Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why Need Isn't A Four Letter Word

We are taught very early that being "needy" is undesireable. Our culture reveres self-reliance, sometimes to a pathological extreme. And our "needs" are often considered dirty, shameful or bad. Needs are often treated like a "four letter word," but to our detriment.

When we are children, our needs reflect what is required to keep us alive, initially physically, and eventually emotionally and spiritually as well. Today's culture focuses on the existence of and value for our basic and higher human needs as individuals than in past eras. In prior generations, more attention was paid to how well we conformed to societally defined roles. We were to be molded to fit the roles, rather than developed as unique human beings with inherent worth.

As a result, many of our basic emotional, relational and spiritual needs went unmet, and sometimes our physical needs went unmet too. People who have not had their emotional, relational, physical and spiritual needs met, will grow older chronologically, but they will not mature emotionally and relationally, because they will suffer from the gap created by the unmet needs. They will not have the skills nor the capacity to provide what others need, since they have not received what they need themselves.

Our task as we mature includes learning to identify our needs, and to learn how to ask others for what we need in respectful ways. This includes discerning who might be capable of meeting our needs, and who cannot meet our needs, so we ask in appropriate places. It is also important to not expect a close friend or a partner to meet all of our unmet needs. Close friends and partners can meet many of our needs, but there is a big difference between choicefully meeting another person's adult needs, and being a substitute parent for what someone never received as a child.

Our adult needs are often a mixture of unmet needs from childhood and adult needs, which may be related to or unrelated to our childhood needs. The more clearly we can understand, define and communicate what we need, the more successful we can become in getting what we need from ourselves and others. And the more respectful we are of the limits, boundaries and gifts of others, the more grace can be found as we seek places to have our needs met...and learn skills to reciprocate and meet others' needs.

Most simply, needing is part of being human. We are not meant to be islands. We are not meant to do it all alone. As we peel away barriers of shame that have been passed on to us by our families or the generations that came before them, we can see needs for what they are: basic ingredients that feed the human being--emotionally, physically, spiritually and practically.

When we learn how to get what we need, we have more space to give others what they need. And when we can both give and receive, the circle of our interconnection strengths.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

How Love Evokes Our Unloveable Parts

Last month I wrote about how what might appear to be incompatibility in a relationship, might actually provide a pathway to deepen love. In the mirror of love, as intimacy grows, we feel safe to be more of who we are. We can then take the risk of letting our wounded, unhealed and less developed parts, the parts we fear are "unloveable," surface for the purpose of healing.

Sometimes this happens consciously. But often it happens subconsciously or unconsciously. In the safety of love, our defenses start to melt, and our shadow parts emerge, the way a shoot emerges from a tulip bulb buried under the earth, sensing that spring is coming soon.

Initially, we may be horrified to feel so exposed, and to feel the discomfort of the parts we judge are "unloveable." What we reject, we distance from. This creates a barrier to intimacy with both self and partner. When we withdraw, we remove our energy, and it is the presence of this energy that allows intimacy to grow and flow.

It takes a lot of energy to keep our "unloveable" parts in the shadows. And sadly, most of these "unloveable" parts are very human. If only we feel safe enough to share them in a safe and loving context, we may find more compassion from others than we might anticipate given our own internal judgments.

And this very sharing, where we are received with compassion, may provide the very healing we crave and need. When we are brave enough to share our "unloveable" parts with our loved ones, we may find out that we are more loveable, "warts and all," than we might have imagined. And being embraced as a whole person, with human foibles, wounds and strengths, is what most of us yearn for deep down inside, in our heart of hearts.

Offering the gift of full presence to our loved ones, with an open heart, free of judgment, creates the safety to melt through barriers of self-judgment. In the end, we all win. Removing judgment creates more room for intimacy and love.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Men and Women Need: Hormones and Relationship

Next time your male partner sits on the sofa and proceeds to veg out in front of the tv, rather than complaining, say "thank you." By relaxing on the sofa, his body can literally let down from the stress of the day and generate more testosterone to bring to you in the bedroom or bring to the world as he works diligently by day.

And the next time your female partner needs to talk when she is emotionally upset, realize she is trying to take care of her physical health as well as her psychological health, so she can be closer to you. The part of the brain that regulates emotional response in women under stress is 2 1/2 times greater than in men. A woman needs to talk to destress.

The most recent work of relationship expert John Gray shows how what men and women really need has a lot to do with their hormones. Understanding our most basic and primal wiring is key to appreciating what will make us happy.

As society has changed, roles for men and women have also changed. And with the change in roles have come changes in what men and women need to feel loved and understood. Women have moved out of the need for security that was present decades or centuries ago. To find fulfillment in today's world, women need to focus on their needs for intimacy, romance and connection.

Women are becoming more stressed in our testosterone driven culture. In fact, John Gray notes that women's happiness levels are steady declining. Women need to be seen, heard, touched, felt, and need to feel connected, not alone, and supported at an emotional level. As the stress level goes up for women, these needs increase.

Women are designed to be emotionally activated under stress. This leads to feelings and a need to talk about what she is feeling. Being able to speak and be heard releases her stress. Giving also reduces stress for a woman. Women need to practice self-care and find ways that nurture them, and not just look to men to get their needs met.

When a man is under stress, he is wired to do something (fight) or forget it (flight). Men are moved to do, fix, or act. Men have an off switch where they can go blank, in contrast to a a woman's brain that speeds up under stress. For men to engage in decompression activities where they get to use their "off switch" is key to destressing and rejuvenating.

These hormonal differences suggest some important coaching tips so men and women can love and support each other more effectively and both genders can get primal needs met.

If a woman is stressed out and lets her male partner know that by listening to her for 10 - 15 minutes will make her feel better, then he can "do" something that will "fix" her "problem." If she then thanks him for listening and letting her know how much she appreciates it, that will help the man feel good about the interaction. Men like to make women happy. If a woman can learn to ask for what she needs in a frame that lets the man succeed at this task, it is a super win-win.

Likewise, if a man needs to chill out in front of the tv, if he can let his female partner know he needs to decompress for a bit, and invite her to sit next to him, he can enjoy her company, and also have the space to decompress. Being able to sit quietly for a period of time may be as nurturing for the man as being able to talk or vent for a period of time is for his woman partner.

While none of us are linear gender stereotypes, and both men and women have both male and female energy, these coaching tips for our primal roots can still be helpful as we navigate a world of changing gender roles.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why Incompatibility Is A Crucible For Love

When people leave relationships, often they speak of "incompatibilities." Incompatibility does not need to mean deal breaker, And even more so, relationship experts Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt note that ALL right relationships have incompatibilities. It is the nature of relationship and the nature of the deepening of intimacy and love.

When people first fall in love, they feel a connection with their partner, and often focus on the sameness and the feeling of connection. The sameness and feeling of connection are real, however, as intimacy deepens, there is more under the surface that is not as cozy and comfortable as the sameness and connection in the new relationship energy stage.

Hendrix and Hunt believe the purpose of relationship is unconscious. The unconscious purpose is to heal the wounds of childhood and grow up and become whole. That is why we go from "falling in love," to what I call "the shadow lands." Rather than fighting or competing for scarce resources like wounded children, we need to become co-healers. Hendrix and Hunt reflect that because there was an emotional or physical absence of a caretaker at critical moments in our developmental experience, we experienced the wounds of "ruptured connection" or "missing connection."

