These are posts that Dee writes regularly and puts on various social media. Like a piece of wood set up in the ground that can offer support, these are thoughts you might want to lean into, see if they mark any places you have rested and pondered in the past. Maybe they are new thoughts for you. As you lean here for a minute or two, you might want to chew on a tooth pick.
photo by J Cargile
Rocking the Worry
Check out Elyane Youssef's beautiful article on worry. Me being a dance therapist, I got to thinking about the movement involved in what we call worry. What we call our monkey minds chatter because they are designed to look for danger and solutions. That kind of thinking is useful if we can get the monkeys out of the trees. If we ground our worry into the earth, it can rock us as we consider our options...on the one hand...on the other hand...and then, in the rocking we can m...ore and more feel gravity holding us to the earth. When we "worry" a knot, we roll it between our fingers to see if it will loosen. Back and forth movement helps us in many ways. Rocking slowly and becoming more mindful of gravity in the process seems to help us find "the wisdom to know the difference," which is the third part of the Serenity Prayer. The quote at the beginning of Elyane's wonderful article says not to be upset, like a table is upset when it is knocked on it's side. Instead of letting life send us scurrying in the trees monkey-calling or knock us on our sides like an upset table, can we learn to groundedly move back and forth or side to side, to practice the healthy, grounded-monkey way to worry?
Click here to read the article.
Neuroscience is helping us to understand how to ground our anxiety
I just read Holly Riordan's post below which stirred my gratitude for polyvagal theory. I posted this response: Neuroscience is helping us understand how to ground our anxiety. The move from fight/flight energy to what Stephen Porges calls our Social Engagement System biology helps us find an energized place that does not involve bursts of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. As the name suggest, we move into our social engagement system by getting messages that all is ok, not that there won't be really tough stuff to deal with but that we'll deal. Those suggestions don't have to come from other people once we get to a certain age; they can come from inner coaching. It's nice to hear the inner-coaching in this piece.
When we can coach ourselves such that we stay in our social engagement system biology, dating can be playful and fun. Check out page 97 of our book/workbook Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating.
Can Polyvagal Theory offer hope for Valentine's Day 2017?
Here in 2017, most of us are on our last nerve. As nervous system functioning goes, we are using the wrong nerve for a happy Valentine's Day.
According to Stephen Porges' polyvagal theory, mammals have a unique type of nervous system functioning that engages when we feel safe. Porges calls this nervous system functioning our Social Engagement System.
Social Engagement System sure sounds like the kind of nervous system functioning we would like to access in our bodies for Valentine's Day, right?
Valentine's Day 2017, following so closely after the inauguration of President Donald Trump will see most of us struggling to stay out of nervous system functioning that our bodies have for when we sense life-threatening danger. We humans are social animals and if one pack turns on another, our bodies shoot off flight/flight chemistry. If we see no clear way to fight or flee, our bodies shut down.
The divisions in our country are not new as of Trump's election. Most see his election as representative of the deep divides that were forming in the United States for quite some time. And our collective coffee craze is evidence that we have been sinking into nervous system functioning that creates shut-down for awhile.
The part of our nervous system that creates shut-down is used by reptiles to conserve oxygen. As mammals, we have oxygen-dependent blood. We are only meant to use this shut-down type of nervous system functioning in life-threatening danger.
Like possums, we can use this nervous system functioning to shut down with hope that the danger will pass. We do this when we drift into romance trance. Usually, we jolt awake and shake off the daze, maybe go have a coffee. But, this year our temptation to fantasize our way through Valentine's Day may rival Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl.
Will we be like Match Girls for Valentine's Day 2017?
In the classic story of The Little Match Girl, one particularly bleak winter leads to so few sales of matches that the girl lights a match as a diversion, providing herself a tiny moment of warmth. She disappears briefly into the beauty of the flame. Once the flame is gone, she feels so despondent that she lights another. She continues to light matches and disappears into the fantasies provided by moments of flame until the matches are gone and she dies in the snow.
Not a great Valentine's Day story, huh? Some of you may be saying, "Isn't Valentine's Day hoopla a commercial creation anyway?" Perhaps cynicism is grounding. Whatever we need this Valentine's Day 2017 in order to ground ourselves and stay out of the hopeless fight/flight that leads to shut-down, let's do it!
