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Charlie Sheen-”Winning” in America

Each morning I wake up, get ready for my workout, and turn on the TV as I take my first steps on the elliptical machine. Recently I see Charlie and his latest quips leading the morning news. Shortly thereafter my colleagues, journalists and media pundits tell viewers that he is bi-polar, schizophrenic, addicted to cocaine, or heroin, has a sex addiction and an anger problem that will shortly end his life.

The Pain of Generalizations

I have been a practicing clinical psychologist for over 35 years and I cannot diagnose Charlie Sheen with any certainty. I have watched the interviews and can see that he appears, and I accent the word appears, impulsive, angry, disoriented and quite anxious mixed in with grandiose thinking. However until he has been sober for a significant period of time it will be unclear as to which diagnosis will aptly fit his personality. Substance abuse frays our nervous system and it often takes months for a person’s neurochemistry to recover. In many cases when addiction ceases more than one diagnosis may be applicable. We generalize when we want to appear certain in the face of ambiguity for an assortment of reasons. Some people want to appear as the expert, others are prone to categorizing because they can’t stand the slow process of truly getting to know another person. Still others are simply unaware of the hurt they can cause a vulnerable soul by assuming and not knowing the truth.

Winning is an American Theme

We love winners in our culture, we love to follow the lives of celebrities and unfortunately we seem to love to see those who supposedly have everything fail in the public eye. Charlie Sheen, after all, is a winner as he frequently states according to the lifestyles our culture idealizes. He is a millionaire, he is a celebrity, he attracts the attention of millions every week on his TV show and he has the freedom to travel the world, speaking his mind and hanging out with seductive, attractive women. Doesn’t his resume speak to success according to our image driven way of thinking and behaving? Maybe it is not Charlie Sheen that is on display these days; maybe it is our way of being that is in the limelight.

We Win when We Understand the Truth

So if winning is not having celebrity status, if it is not simply created by acquiring money and notoriety, then what is winning in the truest sense of being human?
Study after study has proven that winning psychologically, emotionally and spiritually is when we become good people with a deep understanding of human nature. Money and status are not evils if they are seen from a realistic perspective. If you earn money because every day you do something you love and if what you do is in the service of others your occupation is a winner. If your character is such that you enjoy giving to others and if you enjoy creating an environment in your home, in your friendships and in your work where people can thrive due to your grace and generosity you are a winner of the grandest proportion. If you know how to love and sustain intimacy, if you are humble despite your achievements, if you disdain arrogance and value open mindedness, and oppose oppression of all people you are a spiritual winner. If you want to contribute to making our world a more compassionate, free and loving place to exist long beyond your lifetime you are a humanitarian winner.

My Wish for Charlie Sheen

Stop listening to the pundits on daily TV, resist fighting yourself and others and seek out the help of an experienced, empathic, proven mental health professional. Stay in treatment with that person until you can sustain an internal sense of calm and happiness that you have never before realized, then and only then will you be ready for the rigors and benefits of primetime.
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.

http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com

Is Sex Necessary to Sustain Intimacy

In my last group therapy session members were discussing their levels of happiness in relation to all aspects of their lives.  This particular group ranges in age from mid-forties to mid -fifties. One of the women who was recently divorced said her major frustration in life is not having a sexual partner. “I haven’t had sex in more than a year, she kiddingly made light of the situation but we could all tell she was genuinely frustrated. As members began to open up she was surprised to hear that some married members do not have sex regularly. Two of our male members said they basically live in celibate marriages. Her reaction, “I don’t think I could stay married, why do you stay in such a negative situation”. Ironically the two men who currently have celibate marriages have been married the longest. One indicates that he has gained a new understanding of his situation over time. “My wife struggled with her weight all her life, as the years went on she felt more and more unattractive despite my telling her she looked good, I still love her but I have never been able to change her mind. Then menopause came early and the lights went out completely.  I admit I have been angry with her for a long time but through couples sessions I realize that it is not personal, it is something she is working on and I finally have come to believe it is not about me. I have hope for the future because I know we love each other and we’re both trying”.