Connection in the present with a beloved partner repairs the ruptured connection that is still alive in the memory from our childhoods. Hendrix and Hunt assert that incompatibility is not only the NORM for relationships, but also it is the GROUND of intimate partnership. When we fall in love with someone, as intimacy deeper, painful memories are triggered and emerge to heal. We blame our partners, which leads them to put up their defenses. We get used to living with a defended partner. If we can learn to provide enough safety for our partner to let down their defenses, a new vulnerable person emerges.

We fantasize that a compatible person is someone just like us so there is no conflict or tension. This is not reality. It is not how nature works, according to Hendrix and Hunt. We require the tension of opposites to heal and grow. The nature of relationship is the person you are deeply attracted to WILL have incompatibilities. And this is the opportunity of the relationship. . If you do not recognize this, it will lead to ruptures in the relationship, and if people are truly not conscious about this pattern, they may leave someone they really love.

Hendrix and Hunt note that in any couple the two people polarize into two roles: the "turtle" and the "hail storm." When stress comes, the turtle withdraws. When stress comes, the hailstorm needs to talk, analyze and figure things out. There is a precious gift in the polarization, even if it feels uncomfortable. The hail storm needs someone to slow them down and ground them. The turtle needs someone to pull them out of their shell. No matter how uncomfortable this tension is, it is very necessary. The hail storm needs to become more like the turtle and slow down, and the turtle needs to become more like the hail storm and speak up.

Rather than withdraw, the turtle needs to mirror the hailstorm and show they hear and understand what the hailstorm is saying. If the hailstorm is first mirrored and then is asked, "is there anything I can do to support you right now?" the hailstorm will calm right down. The hail storm needs to honor the turtle's process and give them space. If the hail storm tells the turtle, "I am available for connection if you and and when you are," the turtle will know they can take their space and then reach out. Both polarities need to learn to regulate their energy.

The bottom line is that incompatibility is normal and healthy. We need to develop skills to work with and grow from incompatibility. Hendrix and Hunt suggest three things to transform incompatibilities:

1. Create safety: Don't speak for your partner and tell them how they are. Don't judge them, blame them or criticize them. Talk about your own experience without judgment or blame.

2. Commit to healing each other's wounds: Your partner is not a monster taking all the emotional oxygen out of the relationship. Recognize they were wounded in childhood and need to heal. Learn what they need and give it to them. Hendrix and Hunt call this "stretching into your partner's need system."

3. Learn to sit in the tension of conflict or incompatibility until a new, third possibility emerges: Instead of using your lower brain to analyze what's wrong, move your energy to higher cerebral functioning to create win-win solutions. Do creative problem solving. Sit in the tension until a new solution emerges that includes both apparently incompatible polarities.

Rather than say you are in the wrong relationship, if you really love your partner, know you are in the right relationship. This resonance, if you stay connected to it, gives you the emotional bond to sustain the relationship when, as Hendrix says, "the dream becomes a nightmare." This takes consciousness, care, commitment and a real value for the love.

Note: The content for this blog entry came from an interview with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt as part of the Love Summit.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Psychology of Perception: The Danger of Misplaced Attention and Priorities

It is so easy to miss much in life, and even miss the very finest treasures that life has to offer if we focus our attention too narrowly and don't think deeply about our priorities. Perhaps this is why it is so easy to end up as frogs in a pot of boiling water, clueless of our context or how we got there.

The following piece was sent to me by my best friend Brenda. It is a very powerful message not only about the psychology of perception, but also the danger of misplaced attention and priorities.


In Washington, DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Back pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent--without exception-- forced their children to move quickly.

At 45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

* In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

* If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

* Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

In we do NOT have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Enjoy life NOW....it has an expiration date."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For Love or For Money

While cultural lore argues you can never be too rich, when couples care too much about money,i t may be at the expense of their marriages. In a study of more than 1700 couples, researchers at Brigham Young University and William Patterson University looked at how attitudes about money impacted marriage.

Perhaps it is not surprising that for couples for whom money was less of a priority than love and relationship, scores on relationship quality were 10 - 15% higher than for couples where one or both partners were more materialistic. Couples where both partners were materialistic fared worse than couples where one partner valued love over money.

BYU professor Jason Carroll, who teaches about family life, noted that "Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure." In fact, "materialism itself" created much of the difficulty for dually materialistic couples, including for couples with lots of money. When having lots of money is your priority, the time, care and attention needed to nurture a love connection may fall by the wayside. Love is more deeply nurtured by gestures of goodwill, care and kindness, not by things.

Materialistic couples might also make poor financial decisions, purchasing things they cannot afford, and creating debt, and the financial stress that accompanies these kinds of financial problems. No matter how many things we have, money still cannot buy love! And all the things in the world cannot fill the void in an empty heart!

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Post-Traumatic Relationship Stress Disorder

Madison Avenue has told us that without any effort on our part, we are supposed to meet a magical stranger, called "the one," who will love us, commit to us and live happily ever after with us, without ever losing the "new relationship energy" that may accompany the first phases of meeting a new love partner. In this fairy tale, we will just naturally have good jobs, a MacMansion for our home, perfect health, and all the good things in life, never falling upon hard times, conflicts, or the inevitable obstacles that life dishes out to all of us sooner or later. Countless people have embraced this fantasy as truth, and try earnestly over and over again to make the fairy tale real. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they end up with less than magical results.

After experiencing a series of romances--be they dating relationships or marriages-- that leave them disappointed, broken-hearted, disillusioned, betrayed and ultimately, just plainalone, many people start to experience what I am calling "post-traumatic relationship stress disorder."

Trying over and over and over again to build a loving,long-term relationship and ending up abandoned, "nexted," broken-hearted and alone eventually creates an emotional and spiritual state of despair, lack of trust in dating, marriage or the relationship process, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of failure and a sense of hypervigilance not to make "the same mistake again." Carrying a compounded broken heart wound in need of healing, but lacking a clear pathway to get it, both men and women become commitment phobic, hit unsurpassable walls within or with their partners that create limits to relating or just give up and stand on the relationship sidelines to avoid getting hurt again.

"He just wasn't who he said he was"
"She hadn't gotten over her two failed marriages"
"He wanted to just fill the void quickly, so he latched on to me, but he couldn't sustain the intimacy as the relationship grew"
"She decided it was easier just to be alone"
"He decided that women are too much work"
"She settled for friends with benefits, because a real relationship might neither yield a friendship nor benefits"
"He discovered she was having an affair with a married neighbor across the street"
"She thought he was just working hard at his job, but then she discovered the erotic e-mails from the co-worker he stayed at the office late with"
"I thought s/he was the nicest gal/guy, but I later discovered that I was sleeping with a narcissist."

Stories abound of falling in love initially, but ultimately falling into a relational black hole. How did we become so wounded and ill-equipped to create a life til death do us part?

As our community structures have unraveled, as families have moved further and further apart geographically, as we live in an instant gratification internet culture, where we can replace almost anything with the click of a mouse, we seem to have forgotten the value and importance of working through our differences and standing together against the odds rather than apart.

Some may say that men and women just don't understand each other, and the language barriers between the genders lead both men and women to feel unappreciated and distanced in love.

Therapists and married partners for over 30 years, Gay and Kathleen Hendricks believe that the most important ingredient for a working relationship is willingness. Willingness is a state of mind, of consciousness, of open heartedness, where a man or woman sincerely want to love and be loved, and get beyond past hurts and obstacles to do whatever it takes to love and be loved over time.