Let's spend our Valentine's Day dancing and/or doing yoga. Then, we can be present with our lovers and we can be good lovers to ourselves.
Profiling is Good...for Digital Dating
Our world is learning that profiling others is dangerous. When we profile people, we often make poor decisions about them because our decisions are based on generalities rather than information about each individual person. Is that why digital dating trends are moving away from the writing and reading of profiles?
Aren't dating profiles just a sales pitch anyway? If we are going to judge superficially due to inadequate information, whether we read a profile or not, why not just swipe photos?
I was working with a client in my therapy practice who shared that he was trying the more traditional online dating. He had written a profile and had begun reading other people's profiles. Online dating had never come up in our work together so he didn't know that I had co-created Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating.
Before I shared with him about the book/workbook, he complained about the profile process in a way that so matched the information in Naked Online's first two chapters that I wanted to write about it. He said that a friend of his read the profile he'd created and called him out on his lack of authenticity.
My client admitted he was trying to write what he thought women would want to hear. He then acknowledged that reading profiles sent him off into fantasyland and he could tell that his journeying far from reality hindered him finding a romantic partner. I validated that truth and shared the playful way that Chapter Two of Naked Online encourages using our fantasies as a way to learn more about ourselves.
I shared that Chapter One encourages the writing of our profiles as a way to fall more deeply in love with ourselves. His eyes lit up. He told me his friend's suggestion of what he should write felt really good to him. It felt good to be less concerned about pleasing someone else and more concerned with sharing what he feels passionate about.
It is true that profiles are limiting in terms of how much we can actually learn about another person and people may not be honest because they feel the need to sell us on themselves. So what's the use of writing or reading them?
The more we know ourselves, the better we are at navigating relationships.
Writing and rewriting a profile in a playful way helps us discover what is important to us. Mindfully watching where our fantasies go when we read others' profiles helps us think about what we want to bring into our lives that is not dependent on any particular partner. Knowing what we want helps us negotiate for those wants in our relationships.
Aren't we getting dangerously close to narcissism if we focus too much on what we want? No. Narcissism is not about the wanting; it is about the inability to accept that we do not always get what we want.
When we experience the fact that we can want something and not get it without the world ending, we become free to honestly campaign for our wants. As we experience that life is okay even when we don't get what we want, we develop a willingness to share. We become willing to give up some of what we want so that others can sometimes have what they want.
Where are you today on the map of nervous system functioning?
As I was preparing for a workshop I am scheduled to present on Sunday, I paused to take a breath. I was hoping to regain more internal balance. Like many other people, I was very surprised by the results of the election.
In that breath, I had a realization related to a problem I have wrestled with for some time.
Polyvagal Theory and the Election
I preach the value of Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory because polyvagal theory gives us a more useful map of nervous system functioning than we have ever had before. Other teachers, therapists and coaches who use neurobiology but who are not as familiar with polyvagal theory as me have waved off my enthusiasm. They say, “Don’t focus on one theory.”
My lightbulb experience post-election gave me a way to explain my polyvagal appreciation.
The picture that polyvagal theory offers me is actually a map—a simple map like one of the earth that shows only the shape and location of the continents. Everything related to the earth could be on this map but keeping it simple and only showing the continents helps me get my bearings on days like the day after the election.
On the metaphoric map where different nervous system functioning is represented by the different continents, other neurological systems could be represented. On the continents, there are lakes and rivers, fault lines, migration paths of birds, etc. However, just seeing the continents so to speak and identifying which continent I am on helps me best whenever I need to regain neurological balance.
Locating Myself on the Map
At any given moment, I am either on the continent of nervous system functioning that works when I sense life-threatening danger or I am on the continent that works when I feel safe. The one that works when I sense life-threatening danger has two major land masses that are connected like North and South America. North America would represent fight/flight response and South America would represent shut-down response.
Where am I today?
On the map of nervous system functioning, today I am in Central America, the metaphoric peninsula that connects the continent of shut-down with the continent of fight/flight. I am coming out of shock and feeling an urge to flee.
Instead of getting on a real boat or plane, I will find metaphoric transportation. I will use my breath to find balance. As I balance my inhales and exhales, I shift my weight back and forth from one foot to the other, then heels to toes, feeling powerfully present in my legs. This awareness moves me into my nervous system functioning that works when I feel safe.
