photos of relationship map

See my post as I uploaded an example of a relationship map and how to do one.

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Sexual Fantasies and the Theory of the “Sex Script”

Warning: Do not read this if you are uncomfortable with topics about sex, fantasies, sexuality, also sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, etc.

I want to start a conversation about sexual fantasies and the shame people feel about them. This is a huge topic, like most of the continuing topics I start and sometimes do not finish. (I intend to post more about the stigma of mental illness and the controversy around mental illness and violence, etc. but I’m taking a break from that topic to write about this very different one…)

In this post, which will probably be longer than intended, I would like to introduce the idea of the “sex script” in connection with people’s sexual fantasies. The information I got about this was reading posts on the internet summarizing this book:The Sex Script Hypothesis:
Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Sexuality, by James Park 

Here is the link to the website where you can read more about it:

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/syn-sex.html

In reading this material, I noticed that I did not agree with some of the conclusions Park makes about people’s sexuality and even about the content of one’s sexual preoccupations. For example, he makes a big blanket statement about men and breasts:

 Female breasts frequently appear in male sex-scripts on all levels: 
Men find women’s breasts of intense sexual interest. 
Some men become sexually aroused when viewing or thinking about breasts. 
And breasts may appear as a strong fantasy object in some men’s orgasms.”

One could read this and get lead on a detour as he is assuming a lot of things that are not for sure true. It is true that for most humans, the breast was the first “preoccupation” we had. It was where we got food and comfort, etc., but women may have just as strong a preoccupation with breasts as men, whatever their sexual orientation, and some men have no interest in breasts or fantasize about other things more often. These blanket statements are annoying, but I still think Park is on to something with his main theory.

The basic idea is that society may create our “sexual scripts” (what is considered stereotypically appropriate for men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, to engage in when they have sex or when they masturbate. The “sexual script” in our society is pretty limited, as you can see by watching sex scenes in most mainstream movies. There is not even a societal “sexual script” (which is a kind of narrative, by the way, and why we can discern society’s limited stories about sex from the mainstream media) for bisexual and transgendered and questioning individuals, as society does not really know what the story might be for such people. 

Anyway his point in talking about “sexual scripts” versus the concept of the “sex script” is to point out the difference. Many people do mostly have fantasies that conform to these limited “sex scenes”, however, I would wager that the majority of individuals who engage in sexual fantasy at any age tend to stray from these limited scripts into their own personal “sex script”. The sex script as I understand it is something that kind of gets “imprinted” into the human brain in the first moments of discovering sexuality and/or engaging in sexual contact with others or with oneself. Basically the majority of people’s sex script is formed during puberty, although some people exposed to sex and sexuality at younger ages, have sex scripts that begin at that time. Thus people who have been molested and abused at very young ages, from infancy up to about age 12, may have very disturbing sex scripts or may have sex scripts that mostly contain the things that they find disturbing and not arousing at all. Thus, some people may eliminate certain sexual activity from their fantasies and sex lives as they find they are repulsed by it. On the other hand, even people who experienced sexual abuse at very early ages may, without their control, notice that they are aroused by all kinds of varieties of disturbing fantasies, some of which involve coercion and/or rape or other events they remember from the abuse.

Basically around childhood all the way to age 20, the human brain is still forming, and there are young ages during which the sex script will get imprinted. So men who identify as heterosexual and report no fantasies about homosexual contact, may still fantasies about looking at other men naked, or masturbating with other men, if they were exposed to this in reality or through pornography that they experienced around the time they were aware of having wet dreams and/or masturbating.

The theory of the sex script is useful in that it explains why some couples are mystified by hearing what the other person gets “turned on” by or fantasizes about. In some cases, a person’s regular sex life, whether with one partner or more, may have nothing to do with their sex script. An obvious and common example involves gender and sexual orientation. Some people notice that they prefer to fantasize about being with the same gender though they have never been attracted to someone of the same gender and only have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender. The same can be true of homosexual men and women who may experience heterosexual sex only in their fantasy life. 

I think the main important take away about this, while I want to post about many sub topics, is that the theory of the sex script is most useful for people who have not been able to talk to their partners about their sexual fantasies due to feelings of shame or fears of disgust and rejection by the partner(s). Realizing that your sex script was formed years before you met this person or persons you may be married to or committed can be liberating for this group of people and form a bridge for how to start talking about their fantasies with their partners and sharing. 