They acknowledge that no one ever told us that all relationships go through five stages: romance, the inevitable, the choice point, the result and the re-kindling. No one ever taught us that relationships are living organisms that need care and feeding, just like we do. No one ever told us that we are responsible for loving another person on their own terms as well as our terms, and that compromise is a key part of love. And even if someone told us, we may not have heard or believed them. We aren't given relationship mentors, so we all learn about love the hard way. We don't really learn about what makes love work and be sustained.

The Hendricks believe that couples need to "learn how to shift out of the state of consciousness that generates recycling conflicts, learn how to end blame and criticism and learn how to feel andappreciate the state of consciousness that generates the flow of love and appreciation."

If we truly realize that we need to bring love and appreciation to a loved one each and every day, be willing to "move past our prior experiences of love to wonder open-heartedly about what is possible right now," and shift out of our limiting consciousness that creates conflicts, judgments and other barriers to loving with an open heart, we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

If we can first love ourselves, and bring a willingess to go the distance with another person, we can stop the cycle of post-traumatic relationship stress disorder that is plaguing too many people I know.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Medication As Magic Bullet: The Shadow Side

Nobody likes to be uncomfortable, physically or psychologically. Who can blame them! When we are uncomfortable, especially when we are in physical or psychic pain, we hurt. We want the pain to go away. Discomfort or pain is important, because it provides clues to what ails us--be it superficial or deep, minor or serious. And when what ails us is serious, some kind of treatment or intervention is most often required, to help us feel better, alleviate our symptoms and reduce our discomfort or pain.

There are many approaches to how we might identify the root cause of an ailment, and what kind of treatment might help us heal. Some approaches use a mind-body perspective. Others use a more scientific or biochemical model. But all in all, as a culture, we have little tolerance for pain and often lack the ability to discern helpful, growth-promoting pain from truly pathological pain which requires a psychological or medical intervention.

Because we don't like to feel our pain, we seek "quick fixes" and immediate "solutions" to rid us of our unwanted pain. And we want our "quick fixes" to "deliver us from evil," with no cost or negative consequence. In our fairy tale story, we have created the "magic bullet" as the pharmacological hero, armed with the power to provide a simple solution to what may actually be a complex problem. Sadly, like most fairy tales, this one may not come true in reality. Our pharmacological hero may not be as simple as we wish for or as all-powerful either.

In his book, Anatomy of An Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, Robert Whitaker traces the "'magic bullet' model of medicine" back to sulfa drugs and antibiotics, which were very simple in theory. In each case, doctors defined a cause of a disorder, and developed a linear treatment to counteract it. "Antibiotics killed known bacterial invaders." Likewise, when Eli Lilly developed insulin therapy, it was "a variation on the same theme." Once researchers determined that diabetes was caused by an insulin deficiency, providing insulin to diabetics was a logical solution.

Unfortunately, this concept of drugs when applied to psychiatric ailments did not work as simply or linearly. Whitaker points out that the first generation of psychiatric drugs were called, "antipsychotics, anti-anxiety agents and antidepressants--words that indicate they were antidotes to specific disorders." The big difference here, is that psychiatric ailments are not linear nor uniform. And there is no one ailment to a non-linear disorder. While there may be a cluster of symptoms that lead to a diagnosis, they are emotional, mental and behavior symptoms whose roots may be in trauma, family history, neglect, unmet needs or struggles in the here and now.

Whitaker notes "the psychopharmacology revolution was born from one part science and two parts wishful thinking." While some psychiatric medications DO help people, what is far too often not discussed is that with any medication there are the desired effects and other effects, often called "side effects." You cannot take a medication and guarantee you only get the desired effects. In some cases, people are far more impacted by the other, lesser talked about effects. Too, the long-term impact of a biochemical solution for what may not have its roots in a biological problem may leave a person weaker and more vulnerable than when they started treatment.

For example, many anti-anxiety medications are addictive, and when a person decides to stop taking them, they are not aware of the withdrawal effects of stopping, including the increased anxiety that may result. Some of the ADD drugs given to children and adults have been correlated with cardiac arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation. In their book, Your Drug May Be Your Problem, authors Peter Breggin and David Cohen note that antidepressants "can cause emotionally and physically distressing and dangerous withdrawal reactions," and may permanently alter brain and body chemistry in less than desirable ways.

These side effects, withdrawal effects, and long-term biochemistry altering effects are often unspoken or less spoken than we might think they should be for a person to make an informed choice about using the biochemical tools that are so readily pushed as "solutions." While I am a firm believer in education about all possible tools that might be helpful in a given health situation, I feel it is very important to paint a complete picture, so we really understand as many consequences of our choices as possible, prior to making them.

I have had many clients go from one medication to the next, hoping to find their magic bullet, only to be disappointed that they have invested time, much and faith in substances that cause unwanted side effects without the intended benefit they wished for.
I have also had clients who gain relief from a medication for a period of time, unaware that they are becoming chemically addicted to the substance, and that they will go through withdrawal if they choose to stop taking it.

I strongly advocate for more complete education about the pluses and minuses of biochemical interventions. I believe it is essential we recognize that there may be no magic bullets, and some of the conditions we are trying to treat are not simple but complex. If we have a more complete understanding of the shadow side of medication, we can benefit from the positive effects consciously, and choose to disengage consciously as well, in appropriate.

©2011 Linda Marks

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alexythymia: No Words For Feelings

Feelings and emotions are important because they give a language to our experience where mind and body meet, according to Living In Balance authors Joel and Michelle Levey. Our feelings and emotions help us know what is true for us, and provide guidance both for our own self-care and well-being, and also for our work, relationships and overall health.

Many people suffer, often unknowingly, from an ailment called alexythymia, in which there are no words for feelings. Have you ever found yourself having a strong feeling, yet been at a loss for words? Or is it difficult, in general, to find words for what you feel? Many people who have experienced great stress or trauma struggle to find words for feelings. And many people have never had the opportunity to learn how to translate their feelings into language at all.

Even if it is hard to get in touch with our feelings or find words for feelings, we are still impacted by the waves of life. When experiences impact us strongly at the emotional level, and we have no means of expression, we can feel trapped in an emotional prison, that causes great internal stress.

Creating emotional safety is often a first step in learning to connect with our emotions and feelings, and learning to notice the sensations and energy currents that run through our body when we feel sad, happy, angry, scared, disappointed, or anxious. Our bodies often communicate through physical sensations: knots in the stomach, lumps in the throat, tightness in the chest, headache that won't go away.... We have learned to label these experiences as symptoms, which are "bad," and we are supposed to make "go away," rather than understanding that this is our body's way of trying to get our attention to learn what we feel and what we really need. Underneath most physical "symptoms" are emotions and feelings, which when accessed and expressed, help us learn about what is true for us and what we really need.

How do you begin to connect with your feelings to find the voice they invite you to discover? Slow down, sit in a chair, take some deep breaths, and focus on getting grounded. As you inhale, feel the physical contact of your back with the back of the chair, of your pelvis and tailbone with the seat of the chair and of your feet with the floor or rug. Breathe in the physical sensation of the chair and the floor supporting you. Exhale any tension, any stress, any strain in your body and mind. Invite your inner observer to notice any passing thoughts, simply noting them, and inviting them to melt away with your exhale.

