Tag Archives: relationships

The Connection Between Childhood Experiences And Adult Problems

by Marcia Sirota       Author, speaker, coach and MD

As an adult psychiatrist, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about childhood, and there’s a good reason for this. It’s become abundantly clear over the past 20-plus years of doing psychotherapy that childhood experiences are at the root of adult problems.

Every person who’s walked through my office door suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship or work problems, low self-esteem or addiction has a history of some type of adversity in their childhood. It’s become clear to me by listening to their stories that were it not for these painful events, the person wouldn’t be struggling as much as they are, today.

When we look at a young child who’s beginning to show signs of emotional disturbance or behavioural issues, what we’re seeing is that something has happened to them, or something is happening, that is causing them the beginnings of a problem.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

Whether we’re dealing with a child who seems mostly well-adjusted in the moment, or one who’s begun to exhibit signs of more significant dysfunction, those of us in the helping fields want to do everything we can to optimize the child’s emotional and psychological well-being so as to prevent future problems.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

When it comes to the necessities of childhood, we have to remember that perfect parenting is neither necessary nor possible. A child just needs, as the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott so aptly put it, “good enough parenting.”

Good enough parenting means that the child is loved and valued for who they are, not for how they behave, and the child is nurtured, cared for and protected, but not coddled. In fact, the “good enough” parent allows the child to be disappointed and frustrated at times, so that they learn to tolerate and cope with these types of experiences in adulthood.

And interestingly, “good enough parenting” also applies to the other adults in a child’s life; the adults who teach, guide and support the child. Each one of these adults has an important role to play in the child’s development and emotional well-being.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

Children need to feel important, but not so important that their agenda supersedes that of the parent. Overly-permissive parents who indulge their children are depriving them of the guidance and limits they need in order to develop appropriately and function optimally as adults.

Love, affirmation, guidance, protection and limits: these are the necessities of childhood. When a child is raised with all of these things, they’re far more likely to grow into high-functioning adults with good confidence and self worth, who have constructive coping strategies in difficult times.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

If a child is neglected; if they’re not praised enough — perhaps from a parent’s misguided notion that this will give them a “swelled head” — or if they’re not encouraged to do things, the child will grow up with a lack of confidence and self-worth.

Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. 

If part of the neglect includes a lack of protection from hurtful experiences, the child will grow up feeling helpless, worthless — because they’ll start to see themselves as not entitled to protection — and perhaps even deserving of harm. Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. Love them, and they feel good about themselves; neglect them, and they feel bad.

In terms of adverse events that happen to a child, these experiences can take many forms: a child can be emotionally hurt or abused through harsh criticism, shaming, blaming or the instilling of guilt; they can be physically assaulted via overly harsh corporal punishment or beatings with fists, belts or other objects, or they can be sexually abused.

The child can have an overly-controlling or perfectionist parent; a narcissistic parent who expects the child to excel so that the parent can feel good about themselves, or a parent who competes with their child because they’re threatened by the child’s youth and promise.

A child can be picked on, bullied, made fun of or taken advantage of. They can be ostracized and isolated by those around them, and made to feel worthless and useless.

These experiences can occur at home, at school, during extra-curricular activities or in play-time. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, even members of the clergy can be responsible for hurting a child. Sometimes, more than one person is doing so, which of course adds to the child’s current and future emotional difficulties.

There’s another, more subtle way a child can be hurt, and this is when one or both parents make the child responsible for tasks that they’re too young to manage. This makes the child feel incompetent and inadequate and often filled with shame for “failing” at tasks that developmentally, they’re not expected to know how to accomplish.

These types of tasks can include being made to care for younger siblings or managing the household at a very young age; being put in the role of parental confidante; being thrust into the position of mediator between fighting parents; being responsible for the family’s finances, or being pressured to perform at school, in their hobbies (for example, performing arts, spelling bees or math competitions) or in individual or team sports at a level that is beyond them, or not what they themselves want to do.

Sometimes, it’s not the parents who expect too much from a child; it can be a teacher, a coach or anyone else who is pushing a child beyond the limits of their ability. There’s a fine line between encouraging a child to do their best and making a child feel oppressed by adult expectations. Encouragement and support will most likely bring out the best in a child, but pushing them too hard could cause them to have emotional problems.

