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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.

   

Coping With the Micro-Manager

If you are in the unfortunate position of being managed by a micro-manager you are likely dealing with a very insecure person plagued by perfectionism and narcissism. People who have difficulty delegating and trusting those who work for them are like an anxious mother who watches over her children so much she creates tense, unhappy children.

                  How to do you avoid daily anxiety with Mr. Micro?

In order to work for a perfectionist it is important to understand his attitude stems from a fear of not measuring up to others. It is not personal to you that your manager focuses on every minor mistake you make. He or she can’t tolerate themselves when they make a mistake. Perfectionists fear that if they make a mistake they are a mistake. Your goal is to try your hardest to not internalize this standard as it will cause you undue stress for sure. Perform to your best ability, but always remind yourself that if you do not please your micro-manager it is more likely because he or she is not pleased with themselves, it’s not really about you. So step one is understanding the root of perfectionism. Remember if you take the bait it means you have the same problem. One perfectionist working with another creates unrealistic expectations that lead to chronic disappointment.

                               What role does Narcissism play?

    Narcissists have a fragile sense of self and they have great difficulty being in reciprocal relationships. Their relationships are based on function, not mutual caring and respect.  They look to you to behave in ways that will shore up their sense of self. It is very important to understand that despite the compliments you may receive one day their self serving attitude will very likely return the next day.

   It is very difficult to be in this position but if you are to survive with success you can’t internalize the lack of genuine appreciation you receive. You have a job to do, this is not family and it will never be so with this type of individual. When you clearly know what to expect you will be less surprised, less emotional and therefore less effected by Mr. Micro.

                                   What is a Silent Victory?

I often counsel my corporate clients who are in this unfortunate situation to rely on silent victories. A silent victory is when you know how to manage a situation successfully for your purposes while the irrational individual you report to has no idea of what you’re really thinking and feeling. For instance, one of my clients was reporting to such an individual and he became so distressed that he had written a letter of resignation. Even though this is a company he had loved working for and has been with for over 5 years. He received a promotion and the VP he began reporting to made his life a complete nightmare. I convinced him to hold the letter until we could discuss what his job really meant to him. He had great respect for his direct reports and the sales team he had assembled, he loved the products they were selling and truly believed they were cutting edge in the marketplace. He loved his family dearly and the income he earned allowed them to live a very comfortable life. Ultimately this meant it was worth weathering the storm, always reminding himself of the variables we just outlined and most importantly realizing that the man he reported to was suffering himself even though his irrationality caused much distress. He began to react to his boss with less emotion, always using the tools he had acquired to remind himself, in the heat of the moment, of the silent victory he was attaining. Ultimately he was able to move to a different division and life is again good at work, he is thankful he didn’t make an impulsive mistake.

                           Empathy, the key to Business Success!

    We have essentially been talking about developing the capacity for empathy to guide you in your professional and for that matter in your personal life. Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. Without empathy we tend to personalize our responses when we are treated poorly, we start to doubt ourselves and life becomes miserable at work very quickly. Empathy allows us to know who we are dealing with and how to approach that individual so that we can maintain success in the midst of conflict.

    Once we can read the other person accurately we can develop strategies to cope more effectively. We see beyond the surface and begin to develop a map for survival.  When we recognize the dynamics involved in the micro-manager personality, likely perfectionism and narcissism, we can better understand what approach in any given conversation will lead to a positive outcome.

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

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

 

    

Image Love

     Performance Addiction is the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love, happiness and respect. It is an irrational belief system hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations, especially American cultural expectations.

     As a result Performance Addicts have great difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. None of us fall in love with a real person initially; we fall in love with an image. In the obsession and compulsion of romantic passion we escape from time, we escape from responsibilities and the binding and blinding effects of sex delude us.

   The binding part is pure physical attraction-lust, raging hormones, and sexual excitement. The blinding component is a screen of illusion obscuring the love object, the partner who is the target of sexual devotion. He or she is not perceived as a real person. The partner is a source of escape and ecstasy, an object of desire. This is what I call Image Love.

                                          Love’s Illusions

     The emotional part of the brain has a powerful influence on relationships. If you have Performance Addiction some of the characteristics that attract you to a person are probably written in stone in your brains emotional center.

    Given the importance of achievement to performance addicts it’s not surprising that sex itself has become a performance issue in many marriages. Expectations of sexual performance are set high. What if you can’t meet those expectations? The problem can often be resolved through understanding your unique belief system. A negative story created early in life can drive performance and create unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.

     Sexual intimacy is an expression of uncritical affection. How can you be uncritical if you are perfecting your own performance while judging and evaluating your partner?

                                      What Is Love Really?

Performance addiction can be unrelenting in its demands for comparison, measurement, and competition-and none of these is a component of love. Loving is quite different than being “being in love”. “In love” demands only brief acquaintance to establish emotional connection. Loving derives from sustained intimacy, the prolonged journey of knowing another’s soul. If you have Performance Addiction you may find it very difficult to make the transition from being in love to loving. Whenever you lose faith in the promise of relationships, you are likely to substitute performance measures and become obsessively driven and isolated.

                                     Loving a Real Person

         If you and your spouse/lover were meeting for the first time today, would you choose the same partner again? In other words, given what you know now, when image love is long gone, would you make the same choice? And if not, do you have clear reasons as to why you would make a different choice?

        Your response reveals a great deal about how you feel about yourself and your current relationship. No love relationship is an easy road leading to ever deepening commitment. The level of empathy shared with a spouse tells a great deal about where your relationship has been and is likely headed.

                                       Daring to Meet in the Middle

        Initially we are drawn to each other to make us more complete people. We are attracted to an aspect of the other’s personality that is under-developed in ourselves and very developed in our partner.  As we become more interested in developing the skill we admire we can move past image love. Achieving that balance, as pragmatic and un-romantic as it may seem, just might be the key to lasting love.

      In the final analysis, true love is dependent on our ability to place relationships with those close to us above our quest for image and status.

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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