                                    Sexual Desire is Complicated

    In my practice the story above is a very common, particularly as people age. There are a multitude of reasons as to why people become distant sexually. Unresolved conflict, ill health, poor fitness, depression, anxiety about body image, alcohol or drug use, sexual abuse and of course hormonal changes are all influential factors. In addition a person’s history with affection within one’s own family is a very important factor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            One of our group members is a person we all admire tremendously. He is not a driven or self absorbed person, his character is outstanding and his devotion to people in his community is quite impressive. He was divorced several years ago and his second marriage has been the best relationship of his life. However his wife has never had strong sexual desires and as she has aged her desire for sex has diminished greatly. Ron has periodically talked of his longing for her and how rejected he sometimes feels. He has periodically brought up the subject with her and he ultimately feels uncomfortable as his wife usually ends up feeling terrible. She loves him deeply and realizes she is disappointing him in significant ways. Ron knows his life loves him. They communicate well except for this very touchy subject, and have both been very committed to their children from both of their previous marriages. In our last group session he was asked how he copes with such infrequent sexual contact. “I don’t know really, I try to focus on the other aspects of our relationship. My wife is a very affectionate person, we cuddle on the couch and in bed so it’s not like I can’t feel her interest. I think of how wonderful she has been to my family, my dying father, my daughter over the years and I love how committed she is to the students in her class. I should talk to her more about our sexual relationship but I just don’t like hurting her. All in all I cope by knowing she is the best thing that ever happened to me. Do I wish we could make love occasionally? Of course but for now I have to look at the whole picture”.

                                        What is the Answer?

Sexuality in the early stages of a relationship is easy, takes very little skill and is usually filled with idealized projections of who the other persona is and how they will change our lives. As time goes on reality sets in and those who use sex for functional reasons often become disenchanted quickly. Sexual intimacy for them is not about loving it is about satisfying needs to lift self worth.  They seldom remain engaged long enough to truly love the essence of another person. They move on to another fantasized person who will temporarily serve as an anti-depressant.

         What about those individuals who come to truly love their partner. What do you do when sexual intimacy is lacking and emotional distance is growing? How do you decide to go on if you know intimacy may not be a major part of the relationship? These are extremely complicated questions for sure and they will take time and patience to answer accurately. It is most important to ask yourself if you are allowing for intimacy to develop. Examine your own behavior first and with the help of your partner try to be honest and open as to what you bring to the relationship that may hinder intimacy. For instance,  many people underestimate the need for relationships to be fostered and not taken for granted. If you don’t water the plant it withers, love is no different. After you have worked out your part with clarity you are in a better position to access the level of genuine love in your relationship. If it is truly absent it will be easier to make decisions. For instance my two patients above love their wives and thus they have decided to remain committed and will continue to work on the possibilities.

                                      Empathy creates Intimacy

   In order to maintain intimacy in any quality long term relationship we have to go beyond physical attraction to encompass the heart and soul of the person we have committed our lives to. Empathy leads us from the initial superficial connection to a deep, heartfelt relationship that involves knowing and loving the whole person. When we love and accept our partner’s imperfections we also find ourselves more acceptant of our own limitations and shortcomings.

     It is foolish to assume your sexual relationship will remain the same as when you first met. Many people long for the return to the initial infatuation phase.  It is far more fulfilling when we actually experience the depth of love that goes beyond imagination to a reality that is supportive, dependable and expansive. Ultimate intimacy is when two souls join together as one. As we have seen this may or may not include sexual intimacy. In any event when you establish this kind of depth you are in a much better position to judge the relevance and importance of sexuality to you and your partner. In my experience when couples love deeply and empathically they find a way to re-engage affectionately and often reach a satisfactory level of sexual intimacy.

                                          Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.

                                 Author of The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenge to a Balanced, Healthy, High Achieving Life.

The Estrangement of the American Couple

 

American couples are increasingly growing distant in a society driven by image, fears of ageing and the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world.  According to the World Health Organization we have one of the highest rates of depression, stress, anxiety, addictions, diabetes and obesity in the civilized world. Our children reportedly have the highest rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, and the depression rates for children are two and a half times what they were a few years ago. Eating disorders and substance abuse are common not atypical in today’s schools. Each week we spend 22 hours less with our children than parents 20 years ago; we are essentially becoming ESTRANGED from our children.                                             

                              Money Can’t Buy Love

We are spending more than ever before, with the national savings rate at the lowest point since the Great Depression. Studies have proven that compulsive spending and financial insecurity causes estrangement in our marriages. Our competitive nature drives us to spend what we don’t have in order to be on par with our neighbors and associates. We are in a contest we don’t enjoy, can’t win and can’t seem to stop.

                           Stop Aging to Secure Love                                                   

We lead the world in money spent on cosmetic procedures; we spent $14 billion on these procedures in 2006 with one billion being financed. One third of the people having these procedures had a household income of less than $30,000. The obsessive pursuit of beauty causes additive behavior which has also been proven to cause estrangement from those closest to us. Our society is increasingly fostering unhealthy relationships that are based on appearance rather than encouraging the process of learning how to establish and maintain genuine love.

                                Loving a Fantasy

             The pornographic industry has grown exponentially as it offers, along with sex chat rooms, a quick fix to the chronic problem of emotional distance in long term relationships. Americans spent $13 billion on pornography in 2006, every second we spend $3,075 on pornographic sites .Spouses who pursue porn on a regular basis ultimately feel estranged from their partners as no one can compete with the idealization of porn figures. These idealized images foster perfectionism and a false sense of what love and intimate sexuality really mean.

                         We’ve lost that Loving Feeling

          Couples from all walks of life tell me on a daily basis how they long for the “in love” feeling they had in the early years of their courtships. Estrangement has been defined as a state of indifference where there had formerly been love, affection and friendliness. Many couples have come to believe that sexual relations dwindle simply because of years spent together. The facts point more in the direction of couples losing intimacy by buying into a fast paced culture, a culture of estrangement that stresses beauty, money and an anti-ageing formula of success. We are becoming a society that lacks relational integrity- the capacity to place relationships with family, friends and community above the need for image and status.

                             Performance Addiction

          ESTRANGMENT is, in part, the result of the cultural forces outlined above that have been absorbed into the psyches of many individuals. These forces have been identified by other theorists but not in terms of how they deteriorate levels of intimacy in our long term relationships. They leave many with a feeling of indifference to those they once “fell in love with“. Americans long for closeness they lost long ago. Unfortunately we are looking in all the wrong places. Many have fallen prey to what I call Performance Addiction-the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love and respect. This irrational belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations. Performance addicts tend to value achievement over character and status over relationships.   

                        The Path to True, Lasting Love 

     Performance addicts believe they can perfect their way to happiness. They must return to the “scene of the crime” when they first started believing that performance would be the answer to their longings for love. Awareness of this original story is necessary so that old dysfunctional beliefs can be replaced by learning new behaviors that  foster authentic intimacy. This transformation takes time, patience and dedication.

        True happiness, love and respect come when people have developed high relationship skills, especially the capacity for empathy. Recovery from the estranged state only comes when we learn in our hearts and in our heads that relationships are in fact the key to gaining what has been missing all along.  True love and sexual intimacy is based on uncritical affection, not on the constant comparing and contrasting yourself and your spouse to others, the hallmark of a performance addict.                                                                      

Once we identify the means to regain lost love we can restore a feeling of hope in our ongoing relationship.  I have witnessed many poignant stories unfold as couples re-gain intimacy and restore balance to their lives and families. These individuals have learned how to know and love a real person rather than chasing misguided cultural myths. Rather than remaining estranged, they have learned how to maintain relationship integrity in the most complicated time in our history. Our current climate is emotionally disturbing; the methods we have adopted for salvation have increased alienation. Interpersonal closeness is the only reliable tool to establish a resilient personality in the face of difficulty. Rather than being driven by the cultural forces and early conditioning that have driven us apart we need to establish the relational path to regaining love and a sense of optimism going forward.

                       Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.d., Ph.D

                     Author of The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenge to a Balanced, Healthy, High-Achieving Life.

   

Intimacy: The Heart of a Meaningful Life

 

       I have been a practicing clinical psychologist for many years and in that time I have seen clients from many countries and all walks of life. Despite their diverse backgrounds if I were asked what is the one common, elusive aspect of life that all humans, regardless of circumstance long for I would have to say sustained intimacy.

         Most people can create intimacy initially but few are able to sustain rich intimacy with a spouse, friends, children and colleagues that is lasting. Regardless of wealth and professional success in the end if intimacy is missing one’s soul is devoid of the richness intimacy provides. When this occurs it creates a desperate sense, a growing uneasiness inside that prevents calmness and ongoing joy.

     People start to feel more anxious and begin to look for ways to ease the emotional pain caused by the ongoing yearning for love. This state of mind can lead to addictions, depression, anxiety and an ongoing sense that life has lost its meaning.

     I can always discern the quality of a person’s internal life once I understand the degree of intimacy a particular individual has been able to create and foster.  No matter how successful individuals are in other areas of life if intimacy is lacking the spirit of the individual will falter and grow weak over time.

     What are the ways you can begin to foster the kind of closeness you desire?

         First of all remember your self-care is an important factor in your ability to be present. If you’re eating poorly, not exercising, abusing alcohol, and not sleeping adequate hours you are probably not in a position to maintain intimacy. If you’re not feeling alive it is hard to listen to those close to you in a manner that conveys interest, patience and a willingness to go beyond the surface of relating.

         Knowing how to listen and express empathy are also critical keys to fostering closeness. Listening from an empathic position requires a willingness to enter the world of the other person while leaving your own preoccupations, biases, and judgments behind. This ability needs to be practiced and improved regularly. It is an art that makes another person feel heard and deeply understood. It is an ability that allows you to truly understand the heart and soul of the person you love.  It is not enough to understand, you must be willing to put your understanding into action, into words and behaviors. Nothing is more powerful in establishing a close bond as being able to listen and respond in the manner I am describing. I have worked with couples on the brink of divorce and once they have followed this formula over time they often create a degree of sustained intimacy they have never experienced in their lives.

   First you need to take good care of yourself. Secondly this allows you to be in a position to listen and respond on a deeper level that goes beyond the surface to the heart of those you love. In a romantic relationship you also have to develop a mature understanding of sexuality. In the Power of Empathy we stated that “ We touch bodies when we have sex, but we can only touch hearts and souls with empathy guiding the way………what we seek in the sexual experience is not simply the release of tension but the momentary merger of two souls that simultaneously confirms and expands the relationship between us. This is ultimate intimacy, the moment when two hearts and two souls join together as one”.  This experience allows us to feel more affectionate as we age with our changing appearance as we have a deep love for the person, far beyond the surface and deep within the essence of the person before us. 

     This is just a brief overview of how to essentially grow love and intimacy. I welcome your questions and comments as this is a complex process that deserves more space and time.

Celebrity Divorce Creates Anxiety in Shaky Marriages

The heralded splits of Tiger and Elin, John and Kate have made many marriages wrought with conflict seem in doubt of surviving. Try to remember that celebrity marriages are no different than yours, we all tend to fall in love (the easy phase) with an idealized view of our partner. It is exciting, changes our neurochemistry, and lifts our spirits tremendously in the early going.

The early phase, which I call Image Love, is partly based on our longings at the time. Most often these longings represent insecurities in ourselves we unconsciously hope to resolve through our new found love. Of course, as time progresses disappointment can set in as we discover the real person in front of us. He or she can’t possibly make up for our past hurts and doubts. Some couples don’t realize this is happening and they think they have fallen out of love. Not realizing this phase is the juncture of where true, mature love begins.

If we have the courage to take responsibility for our own shortcomings we can begin the process of healing and changing. If we blame our partner we find ourselves disillusioned and extremely discouraged. Our eyes start to drift to the next new love that can solve our life long problems.

My wife and I are in our 30th year of marriage. We have had our ups and downs and have had major disagreements over time. As the initial “falling in love” phase slipped away and the real relationship began we struggled to a degree as all couples do. The early physical attraction and ability to connect verbally was our beginning foundation but not enough to make for a sound, resilient love.

What happened over time that made the relationship as powerful as it is today? Falling in love progressed over time to loving each other’s character; the person deep within was discovered and revealed. I can remember seeing my wife care for my dying mother, caring for our very ill oldest daughter, delivering her mother’s eulogy with grace and wisdom, loving my dad as he became depressed after my mother’s death. I have watched her sing to her father in a nursing home, as he lies motionless and unresponsive. I marvel as I view her excitement for our adult daughter’s careers, her unselfish love for them along with the inordinate interest she takes in all aspects of their lives. Her support and belief in me has always been a constant. Even the care and love she has shown to our puppies is unselfish and devoted.

When my mother died my dad said her funeral was like the “league of nations”. People of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds attended. My wife is the same way, she makes friends from all walks of life and she loves diversity. She abhors prejudice and bias and is deeply affected by human beings mistreating others. She can sense arrogance and opportunism miles away.

At this moment she is planning for Christmas day, my favorite day of the year because she makes it a wondrous experience. I share all of these experiences to say that my love for her is greater than ever, not because we agree on every major point, we do not. Not because she is idealizing and adoring of me, she is not. Not because she needs me, she does not. But my love has grown to its depth because of who she is, her essential character.

If you’re going to work through difficulties in your relationship you must develop love for each other’s character, the essential person deep within. It is always revealed at the most difficult times, not the days at the beach.

Don’t be threatened by hearing of the stars marital demise, even though the pundits spin stories daily we have few actual facts about their lives. Don’t be threatened if there are days when you question whether you made the wrong decision. It is normal to have doubts. It is also critical to express your dissatisfaction, to address conflict directly, with tact and empathy for your partner. When we love with all our hearts we get hurt, it is often not intentional. Try not to personalize every hurtful encounter, try to understand the perspective of your partner. And most importantly work hard to identify the areas of difficulty you brought into the marriage. He or she is not responsible for your past, but if you take responsibility for your own shortcomings your spouse is more likely to help you work through your sensitivities.

Always remember marriage is more work in the beginning and more joy as years go by. As understanding of yourself and your spouse is increased your relationship can become a great friendship and one that many will admire. A wonderful benefit for your efforts is that your children will have a model for love and conflict resolution that will guide them in their relationships throughout their lives.

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