If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

Some hurtful experiences come from other types of family stressors; for example, when one of the parents or a sibling becomes ill or dies; when one or both parents are very young and ill-equipped to handle being a parent; when a parent is suffering from mental illness and their symptoms are expressed in bizarre or unpredictable behaviour toward their children; when parents are dealing with other difficulties such as work stress, financial problems, crises in the extended family, serious addictions or a troubled marriage.

All of the above are experiences which will have a negative impact on a developing child. If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

When we see signs of dysfunction or disturbance in a young child, such as excessive anger, sleep refusal, acting out, defiance, compulsive behaviours, destructive behaviour toward themselves or others, truancy, school failure, agitation or moodiness, we need to search carefully for the roots of this behaviour and as much as possible, address the problem immediately, so as to improve things for the child, now and for the future.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. 

Setting Boundaries and the Resulting Anger

Source: fotolia – purchased

If you’re like me, setting boundaries can be a scary thing. Perhaps you, too, learned very early on that insisting on a fair boundary got you in trouble, or got you yelled at, or was guaranteed to get you in someone’s bad books (and once you were in the bad books, it was very hard to get your name out of there).

It really isn’t fair. Someone acts like a bully, and regularly crosses over into your territory. Maybe they repeatedly take something that’s yours without asking (even though you’ve asked them not to), or continually take advantage of your kindness, patience, or generosity. Perhaps they blatantly disrespect any lines you’ve tried to draw in the sand, or simply do all the taking and none of the giving.

This isn’t to say that we’re helpless here. In most cases when our boundaries are crossed, we’ve allowed it. As a child, we may have learned to allow it because we were helpless and depended on the big boundary-crossers for survival. But as an adult, unless a situation is extreme, we usually participate in the violation of our own boundaries by failing to properly defend them.

Because we’re scared.

And with good reason.

I remember a few years ago, when someone wanted me to make a major change in my plans in order to accommodate their plans. My plans had been in place for months, they had just decided upon theirs. When I suggested that we reach a compromise by changing our respective plans slightly, the other person totally freaked out. Suddenly it wasn’t about the plans anymore. The words came fast and furious, hitting me in the chest like a barrage of machine gun bullets: I was a control freak. I was selfish and always had to get my way. I was mean and unreasonable.

Seriously, all I had done was gently suggest a compromise (I know I did it gently, because this person is intimidating to begin with). At no point had I ever implied that I would insist on my way, or even insist on the compromise I’d suggested. Yet the fact that I hadn’t immediately gone along with their plan was enough to unleash the beast. And it was really scary.

I remember physically shaking in the face of it all (thankfully it was over email). My heart was pounding, and I’m sure my eyes were bulging out of my head. I backed down immediately. I let them have their plans. It just wasn’t worth it to fight, not when something as mild as suggesting compromise provoked this intense a response.

All my life I haven’t been very good at placing or enforcing boundaries. I’ve been getting better, though, thanks to a book I’ve mentioned before: Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Whenever I talk about this topic on my Facebook page I get an avalanche of comments on shares, so I know this boundary issue affects lots of people. There is a lot of pain and frustration out there. And resentment, more than anything else, because when we give in, time and time again, we start to seethe. Especially when we feel powerless to express our anger and feel like we’ll never be able to change anything.

It’s well known that bullies keep boundary-less people in line with anger. I find angry people very scary for some reason (even if the anger is so mild that it only shows itself through a sudden tightening of the other person’s facial muscles), and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it or make it go away. I resonated so strongly with the following words from the Boundaries book:

“The first thing you need to learn is that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem…Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.

“Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.” (p.248)

Wow. Can you see yourself in this? I always feel I have to do something when someone is angry, I usually try to do something, anything, to get their approval back, to get peace back. And it pretty much always involves giving my power away. Yuck.

How amazing that all we really need to do is nothing. To develop awareness of our overwhelming desire to “fix” the situation, and instead to stay still inside the storm, and just do nothing.

These are beautifully simple instructions, and make so much sense. In reality, though, it won’t be easy. Cloud and Townsend also emphasize the importance of having a support group (or person) to help you through this process, someone who can help you stand strong and maintain the boundary even when everything in you wants to crumble.

