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The Recent Fall of Professional Athletes

Andre Agasssi’s open admissions, Tiger’s transgressions and now the tragic death of pro football player Chris Henry have rocked the sports world. We in America tend to idealize are sports hero’s and assign them personal attributes that have nothing to do with their athletic prowess.

I have not had any personal contact with any of these athletes so please appreciate I am generalizing to make a point of how we tend to idealize performance and extend its meaning, especially performance in the world of celebebrities.

Many in our culture are afflicted with what I call Performance Addiction – the belief that perfecting appearance and attaining status will win love and respect. This belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by our culture, one that places enormous value on achievement, if not over-achievement.

We then mistakenly feel surprised when we realize those who are able to perform on the highest levels, achieve what few only dream of, are not particularly balanced and may have a fragile sense of self.

It seems impossible that such high achievers can be so troubled internally and ultimately turn to drugs, sexual addictions and impulsive behavior. We have bought into the common belief that if you achieve and perform with excellence everything else will fall into place.

I have worked with professional athletes, media celebrities, lawyers, doctors and Ph.D. scientists who didn’t know the first thing of how to establish and maintain an intimate relationship. Although they excel in a narrow aspect of their worlds it certainly doesn’t mean they possess the interpersonal abilities necessary for personal success. They often choose love partners who idealize them for their notoriety and status rather than who they are, a superficial love based on the exterior social self. This tendency completely underestimates the necessary interior character qualities that deepen love.

I never met Chris Henry but his death is yet another example of a young life ended due to apparent love gone badly. From this point on in your life work hard to discover the interpersonal abilities you need to acquire and foster what we all want- lasting love based on who we are not just on what we do. In the weeks to follow I will do my best to highlight the skills necessary for personal and professional success that are tested and true, not based on surface talents that will not allow you to experience the depth of true love.

We are met to love and connect, when it happens and endures it allows us to go out into the world and achieve for the right reasons, our potential is unleashed as we feel the support of those who truly know us and value our character. Were free to achieve without the obsessive fear of failure, if we don’t meet our expectations we still have the love in our life because it’s not based solely on what we do. This is truly a liberating experience!

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The Amazing Power of Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experience of another. In my 30 years of clinical experience, I have learned that empathy is unquestionably the most important capacity for a successful personal and professional life. It facilitates all day-to-day encounters. Empathy is also essential to creating real intimacy and satisfying long term relationships.

Sympathy and empathy are often confused. Sympathy is an involuntary feeling-the passive experience of attempting to console in a general sense.

Empathy is an active process in which you try to learn all you can about another person rather than having only a superficial awareness.

We all have an innate capacity for empathy. When we are not treated with empathy, the capacity atrophies, like a muscle that is not used. When we are treated with empathy, our unique personality honored, we learn to be empathic; the muscle increases in mass and strength.

Here are some guidelines to develop empathy:

Ask open ended questions.

Closed-ended questions limit or manipulate the other person’s answer, automatically introducing a power play. The respondent can choose submissive agreement, combative reaction or sullen refusal to play along.

For example, the closed-ended solution: “Do you think my solution is unreasonable?’ might be answered with “I guess not” or “Yes, as usual” or even stony silence. Whatever the reply, the interaction creates a winner and a loser. There can be no common ground or genuine exchange of information.

The open-ended question, in contrast, “How do you see a solution shaping up?” conveys respect for another’s opinions. It initiates a dialogue that can lead to real communication and understanding.

Slow down.

Easing the pace allows volatile emotions to be tempered with thoughtful reflection. We can then grasp the whole picture, not just a narrow, unconstructive focus.

Avoid snap judgments.

It is natural to categorize behaviors based on our own past experiences. But people constantly change.

Don’t jump to conclusions about anyone’s current mental or emotional state, no matter who you have encountered with similar features or mannerisms.

Obstacles to Empathy

Accusations such as “You always react that way” or “I can read you like a book.” Such statements are a turnoff to others and can block you from discovering the truth.

Pay attention to your body. Our nervous systems talk to each other; some researchers define empathy as a nervous system state which tends to stimulate that of another person. When a mother plays with an infant, their hearts beat in time. When one person raises his voice, the other’s heartbeat speeds up.

Consider past experiences and the current circumstance. Strong emotions often emanate from previous, still-unresolved conflicts. Difficult conditions can also affect behavior. Ask yourself: Am I reacting only to the receptionist’s unfriendly manner or to her strong resemblance to a cold, critical figure from the past.

Is the receptionist curt because she dislikes you or because her demanding boss always overbooks?

Let the story unfold. Of all the skills involved in empathy, listening requires the most concentration. It also rewards you with more productive conversations and greater knowledge. Think how much more open and cooperative you feel when you are truly heard rather than cut off or thoughtlessly categorized.

Strategies for better listening

Become all ears. Letting your mind wander, rehearsing your own words or mentally arguing deafens you to what is being said.

Remain unbiased. We all have stereotypes that interfere with our judgment. The most important “truth” is what you hear in the current moment.

Physical health.

Remember moments of empathic connection reduce tension, lesson release of stress hormones, reduce blood pressure and most importantly widen the lens we see the world with. We ultimately realize we are all more alike than we are different.

Healing from an Affair

Contrary to what many believe recovering from an affair can actually make a marriage stronger. It is unquestionably a devastating experience that takes much time and work to overcome but I have witnessed several marriages that have reached a deeper level of love when both parties learn a great deal from the pain caused by infidelity.

Of course this positive outcome does not always occur. If the individual who has had the affair is not deeply regretful and willing to have the courage to absorb the anger, frustration and pain of his or her spouse there is little hope for resolution. A poor outcome is quite likely when the cheater continues to blame his or her spouse. Let’s face it, there is no excuse. Many people are miserable in their marriages and they seek help, they tell their spouse how unhappy they are and they open the door to doing the work necessary to form a deeper bond.

We all become disappointed in our long term relationships at times, it is perfectly natural. In our fast paced lives we often take each other for granted, store resentments and then if we don’t know how to communicate directly and honestly we find ourselves drifting into despair.

I had a wonderful experience with a couple earlier this year after an affair. The husband, a very successful businessman, was over-worked, stressed to the limit, feeling unappreciated by his wife and children and one night, late in the office he and his administrative aid ended up kissing. From there an affair began that had an anti-depressant effect on his mood, he was feeling younger, more desired, and of course she listened to his woos about his marriage with undivided attention. Eventually her husband, feeling suspicious of her late work hours, checked her phone messages and was able to retrieve text messages that were filled with sexual talk and love statements. Everything unraveled thereafter and when I met my patient he was living in a hotel feeling confused, sexually attached to his young lover but feeling tremendous disappointment in himself for his actions. He didn’t know if he loved his wife, he felt so much excitement with the younger woman and could not resist talking to her regardless of the fact that his business and marriage were failing.

Even though he is quite bright his ability to express directly was very limited. He could manage work conflicts but when it came to expressing his deeper feelings to his wife, friends, children he felt very inept. He grew up in a home where achievement was a stringent requirement. His father, a surgeon, and his mother, a divorce attorney, showed little warmth to their children or to each other. When his father died he felt little emotion, his mother did not shed a tear and re-married 12 months later.

As we returned to what I call the scene of the crime we discovered how distorted his views were of success and in particular of intimacy. He learned early that to gain love you must achieve at all costs. He was worn out, somewhat depressed with his existence despite his affluence and he found a way to stimulate himself out of the monotony of his life through the affair.

We tend to reenact the roles we saw in our parents marriages without much awareness. If we received little empathy growing up we don’t really know how to share with others in a deeper, more meaningful way. My patient longed for closeness but if it didn’t come easily he retreated into work, never letting his wife in, or allowing her to understand his disappointment. His views of mature intimacy were extremely limited. Most importantly he began to realize how he over-rated his closeness to his lover; the excitement of new sex gave him relief in an addictive fashion. It wasn’t based on truly knowing another person.

Over time he felt less and less attachment to her as he and his wife discussed openly the disappointments they had in each other and with my help, we discovered the negative stories about themselves that both brought into the marriage. They gradually increased their understanding of each other’s histories, their empathy for each other grew and at the same time their feelings of love were uncovered and deepened. She still has a long way to go before she regains the trust she previously had but the process is evolving.

Today my client participates in one of my group coaching sessions; he is most respected by members as a person who tries valiantly to understand others and himself. An experience he had never witnessed in his own home. He has apologized to his children and he has become an emotionally involved dad rather than a dad always trying to motivate his children to achieve more and more. His wife recently commented that he is actually fun, not as serious and intense as in the past. He is no longer exclusively pre-occupied with achieving and performing to win love. He has learned that the most important ability for sustained success in love and in work is to be able to employ empathy to listen and understand others. In the process we learn more and more about ourselves. So today a man who sought a secret affair for solace can’t wait to go home, play with his children and actually give his wife a real, passionate kiss rather than the perfunctory peck he gave in previous years.

He is liberated internally by increasing his ability to relate assertively, even when he is about to express dissatisfaction. We all need to continually practice expressing when we are in conflict, if we don’t the emotions won’t go away, they come out sideways. Thus the formula for being vulnerable to an affair.

If you would like to share your story comment below.

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Why People Cheat

The most common reason people cheat is due to an inability to deal with conflict directly. We all, in long term relationships, have disappointments. When we fall in love we are uplifted by the enormous emotional high of feel good neurochemicals. Without realizing we tend to think this feeling will last forever. We often believe we have found the answer to all our past hurts, doubts and insecurities. As time goes the initial “fall in love” phase fades and we are faced with a real person before us. For individuals who still struggle with their sense of self they can experience a profound sense of disappointment.

Very capable people suffer from this dilemma, just because a person excels in the work world does not mean she or he does not suffer from a fragile sense of self. Many people hide their vulnerabilities through achievement. Always looking for the approval of others and not knowing how to address the real time conflicts that exist in on-going relationship for all of us.

Individuals who never learned to express disappointment will tend to act out their feelings in some indirect fashion. Some work too much, others drink too much, some become passive-aggressive and yes others find themselves attracted to the next person who offers them an opportunity to re-gain the high of early love. This quest becomes a desperate attempt to get a special feeling; ultimately the specialness fades as it not based on truly being known. True love of depth is based on loving another’s character, imperfections and all.

In early relationships sex can be binding and blinding. We lose our perspective for a time until the anti-depressant effect of the sexual attachment wears off. Then the individual has to start all over again, thus the motivation for multiple affairs. It becomes a desperate attempt to feel good, in essence to compensate for the many years of not feeling good enough. And remember the most accomplished people fall into this trap. Bill Clinton and Monica were an excellent example. Achievement can consistently mask vulnerability; the initial high of an affair puts salve on a person’s self doubt and in the process becomes addictive.

What are the mechanisms to protect yourself from these kinds of temptations? Acknowledge your self- doubt, commit to working on changing the negative story of the past. Share your concerns with your loved one, be honest with her or him and begin working on changing your internal view of yourself through the help of those close to you. If you don’t make much headway over time consult a mental health professional, group programs are particularly effective in helping to re-write the fictitious novel you wrote earlier in life. In the final analysis you have to learn to express in assertive, tactful ways when you’re troubled. As you engage others in authentic ways you have the opportunity to learn about yourself and those you love. The other option is to remain closed in your old view of yourself which will promote the likelihood of seeking high’s through superficial sexual relating.

Handling Grief During the Holidays

Handling Grief

As we age we accumulate losses in our lives. This time of year often brings back memories of those important people we have lost through death, breakups, divorce and distance. One of my patients just told me she misses her mother terribly at this time of year. “She made Christmas so special and it has never seemed the same”. She went on tell me she should get over this sadness or she’ll become depressed. “After all my Mom has been gone a long time, I don’t want to get depressed so maybe I should just put her out of my mind”.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that experiencing sadness causes depression or a down mood. The opposite is actually true. Experiencing sadness, connecting this emotion to thoughts of the person missed allows us to place our history in perspective. We can then move on with vitality and enjoy the present holiday. Sadness has been called the vitamin of growth; it slows our thinking to allow for reflection and gives us the opportunity to share with those close to us our past hurts. We can then place these emotions where they belong.

If we internalize, as my patient is suggesting, we often don’t realize how much psychic energy it takes to keep our emotions and thoughts to ourselves. Emotions shared with those who employ empathy to understand our experience is a relief and in many ways can liberate us from our sorrows

Try not to view sadness as a detriment to your health but rather as a cue to slow down, listen to your thoughts, express to those close to you so you can regain energy in the process. Allowing yourself to be understood and cared for by those who are truly interested in your welfare is a means of sharing the burden of loss. In the process you will likely feel touched by the love that exists in your life currently.

Remember it takes courage to be vulnerable but those of us who have inhabited the earth for a time realize it is strength of the greatest magnitude, an ability that frees us emotionally to be present with those we love throughout the holidays.

Killings at Fort Hood, Causes Unknown

Fort Hood Murder

The horrendous killings at Fort Hood have caused much speculation among talk show hosts, print media and the experts interviewed to provide answers to the puzzle regarding these horrendous acts.

Did the psychiatrist act because he is a Muslim? Or because he was overwhelmed caring for the men and women whose souls were ravaged by war? Where his actions due to a brain tumor or some other unknown physical cause? Could he have been psychotic and was hearing voices telling him to kill?

The answer to the above questions, although all have been implied recently, is we don’t know. We don’t have the facts and despite this reality many continue to act as if we do.

Did you know that recent scientific evidence has indicated that 41% of all people between the ages of 12 and 19 will die from the N1H1 flu in the next two years? Did you know that if people who contract the flu in those age ranges don’t die they have a 78% chance of irreversible heart damage?

Did you know that the information in the previous paragraph is completely false? If you were tempted for a moment to believe what you were reading you were not using your God given capacity for empathy.

Empathy, the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another, is based on objective truth. The most critical means of expanding and employing empathy is to slow down, discern the facts and don’t get caught up in the emotion of what your hearing or reading. Great negotiators employ empathy to read others accurately; they seldom react quickly or impulsively. Couples who get along well, even in the midst of differing opinions on important subjects, slow down, and employ empathy as a means of understanding the others point of view.

I am encouraging you to employ empathy in accessing the Fort Hood situation. Notice I have not used the psychiatrists name in this blog. I have done so purposely because there is a more important issue at stake than his actions as an individual. Killings like this have unfortunately happened before. It is our understanding, ability to identify and treat men who kill innocent victims that is even more important than this individual. You help our society in this cause when you are one of the individuals that react objectively with reason and the intent to correct the problem. Rather than accentuating the hatred we all have been exposed to lately.

I can assure you of a few findings so far. This is not a Muslim problem. Could it be fueled by fundamentalism, of course? But fundamentalism exists in all the major religions and the majority of Muslims would never consider committing such atrocities. Could it be his profession? Possibly but unlikely as many mental health workers counsel veterans and they as a group do not commit homicide. Other possibilities are unclear. I encourage you, in the face of these uncertainties, to continue to develop your empathic range to protect yourself and others from untruths. Being part of a group mentality that wants answers immediately and yet hardly considers the consequence of impulsive judgment continues the trend toward conclusions based on emotion and prejudicial thinking. Being a thoughtful, compassionate person requires patience, tolerance and a commitment to discerning the truth regardless of time and energy expended. Truth seekers have far fewer regrets than those who live with unearned certainty about the human condition.

What is The Curse of the Capable?

Lady Working

I have been treating high achievers from all walks of life for over 30 years. From single Mom’s rasing three children and working full time, to corporate executives, to professional athletes and media personnel it is about people who keep doing and doing but for some hidden reasons they feel dissapointed in life.  They never quite get to a place where their life is balanced and they don’t usually feel they recieve the love and respect they work so hard to attain. What happens when you do everything you can and you still don’t have a balanced, healthy life? You feel Cursed, don’t you?

Our new book and coaching courses will give you the tools to change your story, drop the weight the past and become liberated from the Curse in the process.

The process consists of four stages that lead to greater health and well being. The first stage is Uncover Your Story, the one that was created from compelling, yet inaccurate informtion and why it’s not serving you. The second stage is Discover the Consequences of Your Story; it describes the concept of Performance Addiction and the thinking that was born out of your fictional story. The third stage is Acknowledge The Six Trials of Adulthood (expectations, regrets and unfulfilled dreams, control, fear, intimacy, and community) that are amplified by this addiction and their effect on your behavior and we conclude with the 4th stage-Change Distored Thinking, which analyzes the distortions in thinking that result from the Curse.

Our Balance Your Success Membership site is launching soon, join us and do the work and you will likely emerge with the level of health you have longed for but never had the guidance to attain.

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The Power of Empathy

empathy1

The Power of Empathy shows how people can use empathy as an assessment tool in all their relationships. Empathy can signal when people are well-intentioned and when they are deceitful. It can shield people from manipulative strangers and strengthen the bonds between loved ones. It is an emotion that has been overlooked, underused, and misunderstood for too long. Both prescriptive and narrative, The Power of Empathy provides a practical framework for anyone to use empathy to better his or her life.

Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli believes that empathy is the driving force behind love-and that its power goes vastly unrecognized by most people. His book, The Power of Empathy, is an important new resource for people who hope to enrich their emotional lives, improve their communication skills, and explore the spiritual dimensions of the human capacity for love. While traditional relationship books emphasize loving each other and oneself, Ciaramicoli and Ketcham argue that they overlook the critical fact that love itself needs help-and that empathy is the solution.

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