It is well documented that people who share their sexual fantasies with each other and have interest in each other’s fantasies tend to have a freer more open and perhaps satisfying sex life with their partner(s). It is never too late to start sharing these “dark secrets” with the people you are sexually intimate with. It needs to be done in an atmosphere of acceptance. The sex script provides the help for such discussions. Knowing that one’s partner may have had sexual experiences with others before one met the person is very different from accepting that one’s partner’s brain was exposed to certain aspects of sexuality in the actual reality of a “strange” sexual experience or exposed to watching or seeing some kinds of sex that are foreign to the other partner. There is some kind of strange assumption people sometimes have that their fantasies are probably similar to their partner’s, or an assumption by people who don’t really engage in fantasy, that their partner is not that preoccupied with it either. There is a lot of misplaced jealousy going on about sexual fantasy and erotica and pornography. There is a great scene in the movie “The Kids Are alright” where one of the kids finds their mothers’ stash of gay male porn and is shocked and freaked out. It may have been a scene where the kid walked in on their parents watching it; I can’t remember. What was great about it was the explanation one or both of the moms gave which was quite brief but pretty groundbreaking for a lot of people who did not know this. Basically she said “Just because we are lesbians doesn’t mean we only like watching women together in our choice of porn..” Anyway, it introduced the idea that sexual orientation and erotica, pornography, and fantasy and even couple’s engaging in watching something together, may have nothing to do with the sexual orientation or gender of the people having these experiences.

There is documentation that  “rape” fantasies are very common. What is interesting about these studies done on women with such fantasies, is that women who fantasize about being raped are actually quite healthy in their sex lives with others and also, that they tend to have a wide variety of fantasies, of which the rape fantasy is only one. So people’s assumptions that rape fantasies are unhealthy are unfounded. It must be emphasized of course that fantasy and reality are extremely different. When a patient tells me about what they consider a taboo fantasy (incest, for example, or random stuff like rubbing up against people in the subway), these are part of their sex script, not their real life. A person may fantasize about all these taboo topics, as well as violent sex and anything else that comes to mind that one might be uncomfortable with oneself. “Why am I aroused by this stuff that is illegal or bad?” Because it is part of your sex script, which you have little control over. When you can understand that fantasy is really a place where “anything goes”, you can be accepting that your partner likes to think about other people, objects, situations etc. that have absolutely nothing to do wtih you or your sex life with your partner, you really have reached an understanding of the concept of the sex script. Healthy couples not only like to share their fantasies, sometimes act them out, or even masturbate together while sharing them, or watch erotica that their partner likes to watch even if it isn’t their “cup of tea”, but also enjoy that their partner shares their sex script with them. Perhaps this is an even more intimate experience than sex itself. It is common for people to notice that they have to ask their partner to do specific things to turn them on or give them an orgasm; most people are not mind readers or body readers, and some people report the best sex to have been with the same person they had bad or mediocre sex with. The difference was the level of openness and communication about what they liked from their partner but also about showing their partner what they like to imagiine, watch or read when they are alone and aroused. It is true that most of “sex” is in the brain, so it makes sense that talking about or showing one’s partner about one’s “sex script” will be helpful. It may be difficult to hear that your partner imagines having sex with specific other people or strangers or having the kind of sex you do not have together, but this has nothing to do with possibiilites of “affairs”. A person can be extremely faithful to their chosen partner or partner(s) and have fantasies that involve behavior that violates whatever “contract” they have about their sex life. And again, this is because we do not have a lot of control over some things that make us sexually excited, and images that we watch or that just enter our brains in adulthood, but we always have control oer our behaviors in reality.

Perhaps the next post on this topic needs to be about pornography and relationships, as this is a big  deal with a lot of couples, and a lot of hurt and pain could be avoided, if people were more educated about the concept of the “sex script”…

Big News: Goodbye to Studio 307 on My Tenth Anniversary!