As you slow down, relax, quiet and ground, the sensations and feelings in your body and heart are more likely to be noticeable. Invite them to speak to you, letting go of the need to analyze or judge what you find. Write in your journal. Type into your computer. Just notice what you experience and record it.

Initially, you might not notice anything. That is okay. There is a power in just slowing down, getting grounded and creating a space to listen. In time, your body and heart are likely to communicate with you. And as you listen to what your body and heart have to say, you will gain information that will help you put your felt experience into words. Once you can do this, you can choose what to share with friends and loved ones and deepen your connection and communication.

You may even find yourself able to write a "dictionary," translating common feelings, emotions and body sensations into the messages they contain. Giving voice to your body and feelings will reduce your internal stress level and improve your communication with others!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our Bond of Interconnectedness

In her book, The Bond, Lynn McTaggart suggests that it is the relationships between objects, be they atoms or people, that make all the difference. Life happens in the "spaces inbetween."

Here are some points she makes:

* Subatomically, there is no such thing as an individual thing

* Our bodies are created through so many complex interactions with our environment that they cannot be considered to exist independently

* We understand the actions of others by simulating the entire experience from a personal vantage point as though it were happening to us

* One of our deepest needs is to agree with each other, which manifests in a constant and automatic impulse to synchronize, physically, psychologically and emotionally

* Emotion, always considered wholly individual, is like a virus, transferring from person to person in an endless and unconscious circle of contagion

* We seek belonging above all else: for every $10,000 more your neighbors make than you do, your likelihood of suicide probably increases by 7.5 per cent

* Connecting with others is a matter of life and death: the lone-wolf, Gary Cooper-style all-American hero is a perfect candidate for a heart attack(1)

Much as Americans pursue an image of rugged individualism and self-reliance, these images can become pathological, and distance us from our more primary need to be interconnected with others.

Emotionally, neurologically and biologically, we are not designed to be "islands" or "rocks" that do not cry or feel pain. A healthy heart feels for others and grieves when another experiences hurt or loss.

If we work on valuing one another and investing more time and energy into our relationships (and perhaps less into our work and solo pursuits that leave little time for relationships), perhaps our world will feel less "cold" and "cruel."

Copyright Linda Marks 2011

(1) This list of points was prepared by Lynn McTaggart, author of The Bond

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Letting People Matter

Have you ever experienced a relationship where your partner said again and again that s/he loved you, yet left easily, and in a heartbeat without looking back? This kind of experience leaves the one left behind feeling confused, hurt, angry, shocked and just plain displaced.

If a loved one is able to leave that easily without remorse, it suggests that they were not entirely attached to their loved one. If someone is truly emotionally attached to a loved one, they cannot leave in the blink of an eye. Leaving would create great pain, and a sense of profound loss which they can anticipate emotionally,and as a result, they are far more motivated to work through emotional difficulties to make a relationship work.

Truly loving someone means letting the person matter. Many avoid this depth of heart opening and intimacy, because losing a loved one from this depth of attachment creates tremendous pain. So, many people protect their hearts and never let themselves open into full emotional attachment, and therefore, never truly let their loved one really matter.

Many people suffer from attachment disorders. Many people have had parents who cannot open into full emotional attachment with their children. As a result they experience chaotic attachment, where sometimes the parent seems to love them, be present to them, be with them, pay attention to them or listen to them, and other times, the parent is not present, is self-absorbed, in unfairly angry at the child, does not pay attention to the child, does not listen to or hear them or overpowers the child with their own wants and needs. If we have not had the experience of a secure, constant, deep emotional attachment when we are young, it is very scary and difficult, if not impossible, to build a secure, constant, deep emotional attachment as an adult.

Letting someone matter requires have a sense of depth and security within our own heart. We need the room in our hearts to let someone in and hold them in the moment and over time. Choosing to MAKE someone matter through conscious actions and thoughts takes a sense of consciousness and a strength of heart. Conscious thoughts and actions, regular rhythms of communication, and regular times together accented through healthy times apart help create a container that holds both the relationship and both people in the relationship.

This kind of container is needed to give space for both the relationship and the people in the relationship to grow. It is a sad paradox that many people are afraid to get boxed into a relationship for fear of losing their freedom and not being able to grow, when in actually, a healthy container holding a relationship allows for both connection and independence, and ultimately personal and relational growth.

When relationships are treated less consciously and intentionally and more randomly, the relational container has holes that leak out energy and the individuals and the relationship may not feel as safe, solid or held.

When people come from backgrounds that lack emotional constancy, there may be comfort in the familiarity of chaos and a fear of the constancy/commitment of a stable, lovig bond. Being able to develop and sustain intimacy requires a sense of trust,constancy and connection that is nurtured through actions and invested time.
If this is unfamiliar, we need experiences that introduce us to the reality that true intimacy, while vulnerable, can also be safe, nurturing and secure.

To really love someone is to both LET them matter, and to act in such a way that you MAKE them matter.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TV For Your Soul

"So many channels, so little on." Have you ever felt that way as you skipped through the guide function on your tv? Executive Producer Marie Manning has been working to provide real television nourishment in an age of "empty viewing calories," and "junk food for the spirit." TV For Your Soul offers meaningful alternatives to voyeuristic, competitive, reality tv putting people up against one another in awkward situations.

"All of our shows have positive, uplifting content," reflects Marie. Programs include: "Body, Mind and Spirit," "Empowering Women,""Contributions to Earth,""Room of Ones Own," and "Wedding Essentials." Two shows in the works are "Everyday Goddesses," and "Celebrity Charities."

"We wanted to raise the uality of what people are getting on tv," acknowledges TV For Your Soul Executive Director, Martha Kilcoyne. "People deserve an opportunity to hear messages that can help them rise out of the cultural norm, and not in the context of people fighting on a talk show because it gets good ratings."

Gaining visibility for quality programming has its challenges. Traditional television channels are hard to access. The internet makes it easy to put out more messages to more people, but having a place to put out a 28 minute show with great quality requires deep pockets. The more affordable outlets may compromise the quality of the program you watch.

If you are interested in sampling some of the shows that Marie has produced so far, vignettes are available on www.tvforyoursoul.com.

Marie's vision is to not only produce content with integrity but also to distribute the content with integrity as well. If you want to see full episodes of TV For Your Soul productions, they will be available on demand through LexMedia.

Would you like to help TV For Your Soul grow and reach a larger audience? Ways you can help include:

* Let other people know about TV For Your Soul and send them to the website
* Consider sponsoring an episode for a show or underwriting a series
* Make a donation to TV For Your Soul to help with some needed capital purchases, including back-up drives and storage so that Marie and her team can work with all the footage that they have, a couple better mikes, and funds to help support editors, producers and the people behind the cameras

It is time to rise out of a cultural paradigm that isn't working, and create a new paradigm that is more collaborative, sustainable and empowering. TV For Your Soul is a wonderful vehicle for cultural transformation.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Time and Money

What might be at the heart of our "crazybusy" time-crunched way of life in today's world? It may not just be more things to do according to research by organizational behavior professors Sanford DeVoe of the University of Toronto and Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University.

Professors DeVoe and Pfeffer actually trace the roots of the "modern time bind" to rising income over the past several decades. Apparently, as people's pay rises, the stress they internalize to do more faster increases. When a person is paid less, they feel more permission to go at their own pace.

