this mean for you?”
  • In contrast, patients have reported that the therapist never smiled at them and was “stone-faced.”
    • Warmth, acceptance and compassion are essential traits of any therapist. Long gone are the days of Freudian “blank screen” facial affect styles for psychoanalysts. How can a therapist explore and encourage a range of emotions in patients without also expressing those herself?
  • Many therapists who treat children never meet with the parents after the first session.
    • Child behavioral problems are nearly always the result of parenting styles that are permissive or authoritarian, or lacking in emotional connection. How is it possible to assess for inappropriate parenting and lack of attachment without meeting with the parents and directly questioning them? How can a therapist conduct parenting education without meeting with the parents separate from the child? How do you build attachment between parent and child without family sessions?
  • Therapists recommend patients consider medication.
    • There is no known biological, functional or genetic cause of “mental disorders.” Psychiatric medications do not “cure” a “medical illness,” such as an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Psychiatric medications have many short-term and long-term hazards. Therapists who encourage use of medications are not educated on the current state of the profession and are endangering their patients.

These are just a few of the inappropriate behaviors therapists can engage in. Fortunately, I’ve never directly encountered the most common complaint registered with licensing agencies:  Sexual relationships between a therapist and patient. Clearly, this boundary violation is never appropriate and a violation of the licensing laws in all states.

When selecting a therapist, find one who is professional and trained in your area of interest, but also warm and accepting. Trust your intuition. If the first session does not feel comfortable, seek another therapist. Do not be afraid to tell the therapist you are doing so.

I end each intake session by telling the patient: “The therapeutic relationship is very subjective and personal. If you feel this relationship is not appropriate for you, I will completely understand and will not take it personally. Would you like to schedule another appointment or can I refer you to another therapist?”

As in any field, there is a range of quality in the mental health treatment profession. I encourage you to keep looking until you find a therapist who helps you progress with your emotional health in a timely and professional manner.