I have not posted in here recently until tonight when I added some photos to the last post on Altered Books. Anyway, the reason is that on Wed., Feb. 7, about a week and a few days ago, with just three weeks left of February which is of course, a very short month, I got stunned with the news that my landlord of 20 years was not going to renew my lease on Studio 307, where I make my art and work as an art therapist/psychotherapist, Reiki practitioner. Since I started in that studio on March 1, 2003, I have renewed my lease annually in February. As usual, I was not thinking about the lease renewal, as I am used to getting a notice under the door telling me to go to the management office across the st. and renew my lease. So I am not being “evicted”; I am simply not given the opportunity to renew my lease after 20 years of renting studios in that building. I started in 1993 with my first NYC art studio (not my first studio, which was actually in Paris, France, a tiny studio at the top floor of a building), on the fifth floor in Room 503. In 1998, I moved to the fourth floor to a slightly bigger studio in 408. I don’t recall if there was a window in there. So I stayed in 408 until I moved down to 307, my current studio, which is the biggest studio I have ever had. It’s about 346 square feet, but feels larger as the ceilings are so high. I have to take photos of the ceilings in there as I have been taking my “last” photos of the studio in the past few weeks and I will post some at the end of this post.

This was shocking and awful news for me, to be quite honest. Over these twenty years I have seen many people come and go. I have had several different kinds of neighbors next door in 308. I have been friendly with about 5 other people on the floor. The current people I know on the third floor and in the building were also shocked by the news, as I have been a great tenant. This is a commercial building but I have seen all kinds of people rent from there, not just visual artists. I knew one musician and have had quite loud neighbors. I have always been known as quiet,except for when there are several loud children in the studio, usually on the weekends. And I know an artist on the floor who regularly brings his two young daughters to the studio. There are lots of children who come to the building. There are no pets allowed but I have seen people bring their dogs there, and on 2 occasions in my ten years in 307, I had patients bring very tiny dogs during their sessions…

Anyway, I was certainly in no way ready to move out. My practice is in fact in process of growing by the month, and I am getting ready to start my art therapy group that I have discussed in this blog, but I am postponing beginning the group until I am in my new studio.

By the end of the day after hearing this news, I had spoken to quite a few people and looked online right away for studios in the neighborhood and elsewhere. I quickly found that most of the studios are listed on Craigslist, although I looked all over the place and also contacted my connections in the neighborhood. I also got a real estate lawyer to look at my current lease and advise me. As I thought, I found out that week from her that the landlord can do whatever he wants and is not required to renew my lease at any time or give the reason why the lease will not be renewed. So I have to get all my paintings and other stuff out of my studio by 4:45 on Feb. 28, 2013. At present I have exactly 12 days left of having the studio. While looking at other spaces, I worked on figuring out how to make sure I get my large two months deposit back. All these practical matters have to be attended to as I at the same time inform my family, friends and patients and supervisees that I am leaving the studio, and most of all, get used to the idea myself.

This is a big loss for me. I have become extremely attached to this studio which is far more than just a “work space”. In another post, perhaps I will look back upon all that has happened over the ten years of being in this studio. Suffice it to say that I have shed many a tear over this big “termination”. There is nothing like being forced to move out of your space that has been your heart and soul for so many years and that has seen so much creativity of myself and countless others, adults and children, family members, many friends, colleagues, patients and supervisees. Since June of 2008 I have facilitated supervision groups in the studio that are based on art making as a major form of processing clinical work. I could go on and on about what this studio means to me, but I will continue reminiscing in another post.

The good news is that I have a new studio around the corner on Franklin St. I have not yet signed the lease, but I expect to give my deposit tomorrow and sign the lease next week. I will have to paint the walls in the new studio, as they are a dark red and blue, but it’s an opportunity to “make it my own”. I’m thinking of painting one of the walls gold, as I love gold walls, and the new studio is significantly smaller by about maybe 90 square feet or so but even more so because the ceiling is very low, so it will seem far smaller than my current one. So I must embrace the intimacy of the new space while still figuring out how to continue to have groups of 3-6 members in there, which I am determined to do.

I was going to wait to sign a lease to give the news to the people who come to my studio, especially my patients and supervisees, but I realized there is not much time left, so by mid Tuesday, I started telling people and continued through my last patient on Friday at 7pm.

More to say about the wonderful support of everyone who has walked into the studio this week as well as the many friends and family members who have been talking to me all week about this big transition.

Today marked my first day starting the big job of packing and going through the big painting racks which need to be taken apart and have so much on them as they go up to the very high ceiling. I found much old discarded art work of various people to throw out as well as other random things. Starting the process makes me realize what a big job this is going to be, even though I have good help on it. I am going to have a goodbye party and sale of art work next Saturday, so I hope to get rid of a lot of old art. Unfortunately I have a lot of very large paintings from the 1990’s to get rid of.

In addition there is the gigantic mandala, 7 feet in diameter, on the wall that my patients face, which I have to figure out how to dismantle and get out of the studio. It was that art piece, probably the biggest thing I have ever made, that symbolized for me how “married” I was to the studio. It was as though unconsciously as I created it many years ago, maybe around 2004 and 2005, that I was saying with it, I am staying here forever, as this mandala cannot fit out the door!

Never had I imagined that my leaving this studio would be not of my own free will. I am still shocked, stunned…

While many people have said how sad this is, others have commented on it being an opportunity to start anew. Alas, both are true. As Nietzsche said, “What does not kill you makes you stronger.”…

Goodbye 368 Broadway and goodbye Studio 307. Apparently I will be able to continue on without you, but I will always miss you…

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The Altered Book: A Great Project for In Session Art Therapy

When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.

I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.

I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)

More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.

There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.

This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.

Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.

The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.

At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.

Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.

The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.

The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…

To be continued…

Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…

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Musing on Relationships, Culled from Marilyn Monroe’s Writings…

I am reading “Fragments” by Marilyn Monroe, which constitutes notes, poems, musings, diary entries, etc. I have long been fascinated by her for many reasons, psychological reasons being the obvious focus for this blog.
In publishing these fragments of writings in 2010, the editors and publishers wanted to show a very different side of this very complicated person, and they succeed. One of the interesting things about the photos in this book is that they show a lot of photos of Marilyn reading all kinds of books, and she was actually a voracious reader who tackled Dostoevsky and James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is even stated in the book that she liked having pictures taken of herself reading. This was no Sarah Palin pretending to read a newspaper. Those who were close to her knew she had a sharp curious mind and loved reading. Seeing these photos did make me reflect on present day actors as well as past ones. I couldn’t think of any who especially liked to be pictured reading. There is something interesting about a photo of a woman reading a book, especially this woman who was so in touch with the camera. In most photos of her she is looking at the camera, but in these she is dressed fashionably but casually and seen sitting or standing in a casual position in a homey looking environment, and her eyes are on the book, so there are two subjects to the picture. There is the mystery also of what page she might be on and what words age might be reading when the photo was taken!

Anyway, it is quite interesting to read her fragments, many of which are poetic and quite beautiful, while others are filled with insecurity, loneliness and the desire to improve herself. Some are even directly related to her being in psychoanalysis. I’ve been looking through the book for something to quote somewhere and finally found something for this blog rated to a recent post I wrote about relationships. It is very thought provoking and both sad, realistic and somehow hopeful, which is a curious combination, but not so strange when touching on the subject of childhood and attachment. So here it is; please react and comment if you are moved to do so…

“(page 131) re relationships

Everyone’s childhood plays itself out
No wonder no one knows the other or can completely understand. By this I don’t know if I’m just giving up with this conclusion or resigning myself-or maybe for the first time connecting with reality-

how do we know the pain of another’s earlier years let alone all that he drags with him since along the way at best a lot of lee-way is needed for the other-yet how much is unhealthy for one to bear.

I think to love bravely is the best and accept-as much as one can bear”
(words underlined in this passage: plays, much, unhealthy)

Quick reactions. I found this to be very truthful and really focused on relationships that are very mature and/or deep, those moments when people become unsure and unsettled by what they observe in themselves and their partner. It raises some interesting questions for couples who are examining their relationship or in couple’s therapy: “what are the parts of your partner that you do not know or want to know better but seem buried under a lot of pain?” ” Do you think you can share your own childhood painful parts with your partner, and if so, can you use this to better understand your child selves within the relationship?” “Do you give “lee way” to each other for all that emotional baggage you still carry?” “How much can you each bear of this part of yourself and of her/him?” “Are you afraid of it and avoiding it, or are you bearing too much of it to the point that either of you can recognize it is unhealthy?” “Or, are you asking too much of your partner and wanting ir demanding him/her to bear an unhealthy amount of this early pain in the relationship as it is right now?” “Do you feel that you love bravely and strive to accept what you can reasonably bear in each other?” “What does it mean for you to love bravely?” “Have you ever done it or do you shy away from it?”