As I return to the large metaphoric land mass that I live on when I feel safe, creative thinking becomes possible. On this continent, it becomes possible to rest again and then to digest the meal that did not initially sit well in my belly. After that, I will be able to play with options, even if those options are more limited than I would wish.
Salon article looks to science to help date anxiety: Naked Online offers solution!
Author Olivia Reme makes good suggestions for how to calm dating anxiety. Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating agrees and offers some important additions.
Salon republished an excellent article by Reme which was originally seen in The Conversation. She identifies the need for techniques to calm date anxiety. When that feeling of butterflies in our stomachs does not feel playfully titillating but instead creates the kind of sweaty, hand-wringing anxiety that puts off potential romantic partners, she suggests the kind of breath work Naked Online teaches.
Reme points to the vulnerability we can feel in dating and encourages a shift in focus. Naked Online offers suggestions for ways we can coach ourselves through our worries. She encourages mindfulness as does Naked Online with its playful inclusion of the word zen in the subtitle.
Naked Online takes a step further than Reme does in her suggestion for facing our fears. The newest science as explained by trauma expert Peter Levine helps us understand the danger of exposure therapy alone which sends us back into our fears without new armor. Naked Online provides the needed armor.
Reme is right that facing our fears is necessary and taking it in small doses makes empowerment more likely, but we need the tools that insure success or we simply traumatize ourselves. Naked Online literally arms us as we go into the arena of our fears because it is a workbook. For one thing, as we use our hands in the journaling sections, we actually feel more competent in our arms!
We further arm ourselves when we gain an understanding of our fears. With understanding, we feel more grounded. With control of our breath, an outlet for expression at our fingertips and an understanding of our fears to ground us, we feel more competent--more capable of mastery. When we are armed in a new way, facing each small dose of fearful challenge can have a successful outcome. Butterflies, watch out!
An Article in The Atlantic looks at Fear Stirred by Online Dating.
The Atlantic looks at fear stirred by online dating, just like Naked Online, A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating.
Taking the Fear and Desperation Out of Online Dating, an article in The Atlantic talks about our fear of change. As animals, we are hard-wired to notice and react to change. Change could signify danger and we want to be ready to shoot into fight/flight as needed.
We the creators of Naked Online explain the fear stirred by online dating as a perfect storm of nerve-challenging forces:
- Fear of this new match-making method as The Atlantic article explains so beautifully.
- Little kid feelings stirred by romance in general as Levine and Heller document in their book Attached. Feelings like: “Nobody likes me! I’ll take my toys and go home.”
- The potential of technology, with its sensation overload, to increase our sensitivity. The new Time Magazine about mindfulness names studies that show frequent use of technology “bombards our cerebral cortex,” the reasoning part of our brains.
The good news is that we can use this process that can get on our last nerve to reprogram our nervous system response. Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating, with its Sensation Scale, plus Chapter 3 which helps us find serenity, plus all the workbook opportunities for inner-kid care, is the perfect tool for lowering the fear stirred by online dating to a playful fun-loving level.
The Atlantic article reviews an app that advertises some role-reversal as an antidote for the fear but many of the comments following the article don’t buy it. Naked Online offers such a fresh perspective that we have had to work hard to get folks to see the possibilities. Brows furrow as people consider, “What? You mean I can use online dating to be come a healthier person?” Yes! The Atlantic understands the fear-stirring possibility of online dating. Now, we just need them to understand the growth potential!
Meeting Jon Birger
This weekend at the US Dating Awards, I met Jon Birger and listened to his presentation about the material in his book Date-onomics. Birger’s book was nominated for best dating book of 2015 along with Naked Online, the book I created with John Cargile and Kathy Jernigan.
Date-onomics explores the increasing gap between college-educated women and college-educated men in the dating pool. In his talk, Birger predicted more of what he called mixed-collar marriages, meaning college-educated women marrying blue-collar men. That same day, I heard that Terry Real was offering a training for counselors who work with couples entitled Grandiose Women, Shut Down Men.
Real explains that grandiosity in therapeutic circles names a way people compensate for feelings of fear and vulnerability. Much of Real’s earlier work helped couples in which the man was stuck in grandiosity. Are men abandoning grandiosity and shutting down?