This includes when being assigned the very same tasks! A study of 67 college students to a fictitious corporate job illustrated this point. The students who were paid 10 times what their other colleagues were reported feeling more pressure to do the very same job.

When people were assigned to groups where they were made to feel either wealthy or poor, those who felt wealthy also felt more time pressure. With this increased sense of time pressure came less patience and a tendency to rush through tasks.

This research invites us to look at what really makes us feel time bound. Do we really have too much to do, or do we feel too much pressure to do what we feel responsible for? Good food for thought!

Love, Money and Stuff

A recent article in Time Magazine reported a new psychology study that reveals that "people who feel loved and accepted by others place lower monetary values on material possessions than folks who feel insecure and unloved." When people don't feel valued and appreciated by other people, they turn to stuff to fill the emotional and relational void.

There are many psychological studies on how we compensate when we don't get what we really need. Most addictions are rooted in this kind of compensating behavior. And because the secondary source we turn to (food, work, money, stuff)often still leaves us feeling incomplete in some way, we keep wanting more and more. We can't get enough of what we don't really need.

And at some level, deep down inside, we just plain need what we really need. Love, connection, feeling that we matter, and feeling welcome are primal human needs, necessary for psychological survival and well-being. The pain of NOT getting what we really need is so great, we build strong fortresses around our hearts, to numb out the pain that comes from not knowing how to get what we really need.

"People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort," UNH psychology professor Edward Lemay reflects. "But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort, those possessions decrease in value."

This brings to mind the experiments we studied in Psychology 101 about cloth and wire monkeys. When baby monkeys were removed from their mothers, researchers gave some a hard wire substitute monkey to hold on to, and others a soft, clothbound substitute mother monkey. The baby monkeys who at least had the comfort and warmth of the cloth, fared better than the baby monkeys who had the cold, hard wire as their only contact. Truthfully, both sets of monkeys would have been much happier if they had simply been left with their living, breathing monkey moms. However, given the experiment required leaving their real moms, having some literal creature comforts was critical for well-being.

Funny how we can make "things" creature comforts when we can't get comfort from real creatures! And it is no surprise that when humans let us down, abandon us, are not available or just don't know how to connect, cats and dogs provide the real creature comfort that human beings deeply crave.

Here's to love, connection and warmth from real human beings!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Altruism Is Good For YOU

Gordon Gecko may have said "greed is good," but from a physiological and well-being perspective, altruism is better. The Institute of HeartMath reports that "when we act in other people's behalf, we feel better, more secure and experience less stress."

When we are helping others from a place of care, compassion and pure intent, both our brain and heart produce oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone. Heart cells as well as brain cells produce "feel good chemicals"including dopamine and endorphins. Only genuine intent creates this hormonal benefit.

An article on altruism prepared by the Institute of HeartMath cites research that shows:

* altruistic people are healthier and live longer
* older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60% compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support to relatives, neighbors or friends
* altruism promotes enhanced meaning and purpose, and the presence of positive emotions such as kindness that displaces harmful negative emotional states

When we can shift our focus to what we have to give, instead of what we have to get or take, what follows actually helps US. Is it paradoxical that in giving, we receive more than if we had only focused on our selfish self-interest? Perhaps this shows the difference in scope between the ego and the heart. Because the heart operates from a place of connection and interconnectedness, it understands the flow of life. When we operate from ego, fear or scarcity, we can disconnect from this very flow.

Hearts know how to balance self-care and care for others. When we use our intellects with the balancing perspective of the heart, we can operate from a sense of duty or obligation, when can lack pure heartfelt intent. Using our heart's wisdom and guidance is key to keep ourselves in the circulating flow of giving and receiving, rather than burning out from giving in a disconnected state.

Living From the Heart Workshop

On Friday, May 20, I will be giving a workshop on Living From the Heart at the home of Margaret Arndt and David Sneickus in Newton, MA.


Our hearts thrive when our lives are "coherent," meaning we have a sense that life is purposeful, manageable and meaningful. This approach to living makes us happier and healthier in all ways. The messages we receive from the culture, however, do not often invite us to go inward and listen to our hearts. Instead, we are told to do more, go faster and keep going...skipping over the critical messages our hearts and bodies give us moment to moment and over time about the things we really need.

In this evening workshop, you will have a chance to slow down, bring your focus inwards and listen to your own heart. We will explore some of our basic human needs (beyond food, shelter and clothing...like being welcome in the world, not having to do it all alone, and having emotional and spiritual connection), and how to bring more of what really matters into our lives. We will do meditation, experiential exercises and partnered sharings drawing from EKP body psychotherapy to nourish and honor our hearts.

Linda Marks, MSM, has practiced body psychotherapy with individuals, couples, families and groupsfor 26 years. EKP (Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy), a heart-centered, psychospiritual body psychotherapy method is her contribution to the field. Linda has presented nationally and internationally, published two books and hundreds of articles, taught at universities and professional conferences and has appeared on radio and television. She also practice coaching and mediation. Her website is www.healingheartpower.com.

For more information, contact msarndt@verizon.net

Friday, April 1, 2011

Being A Face to Face Person In An Increasingly Virtual World

When I started my psychotherapy practice in 1985, the world was dramatically different than today. There was no internet. There were no cell phones. There was no e-mail. There were no texts. All media--books, newspapers and magazines, were physical and in-print, not on-line. And if I wanted to have a conversation with someone, there were two options: face to face and on the phone.

In many ways, things were much simpler back then. When my first book, Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart, was published in 1988, I threw a big book launch party at a Boston area nightclub to bring people together to celebrate in community. If I were to publish a new book tomorrow, I would set up a Facebook fan page for the book, organize a party on Meetup.com, send out an event announcement using Constant Contact, post announcements on LinkedIn and on my regular Facebook page, and tweet updates as often as possible to let people know.

As a writer and psychotherapist, I feel the changes from our old face to face based relating culture to our modern technology based more virtual culture. As a person, I feel the changes even more strongly, and watch the changes color the landscape of others' lives.

People of all ages can spend hours chatting with "friends" on Facebook, without ever leaving the comfort of their living room. They can "talk" while dressed in their pajamas and never utter a spoken word. Committees can meeting using a free internet conference calling service, and never need a face to face meeting to get their work done. Teens or older adults can communicate daily with their loved ones through texts and e-mails, forgetting or perhaps never learning that some topics are best discussed in person and not in a virtual medium.

At its best, virtual communication allows us to feel connected easily, quickly and without much logistical work to be at a certain place at a certain time. At its worst, virtual communication leaves us feeling isolated, connected but alone, missing the special meaning of a look on someone's face, a gleam in the eye, or the warm, nurturing feeling of a hug or caress. Some experiences translate into virtual moments. Others simply do not.

In late March, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the increase of teenage depression with Facebook use. On the one hand, many teens feel a wider social network than kids in their actual classes at school through their connection of Facebook friends. On the other hand, they may feel lonely and disconnected, because all of their communications take place when they are by themselves with only a computer as their companion. If they try to arrange a time to "hang out," they may find their phone call unanswered, or their plan forgotten as their friend gets lost in a sea of cyberconversations or video games, while time marches on. Facebook allows people to post photos that create an image of life as wonderful and fun, even if real life is not nearly so grand. And people create "avatar-like" personas, never needing to do equal work to develop their inner personas.

No matter how many virtual tools we develop to stay "in touch," communicate quickly, efficiently and replace the need for a meeting real-time, if we go too far on the virtual side of the human-technology continuum, a part of our spirit gets lost. If you are sad, does it not feel better to look into the eyes of an understanding friend? If you are scared, can a text replace a hug? Can a kiss be replaced by an e-mail saying "I love you?" Our human senses make life richer and more meaningful. WHh lose them in our relating with others?

While I can talk to someone on the phone and counsel them on Skype, I cannot reach out and touch them, or bring the full energy of my heart to them when we are so far away. Some part of relating simply cannot be whole when done at a distance. To "be with" someone, really means being with them.

Just like the experiments with the clothand wire monkeys in my freshman psychology class, there are lessons about the emotional and spiritual cost of a more virtual and less tactile existence. Technology can help us share our words, ideas and thoughts, but to physically feel another's presence, hold another's hand, and feel the beat of another person's heart in a mutual embrace introduces a much deeper, essential dimension of human experience into our lives. May we never forget the important of being face to face people in our increasingly virtual world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Race to Nowhere

Having heard about the documentary film, Race to Nowhere, first from an article in the paper and then from a client, I was ecstatic to learn that Newton North High School was showing the film this past month. My son, Alex, and I cleared our calendars so we could attend the screening. I was very glad we did!

Produced by Vicky Abeles, using the words and experiences of students across the country, their teachers, administrators, parents and other professionals who serve them, the film paints a very accurate and sad portrait of what education is like in our culture today. With all the pressure to build a resume to be successful in the job market, starting in preschool, students are overloaded with homework, pressured to take top level classes and get straight A's, while also excelling in extracurriculars, sports, and even more, lacking time for eating, sleeping, thinking or learning.

This silent epidemic touches all school-aged kids and young adults, from pre-K through graduate school, leads to stress-related illness at younger and younger ages, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, suicide, apathy and a mechanized, robotic approach to personhood. Because of the pressures to look good and have "everything together," on the outside, countless students suffer in silence, under the radar, until a crisis hits where things crumble from the inside out.

The ultimate prize is success, as defined by our materially addicted culture, measured by how much money you have, how big a house you live in, and how fancy a car you drive. Happiness, health and humanity are left out of the equation entirely. As one student in the film commented, "Success in America is defined by how much money you make, not by how happy you are."

And with inhumane pressures that could cause even the strongest person to eventually crumble, students are learning to take shortcuts, like cheating and taking drugs, which will ultimately lead to their collapse or the collapse of the systems that depend on them. Sadly, we have countless examples of the adult version of this behavior, with Bernie Madoff as the poster child of cheating and its costs, including the life of his son.

One of the students in the Newton North auditorium commented after the film, we have a system that is creating an economically and emotionally depressed America. Something has to change, or our race to nowhere will be the lemmings' suicidal race off the cliff. Are we frogs in the proverbial pot of boiling water or have we already died emotionally, spiritually and practically? Can we leap out of the water and keep other frogs out of the pot? Can we find a way to get grounded and keep frogs in frogponds and people in human environments? Do we need to revision and re-engineer these more healthy and natural environments, because we are so used to the boiling water, that we don't even remember how it should be?

This provocative film is a call to action, including getting together and talking with one another face to face. The film is only shown in small community settings, like the high school, rather than being distributed through the commercial film market. The purpose is to engage dialogue and thought, rather than passive viewing in our isolated lives.

I hope more and more people see the film, and join together to get to the root of the systemic issues. Our survival is at stake. As they say, our children are our future. And if we don't take action, we will lose them and our future.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Greed Is A Terminal Disease

While intellectually, many of us know that anything taken to an extreme can lose its goodness, practically, our culture seems to have forgotten that this is so. While the Wall Street culture promoted the idea that greed is good, just as a person who lives on a diet of junk food will ultimately become seriously ill, too much greed for too long exacts a toll. This toll is felt by the greedy, the people taken advantage of or shut out from the food chain, and by society as a whole.

Bernie Madoff's uncontained greed not only led to his sentence of life in prison, but also to the suicide of one of his sons. Greed on Wall Street, in business, and in the political arena, has left countless people adrift, unemployed, homeless and displaced, without hope of any change in their circumstances. And the greedy who put so many people in such difficult positions turn their head the other way and watch their bank accounts grow.

We have example after example that greed is a terminal disease, and perhaps an addiction in our culture where success is measured in financial terms, not in meaning, contribution, and making a difference in the world. In his article, The Real Social Security, published in Ode Magazine, Kenyan microcredit bank managing director, Kimanthi Mutua notes that the only REAL social security is our collectiveness.

Mutua notes, "Centuries of individualism and materialism have destroyed most of this essential support structure in the West." We have no collective infrastructure to catch people when times are tough, and falling through the cracks of life is all too familiar a risk of hard times and forces beyond our control.

While Americans may look at Africans as residents of third world nations, emotionally and spiritually, America is a third world nation, or worse. The richness of daily connections with people, face to face, where people know and care for one another, cannot be made up through bonding in virtual reality. Mutua notes that in Africa, people connect in the daily reality of their lives. They naturally support each other, which builds an experience of community and compensates for the hardships of their lives."

Mutua notes as well that based on data from a World Value Survey, "most people in Africa do not report feeling less happy than people in developed nations despite being the poorest people on the planet. African is a living example of the fact that more money does not bring more happiness."

So, if we can stop looking at our own reflections in the narcissistic mirror that is so common today, perhaps we can look at ourselves through the lens of other cultures that may be more spiritually and emotionally rich than we are. As we are lost in the trance of working ourselves to death, and pursuing the American Dream, that a Psychology Today article notes has transformed into the American Nightmare, we lose sight of what really matters, and what we really need to survive.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

See "American Nightmare" in April 2011 issue of Psychology Today, and "The Real Social Security" by Kimanthi Mutua in the October 2007 issue of Ode Magazine for more.

Happiness Versus Well-Being

On Tuesday, March 15, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, "Is Happiness Overrated?" With positive psychology as one of today's popular buzzwords in research and media circles, who would question whether pursuing happiness might, as the WSJ article suggests, be doing us more harm than good?

It turns out that "happiness as people usually think of it--the experience of pleasure and positive feelings," is not nearly as important to physical health as meaning and purpose. Engaging in meaningful, purposeful activity creates a deeper and more impactful positive state, which is called "eudaimonic well-being," than lighter, fun, which is called "hedonic well-being." The effects of eudaimonic well-being contribute not only to better mental health and cognitive acuity but also to a longer life than focusing on achieving feelings of happiness alone.

Dr. Carol Ryff and her team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that eudaimonic well-being reduced the impact of known risk factors like low education level on some critical health indicators. "Participants with low education level and greater eudaimonic well-being had lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker of disease associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's disease" than those with lower levels of eudaimonic well-being, even when taking hedonic well-being into account.

Too, researchers say that focusing too much on happiness, "can actually lead to feeling less happy." All too easily, we become addicted to the "quick fix," and swim on the surface of life, leaving the deeper layers of our beings untended.

While small, fleeting pleasures, like listening to good music, enjoying a good dinner or getting a new outfit, give us a burts of good feeling, in the long term, these activities, which contribute to "hedonic well-being," do not have real staying power. The article notes that raising children, volunteering or going to graduate school "may be less pleasureable day to day," but gives us more of a sense of fulfillment, "of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run."

Another important principal is everything in moderation. It is not human to be happy all the time, nor is it necessarily desireable. Life brings challenges, loss and hard times. To be able to feel through these different experiences is critical to being human. Being too unhappy too often is not good for us. And being more at peace more often is indeed more enjoyable. Yet, in a culture that has become far too narcissistic, "fixating on being happy in itself can become a psychological burden," reflects Dr. Ryff.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Middle Class As Underclass

I remember reading Lou Dobbs' book, The War on the Middle Class, and feeling as though what I had been noticing, sensing and observing for so long was finally being named. Over the past three decades, the gap between rich and poor has grown steadily. But as the very rich have become richer, it is not just the poor who have grown poorer. The layer of people who emerged with new opportunities during the Industrial Revolution and continued to thrive "until the music stopped," beginning in the Reagan era, "the middle class," have lost standing over the past three decades and have now emerged as an underclass.

When I was a kid, plenty of my peers defined success as "having more than their parents had." While that might have been possible for past generations, for those who are parents themselves today, it is far more difficult to accomplish. According to an article on money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/economy/middle_class/index.htm, in 1988, the average American tax payer had income of $33,400, adjusted for inflation. In 2008, the average income was still just $33,000 according to data from the IRS.

On the other hand, the richest 1% of Americans, those making $380,000 or more, have experienced a 33% growth in income over the last 20 years. The gap between the richest and everyone has grown, while the middle class, trapped with stagnant income in the face of rising costs of living, has experienced a decrease in their standard of living.

Years back a friend of mine from Europe commented that the United States was well on its way to becoming a 3rd world country, while what used to be known as 3rd world countries were gaining new wealth thanks to globalization. As American workers watched their jobs move overseas, with nothing to fall back on, workers in India, China and other 3rd world countries found themselves with new opportunities. Corporations took advantage of cheaper labor in other countries to cut costs and increase profits, and found new markets in the countries they were "developing" their new workforce in.

The article also notes that with the decline of unions and other labor protections, American workers had no voice and no power. Add to that anti-regulation that loosened rules governing banks in the 1980's, barriers between commercial and investment banks dissolving during the Clinton era, the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which weakened oversight of complex securities and the Bush era tax cuts that benefited the most wealthy, and the pathways for the wealthy to become "the ruling class" broadened and deepened.

I find it noteworthy that 65% of school-aged kids are going to school hungry, and teachers are now spending on average $25/week of their own money to help feed their students so they can concentrate in class. Reasons for this trend include chaotic households, families that just cannot afford food, and families with no food in the house for breakfast. When I learned about this trend, it seemed more third world country news than what one might expect for kids in the US.
Yet this trend is happening here on our home territory, and perhaps in a kitchen near you.

As kids turn 16, instead of being welcomed for retail sales jobs or supermarket cashier jobs, they struggle to find the kinds of opportunities their parents looked forward to at the same age. Today, immigrants from other countries and older workers who need to work into their retirement years have taken the jobs that were once available to high school students. More and more teens scramble for unpaid internships to gain work experience and valuable credentials for their resume to improve their odds for paid employment in the years ahead.

It is far more common for twentysomethings to still live at home with their parents as they try to stake out an economic foothold in the world. Those who have fled the nest often share apartments with multiple roommates to contain costs. Some young families wonder if they will ever be able to own their own home, once a staple of the "American dream."

How we can regain the power to help change the world for the better is a question well worth pondering both on our own and in communities of like-minded others. It will take gatherings of people face to face to generate the energy for a true uprising and revolt. Watching this happen in the Middle East is very telling. Will Americans be able to rise up together and create a new revolution? Time will tell. But something revolutionary is needed.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Equality, Vulnerability and Well-Being

While when many of us heart the word, "vulnerability," we run the other way as quickly as we can, vulnerability is actually a critical human capacity, necessary for connecting to self and others.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, on the very same day, two people in my network sent me links to two very powerful pieces, an article from the New York Times, "Equality, a True Soul Food" by Nicholas Kristof, and a video clip of Brene Brown from the University of Houston presenting on "Wholeheartedness" for TED. While the two pieces seemed unrelated at first, together, they got me thinking deeply about the nature of vulnerability, and how equality and vulnerability relate to well-being.

Few people I know like to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is usually given a bad rap, bringing to mind images of being hurt, taken advantage of, being powerless or unprotected. In "Equality, a True Soul Food," Nicholas Kristoff (New York Times, January 1, 2011), the cost that comes with the vulnerability of being low in the social pecking order is made clear. The kind of vulnerability that comes from not having what you need for physical survival (food, clothing and shelter) or psychic well-being (connection, meaning, inner peace) is an emotionally unsafe and disempowering kind of vulnerability.

Kristof reflects on the "stunning" levels of inequality in America, which "seem profoundly unhealthy for us, and our nation's soul." We live in a time of "polarizing inequality," where the wealthiest one percent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent. The inequality is not just economic, but soul deep, marked by high rates of violent crime, drug use, teen birthrates and even heart disease.

Kristof refers to a book by British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greatest Equality Makes Societies Stronger. "Gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust, and an array of mental and physical ailments," concludes the authors. Inequality not only makes us vulnerable, but even polarizes vulnerability and invulnerability.

Those who have the bulk of society's resources can become "invulnerable" to the pain, struggles and daily deprivations of those who lack them, as they are both distanced and protected from the raw reality of thsoe who lack what they need. Out of sight is out of mind, and this leads to a dangerous disconnection between human beings living in the same country, but in very different worlds.

The very wealthy live in an alternative universe, flying around in personal jets, living in gated estates with personally selected staff, with easy access to "recreational" drugs, that more disenfranchised people use to self-medicate the pain of hopelessness and powerlessness. By being far removed from those who suffer from long-term unemployment, lack of access to needed resources, and no clear pathway out of their state of struggling for survival, the wealthy can maintain an ultimately false sense of invulnerability.

Wilkinson and Pickett show that those at the bottom of the social pecking order "suffer from a range of pathologies." A long term study of British civil servants found that "messengers, doormen, and others with low status were much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide, and some cancers and had substantially worse overall health." When you are vulnerable due to circumstances beyond your control, and there is no clear pathway to get what you really need, life loses meaning and becomes little more than a struggle.

Why is inequality so harmful? "The Spirit Level suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corrodoing societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social animals, become stressed whewn they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy." High stress levels long-term lead to the release of the hormone cortisol, and with it com today's epidemic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression. Kristof notes that "social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviors and persistent poverty," follow suit.

Inequality creates a state of almost institutionalized disconnection, bringing with it despair, powerlessness, hopelessness, and high levels of cortisol from long-term stress. If we are indeed all interconnected as human beings and as a society, even those who through wealth and social status imagine themselves immune from the struggles of the more common man, will suffer from this tear in our collective fabric. In this sense, by living in a society with polarizing inequality, we will all become more vulnerable as we become more disconnected from ourselves and one another.

Disconnection is damaging to well-being, since in the eyes of social worker and University of Houston researcher Brene Brown, connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives. "The ability to feel connected neurobiologically is why we are here." The effect of disconnection is so strong, Brown found, that when people were asked to talk about love, they talked about heartbreak, and when they were asked to talk about connection, they talked about disconnection.

Disconnection brings with it feelings of shame. Brown defines shame as "the fear of disconnection," meaning, that for any of us, there are things about us, if known or revealed, we fear will make us unworthy of connection. Pressure to be thin, rich, beautiful, or educated with a proper pedigree lead to a lack of feeling worthy for who we are internally and essentially. Our worth becomes externally defined, not internally felt. This decreases our sense of personal power, and places us once again in the uncomfortable experience of vulnerability.

Brown points out, "we live in a vulnerable world." We are NOT always in control, and the way people in the US today deal with vulnerability is to numb it. Brown notes, "we are the most in debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in US history." Rather than risk rejection, judgment, uncomfortable feelings, bad news or feeling not in control, we numb our uncomfortable vulnerable feelings. As we do so, we deny reality and create a fantasy bubble whic is ultimately destructive.

Brown notes that in addition to numbing vulnerability, people today:

* Try to make everything that is uncertain, certain

* Try to perfect everything, often to our own detriment

* Pretend that what we do does not have an effect on others

All of these behaviors not only disconnect us form ourselves and others, but also can destroy our lives. We cannot selectively numb emotions. If we numb out our fear and sadness, we also numb out our capacity for joy and happiness. If we only embrace the behaviors and qualities in our children that look "perfect," we destroy their humanity and the qualities that make them uniquely who they are.

Numbing and running from vulnerability ultimately endangers us more than revealing who we really are. Vulnerability, while initially frightening, is critical to our sense of connection, and therefore, our well-being. By treating ourselves and others with more love and kindness, we break through the walls of judgment and inequality that polarize us, and create a deeper sense of connection, that can heal us individually and collectively. By being vulnerable, we help create a safer and more equitable world, and restore a sense of dignity and worth to all, just for being human beings living on the earth.

As we improve the emotional and spiritual quality of our lives, we reduce the levels of cortisol in our bodies, increase our sense that life is purposeful, manageable and meaningful, and reduce the need to numb out through substances or processes. We re-create an environment that nourishes the heart and soul.

Kristof opens his article with a quote from John Steinbeck, "a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ." By embracing our vulnearbility and un-numbing our deeply sad, disconnected souls, let germs be our strongest danger, not one another!

Vulnerability need not be a liability or contributor to lower status. When we can be vulnerable, yet feel emotionally safe, our vulnerability can actually be a source of personal power and contribute to a greater sense of connection with self and others. If we feel safe in our vulnerability, rather than experience vulnerability as excruciating, vulnerability can become a deeply rooted source that moves us to reach out to others, take passionate stands on issues we care about, and even touch the heart of others in a most human way.

This allows us to live in a way Brown describes as "wholehearted." A wholehearted person, according to Brown, can embrace their vulnerability fully, realizing that vulnerability may not be comfortable, but it is necessarym and can even be beautiful. Perhaps it is time to revision vulnerability as a powerful tool to brake the chains of inequality, to allow us to be authentic, and to facilitate the experience of connection with self and others that keeps us healthy, happy and human.

So, perhaps paradoxically, vulnerability can be the "great human equalizer," assuring not only our own well-being but also a healthy social fabric where through our sense of interconnection, we will tend to the well-being of others as well.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

Tiger Mothers and Other Approaches to Parenting

This past month, the Wall Street Journal has managed to run an article each week presenting very different and even extreme approaches to parenting. While perhaps not intentionally envisioned as a "series," this series nonetheless, was kicked off with Amy Chua's article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" on January 8. Chua proudly states that her two daughters were not allowed to do what we in the Western world consider "normal activities," such as attend a sleepover, have a playdate, or be in a school play. In addition, complaining about not being in a school play, choosing their own extracurricular activities, getting any grade less than an A, or not being the number one student in any subject other than gym or drama is more severely disallowed.

Chua assumes that American parent are wimps, psychological and emotional factors don't exist, and if you don't get what you want from your child, you humiliate them, berate them and shame them into submission. Chua suggests that this is for the child's own good, since children would not be motivated to be successful without such a heavy hand and rude mouth coming from their mothers.

She details vignettes of parenting her own daughters, speaking to them in ways those of us who are psychologically inclined would consider verbally abusive, such as "hey fatty--lose some weight, " or calling a child "garbage, stupid, worthless or a disgrace," and psychologically abusive, such as forcing her 7 year old daughter to practice a piano piece she was struggling with for hours and hours, including working through dinner and not being able to get up for water or to go to the bathroom for days, weeks and months.

While books may portray these "Tiger Mothers" as "scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests," Chua posits that maybe Chinese parents believe they are more committed and caring than Western parents are in regard to their children.

The second article in the "series," appeared on January 16, a sort of rebuttal to the "Tiger Mother" article, entitled, "In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom" by Ayelet Waldman. Waldman identifies herself as a modern day Jewish mother of four, who allowed her children to quit the piano and violin, sleep over at friends' houses and participate in any extracurricular activity they wayted to, with a few narcissistic caveats thrown in.

Waldman was delighted if the child quite their instrument near a recital, so she wouldn't have to be "tortured" listening to other children play, or if the sleepover was on a holiday or night she wanted to go out with her husband to save her the cost of a babysitter. More narcissistic was her insistence that she not have to drive more than 10 minutes to get her kids to any activity or "sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes."

All practicality aside, the thread of narcissism strikes me as just as troubling as the streak of domination expressed by Chua. For the most extreme article on parenting, the January 22 Wall Street Journal presented the case of a Russian-born Christian couple living in Oregon, who were arrested on criminal child abuse charges. When their 14-year-old son escaped to a pay phone to report his beatings (and that of his 6 siblings), to the police, all 7 children, aged newborn to 15, were taken away from the parents, as the parents were sent to jail.

Within their isolated and non-assimilated Slavic Christian community, the brutal beatings of children for wanting to wear Western clothes, trim their hair without permission or wear eye make up were considered "disciplining their children according to Biblical Law." Being whipped, struck and beaten with wires, branches and belts was considered to be an expression of their faith. In the Western world, it is considered child abuse.

All 6 of the older childre, aged 5 - 15, were sick of their parents' abuse and told police they wished to be removed from their home. At times, their beatings were so severe, they could not go to school because of their wounds. Eventually, the infant was removed from the parents' home as well.

While cultural difference do account for differences in parenting styles, too few take into account the actual nature and developmental needs of human children. Religion, narcissism and historical norms do not allow for or even recognize psychological needs. As I studed the reality of family life in early Colonial families in the US, I discovered just how rampant domestic violence was.

Sadly, while those who practice Tiger Mothering or Slavic Christian parenting can rationalize and justify their behavior saying they must shape the child to be "successful" or even "good," their children often have serious mental health issues as teens and adults. The suicide rate for Chinese teenage girls is much higher than for their Western counterparts.

Perhaps the cultural model I find most appealing is that of my Siamese chocolate point kitty, Prayer. When Prayer had her kittens in April 2008, she was a present, attentive, nurturing, loving mother. She knew to stay close to her kittens and keep them warm, fed and safe when they were tiny. She knew to give them more space to stretch their paws and explore as they grew ready to do so. She nursed them gladly until they were ready to start eating solid food. And she carried them in her mouth by the scruff of their necks when she perceived they were in danger. Prayer occasionally "disciplined" her kittens with a growl or a gentle tap of her paw. But she never beat them, humiliated them, rejected them or hurt them. All of her kittens grew up to be well-adjusted, loving cats. Might there be something to learn here for human parents?

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks