Is Online Video Gaming a Haven for the Insecure?

Online gaming, along with social media sites such as Facebook, have proliferated exponentially, both in terms of their numbers of users and their sophistication, especially among youths and young adults. With respect to online gaming, the erstwhile “first person shooter,” as well as interactive games played in the same room by two friends, have given way to a vast international network of players. This network, in combination with the sophistication of the games available on it (many for free) have commanded a large audience, some of whom who devote large amounts of time to it. This has led some to express concern that this cultural trend is dangerous because it lessens people’s face-to-face interactions and leads to social isolation. Is that true?

Attachment Styles and Why They Matter

Attachment is an important psychological concept that owes its origins primarily to work conducted by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and dating to the 1960s and 1970s. By observing the interactions between parents and their children in different situations, Bowlby and Ainsworth developed a theory of how children utilized that relationship. They found that some young children did not hesitate to venture into the world, explore it, and interact freely with others, especially when their parent was in sight, but also when the parent was out of sight. They labeled these children secure.

In contrast, some children either displayed anxiety, or else demurred, when it came to interacting with others, for example in situations where a stranger was present, or when the parent left the room they were in. Bowlby and Ainsworth labeled these children insecure and suggested that this insecurity was a handicap when it came to developing the skills necessary to succeed in a social world.

As research on attachment continued, two discoveries emerged. First, it appears that the attachment styles that were observed in young children do not automatically diminish, much less disappear, as we age. On the contrary, attachment styles that are developed in our early years tend to endure into adulthood, where they continue to color our social interactions.

Second, psychologists have gone on to identify two variations of insecure attachment. Anxious attachment results when a parent (or other primary caregiver of a child) behaves inconsistently, so that the child is not sure if he or she will be accepted or rejected, praised or ridiculed, at any given time. That child may then develop an expectancy that those they are close to cannot truly be counted upon at a time of need. As adults anxiously attached people are inclined to seek a lot of social contact, though depending on how anxious they are they can also be clingy in relationships, seeking frequent reassurance, and worrying that a loved one will leave them.

attachment results when a child’s primary caregivers are more or less neglectful. What emerges is a child — and later an adult — who expects others (even those who profess to love the) to be undependable. Rather than being clingy or seeking constant reassurance, these men and women are inclined to prefer to be self-sufficient and not count on others very much. Others often describe them as aloof and self-sufficient, when in reality they are reticent to commit to longstanding relationships.

Do you know someone whose behavior in relationships fits one of the above descriptions, more or less?

Insecurity, Social Skills, and On Line Gaming

In a study that is currently in press (Kowert, R. & Oldmeadow, J. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 39, 2014) researchers from Germany and Australia collaborated in an effort to cast light on this issue of whether online gaming can be detrimental to social development. To do so they recruited 409 volunteers who reported a history on online gaming. The sample ranged in age from 18 to 39 and included 256 men and 153 women. First, they took a test designed to determine a person’s attachment style: secure, anxious, or avoidant. They were then asked to provide information on their use of online gaming, including:

• Did they identify with statements such as “I see myself as a gamer”?
• How much time, on average, did they devote to online gaming per week?
• What was their motivation for playing? How much did they play online games for “entertainment” as opposed to “social comfort,” meaning playing when feeling stressed, anxious, or sad?

Next, they measured these volunteers’ social skills, meaning how emotionally expressive or sensitive, as well as socially sensitive and socially expressive an individual identifies him/herself as being. Emotionally/socially expressive individuals are friendly and usually have a fairly extensive social network. In contrast, socially/emotionally sensitive individuals are often described as shy and less able to maintain extended verbal interactions.

Challenging the Stereotype of Gamers

What this research yielded challenges to a significant extent the popular belief that “excessive” online gaming is psychologically harmful, or that “gamers” lack social skills. What they found was that social skills were not predictive of devoting more time to online gaming. The authors conclude that “sensitivity” — or shyness — by itself did not account for an individual’s inclination to spend more time on line.

In contrast to the findings on social skills, the data on attachment styles led to different insights. Of the two varieties of insecure attachment, those who identified themselves as having anxious attachment styles were more inclined to utilize Internet connections, including gaming, and to do so because it was a source of social comfort. Meanwhile, those with an avoidant attachment style also utilized on line gaming more, but not for social comfort as much as for the sheer entertainment value.