Besides being a long-time clinician, author and trainer, Real was witness to the men’s movement out of which came John Bly’s book Iron John. Camping out with those who examined the effect of the patriarchy on men, Terry has had a knack for helping men with what Bly names as our culture’s absence of ritual to guide boys toward becoming wise men.
At Birger’s talk, a well-known matchmaker asked How do we convince these high-powered women to consider men who have not gone to college? The answer lies in softening the warrior part of all of us—the part that gets brittle and defensive to compensate for fear and vulnerability.
The answer lies in everyone growing wiser—more grounded, centered, empowered for action that fits a given situation. Take note of the subtitle of our book Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating. (And how we sneak in the word zen.) Technology allows so many opportunities for romantic relating that we can now use our dating process not just to find partners but to become better at partnering.
Click here to read my article from last November in the online mindfulness magazine Elephant Journal: Is My Anxiety Attracting Your Depression.
Terry Real's website: https://www.terryreal.com John Birger's website: http://jonbirger.com
Is Naked Online Effective?
Kathy, John and I attended the US Dating Awards in NYC this weekend. Our book/workbook, Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating, was nominated one of the five best dating books in 2015. Questioned about the effectiveness of the book, I mentioned therapy clients with whom I worked as we developed the material in the book and after it was published.
Disguising any identifying information about these clients, I will share three success stories here:
I recently began work with a client I will call Richard. He was struggling with what he had began to see as porn addiction and wanted help. I suggested we use Naked Online. Encouraged to go to the table of contents and pick the chapter that first caught his eye, he said he was intrigued with the chapter entitled Reaching Out or Pulling Back? How Attachment Style Affects Relationship.
Assured that there was no wrong way to work with the book, he left with the homework assignment of reading the chapter and doing some of the journaling assignment. He appreciated that the chapters are only a few pages. I explained that any reading, writing and/or drawing he did or did not do would give us some good information to process.
At the next session, Richard admitted that it was hard information to read and that he had read very little. He confessed that he was in a relationship of sorts with someone who was not interested in committing to anyone. The lack of commitment on the part of this lover was stirring up a lot of feelings for him that he felt ashamed to admit. Aren’t men supposed to want uncommitted sex?
We talked about peer pressure to conform to an idea of manhood that does not leave much room for men who want to get married and have families. We also looked at his attraction to this lover who was unavailable and a possible pattern of attraction to unavailable women.
When he came in for the next session, he had drawn pictures in the journaling section of the chapter. The drawings, he said, were of some memories he had from when he was young. As he talked about what he had drawn, he faced some truths about his childhood that he said were obviously involved in his almost obsessive wish to be chosen by this particular lover. He also had the thought that these intense feelings seemed to fuel escape into pornography.
Over the next few sessions which he spread out over a couple of months, he worked with the material in several other chapters. He found himself more attracted to women he was meeting online than he had ever been before and less interested in the unavailable lover. He announced that the women he now considered dating would have seemed too average for him to have noticed in the past. By the time we ended our work, he was dating a woman that he was enjoying and that he was in his words Falling more deeply in love with each day.
Another client, who I will call Monique, worked with me for several years and continues to see me for counseling. Her early dating history was very chaotic. She would get passionately involved with men and find out they had been dishonest about other women they were seeing or drug use or their occupations. When she saw the painful truth, she would stop dating for long periods.
Monique and I talked gently about what we call Romance Trance in our book and why she was so susceptible to it. Using the Give and Take scale, she began to see the pattern she had of over-giving. Over time she could feel how her over-giving was her attempt to control relationships.
As she used the Sensation Scale to help her balance her anxiety during relationships, Monique was able to better tolerate the ups and downs of dating. The amount of time in which she practiced abstinence from dating shortened.
I still counsel Monique today. She is in a committed relationship with a good guy. She gets frightened and still uses the book to stay grounded. We help her pay attention to the little kid feelings that get stirred up in her and to care for her little kid self because, as we say in Naked Online, our little kid selves should not be the part of us that interacts with our lovers.
Anne, as I will call her, was in a committed relationship with a woman she said was The Girl of her Dreams. But the relationship was killing her, literally. She could not eat or sleep because of the anxiety that each of them was setting off in the other. They had only been involved for three months but it had been a passionate whirlwind romance that both had loved until recently.
Anne started her work with Naked Online during one of the many breakups with her lover over the time we were working together. She enjoyed how tactile the therapeutic possibilities were and drew huge colorful drawings not only in the journaling sections but also in the margins. She carried the book around Like a teddy bear, she said. She loved flipping back and forth from chapter to chapter as the book/workbook suggests. I love the paper, she said one day.
Anne used the breath exercises and journaling work to create a daily meditation. She and her girlfriend eventually broke things off for good. Anne used the Sensation Scale frequently to make it through that time.
Before The Girl of her Dreams, Anne had never imagined herself capable of a long-term relationship. After her work with me using Naked Online, she has hope she’ll make a better choice for partnership and knows she now has skills to find true intimacy.
It is exciting to have a tool to help daters in this time of digital dating. Technology brings many new ways to meet and to relate with lovers. Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating helps with the new dating possibilities as well as the age-old relationship issues.
Competing with Jon Birger
…whose book Date-onomics focuses on the competition of college-educated women for the shrinking pool of college-educated men, and who has stirred controversy with his ideas about the effects this lopsided dating pool have on dating behavior.
As author of Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating, I am literally competing with Jon Birger. Both of our books are among the five finalists for best dating book of 2015 in the new US Dating Awards.
I read Birger’s book (I was checking out the competition) and found it to be very thought provoking. Birger gives us statistic after statistic documenting the decline in the number of college-educated men as compared to college-educated women. Coming from my perspective as a therapist, I see Date-onomics as an exploration of our cultural loss of the Jungian archetype of Wise Man. Why are fewer guys going to college?
In times of great change, animals feel a heightened sense of fearful alertness. And we are animals so that happens to us, too. In these times of fast-paced technological change, we all—men and women—hunger for the Warrior archetype. Please, Mr. Muscles, tell me you can manage whatever danger lurks in the bushes! We search for that archetype in the world and within ourselves.
A hunger for the Warrior archetype colors our sexual behavior. Esther Perel, in her 2007 book Mating in Captivity, explained that healthy sex has a balance of emotional comfort and competitive sexual tension. It makes sense that when we, as a culture, seek the quick fix of the Warrior archetype, we are more intrigued with the competitive aspects of sexuality.
In a catch-22 sort of way, the decline of the Wise Man archetype and hunger for the Warrior archetype stir attraction to competitive sexual games which then encourages more Warrior energy which encourages even more competitive sexual games, etc, etc. until we see the popularity of stories like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Of course Date-onomics is stirring push-back! Even in me, author of Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating, the book about using digital dating to get healthier! Dating paired with technology ignites fight/flight so the exciting news is that we can use this arena to train our nervous system functioning. In the arena of modern romance, we can practice slowing down and shifting our male (and female) warriors into wise people.
Needing to constantly be doing something can be a sign of a person whose nervous system is pretty high strung, a sensitive person who gets revved up by all the stimulus of life. Doing things channels all that energy and helps sensitive people function. In the early part of a relationship, with the high of getting to know someone new, sensitive people may need to be extra busy, sometimes with their new partners and sometimes alone because the new partner is arousing, which is lovely. If we can see busy as a coping style and be glad when sensitive people know how to take care of themselves, if we can manage to not think of alone time as rejection, dating sensitively can be delightful.
How do I respond to mixed messages?
Sometimes people are unclear about what they want. So they communicate unclearly. Things that are ok in one moment are not in another. They are not speaking loudly enough to be understood in one moment and then yell and giggle in another. Being unclear from moment to moment is part of relationships. They change. That freshness from moment to moment can be fun if we don't let it freak us out because we want to do the right thing. We can try to relax knowing this is one of the times when there is no clear right thing. As we stay in the dance, go with the flow, we may have desires but let's try not to have goals. If we have goals and we don't make them, we can feel like a failure. If we have desires and they're not met, we can say 'oh well' and stay with the process until the nature of the dance reveals itself because those we dance with get clearer and more settled within themselves.
Ruth of Boy Dates Girl
When I started writing Naked Online, I found this voice that I had never used in my therapeutic writing before. As Kathy and John joined the team, I was protective of the playful, dramatic voice for communicating the dating advice because it seemed essential to the book's effectiveness. A few months ago, it hit me - this is my version of Ruth Langhinrichs' voice from her 1040's dating guide Boy Dates Girl which inspired The Etiquette Man, the short film I co-produced with Steve Coulter. I thank Ruth for the gift of her sweet and playful way to teach common sense advice on a topic that can knock us off our balance.
I've been thinking about how we make choices in our lives. For those of us who grew up in a chaotic atmosphere, intensity often signals the feeling that we're on the right path. We don't feel we're doing the right thing if it isn't so hard that it requires all the fight/flight energy we can muster.
As we move towards healthy nervous system functioning, ease signals we've found the direction we should take. A balance of playful challenge and restorative laziness is the feedback that what's ahead is what's best. The healthier we get, the more we feel we've made the right choice when we feel we're headed downstream rather than up.
A Benefit of Cell Phones
I am both a counselor and a dance therapist. Some folks come to me for counseling not even knowing I am a dance therapist. In my counseling work, clients are not coming in thinking body awareness is part of their healing but I always introduce it in some fashion because it is such a huge part of healing. With those folks, it seems to me that cell phone use has helped people imagine invisible channels of energy such that now when I speak of energy in the body, they seem to accept that idea much more readily than in the past.
Polyvagal Theory and 24-hour Sex
Many years ago, I came across the idea of 24-hour sex. I was reading materials to strengthen my clinical skills and an author suggested we think of ourselves as having sex 24/7. If we’re in a healthy adult place, we are always somewhere in our sexual cycle. Our sexual cycle has various arousal periods that plateau and build and plateau and build until we climax. After however many orgasms climax involves, we bask in the after-glow. Then we ride along in our enlivenment for a period of time—hours, days, weeks—until arousal begins again. If we think about sex in its entire cycle, we see that while we have periods of post-orgasmic coasting, we’re never turned off. We should never need any effort to get turned on.
Now that I know about polyvagal theory I understand this idea of 24-hour sex in a new light. Polyvagal theory helps us picture our nervous system response in three parts. If we are in life-threatening danger, our sympathetic nervous system sends us into fight/flight. We won’t be interested in mating until we are back to a place of safety. We turn off our sexual interest in the hopes that all focus on survival will help us indeed survive.
In life-threatening danger, if there is no way to fight our way to safety and no where to flee, we shut-down. Many of the clients I have worked with over the years came to therapy because they lived either in a version of perpetual shut-down or fight/flight. The idea of 24-hour sex intrigued them.
According to polyvagal theory, when we feel safe we operate out of our social engagement system. This is the state of being that supports 24-hour sex. Polyvagal theory, created by Stephen Porges, helps us understand the importance of feeling safe in order to participate in the nuanced kind of relating for which we have varied vocal patterning, a multitude of facial expressions and a host of communicative body positions—the palate for our dances of flirtation.
With a better understanding of our nervous system biology we can better seek the state of being that allows us to ride joyously through our sexual cycle over and over again. Using therapeutic movement modalities, we can relax into the ins and outs and ups and downs of 24-hour sex.
Online dating is a tease
Because we can write profiles specifying what we are looking for and post them online, online dating seduces us into picturing the process as shopping. How great if we could order up a partner! Maybe a drone could deliver our illusory lover.
When the process gets complicated by lack of response or by response from people who only seem to want a cyber relationship, we can feel embarrassed. We can feel naive for letting our hopes get stirred up.
With our hopes exposed, we can feel so vulnerable that we lash out in anger or flee from the process or shut down entirely. Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating helps. We can open the book/workbook to whatever chapter fits what we’re feeling. Chapter 2 helps with fantasies. Chapter 10 helps with disappointment. Chapter 8 is Recognizing Romance Trance—and Waking Up.
How can non-partnered people get the benefits of couples counseling?
Couples end up in couples’ counseling because they want their relationship to supply what they missed out on in childhood, or because their relationship did provide things they missed out on in childhood and now their partner feels more like family than lover. Many non-partnered people have similar issues.
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix helps couples untangle childhood wishes from present-day romance. Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel helps couples appreciate each other’s differences because difference keeps sex interesting and fun.
Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating offers ‘couples therapy’ to non-partnered people. We don’t have to wait until it’s broken to fix it!
Trouble with Attraction
When we are babies, our bodies are programmed to reconnect with the body that was our home for nine months or so. We need to bond, preferably with our biological mothers. If biological mother isn't available to bond with, we have to bond with someone. We need to attract a care-giver or we die. If our caregivers are unavailable, perhaps overwhelmed by problems in their lives at the time we are born, we feel unattractive. We feel unable to attract. A template gets formed in us about who we are in relationship to others. As we grow and develop, we begin to play out our fears of being unattractive. We have trouble taking care of ourselves. We feel ugly.
I have worked with folks with poor self-esteem and frantic artists trying to attract attention to themselves, people with eating disorders and addictions, abuse survivors and couples in struggling relationships. I have studied therapy theories and looked at my own issues. I have learned a lot over the years. Helping people separate out other people's issues from self-care issues helps self-esteem.
As teens and adults, we can begin to recognize what is other people's lack of availability to bond. We can see other people's lack of availability for what it is--their issues. We can separate other people's issues from our own self-care issues.
We can also recognize our poor self-care with compassion for ourselves. It's hard to learn good self-care as children when our caregivers were unable to give us the care we needed. We can give up on attracting unavailable people and keep learning to care for ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we will attract and be attracted to available people.
Polyvagal Theory at 70 Miles an Hour – No Wonder We’re Anxious and Depressed
Our bodies respond as if we are in life-threatening danger. We feel the hyper vigilant fight/flight sensations of anxiety or the dissociative immobility of depression. When we look around and see no predator, we are confused.
Are our bodies sensing life-threatening danger when no danger exists? I realized recently this thought is inaccurate. We are in life-threatening danger every time we get behind the wheel of our cars and drive 70 miles an hour with other cars a few feet away beside us and only a car-length in front and behind us.
Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory explains that our nervous system’s defense biology is hierarchical. If we are in life-threatening danger we go into fight/flight. If we are trapped and there is no way to fight or flee, we shut down.
The problem in our world is not that we feel danger when no danger exists. The problem is that fighting and fleeing does not make us safer. We are trapped and so we shut down.
Dissociation is a way to shut down. One of the most useful ways to help folks understand the concept of dissociation involves cars and driving. You know when you’re driving and you go into auto-pilot. You realize you didn’t even notice passing your exit because you weren’t paying attention. That’s dissociation.
Of course we must shut-down, dissociate, stop for some caffeine. The danger we are in as we drive would stir agitation otherwise. The agitation would be our fight/flight response available to save us from life-threatening danger but the best we can do is road rage.
Road rage is pretty unpleasant for everyone and driving at 70 miles an hour sure feels like fleeing. So slipping into oblivious, dissociative shut down is all that’s left in response to the life-threatening danger of highway travel. See you at the coffee shop where we can all try to wake up!
Romantic relationships stir doubts. That lack of certainty is arousing. How do we keep these higher intensity sensations from feeling so overwhelming that we try too hard to control things? Take it slow. In more nuanced ways, tune into sensation. What's the difference in how a friend touches a friend's arm and how a potential lover touches a potential lover's arm?
In relationships, we have energetic exchanges— back and forth like playing ping pong, or tennis. For most of us, relationships feel better when they have a nice, easy flow back and forth. If the flow of the rhythm shifts abruptly, it doesn't feel good. We'd like to be able to get back in the original flow, do damage control as we might say. Unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do. If we can stay present in this new rhythm of the relationship, instead of trying to repair, we might find a way to enjoy this new round of volleys.
In (healthy) dependence
For many of us, our history has not helped us develop healthy sexual selves. Naming what a healthy adult self looks like can, on one level, be informational and on another level, illicit the thought, “Well…duh!” Sitting with a client today, I had this thought: In healthy adult sexual intimacy, we don’t even imagine we can get all our needs met by this one person.” Hmmm…important. And…duh!
Laboratory for Lustier Life Skills
In the process of creating Naked Online, I began to realize that online dating can offer a laboratory-type experience for experimenting with our abilities to keep a playful balance of arousal and replenishment. It’s like when I lead workshop involving couple’s exercises or when I teach a ballroom dance class. I tell workshop participants, “Everyone find a partner” and “Now find another partner.” That’s online dating.