By the way, when I refer to anger and boundaries here I’m not referring to severely abusive relationships, where provoking anger might physically put you at risk. If you’re dealing with a bully of that degree, you need the help of a professional when it comes to setting boundaries and keeping yourself safe.

So, can you see yourself here? Do you, like me, respond to anger by trying to defuse the situation and giving your power away? Pick a relatively safe situation where you need to set a small boundary, and practice standing firm in your decision. Do nothing if they get mad. Let it blow over. I’ve tried it, and it feels really good. It works.

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.



14 Ways to Create the Best Relationship of your Life

by Dr. Sue Johnson

After 30 years of working with couples and researching how people repaired their relationships, I suddenly realized that we had really reached a pivotal moment; all our studies, stories, and the science had come together, and we were in the midst of a revolution—a new way of truly understanding romantic love. Finally we can grasp the laws of love—and they make sense!

We have cracked the code of love and have found the pathway to the relationships we long for. You can create a fulfilling, safe-haven relationship, restoring the romantic love bond, beginning now:

1. Abandon the out-of-date idea that love is something that just happens to you.

All the new science tells us that romantic love is no longer a mystery. It makes perfect sense. You can learn its laws. You have more control over this riot of emotion than you think! What you understand, you can shape. The first step is to decide to learn about love and the new science of bonding.

2. Every day, try openly reaching out to someone and asking for their attention or affection.

Accept that you are a mammal and that love is an ancient, wired-in survival code. You are happier, healthier, stronger, deal with stress better, and live longer when you foster your bonds with your loved ones. It is OK to need them; they are your greatest resource. We are not designed for self-sufficiency. The strongest among us accept this need for connection and risk reaching for others.

3. The next time you feel uncertain or worried or anxious, try just mentioning this to your partner and taking their hand, or noticing their emotional signals and reaching for their hand.

The bonds of love offer us a safe haven where we can take shelter and regain our emotional balance. The latest study in our lab shows that just holding your loved one’s hand can calm your brain and shut down fear.

4. See if you can notice some times when you find openness hard, and you become defensive or distant or shut down.

We know that emotional openness and responsiveness are the ground on which solid, lasting bonds stand. See if you can take the initiative and share with your partner, helping him/her understand what makes it hard to be open at this time.

5. Reflect on how you and your partner usually interact.

Can each of you reach out for the other? What do you do when the other gets upset or does not respond to you? Do you push for contact or move away? Tell your partner one thing they could do to help you reach for them rather than moving against or away from them.

6. Try to talk with your partner about how you impact each other.

Both of you offer safety or danger cues that our brain takes as serious survival information; we are all vulnerable when alone. When do you arouse real joy or contentment for your partner? When do you spark distress—a sense of being rejected or alone? Our brains code this kind of hurt in the same place and in the same way as physical pain.

7. When you get in a fight, take a deep breath and try to see the fight as if you’re a fly on the ceiling.

Often underneath the discussion of problem issues, someone is asking for more emotional connection. See if you can get curious and pinpoint the dance; maybe it’s the typical boogie where one pushes for contact, but the other hears criticism and steps back. See how it leaves you both feeling alone and a little scared. Talk about that.

8. Invite your partner into more closeness once a day by playing a simple empathy game.

Each person thinks of an event in their day. Then you take turns at reading each other’s face and trying to pinpoint whether you see one of the six basic emotions: joy, surprise, sadness, anger, shame/embarrassment or some kind of fear. See if your guess is right. Learning to tune in matters!

9. Take a quiet moment, tune into the emotional channel and see if you can each share with your partner what you need most.

Keep it simple and concrete. Do you need comfort, reassurance, support, and empathy, a clear message of how important you are to him/her? If it’s too hard to share this, share how hard it is to open up and ask.

10. Be mindful of the fact that emotional injuries derail relationships.

You can inflict great pain on your partner simply because you matter so much—you are the one he/she depends on. At a close moment, ask your lover if there are injuries that are unhealed, perhaps times when you missed their cues for support and connection. Try to help them with this hurt. (It doesn’t just fade with time.) Often just telling them that you can feel how they hurt and want to help them with it works wonders.

11. Know that the best recipe for great sex is safe emotional connection and open communication.

Write down a short description of what your ideal lover might do in bed and how he or she might invite you into erotic play. Give this to your partner and see what you discover about each other. Remember, criticism literally hurts and shuts down exploration and sexuality.

12. Talk about what you learned in your family about how to deal with emotions.

Emotions are the music of the dance lovers do; it helps if the music is clear. Then you can predict each other’s intentions and know how to move together in harmony. Talk about the things you learned that make it hard to listen to or share your feelings.

13. Tell each other your main goal for the next year and see if you can find one way to support each other to reach it.

It is clear that when we know someone has our back, we are more confidant and more adventurous. We achieve our goals more easily and are less derailed by disappointments.

14. Honor your connection. Create small rituals to recognize your bond.

Maybe it’s a special kind of kiss when you leave in the morning or a special 10-minute bonding time when you first come home. This is sacred time. No business agendas, problem solving or distractions in the form of small electric screens are allowed.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the bestselling author of Hold Me Tight and Love Sense (January 2014), is a clinical psychologist and Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant International University in San Diego, CA. Creator of an effective new model of relationship repair (Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy), she has written numerous articles and trained thousands of therapists around the world. She divides her time between New York, San Diego, and Ottawa.

Attachment – the Key to an Exciting Life!

Is This the Key to an Exciting Life?


photo by istock

Way back in 1970, when many people watched the atrocities in Vietnam and wondered if the world would ever feel safe again, psychologist Mary Ainsworth and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University were investigating how we come to feel “safe” in the first place — by watching children play. Their findings, along with those of a new study, may provide the blueprint for a more exciting life.

The 9×9 square foot room Ainsworth’s group used was an exercise in minimalist restraint: On one side, there was a single chair for the mother, and directly opposite, near the door, another chair for a stranger. Along the third wall of the room, there was a tiny chair, suitable for a child, heaped with an assortment of brightly-colored toys. Each interaction in the room (there were eight in total) had been scripted ahead of time, with the mother slipping out quietly, or staying to watch with the stranger, or even leaving the baby in the room alone. The point of all this shuffling back and forth of adults and babies was not only to measure how securely attached the infants were (did they seek comfort and calm down easily when the mother returned, or cry and fuss, becoming inconsolable or even ignoring her, the mark of insecurity?), but how their security affected their willingness to explore the world.

What Ainsworth discovered has become required reading for psychology students everywhere. Securely attached children attacked Ainsworth’s meticulously constructed world with gusto, clambering, tasting, touching, smiling — giddily embracing the strangeness of it all with an energy the insecurely attached could scarcely match. Their mute knowledge that their mother was always there for them gave them the confidence to strike out on new adventures. The world, in effect, became their oyster.

Inspired by the results of Ainsworth’s research, subsequent researchers branched out to study adults and discovered much the same thing. People who feel more securely attached (comfortable being close to and depending on someone) aren’t just happier, but more likely to seek thrills like rock climbing and parachute jumping and throw themselves into new situations and challenges, like meeting strangers and traveling overseas. And now, new research suggests that their sense of adventure may stem from a lust for life that security, itself, imparts.

Across three studies, psychologist Michelle Luke, of the University of Southampton, recruited hundreds of participants from websites, such as psychology forums, LinkedIn, and online communities with a psychology theme. All were asked to imagine a relationship in which they felt secure, insecure or “neutral,” using as series of guiding questions, like, “Please think about a relationship you’ve had in which you found it relatively easy to get close to the other person… and didn’t worry about being abandoned…” (a secure prompt) They were then asked to picture this person and how they felt in their presence, and given separate scales to describe how secure and how “alive,” “energetic,” “vital,” etc. they felt.

The first study confirmed what Luke suspected: People who imagined a secure relationship felt more energy than those who didn’t. But the next studies were arguably even more important. They offered the first evidence that feeling secure might create a sense of vitality over and above just being in a great mood. People asked to imagine hilarious moments from their favorite movie or TV show didn’t experience the same charge that securely prompted subjects did. They were happy. But they weren’t excited. And as for people prompted with the insecure or neutral visualizations, once again, they missed out on the secure energy boost. The author’s conclusion? People who anxiously cling to, or push away, their closest connections are drained, enervated by their lack of security. They’re simply too wrapped up in bad feelings to embark on new adventures.