In summing up their findings these researchers suggest that, rather than being psychologically harmful, the cyber world may actually provide “spaces to serve critical attachment functions.”

Attachment Styles and Social Media: How Might They Work?

The results of this study suggest that it is possible that those whose childhood experiences led to either anxious or avoidant interpersonal styles may be able to turn to the cyber world to satisfy some of their needs? But is this necessarily harmful?

Those who may be familiar with my previous posts on the subject of social media will see that these results are in fact compatible with my previous posts on how and why we use social media. Between social media sites such as Facebook and the kind of online gaming that is widely accessible it may be possible to help satisfy some psychological needs that might otherwise go unmet. For instance, the man or woman with an anxious attachment style can utilize Facebook to establish a “safe” network of interpersonal connections. He or she may also turn to on line gaming as a means of repeatedly connecting with the same “team” of gamers. In contrast, the person with an avoidant attachment style can control his or her interpersonal connections on Facebook through what he or she posts there, as well as what he or she chooses to respond to. Similarly, the avoidantly attached can elect to join a different “team” each time they log on to a game.

The question, then, is this: Are these uses of the cyber-world to satisfy attachment needs for the anxious and avoidant among us detrimental or not? Let’s start a dialogue.

This post was written by Dr. Joseph Nowinski, author of HARD TO LOVE

This post was written by Dr. Joseph Nowinski, author of HARD TO LOVE

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

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Celebrities and mental illness: Why having it all isn’t everything

Written by Eva Kis

Published August 13, 2014

Published: August 13, 2014

On the screen and stage, Robin Williams was a frenetic blur of joyful energy and wit. But behind the smile lurked something we don’t associate with celebrities: depression. Over and over, the sentiment expressed by fellow actors and fans following Williams’ suicide Monday was the disbelief that someone so full of life could end his own.

We tend to think famous people are immune to mundane problems such as depression and substance abuse, which Williams also struggled with. They have money, power and adoring fans — what’s there to be sad about? But it’s not that simple, says Mandy Eppley, a professional counselor.

“Influence through affluence does not change the biological components of depression, nor does it change the emotional and spiritual aspects of depression,” she says. “We have a superficial view: ‘If you have good things, you shouldn’t be struggling.’ That is not the nature of the human journey.”

In the case of mental illness, the trappings of fame can be just that, according to psychotherapist Dr. Jennifer Kunst. Creative people are especially vulnerable, even more so when fame finds them early. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain took his own life at 27, and child stars often make the news for their public struggles as their careers flag.

“As artists, they tend to be extremely sensitive by nature,” Kunst says. “Such individuals can develop a perfectionistic relationship with their craft, feeling harshly critical of themselves even when they are succeeding.”

Relying on the feedback of others to assess self-worth is a precarious position for anyone, Kunst says. Bad news — a negative review, financial trouble or the winding down of a career — “can lead to tremendous anxiety. They may live under a constant worry that they could lose their success at any minute — and, with it, their sense of personal value,” she says.

Williams had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, often referencing it in his comedy. (“I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open,” he told the Television Critics Association in 2013.) And though he was sober for two decades, he relapsed in 2006 and sought treatment, then checked himself into rehab again just last month.
“We are a culture that glamorizes pleasure and avoidance of the difficulties of life,” Eppley says. At the extreme, celebrity status can mean celebrating without any moderation. “[Drugs and alcohol are] an easy way for people to cope initially. I think for some people, the addiction just sneaks up on them because they were just having fun with their friends.”

Kunst adds: “Addiction is a chronic, lifelong disease with an up-and-down course that wears both on an individual psyche as well as his or her support system. Relapse is common and is stressful and discouraging.”

Despite struggling with these common problems, because celebrities are under constant watch by tabloids they’re not given the chance to be regular human beings.
“There’s [a lot of] pressure to keep up a false front and little room for celebrities to feel that they can be regular people … admitting their failures, learning through trial and error and seeking help when they need it,” she says.

Suicide in America

Robin Williams actually typifies suicide, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control data from 2011:

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

• One person takes his or her life every 13.3 minutes

• The highest rate is among white people, aged 45-64, who live in the West.

• Men are over four times more likely to kill themselves.If you or someone you know is struggling, get help. You can chat online with a trained volunteer at, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This article first appeared in the NY Metro.

This article first appeared in the NY Metro.