As a side nite the word “lee-way” is quite interesting, with origins in the concrete meaning of a sideways drift if a boat or plane. The best definition I came across that seems to fit her use of the word was “leeway – a permissible difference; allowing some freedom to move within limits.” Just thinking about this word and this definition, well, what a perfect word to encapsulate a bug part if intimate relationships: the balance between acceptance and tolerance of difficult aspects of the other while at the same time having reasonable limits, thus capturing the combination of surrendering as well as separating/having boundaries… Real food for thought in just a few short sentences…

Relationships: Wiping the Slate Clean!

This blog post is dedicated to my very wonderful friend who is getting married today! May you both enjoy a lifetime of love, confusion, and many moments of joy, as well as the ability to let go of the unpleasant moments as quickly as possible! A fight or misunderstanding is like a sudden thunderstorm, very violent and loud, often, scary, but at some point, it will be over, and, if you can find the rainbow at the end of the storm, you will weather them all and remain close, no matter what comes your way…

A while ago, I heard an interesting story about a friend’s relationship. She got in some kind of unpleasant argument and disagreement with her partner. I’m not sure if it would constitute a fight or not. Anyway she went to bed with a not so great unresolved feeling. The next morning she woke up cheerful and had no recollection of the unpleasant end to the night before. Later in the day, she was talking to a friend about some random topic and suddenly remembered the events of the night before. She was pleasantly surprised to realize that she had conveniently forgotten the unpleasant argument of the night before until that very moment and later told her partner how refreshing it was to have let go of it so easily. They agreed that it was a good thing and that they would remember it for the future, so they could remind each other to “forget” about negative incidents or fights, if one or both of them were to hang on to resentments too long…

This story struck me as a very interesting aspect to our romantic relationships with significant others. It seemed to show that the key to a good relationship is the ability to “let go” of the bad moments when our demons come out and battle each other, as they will do if you are with someone long enough. Nobody fights fair all the time, and we all have our repertoire of venom and nastiness, no matter how sweet people think we are. Close relationships are inherently difficult and stressful at times. Having one or more child with someone will add extra stress to the most loving of relationships….

While we prize the ability to remember events and be able to repeat conversations verbatim, there is a lot to be said for the ability to “wipe the slate clean” and “forget” the dispute, whether it lasts one unpleasant evening or gets prolonged into a week or two of stress and strife with one’s partner. Especially at times when you feel like you are constantly at odds, to be able to call a “time out” and agree to forget the past unpleasant days and “start over”, by “wiping the slate clean” and moving on. Rather than dwell on the past unpleasantness or obsess about future wounds, we always have the choice to be in the here and now and let go of negative predictions..,

In most people’s close relationships, certain conflicts, disagreements, and arguments often get repeated. It is not unusual for couples to report that they have variations on the same themes in their disagreements, and even that it seems to go round in circles without coming to a resolution. I remember a long time ago hearing a radio interview with a couples therapist who said that resolving issues as they come up is actually not the key to a healthy relationship, but actually being able to let go of conflicts and agree to disagree and move on or simply to stop talking about the subject without a resolution is more of what constitutes healthy relating, even if the topics of conflict get brought up repeatedly. So basically, some kind of “forgetting” is involved in letting go and moving on. The idea that you can just leave some tangled mess alone without untangling it is a good skill for being in a relationship with another human!

Love relationships are really often quite primitive and not reasonable at all. We repeat attachments from early on. Humans are not much built to live alone for the most part. I’ve seen total loners who are most comfortable reading a book, or on their computers, end up getting together with someone quite the opposite, who has very intimate close friendships. These two types can love and live together, but they do not speak the same language when it comes to intimacy. Opposites attract. I see couples where one person is soft hearted, almost gullible, looking at people as good unless proven otherwise, pair up with a complete cranky, cynical, untrusting curmudgeon. Rarely do two people with the same attachment style and outlook on others get together. Finishing each other’s sentences? More like- two different sentences next to each other that make no sense. Now that’s a couple bound to spend a life together!

Nobody wants to fall in love with someone who reminds them of themselves. There is a great episode of the show “How I Met Your Mother”, in which several of the characters realize they are dating their mother or father. In various situations, the characters become disgusted when they suddenly see their actual parent interacting with them when they are with their partner. Yes, we are with a weird mixture both parents if we have two, or one of our parents; whatever the family situation, your earliest most primitive attachment will be lying next to you one day in the body of your love partner…

Of course, our partners are more than just a repetition of our early caretakers, but to understand what the crazy is about when you feel like things are getting crazy, as they do in long relationships, it’s time to look at your attachment style. Fights aren’t always about what you’re fighting about. Sometimes it’s just two people thinking, “who are you and how did I end up with you? I don’t even know you right now; do you still love me? I’m going to withdraw now and go to another corner and be with myself. I’m too afraid to reach out to you. I’m too needy, you won’t really want to be with me when you see how needy I am…” “I want you to reassure me but I can’t ask you to. I’m supposed to be the strong one.” Suddenly someone is being mean and scary and someone else is being passive aggressive and crazy. You seem to have metamorphosed into two very different monsters. Don’t touch me. You hear this, so you run away. What is this? The dance of intimacy. Where are you? You’re not on the dance floor. You are in a demon dialogue where nothing makes sense and you’re very scared or very hurt and mad; either way you’re feeling lonelier than you’ve ever felt and you may very well be with the love of your life, or one of them, or your soul mate.

Distance and closeness, aloneness abd togetherness with the same person. Yes it is completely possible, and highly abnormal if you do not experience that with your partner. Love ebbs and flows and we show our babyish selves. Then you may even have a baby together and things will get even more complicated. In my view of many couples, it seems often that one person is the “baby” and the other is the “parentified adult”. If things work out well, the baby will get a chance to prove s/he is capable of taking on the “adult” role, and the parentified adult is allowed to be a baby and get taken care of.

This is a complex topic that long books don’t even exhaust, so as usual, being in the form of a blog post, it is not comprehensive.

The main message I wanted to convey is, gang in there through those bad storms, and if you get a chance to take off your monster costume, push the reset button and remind each other to “forget” what was and re engage in being close again. Remember the best version of yourself that your partner fell in love with, and remember the best version of your partner that you fell in love with! That person is still there in each of you, and you can access it when you let go of the transient ebb and flow of daily petty disagreements. So wipe the slate clean each morning! It’s a new day to let go and be loving again!

Pre Vacation Blog Post Topic: Vacations!

As a human being, one needs to get away from one’s daily life, no matter how fulfilling and happy it is, or how stressful and difficult it is, and recharge one’s batteries. One of the most important things my supervisor/teacher ever said was, “As a therapist, you need to take vacations, and make them long enough so you don’t burn out.” As actions speak louder than words, he also always took the summer off, granted, part of it involved him teaching in other places and travelling to Europe to work and teach workshops, but a good chunk of it involved going somewhere with his family and making a lot of his own art.

So as a supervisor myself, I am now modeling to my supervisees how important it is to take a good long enough vacation. (And of course modeling the same thing to my patients, but as a supervisee of other therapists, I have the unique opportunity of giving them the same anti-burnout message that my supervisor gives me annually.)

One of the most important facts about taking a vacation is knowing the difference between visiting versus having a real vacation, whether you go somewhere far, near, or right here. A staycation is adequate if you absolutely cannot afford to go anywhere. However, when you take a staycation, it’s a good idea to act like you went away. Check your emails and social media at most once a day at the beginning of the day so the rest of the day is internet free. Try taking a vacation from TV and Netflix. If you want to watch a movie, go to a movie theater, or better yet, if you live in NYC, go to one of those outdoor movie nights they now have here in various neighborhoods or to a drive in movie, or to theater outdoors. Take a picnic to the park. Go on outings without your cellphone or with your cellphone turned off. Catch up on all the cultural events and shows that everyone thinks you go to all the time because you live in NYC, the capital of museums, theater, etc. but of course when you are working, you are too busy or tired to catch up on culture. Take the ferry to Governor’s Island and rent a bicycle for a day or half day. Go to the beach. In short, do vacation-like things that you can actually do right here in NYC. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and go to the far ends of boroughs or areas of NYC you are not familiar with. Never been to Coney Island? Get your towel and an umbrella and spend a day out there on the beach. The water is cold but clean; I just went there this past weekend! There is something very vacation like about taking the subway to the very last subway stop on one of the subway lines, and my favorite last subway stop in New York is the Coney Island stop. So those are some basic rules or tips about having a “Staycation” that feels really good and relaxing.

Another big vacation tip: Going to weddings or family reunions or other similar events outside of the city in which you live absolutely does not constitute a vacation. Ditto visiting any family members, no matter how close you are to them, unless they lives somewhere exotic, and you are primarily going there to have your vacation in that location and stay with them for convenience sake. Sounds cold, but visiting family, at least 80% of the time, just is not the same thing as taking a real vacation. Indeed, many people report that visiting family members helped them realize that they needed a vacation upon their return!

Contrary to what some of our patients think, (ie. It’s August in NYC, doesn’t that mean all the therapists are away for vacation?), therapists often have a great deal of difficulty taking a vacation, even though it is great to model for one’s patients and supervisees that vacations are essential to being a good therapist and avoiding burn out. Often we are in jobs that only give us a few weeks of paid vacation a year. If we are in private practice, it is often a hardship to take an unpaid vacation as one loses that income and still has all the same bills to pay, plus extra vacation expenses.

I admit that for many years, I have avoided vacations and used my dog as an excuse, as it was hard to find anyone with whom to leave an old dog with various medical issues, daily medication and lots of other complicated requirements. Eventually towards the last year of his life, I was able to leave him with trusted relatives with several pages of instructions around how to take care of him, and even take him with me on vacations that involved driving to destinations. By then I had gone many years without taking any real vacation. Last year, over the summer, I took one week of vacation to go to a lovely cabin in the woods upstate. At present, this is the ideal vacation for me: to go somewhere where the auditory stimulation consists of frogs croaking and other nature sounds, and the visual stimulation in the environment involves seeing the sky with only trees in the way, and nightly staring for several hours at a big lovely crackling fire. Basically, as a native New Yorker, my current requirements for a real vacation involve getting away from urban life altogether and being somewhere in nature without much to do besides the basics. That constitutes a real vacation for me, and I confess, it usually takes a few days for me to settle into vacation mode and relax. Last year, I learned that one week away was definitely not enough, so this year we are going away from June 28th until July 16th late afternoon. That is 18 days! A big first for me. I don’t think I have taken such a long vacation since I was in college! It results in about two weeks or so of lost income, but of course it is worth it. And it is very timely, as I notice in little ways that I really need a vacation… I won’t go into details, but about at least a week ago, I started counting down the days until vacation with my young daughter.

It’s never too late to have a more healthy attitude about vacations, as my example proves. (ie. It is not ok to skip a vacation; one must plan at least one vacation per year, ideally at least two weeks long, but at least one week if you absolutley cannot afford more than that.) I am planning to do what we did last summer for one week, but just have so much more time to do it, and more time away from everything else in my life!

Also a small note to all creative arts therapists out there: I think a vacation also involves bringing your art supplies or musical instruments or whatever you need to feed your creative self. As an artist, I try to do some form of art making daily, but life sometimes gets in the way. A vacation for me always means pack a lot of art materials, more than you expect to use, so you have lots of choices of media. It’s the perfect opportunity to do whatever you want and straying from your current series of work or media is a great thing to try to do…

A vacation is a time to recharge one’s batteries, spend time with people one lives with and loves, or if you go alone, a time for enjoyment of solitude and even adventure. Having a family, I know the vacation will be good for me to have time to really appreciate my family and not have the usual daily routine and time away working, etc. What would I rather do right now than, for example, set up a table in the backyard near the pond with lots of fun art supplies and make fun art projects with my four year old? And make fun projects of my own alongside her, as that was also what we did last year, and I definitely believe that there is no substitute for making your own personal art. Making art with other vacation companions is just icing on the cake. Even when she was only three, I modeled for her that we could do art together but she could also have her own canvas to do whatever she wanted on it and so could I.

Or all go together on the paddle boat on the small pond to watch very small frogs. You need to stop the boat and look really hard as the frogs can recede into the green grass, reeds, but once you get adjusted you can see them as well as the odd crayfish. Or watch my daughter tend to the garden she planted last year by the pond and add more flowers and plants to it… And of course, the fire watching and star and moon and sky gazing. A great big dose of nature, quiet, peacefulness, away from all the noise, stimulation and crazy energy of New York City.

It will be interesting to see how it is to stay an extra ten days or so. I’m assuming when I come back, I will not feel that dissatisfaction of having had just too short a vacation, the “I just got used to being there and relaxing and suddenly had to come back,” feeling. And when I come back, I can take with me the vacation feeling and apply it to my life over the summer, so that I go to the beach on Coney Island or somewhere nearby at least once a week and find other fun inexpensive ways to remind myself that the summer is not over just because it is July 16 and I am back in downtown NYC. Another important lesson learned from taking a good and long enough vacation. Year round, it is important to get that same feeling in smaller doses, and contrary to popular belief, New York City, including all boroughs, has a lot of vacation stuff to offer for day trips etc.!!!

So goodbye until I return. I imagine I will not post on this blog during my vacation, as I am not even sure how much internet access I will have, and maybe a vacation from blogging is a good idea. I may still write ideas for this blog and posts that I can work on when I come back. I trust all my old and new readers will still be there mid-July when I return to my life as an art therapist and artist and New Yorker!

Mental Health Awareness Month Post Again

I posted ten days ago that I wanted to discuss mental health issues for May’s Mental Health Awareness Month by listing ten random topics rated to Mental Illness and Health. This post aims to finish off this goal with six more such short discussions.

5. Alternative Medicine and Alternative Approaches: These can work alongside the more traditional Western Medical Model Approach of medication coupled with psychotherapy. These alternatives include massage, Reiki, acupuncture and acupressure and other forms of body and energy work, including regular yoga classes, regular meditation, and/or individual yoga therapy. In addition, regular exercise and healthy diet have been shown to play a big role in altering brain chemistry, especially anxiety and depression. And I don’t think there is one kind of diet out there that works for everyone. Ayurvedic Medicine has an interesting approach to nutrition in terms of not seeing food divided into good versus bad; as with most substances, almost any food or beverage can be used well or abused. In Ayurvedic Medicine, there are 3 “doshas” based on a lot of criteria, and for each category, healthy food is very different. A person with a lot of “pitta”, the fire dosha, needs to avoid spicy foods and eat cooler foods while a person with a lot of “vata” needs to eat heavier foods to ground themselves. The other dosha, Kapha tends to need lighter foods. When i had my dosha diagnosed as very “vata” I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my tendency to eat a lot of ice cream isn’t so bad in moderation. This food that’s on the heavy side would not be great for Kaphas. Anyway, I’m not an expert on this, I just find it interesting that the philosophy behind it relies on the idea that different kinds if foods are better for different people. Also I definitely ascribe to the belief, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” meaning that if a person stumbles on a good combination of treatments, say, an anti depressant that works, weekly massage therapy and yoga classes, moderate exercise and Reiki added on when symptoms arise, go for it! Keep doing the self care that works for you. his person may have had enough psychotherapy and be in a period is working on their mind body connection through these alternative treatments. Even approaches to treatment can be seen from an Ayurvedic point of view: “pitta” people like structure and discipline so the above treatment plan would work for someone like that whereas a more vata person would not take on so many forms of treatment and might do one thing or two for a while and then switch to something else….google Ayurvaduc Medicine and read about it. It’s a fascinating approach to healing that is way older than Western Medicine…

6. The DSM V: wait another year and then fork out your $80 for it and it will finally be here in May 2013! It’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition. Some new disorders under consideration include binge eating, hoarding and hyper sexuality; substance abuse now termed “dependence” will maybe be considered an addictive disorder. Non-suicidal Injury Disorder and Suicidal Disorder are under consideration. Of course there is controversy on all of the proposed changes…

7. Hoarding seen as a mental illness: as with all behaviors, the quantity, frequency and dependence on a non healthy behavior is usually what tips it into mental illness from plain old eccentricity or just pretty “normal” behavior”, eating emotionally for a few days after a breakup, having a fee drinks every once in a while, punching a wall once when enraged or throwing your cell phone… Many people hoard without it becoming pathological but sometimes moderate hoarding behaviors co occur with ADHD and depression in adults. I’d be interested to know the role of trauma in extreme hoarding behaviours. When hoarding gets to an extreme, the individual tends to engage in and display a lot of distorted paranoid thinking and fantasies, as well as overwhelming feelings of abandonment and social anxiety and phobias. “Don’t leave me, but don’t come too close to me, and don’t touch any of my stuff or move it around. Don’t come in my house; if I leave someone’s going to mess with my stuff so I’ll stay here. You’re trying to get me out of the house so you can take my belongings away…” Binge eating can also go with hoarding for obvious reasons. I see hoarding could be considered a sort of obsessive compulsive disorder, definitely a phobia and form of social anxiety, or a paranoid delusional one or even a form of addiction as well as part of PTSD… How complicated!

Alright it’s almost 1 am here! Time to stop and I’ll put the next three topics in my next post before May is over!!!