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!