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Alcoholism, Author News, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Would You Rather Be Right or Would You Rather Be Happy?

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu

Internally, deep down, many people have the experience that they are damaged, broken, “not good enough,” or simply “not enough.” Such thoughts and the beliefs that fuel them usually have their origins in the messages received from others starting early in life. How we react in the present is strongly influenced by childhood experiences and internalized beliefs.

These beliefs and the resultant feelings are often so distressing that we protect ourselves by keeping them unconscious. Occasionally, there may be some vague awareness of their existence, but due to the discomfort they generate they tend to remain hidden—from oneself, as well as from everyone else. They also affect (or perhaps infect) most all ongoing relationships.

One way in which beliefs and feelings of inferiority are disguised and kept at a distance is through the defense mechanism of reaction-formation. Reaction-formation protects against too-painful thoughts and feelings by turning them into their opposites—for example, presenting an attitude of arrogance to compensate for underlying feelings of inadequacy—I’m not “less than” others because I am “better than” others! This occurs whenever we judge others in a negative way: we are implicitly putting them down, making them inferior, and by comparison elevating the way we see ourselves by virtue of being “superior” to them—in a given circumstance, related to a particular quality, or in general.

Feelings of superiority often manifest in the need to be in control over people and situations. The need to control can also be a way of unconsciously compensating for feeling out of control. Attempts to control exist on a broad continuum, from aggressive and overt—threatening, intimidating, arguing, demanding, and asserting, to indirect—manipulating, steering, suggesting, and cajoling. Frequently, the need to be in control takes the form of a need to “be right.” For some personalities (most of us know at least one), it is standard procedure to exert control through the need to be right, believing and acting as if they know what’s best, regardless of the situation.

For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be “wrong.” The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, while attachment to this end serves to justify the means used to facilitate it. When this dynamic is acted out it creates suffering for those caught in its wake—most often, partners and family members, including children.

Obviously, words can inflict considerable harm, but there are also many nonverbal ways of making clear that others are wrong. A disapproving glance or an exasperated tone of voice expresses dissatisfaction and sends a clear message that can be hurtful, and that hurt can have staying power. Especially for children, these kinds of experiences damage their developing sense of self—they cut like a jagged piece of glass, bleeding off self-worth. Every such glance and utterance is an act of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) emotional rejection and abandonment; a psychological betrayal of parent to child—though it also does serious damage to intimate partner and other adult relationships. The need to be right can go horribly wrong.

However, the suffering caused by this behavior also extends to the perpetrator. Acting on the incessant drive to be right requires considerable energy—it can be exhausting. Attachment to being right is a form of mental and emotional slavery. There is tremendous stress inherent in having to be right all the time. Even when those invested in control have an inkling that this is unhealthy, even if they feel guilt or shame subsequent to acting out their need to be right, they are nonetheless impelled to continue to repeat it.

Because this pattern occurs automatically and habitually, the key to changing it is to become consciously aware of the need to be right and one’s attachment to it. Through the practice of mindfulness, suffering can become an experience that indicates where one is stuck. It is in letting go of the attachment that we can unchain ourselves from a need to be right.

Several years ago I was told the story of an ongoing argument between a husband and wife. The actual subject of the argument is much less important than the process. As was often the case, the husband was certain he was right but couldn’t get his wife to back down and agree. The only thing they could agree on in this matter was to seek the counsel of their pastor.

The husband knew that the pastor would side with his position and designate him as “right.” As they shared their dramatically different perspectives, the husband made mental preparations to declare victory. To his considerable surprise, the pastor didn’t take sides, gracefully sidestepping the dichotomy of right/wrong, and the zero sum game that goes with it. Rather, he asked matter-of-factly, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

The elegant simplicity and remarkable depth of that question is stunning. It unlocks the door to an awareness that this can be a conscious choice. While being right is sometimes accompanied by happiness, in many scenarios the goals of being right and being happy are mutually exclusive. The need to be right, and by extension, to control people, situations, and outcomes, regularly obstructs the ability to be happy—insofar as happiness is a function of contentment and peace of mind, also known as serenity.

As the Tao Te Ching describes in verse 74:
Trying to control things
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut yourself.

And then blood gets all over the place and it’s a big mess!

Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Which is more important? Which is healthier? Which brings you closer to those you love and care about? Which moves you toward to the person you are meant to be—your true self? Looking at the two options through this lens can make the choice very simple.

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Chronic Pain, Family & Addiction, Pain Recovery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Writing from the front lines of alcoholism

Frances Simone is a professor emeritus of Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. Central Recovery Press recently published her memoir, “Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows.”

She talked to the Gazette about the book, which recounts the dynamics of co-dependency in dealing with her husband Terry’s alcoholism, from its earliest beginnings to the progression of his disease through all its stages.

She recounts his attempts at treatment and subsequent relapse, his suicide on Christmas Day in 1996 at the age of 48, and her own recovery through a twelve-step program.

Simone will sign copies of the book at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St., from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.


fran_simone__03_4x3x300dpiQ: Why did you want to write this book?

A: What I really wanted to convey was, first of all, what it was like to be inside of that kind of relationship without having the tools of knowing how to deal with it.

In the introduction to the book, I talk about the fact that as I was writing it I realized I made so many mistakes. The way I behaved. But I wasn’t in any kind of program or recovery to know what to do. So, when I did finally get into that and learn the tools, that’s kind of the message I guess that I would like to come out of this. Even when you have a tragedy like this you can recover and have a decent life, a good life which I think I have now.

And I think stories help people heal. That’s another reason I wrote it.

One figure I read was there were about 25 to 30 million alcoholics and addicts in the United States. And if you extrapolate from that the family members, you’re talking about maybe 100 million folks that are dealing with some kind of addiction.

It’s a huge number of loved ones and family members who are dealing with addiction, watching people that they love kill themselves through drugs and alcohol. I’m hoping that my book will speak to them.

Q: How did you meet your husband?

I moved here as a single mom after a divorce. I had just gotten my doctorate at Duke. Terry moved here with a group of people from Texas. We met shortly after we came here and fell in love.

He apparently had been a heavy drinker since college. And I was not aware of that. There was a lot of drinking and drugging and stuff going on in that period of time. So, there were a lot of heavy drinkers and I didn’t think much about it.

It was totally out of context for me because in the Italian family where I grew up we had wine for dinner occasionally and it wasn’t an issue.

He was also a binge drinker so it wasn’t happening all the time.

He was a very gifted attorney. It was just this back and forth where things would happen and then we’d have these periods of time where everything was great.

Q: You say you “made so many mistakes.” What do you mean by that?

A: We would just keep going back and forth, I would bring it up that he was drinking. He did go into treatment at a center in North Carolina. Then he came out but he relapsed fairly quickly. He was a functioning alcoholic — he never lost his job or the family or any of that.

So, I just did all the wrong things. Either nagged or withdrew. It was just all of this co-dependent behavior. I didn’t know how to handle it. So I did what the recovery people would say were like all the wrong things. My situation is everybody else’s situation. It’s all about trying to control what you can’t control.

Q: You talk about putting on your “God suit” to get your husband to stop drinking.

A: That’s like I knew everything. I was omnipotent. I knew what he needed to do. If he would just do what I told him to do everything would be OK. So, I was very prideful and very arrogant.

We just kept on and on. I never stopped believing that he would get well. He was never a mean or nasty drunk. He was never abusive. He was a very sweet, mild-mannered guy. When he was drunk he simply just wasn’t there. It was like he’d disappear. So this went on and on and on.

Q: What happened after his suicide?

A: For the first year I was kind of pretty numb. There was a lot of grief and sadness. But I did join a widows’ group that someone was sponsoring here in town. That was helpful. Then I went to several conferences and support [groups] that dealt just with suicide. That was really helpful. You get through it. And I journaled a lot because I’m a writer and that was very helpful, too.

Q: You also have a son who had an addiction problem. In dealing with that, you eventually got yourself into a 12-Step program for families. How has that helped?

A: I would say I’ve been involved in that probably for the last eight years or so. One of the things that we talk about it in there — it kind of sounds like a cliché — but they do talk about sharing your experience, strength and hope. That’s what we do. That’s been helpful to me. My son’s in recovery. But I’m still committed to go and share my journey with newcomers, with people who are coming in and they’re very distraught and don’t know what to do.

Q: What are some of the things you have learned from being in this fellowship group?

A: You have to back off and let the folks that are behaving in a negative way experience the consequences of their behavior. And that’s a very, very hard thing to do. Particularly, at least I have found, with children, with your kids, because your DNA or your instinct is to help them. So that line between helping and enabling I think is a very, very thin line, What you learn is how to negotiate that line. And it’s not always easy, obviously.