Couples are all too often pushed to keep things exciting for the sake of their relationship. But where does excitement come from? Is it injected into the heart and soul of a relationship, through prescribed routines, like a secret rendezvous at midnight, every Tuesday, or an evening out at the fancy new restaurant that serves everything on a bed of green foam? Or do good relationships, themselves, imbue us with a vitality and curiosity that drive the impulse to experiment and explore? Is a secure, happy relationship the key to an exciting life?

Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that we may have put the cart before the horse. Ainsworth’s infants became intrepid explorers, but their drive to explore may have found its source in an energy they felt — a charge that comes from knowing they had a secure base to return to. Perhaps the lesson is that we should spend less time trying to manufacture excitement and more time trying to nurture healthy relationships. The biggest turn on in life might just be knowing someone’s always in your corner.

Posted: Updated: 



A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey

Article taken from Miriam Grossman MD

February 11, 2015

There’s nothing gray about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all black.

Let me explain.

I help people who are broken inside. Unlike doctors who use x-rays or blood tests to determine why someone’s in pain, the wounds that interest me are hidden. I ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. That’s how I discover why the person in front of me is “bleeding”.

Years of careful listening have taught me a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are utterly confused about love – finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I don’t want you to suffer like the people I see in my office, so I’m warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don’t see the film, its toxic message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.

Fifty Shades of Grey is being released for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll think it’s a romance, but don’t fall for it. The movie is actually about a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse. It seems glamorous, because the actors are gorgeous, have expensive cars and planes, and Beyonce is singing. You might conclude that Christian and Ana are cool, and that their relationship is acceptable.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated! The people behind the movie just want your money; they have no concern whatsoever about you and your dreams.

Abuse is not glamorous or cool.  It is never OK, under any circumstances.

This is what you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey: as a child, Christian Grey was terribly neglected. He is confused about love because he never experienced the real thing. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like pain and embarrassment.  Christian enjoys hurting women in bizarre ways. Anastasia is an immature girl who falls for Christian’s looks and wealth, and foolishly goes along with his desires.

In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail, and Ana in a shelter – or morgue. Or Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale. Trust me on this one.

As a doctor, I’m urging you: DON’T see Fifty Shades of Grey. Get informed, learn the facts, and explain to your friends why they shouldn’t see it either.

Here are a few of the dangerous ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey:

1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.

No! A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She wants to feel safe, respected and cared for by a man she can trust. She dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.

2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.

Wrong. A psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.  If he is out of line, he wants her to set him straight.

3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.

Flawed logic. Sure, Anastasia had free choice – and she chose poorly. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.

4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.

Doubtful. Christian constantly supplies Anastasia with alcohol, impairing her judgment.  Also, Anastasia becomes sexually active with Christian – her first experience ever – soon after meeting him. Neuroscience suggests their intimacy could jump start her feelings of attachment and trust, before she’s certain he deserved them.  Sex is a powerful experience – particularly the first time.
Finally, Christian manipulates Anastasia into signing an agreement prohibiting her from telling anyone that he is a long time abuser.

Alcohol, sex, manipulation – hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful, detached decision.

5.   Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.

Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn’t change to any significant degree. If Anastasia was fulfilled by helping emotionally disturbed people, she should have become a psychiatrist or social worker.

6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.

Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogomous relationship, AKA “marriage”.  Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault. It’s wise to be very careful who you allow to get close to you, physically and emotionally, because just one encounter can throw you off track and change your life forever.

The bottom line: the ideas of Fifty Shades of Grey  are dangerous, and can lead to confusion and poor decisions about love. There are vast differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but the movie blurs those differences, so you begin to wonder: what’s healthy in a relationship? What’s sick? There are so many shades of grey…I’m not sure.

Listen, it’s your safety and future we’re talking about here. There’s no room for doubt: an intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is completely unacceptable.

This is black and white. There are no shades of grey here. Not even one.

drgrossman-aboutMiriam Grossman, MD is a medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is also the author of Unprotected and You’re Teaching My Child WHAT?




11 Things I Learned From Being Cheated On!

11 Things I Learned From Being Cheated On
As relationship coaches, my wife and I both often talk to couples dealing with sexual dissatisfaction and frustration in their relationships. After the initial “honeymoon phase,” when anything and  Read 

Having been cheated on early in my life, I understandably internalized feelings of rejection. As a result, I closed myself off from my own faucet of truth, the one that told me that I was worthy, able and important.

Infidelity was like a trigger to a bottomless well of insecurity and feelings of inadequacy, which separated me from what I always felt was my true, carefree and joyful nature.

It is only now that I can look back and understand the lessons that I learned, and that we can all learn, in response to betrayal. Here are 11 kernels of wisdom that I hope you can take to heart, and realize that your well of truth is always yours, regardless of what anyone else says or does.

1. Nothing is ever personal (even when it is).

People cheat for a number of reasons, and it has nothing to do with you or the qualities you think you might be lacking. Cheaters, and liars in general, are often lost within their own kingdom of pain and we have to recognize that. It’s not us. It’s them.

2. Misery loves misery (and love loves love).

How can someone treat us with the respect and honesty we deserve when they can’t take an honest look into the mirror? Infidelity can be a blessing, because it alerts us to the fact that we need to seek a relationship that we deserve, not one that reinforces our insecurities.

3. Self-worth can never be taken away.

One of the most important things we can have in this life is an understanding of our personal value. Individual worth is something that we will always be called to come back to in our times of struggle (and success!). Always respect yourself first and foremost. Self-respect is all you’ve got, but it’s also a huge gift.

4. Honesty really is the best policy.

The cliché holds. The truth holds our power to access happiness and strength.

5. Prioritize protection.

My partner was having unprotected sex with other men, and while I am grateful to not have suffered any health repercussions, discovering this caused a deep enough trauma that caused me to run away from a number of topics within my personal life. I even avoided getting tested for a long time afterward, which was one of many reasons my issues with addiction started to spiral out of control. The message here is simple: know your status, get tested and let the importance of protection be an open topic between you and your partner.

6. Nothing is worth avoiding.

When something feels off, don’t be shy to search for what is causing the discomfort. I let my emotions and feelings entangle me in a web of denial and delusion. When I look back, I see how I could’ve untangled myself if I had made space to ask myself questions about what I wanted and how I felt about what was going on at the time.

7. Forgive.

Even when you don’t think someone who hurt you “deserves” it. Holding resentment only hurts us at the end of the day.

8. Always accept apologies.

For so long, I felt as if everything was my fault and failed to see why other people would apologize to me due to my own, sometimes subconscious, feelings of unworthiness. When I awoke to the reality that I was worthy of an apology, I allowed room for closure.

9. Things fall apart for other things to be created.

I wouldn’t be here writing this article if it weren’t for this experience in my life, so — one of many cases closed.

10. The most important relationship in your life isn’t what you think.

No one will ever complete us. The only way you can feel complete is by honoring yourself. Of course, you can seek and find a meaningful romantic relationship. But that only happens when the two people getting together each already know, honor and love themselves; their union is built on a foundation of strength rather than codependency.

11. Pain can actually make us happier in the end.

Strength is a form of resilience, and is something we gain from undergoing pain. What if we allowed every wrong we’ve ever experienced to shine a light on all that is right in our lives? Instead of suffocating in the thralls of defeat, deceit and dread, we can appreciate our struggles for letting them guide us to greater discovery within.

When we approach our darkest moments, we allow ourselves to heal from what isn’t meant for us. In relationships, we are often melting into one another and can find ourselves throwing away our personal identities as we become “one” with another. It’s easy for us to get caught up in our need for validation from another person and forget that, at the end of the day, we are the one person who needs to meet our needs.

Many of us want to devote our entire existence to the one we love, but I’ve learned how that existence can come crashing down. As long as we have a solid foundation in who we are, we will always be able to weather any storm. Feeling safe doesn’t necessarily come from a lover’s embrace, but from standing on our own two feet.

Photo Credit: Stocksy


Artist, actor, and creator/writer of JustEnlightenment.com, Garrett Paknis lives in downtown NYC where he spends his days and nights creating things in hopes to inspire people to live from the deepest part of themselves.


The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered

by Johann Hari

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism — cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention — tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

The full story of Johann Hari’s journey — told through the stories of the people he met — can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at www.chasingthescream.com.

Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma’s in Baltimore on the 4th February.

The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book’s extensive end-notes.

If you would like more updates on the book and this issue, you can like the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chasingthescream


Love Sense

What You Need to Know About Love
By Dr. Sue Johnson,
Author of Hold Me Tight

I am sitting in a restaurant shamelessly eavesdropping on a conversation at the next table. “People who expect all this woo woo stuff — love and closeness in marriage — are out of their minds,” declares an elegantly dressed woman to her friend. “If you’re lucky in love, you get a reasonable roommate and even that is just the luck of the draw. No-one will ever figure love out.”  I can’t help myself. I lean across the space between us and whisper, “No — that’s not true. We really do know about the woo woo stuff. We have cracked the code of love and you don’t need luck! We know how to do it!”

The new science of love and loving has been evolving for over a decade. Now, as we begin the 21st century, we finally know what love is about and how it works. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • The need we have as children to be able to call to a special one and know that this person will respond with reassurance and comfort never goes away. To know that we are loved is the safe haven we all long for. The longing for this is wired into our brains from the cradle to the grave.
  • The strongest among us are not those who can take or leave other people, but who can risk and reach out to them. These individuals know how to send clear emotional signals that pull others close. And close connection makes us stronger. Many months after 9/11, survivors who were comfortable turning to loved ones seemed to recover well, while those who turned away or were scared about relying on others still struggled with the ghosts of that day.
  • Our brains are wired to see emotional isolation as dangerous and send a panic signal when we cannot get a loved one to respond. If we can’t reconnect, we either shut down or get demanding. Both of these strategies can backfire and push our lover away.
  • When we have that special closeness to a loved one, while making love or just holding each other, we are flooded with a cuddle hormone, called oxytocin, found only in animals that are monogamous when they mate. Oxytocin gives us a sense of calm joy, while also  tamping down our stress hormones.
  • Conflicts about the kids, sex or money don’t make or break a relationship. What really matters is emotional connection.  Underneath the discord, the real issue is that partners are questioning the security of their bond: “Are you there for me?” “Can I count on you to respond to me — to put me first?” When couples understand the fundamental issue, they can help each other reconnect. Then problems about the kids, sex or money are just differences, not relationship bombs.

    Can this emerging knowledge help you come to a better understanding of your love relationship and build a closer, stronger and more trusting connection with your partner? Yes! You can learn to send clear emotional signals to your partner in a series of focused conversations that you can have with your partner. These conversations are the central element of emotionally focused couple therapy or EFT. This therapy doesn’t give couples tips to tone down conflict or manuals on how to be nicer to each other. It teaches partners how to express our most basic needs and fears and how to engage in conversations that foster a secure, enduring and loving bond.

Twenty-five years of research tells us that after EFT, 7 out of 10 unhappy couples are able to repair their relationship. They are able to:

Step out of what I call the Demon Dialogues where partners get stuck in spirals of negative emotions and wind up shutting down and shutting their partner out, or in becoming so demanding in an effort to counter the lack of connection that they push their partner away. When you understand the emotions that you and your partner feel, you can see these spirals of disconnection as they are happening. Dealing with emotional disconnection in a positive way is a huge part of making your love relationship strong.

Forgive the injuries and hurts that poison love relationships and learn to trust again. If we understand the exquisite logic of love — we can understand how to heal the wounds love inflicts. The key moment in this forgiveness is when injured partners look into the eyes of their partner and see that their pain is shared. They are not alone.

But most important of all, these couples can then create Hold Me Tight conversations. These positive exchanges of loving responsiveness cultivate the close connection we all long for. I recall one couple. “I get so freaked out when I hear that disappointment or frustration in your voice,” Tim finally confided to Amy. “I guess I just run. I talk about tasks or concrete issues to get away from the feelings. I don’t know how to tell you that I go all hopeless. A voice in my head says that I will never make it with you. At these times, I need to know that you are my lady, even if I am just blundering along and make all these mistakes.” When Tim is open like this, he gives Amy what she has always wanted. She tells him, “I don’t need a perfect Tim. I just need you to be with me, to share with me like this.”

This kind of conversation creates the kind of safe connection that we all need and is the formula, at last we have one, for a lifetime of love.

©2013 Dr. Sue Johnson