Q: Who do you think the audience is for your book?

A: Loved ones in relationships with addicts and alcoholics and also professionals who deal with addicts and alcoholics — those are the people I would like to be my audience.

I hope that people who read the book will realize that even in the face of a very tragic situation that they can recover. And that there are programs and organizations and that there’s help out there and that people can recover and lead healthy and happy lives. But it takes a lot of work.

This bog was written about Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

This bog was written about Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

This article previously appeared in the Charleston Gazette

This article previously appeared in the Charleston Gazette

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Alcoholism, Blog, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Want to Understand the Mysteries of the Unconscious?

Outreach is an important topic these days in psychoanalysis. As I have explored in a previous post, there is a growing sense that psychoanalysts must reach out beyond the privacy of their offices and professional journals if their profession is to survive.

But beyond self-preservation, there is a deeper question that psychoanalysts must ask: Is the world actually interested in what we have to say? In other words, do psychoanalysts have something of value that people need and want to hear?

On June 9, 2014, I had the privilege of speaking at Interesting Talks-London, the largest non-technical group in the world. I had planned to visit London for the launch for my book, Wisdom from the Couch. In researching possible venues to promote my book, I looked into Freud’s Bar, an outreach program to the public sponsored by local psychaoanlytic societies. This research took me to where I stumbled upon organizer Matt Kendall and his wildly successful group.

Interesting Talks-London has over 8,000 registered members. Matt has a simple formula with an incredible yet proven track-record of success. He offers one or two events each week, always in Central London and usually in a church basement that seats 70 people. At each event he has an invited speaker come and give a two-hour interactive talk about a topic their choice. The topics include hypnosis, business, persuasion, negotiation skills, self-development, dating, careerbuilding, and even magic. After the talk there is chance to chat and network with all the attendees in a pub across the street. He charges a mere $10 for admission and the events frequently sell out. Each talk is videotaped in high definition for use on his website. Even before meeting him, I was convinced that Matt Kendall was an organizing genius.

I was delighted that Matt accepted my offer to give a talk. I was none too keen on the fact that he expected me to organize small-group discussions during the two-hour lecture. I hate small-group discussions. I did not tell him this, of course, because I was eager to do all I could to make this a success. After all, I was a no-name psychologist from Los Angeles, speaking about a topic that I thought might be somewhat intimidating or off-putting to the average Joe and Jane. I was worried that nobody would show up. This anxiety was connected to a deeper fear that the book I had just published would fall flat. Would anyone really be interested in what I had to say?

Matt and I worked together to come up with a compelling title and description for my talk. We called it “Understanding the Mysteries of the Unconscious” and I gave myself a tall order: I promised (in writing) to help people understand why they do the counter-productive things they do and why they don’t do the productive things they want to do. To my great surprise, the talk sold-out with 20 people on the waiting list.

Even though Matt’s events often are well-subscribed, I was stunned. So, when I began my talk, I asked everyone, “Why did you come?” And they gave the same basic response: “The topic seemed so interesting. I don’t know anything about the unconscious. I wanted to know more about why I sabotage myself.” I began to feel that I might find a positive answer to my fundamental question.

I began my talk by sharing my motivation for writing Wisdom from the Couch and then read a few of the first pages. I talked a bit about the nature of the unconscious and what makes psychoanalysis different from other therapyapproaches. Then I gave them the first (dreaded) exercise. I said, “Now I want you to break up into small groups, just turn around right where you’re seated, and brainstorm some ideas about how we even know that the unconscious exists. Think of the unconscious like gravity or wind. We can deduce that the gravity and wind exist because of their effect on things. What evidence is there of the unconscious in everyday life? (pause) Go!”

The room erupted in a burst of electric energy as 70 people turned to one another to engage in conversation. I got goose bumps. That was the moment when I realized that psychoanalysis might actually offer something that people want and need in their lives.

At the pub afterwards, I chatted with some of the attendees and discovered that London is a very lonely place. Matt’s group has been successful because these folks long for contact with like-minded people and do, in fact, want to develop and grow themselves. This revelation was both poignant and refreshing.

Many cities in the world must be like London. I know that here in America, people are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the limitations of the quick fix models that flood the popular psychology market. In last week’s Time Magazine, Kristin van Ogtrop wrote a piece called “Self Helpless,” offering a funny but scathing critique of the self-help industry that preys upon the weaknesses of overachievers. She suggested that the net result is that people feel badly about themselves but are given no real help to do anything about it. With this in mind, I think it is worthwhile to ask ourselves, is there a more useful kind of self-help book, blog, or talk? Something that gets beneath the surface of things.

Now, I’m not saying that psychoanalysis is the answer. But I was encouraged in London that there might be a need and a hunger for the wisdom that psychoanalysts have to offer. For me, this wisdom includesunderstanding the value of humble self-examination and critique; our unconscious resistance to change; the destructive role of greed, jealousy, and envy; the need to accept our human limitations while developing the courage to do what we can do; the benefit of changing our orientation to balance self-interest with the common good; the value of slow growth over time; and above all, the centrality of love. If psychoanalysts can speak and write about such things in an accessible, user-friendly way, it turns out that people will come.

Click on the picture to view the video of the lecture

Click on the picture to view the video of the lecture







This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Author News, Blog, Mental Health, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Shoes for Walking in These Woods

Women and shoes. Can there be a book for women that doesn’t talk about shoes? We like them; we own more pairs than the average man. There are lots of reasons why women buy and love shoes. Even when you have bad hair or a bloated waistline you can try on shoes. You don’t have to look at your face or hair or wrinkles or changing body when you try on shoes. And there’s a practical piece: new shoes can quickly update an outfit. The silhouette of your shoes can take you from shabby to chic quickly.

Spring-ShoesBut what do shoes have to do with recovery? Does anyone talk about the kind of shoes we need to “trudge the road of happy destiny?”

In my book, Out of the Woods I talk about shoes.

Shoe story number one: Red High Heels: At 45 I began to think practical flats and low heels but I also longed for and lusted after some high-heeled, pointy toed shoes that would still mark me as a women with libido. So I bought red suede pointy-toed, high-heeled mules. These are shoes that say, “I still like being a woman.” Later I gave them away. Now I’m looking at red shoes again.

Shoe story number two: Papagallo flats. This is a lesson that I learned from my husband’s therapist, Dr. Bob. While we know that nothing can fill a hole in us that exists in the past, and that no lover today can replace the love that our father didn’t give us, many of us still chase those fixes throughout our adult lives.

We learn in recovery how to begin healing some of those old wounds and we stop trying to recreate now what we really needed then. But the therapist, Dr. Bob, said to my husband one day, “Sometimes you can save time and money by just going out and buying the thing you longed for so long ago”. He said, “If as an adult you can afford it and the longing is there, then go ahead and buy the 71 Camaro or the basketball hoop for the yard.”

When I heard this I knew what I needed to buy. I remembered the longing of my 9th grade year: that summer I sat in algebra class next to a girl wearing navy blue soft leather flats with lime green piping on the edges and a tiny bow on the vamp. They were Papagallo flats. I longed with all my heart for shoes like that. They were the symbol for all that hurt: the social class wounds and family dysfunction and not being able to ask for what I wanted. Girls from nicer neighborhoods and better schools wore shoes like that.

How many years did I shop for shoes and how many other pairs of shoes did I buy to fill that ache for navy and green Papagallos? Why not just go buy them? Yes, I could do (and I did) all the therapy and the inventories. But one day I saw those shoes in a department store and I bought the expensive, glove leather, navy flats and I thought, “Now, at age 50, I rule the 9th grade in my heart”.

Sometimes if the shoe fits you should just go buy it.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring the Creativity of Limitation: New Ways to Tell the Same Truth

My mother gets in the car and stares straight ahead.

Before I turn the key, I say, “Mom, want to put on your seatbelt?”

“What?” She has a sweet, vague look on her face.

“Your seat belt. You’ll need to put it on.”

I reach over her and drag down the seat belt. She nods and pulls it forward, towards the buckle. But she looses momentum and the belt slides back into oblivion. Now I have to unbuckle my own seat belt, stretch up and pull my mother’s seat belt forward again. This time I snap it in myself.

“How is work?” Mom says, when we are underway.

“It’s fine. I have an interesting new editing job, working on a romance novel.”

Mom smiles.

I stop at a red light and she asks, “How’s work?”

I grip the steering wheel but keep my voice calm. “Fine. I’m editing a romance novel.”

Three minutes later, she asks again. That’s when I realize; this is a great opportunity for me to exercise creativity. Having imposed limitations can be a catalyst for creative thinking. I set myself a challenge: How can I give my mother a new and truthful answer every time she asks me this question?

“How is work?”

“I am really enjoying reading this romance novel set in the early 20th century and figuring out how to make the characters more believable,” I say.

She smiles. I smile. Now that I’m viewing mom’s repetition as a trigger for my own creativity, I feel lighter, more open and loving. My mind is dancing about, constructing a new and interesting answer.  Now I am eager for my mom to ask me again and again, so I can share interesting information with my mother while expanding my art of creative expression

Creative Pick Me Up: Ask yourself a question and create ten different true answers.

This blog is written by Deborah Shouse, author of LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA

This blog is written by Deborah Shouse, author of LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA

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Disorderly Eating

Actor Robyn Cruze-Harrington looks back on the moment that changed the course of her 18-year battle with food.

“You are the big fat liar!” I declared, holding my fork mid-air. “I will eat this chicken. I will not purge, starve, binge, or harm myself any more!” Stabbing it with conviction, I began to chew with a half-smile, half-snarl. And just like that, 10 years ago, after many attempts to tackle my problem, my recovery began.

As a model and actor I knew the manipulation that went with the industry. I knew that most of the “glamour” was smoke and mirrors, but I wanted to be the exception. I was seeking perfection.

My friend Rebecca said to me one day, after I’d spent a Christmas holiday alone in a blackout from diet pills, “The difference between you and me, Robyn, is that I am not willing to kill myself to look good.” I was. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t care how close I came to death if it gave me a chance to be at the weight I believed I “should” be.

I vacillated between binge eating and bulimia, with a brief stop at anorexia. I was trying to create a sense of empowerment, a distraction from the reality that I had so little control in my life – over my mum’s health, over my parents’ rocky relationship and, most of all, over how other people felt about me.

If I starved, I binged to medicate. If I binged, I purged to medicate. Each time I binged, purged or starved, the aftermath was the same. My skin would crawl. My heart would race. I felt as if I were about to lose my mind. It made me want to spit on my own face and punch it unmercifully. Sometimes I’d just lie there – bloated, conquered, ashamed. Then I’d get angry. I’d promise myself I’d never do it again. It was the same every time; only the location differed.

I believed that being thinner made me more lovable. Everyone said it wasn’t true, but I saw how my friends got more attention for being thinner. Or did I?

Looking back, what I really saw were women who appeared comfortable in their own skin – and that was stunning to me. I had never known what that felt like. I believed that if I could just reach an ideal, then I could start living. But life was happening without me. I had wasted so much time.

This created an anxiety that made me scramble for quick fixes. I imagined the time it would take to wade through my illness and seek recovery. I floundered in that torturous sea for years, my head bobbing up and down as glimpses of the shores of recovery teased me.

It was not a particularly special day when I declared defeat. The night before, I had binged on marshmallows. I awoke covered in sweat. I’d given myself food poisoning and was vomiting in the bathroom of a friend of a friend, someone who’d graciously allowed an aspiring Aussie actor to stay in her Los Angeles home. I had lost my dignity to an illness that promised me perfection.

I started to review what had happened. I was 29, severely depressed, broke and clueless as to who I really was. And I was exhausted. After all, I had been fighting since I was 11 years old. I sat, breathless. And then, on that bathroom floor, I had a new thought: what if I just said no to my eating disorder?

There, sitting on a kind stranger’s floor, I understood for the first time that I could walk away. I didn’t know how I would achieve the happiness I longed for, but I realised that my eating disorder wouldn’t get me there.

This article first appeared in the July 20, 2014 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald

This article first appeared in the July 20, 2014 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald

This blog post was written by Robyn Cruze-Harrington, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

This blog post was written by Robyn Cruze-Harrington, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Eating Disorder Recovery, Emotional Eating, Family & Addiction, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nobody is Perfect

Change has been the topic of several of my blog posts lately. I figure that it’s on the forefront of your mind, if you’ve taken the time out of your busy day to read a blog about psychotherapy. If you’re like me, you want to change so that you can have a better life — a life that works better, gives you more happiness, and helps you find more peace.

But if we really look into it, our pursuit of “a better life” — just like “change” — is a tricky business. It’s easy to get carried away with it, even in therapy. In our efforts to improve ourselves, we can get trapped in the pursuit of perfection. We can mistakenly believe that our limitations and imperfections are obstacles to our mental health, happiness, and peace of mind.

How many of us have imagined that if we were better looking, we would be happier? Perhaps for you it would be smarter, stronger, richer, funnier, or thinner. The pursuit of perfection can get pretty subtle and unnerving in therapy, too, especially a long-term therapy like psychoanalysis. It’s easy to get drawn into a misguided effort to become a perfectly functioning adult: always knowing the right thing to say, never getting our feathers ruffled, easily finding an ideal work-life balance, and never ever again getting drawn into our old worries, preoccupations, bitterness, or conflicts. Both on and off the couch, I have shed my share of tears anguishing over my imperfections and wanting so much to overcome them, to be done with them, frankly, to get rid of them.

It takes a lot of hard psychological work to realize that our pursuit of perfection is in vain. First of all, no one is perfect, no one has it all. And second, even if we could be perfect, it wouldn’t get us to where we really want to go.

You see, a healthy, happy, and satisfying life is based essentially in love — loving relationships with others, and even a loving relationship with ourselves. And at its root, love has very little to do with perfection. It is, as they say, a horse of a different color.

This wisdom is conveyed so beautifully in the children’s story, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a tale that is both simple and profound. It has captured the hearts and minds of generations since it was written by Margery Williams in 1922. If you don’t know it, you’ve got to read it.

The story is about a little boy who is given a stuffed animal for Christmas, the Velveteen Rabbit. While it is a soft and lovely rabbit, it does not have the appeal of the more expensive, mechanical, and fancy toys in the boy’s collection. So it is soon forgotten, overshadowed by the other more exciting toys in the boy’s nursery.

The Rabbit, however, makes friends with another long forgotten toy, the Skin Horse, the shabby veteran of the nursery that had been the favorite toy of the boy’s uncle many years before. One day, as the two stuffed animals are discussing the Rabbit’s inferiority complex, the Skin Horse shares some wisdom. A toy becomes real if its owner really loves it.

Williams writes, “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

Oh, I just love this next part. “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

With the help of the wise Skin Horse, we begin to get it. We begin to understand that perfection may be fancy but it isn’t real and it certainly isn’t love. In some ways, perfection doesn’t encourage love either. In fact, it often discourages it. Like the Skin Horse suggests, the easier you break, the sharper your edges, the more you need to be carefully kept, the harder it is to love and be loved — and the harder it is to love yourself. Perfection has a kind of unexpected fragility. It doesn’t have the sturdiness needed for the rough and tumble of an ordinary, happy, and real life.

One of the capacities that we hope to grow in therapy, as well as in life, is acceptance. As much as there is value in changing for the better, there is also value in accepting ourselves as we are. A balance is needed; change and acceptance go hand in hand. If we grow to accept and love ourselves as the real, ordinarily good people that we are, then our efforts to change have the right orientation. No longer the pursuit of perfection, change becomes a self-improvement project built on a foundation of love.

This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

DARK WINE WATERS reviewed in The Library Journal

lj logoSimone, Frances. Dark Wine Waters:
Central Recovery. Jul. 2014.
224p. ISBN 9781937612641. pap. $15.95

Simone’s (Professor Emeritus, Marshall Univ., Huntington, WV) memoir begins when she meets her husband, Terry, after she takes a risk and calls a guy she’s never met out of the blue. The two connect immediately, and soon they are a couple. Eventually, however, Terry’s drinking turns the romance sour—but that’s not the end of the story. Simone characterizes herself as a co­dependent, addicted to her spouse as much as he was addicted to alcohol. Together they deal with Terry’s addiction, rehab, and relapse, again and again. Each time, Simone believes Terry is as committed to recovery as she is. “Denial is the hub of the addiction wheel; it drives every spoke of the disease,” she writes. The author carries the water/sailing metaphor from the first line of her story (“I live in currents”) through to the end, even referencing it in excerpts from her journal and in quoted words from her therapist. While aspects of the author’s account are bleak, it ends with her in a 12-step program for families, suggesting a hopeful outcome. VERDICT Readers with an interest in addiction and recovery memoirs will likely relate to Simone’s story.—Mindy Rhiger, Minneapolis

This bog was written by Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

This blog is about  Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Alcoholism, Author News, Blog, Codependency, Family & Addiction, Relationships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment