On mostly sex

“Brady. Something that’s been on my mind that I have a hard time thinking about and understanding: can a relationship based mostly on sex survive? Can’t wait to hear back!”

I really like this question and the psychological layers of it, so thank you for asking me this question. To me, yes, there is a sustaining quality to sex in a relationship and sex has a remarkably unique role in maintaining closeness between people. However, my, “yes,” is an incomplete, “yes.” Another layer to the question of the sustaining aspect of sex in a relationship, and when a relationship is mostly sexual, is a therapeutic exploration of the kind of sex that is mostly happening and whether or not it can sustain a relationship.

For me, sex is an expression of how persons fit together. That fit can be exhilarating, tedious, playful, procreative, adventurous, with abandon or abandoning, and countless other shapes and forms. The ability for human beings to connect to others, and the kinds of connections that can be made, sustained, or broken, is a remarkable quality of our complex humanity. The complexity of sex is easily, if conveniently, overlooked when we talk about sex in terms of positions, techniques, number of partners, or measurements.

It is also easy to take the stance that in a sexual relationship, the sex is the important part, rather than looking at the importance of the kind of sex that is occurring.

To go further into the interplay between the kind of sex occurring and the relational dynamics at play, whenever I think about a relationship becoming mostly sexual, I also am mindful that the collapsing in of a relationship into a mostly sexual one is mirrored in the sexual acts themselves: the sex in a mostly sexual relationship is mostly the same kind of sex.

When sex is restricted to a particular kind of sex, the relationship is also restricted, and quite possibly, strangled. A no-strings-attached arrangement between two people, wherein sex is performed without regard to emotions, has a hard time surviving when feelings do surface in sex, even if strings do not. A married heterosexual dyad can have sex simply to procreate, wherein sex is based out of a sense of duty or obligation, and the intimacy, and the relationship, has a hard time surviving after the children have left the house. A convenient sexual relationship, wherein sex mostly occurs after midnight and is arranged over vague text messages, rarely survives when sex becomes a priority for any party. Most relationships, wherein sex is based out of a sense of power and control, rarely survive when faced with the reality that another person cannot be controlled. Uncertain relationships, where sex happens to soothe anxious thoughts about the status of the relationship, largely remain uncertain because the sex itself is an expression of those insecurities rather than a solution to the uncertainty. In these altogether brief relational examples, sex may have its own valid reason for happening, but the sex that is happening is more of a mirror of an unsustained relationship than it is the unsustaining aspect of the relationship.

If you do want a relationship based on sex to survive, then the sex itself needs to sustain both you and your partner. Lots of sex is unsustaining, because lots of sex isn’t about being together, in any sense of the word; that is okay. Sex doesn’t need to be a sustaining aspect of a relationship, for it might simply happen because it can happen. There can be no purpose, no reason, or no agenda for sex other than it being an act reaching out to another, with no thought or desire for sustainment. With the preface made that sex can be the basis of a relationship, and there can be many kinds of sexual relationships, the question I would toss back to you, then, is: what relationship do you want to survive?

As a parting counsel to flirt with, relationships survive when all parties willingly see and accept the new, unexpected, and unknown aspects of each other as they are growing over time. Choosing to continuously gaze at each other, with gentle and new eyes each day, while continuously reaching out to support, to hold, to comfort, and to care for another, doesn’t simply sustain a relationship; it deepens and renews a relationship. Sex can be that. Sex can be an ongoing renewal of that choice to be together and another wonderfully surprising moment to explore being together.

(originally written January 9, 2013)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn mostly sex

On coming home

“So hey, Brady. I don’t like the holidays, not simply because I don’t believe in them, but also because if I were to go home, well, it comes at a cost. Give me some advice, not that I’ll take it.”

So, yeah… the idea of home, and the idea of the holidays as a reminder of a home to come back to, troubles many people. It makes sense that coming home is stressful to many people because there are many expectations and nuances of what home should be like. As I like to think of it, the act of coming home, then, is one of meeting those expectations and embracing the complicated realities of what home is.

Home should be the place that we return to with happiness, however it can also be the place we want to escape from to be our own entity and leave our own sadness.

Home, for some, has no anchor of a house, of a family, or any sense of shelter. In that absence, home is wanted while it is not found.

Home can be a celebration of the lives and accomplishments of those housed therein, with refrigerator doors screaming earnest memories. It may also be a place of unacknowledged mourning of those that are no longer living.

Home might be that special space that makes you feel part of a family, feel loved, yet it can be a reminder that to be part of that family, you can’t be yourself.

Home can also be that shapelessly hollow emotion of “good,” as much as it can be the placeholder for a deceptively cold veneer of niceness.

Home could be a vigilant fire, ever warming those near the flames, as shelter from the cold. That same fire can engulf and burn, leaving behind little to be recognized.

At least from where I write, the idea of home itself often gets in the way of fully living in and loving our homes. However, the cost of going home, of meeting the realities of what your home is and how it impacts you needn’t cost you your wellbeing, sanity, or integrity. If I were to give you any advice, or any direction, it would be to stay where you do feel whole, sane, and most yourself, because that is home. The cost of going home needn’t be your safety, because even though the expectation that home is the safest place in the world exists, what actually exists may differ.

In an altogether different frame of mind, I personally like the idea of feeling at home in any situation, in any context, and with anyone. That home feeling, of belonging, of safety, of being wanted, could arise anywhere, and I like to imagine it does. Imagining a world where everyone feels safe, blanketed in acceptance, celebrated for who we are rather than how others want us to be, and at home, warms me.

(Originally written January 2, 2013)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn coming home

On evil, monsters, and tragedy

“Brady, I think it’s safe to say if you kill 18 innocent kids, you’re pure evil, totally sick, deserve to be vilified!”

When the Columbine High School shooting occurred, I was a junior in high school, studying journalism. I was told to no longer wear my long coat by my school administrators, because they wanted to prevent something like that from occurring in Porterville, California. My trenchcoat kept me warm on those frosty mornings, but I was informed that it would be better if I, “didn’t look like that.” I didn’t want to challenge the administration, so I left my coat at home from there on. I didn’t think much about the reasons why someone would become violent, because I was more interested in the facts of the matter, and at our high school we didn’t talk a lot about violence, but we did complain school regulations for a while. Shortly thereafter, we as a school stopped talking about those people, and an unsettled sense of safety returned to the classrooms.

When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, I was studying psychology in graduate school, up in San Francisco, and I could see fear and suspicion move across the open faces of my professors. Their unnamed emotions were not hidden from us, nor were any edicts given to the student population about dress code, safety regulations, or what to do in the event that something like that would happen here; we simply spoke about the fragility of life in somber voices, which I would think is typical of colleges full of budding psychologists. I had spent a little over a year seeing patients and was still finding my footing as a clinician navigating my way through the uneven emotional landscapes of others. I thought about my still new role as a clinician and that I had become, “that professional,” that people are sent to talk to when things are bad. I started to think personally and professionally of my role in protecting potential victims of violence, and what calming words I would say in the event of a tragedy. I borrowed heavily from Erich Fromm for those words. I felt safe, powerful, and somewhat competent in my role of protecting the innocent.

When the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, I had recently gotten off the phone with a patient of mine after spending a long night in the emergency room. Since the start of my professional career I have been to hospitals, others’ homes, juvenile detention centers, the gates of a prison, the bleachers of a high school, and the typical consulting room to be with people in pain. I have tried to be a compassionate and helpful presence in those places of hardness and pain, realizing that my profession asks me to be in those difficult places and somehow be a source of comfort and support, not simply to victims of a tragedy, but to perpetrators. I have found that others’ words of comfort sound hollow when I say them, so I find myself more speechless these days when tragedy strikes.

As that Friday arose, my body was still tired, my wordless mouth still tasted of 2:00am hospital coffee, and a familiar feeling settled into my stomach that I’ve grown accustomed to over the years when tragedy arises: powerlessness.

As a society, therapists are instilled with a seemingly sure sense of power and responsibility. At best, we are in a position to identify those who would harm others and address a situation before it becomes violent. At worst, our mandates to protect those entrusted with our care is limited by the systemic barriers to care, diagnostic criteria to warrant treatment, stigma about receiving help from a professional, and the malignant idea that you must be sick to receive help. However, more often than not, we are approached by persons looking for answers in times of tragedy wanting to understand the situation without wanting to actually understand the situation at all.

I’ve been asked those questions: “What would drive a person to do this?” “Where were the parents?” “Didn’t anyone notice that something is wrong with them?” In all of those questions, there is an unspoken assumption that a nameable answer exists, that I can speak that answer, and that that answer will somehow solve the problems and offer some kind of healing. The answers wouldn’t provide that comfort, but the questions are asked anyway.

Sure. I could cave and frame conversations about violence from this clinical position of power and speak about pathology and sickness. I could say what many people would want me to say, which is that a person must be sick, must be evil, must be unbalanced and ill to commit these monstrous acts. Yes. I could brazenly respond that the only consistent markers that would suggest a pathological profile in these tragic circumstances is gender [male] and race [white], more than any formal psychiatric diagnosis. Fine. I can frame a conversation solely about the assailant and overlook the larger cultural issues at play, if you want me to. If we want the psychological community to issue tidy statements about profiling, then that’s what we are in the position to do. We can define and diagnose those people that are likely to be violent, hiding the fact that all people have the potential for violence, and we would be doing our job. We would be giving the understanding that most people want to know, but it wouldn’t be understanding at all; it would be a name.

Over the course of my psychological career I have learned to name many things: psychiatric disorders, thought processes, personality clusters, symptom constellations, maladaptive defense mechanisms, attachment styles, intersubjective alignments, and lots of other jargon. Naming something has given me some sense of formal power that I know what it is I am doing on the other side of the couch, and that the letters after my name mean something special. I’ve also been trained, that when someone comes to speak to me and there is a suspicion of violence occurring, whether suicidal or homicidal, one of the first questions that I ask is, “Is there a gun in the home?”

It is a question that I am terrified in asking because of the reality of the answer, and yet it is a question that I must ask so that I can do my job of protecting both the potential perpetrators and the potential victims. How is it that a therapist can protect a person? How do I get a person to not harm themselves? How do I help a person not harm others? How do I address the anger, the pure rage, the vile contempt, the blinding pain, the constant hurt, the unending torment, the fearful loneliness, the scary thoughts, the unquiet emotions? As a first step, I help in removing the means; the primary means of violence, as I’ve encountered it and as my training has shown, is guns.

The rest, at least for me, requires me to work with a person and try to understand them as much as possible to figure out the safest course of action for everyone. Helping out also means being willing and being able to sit with all of the emotions involved. My role involves not taking convenient sides nor by only empathizing with victims. In taking sides, we professionals would be caving into the temptation to pathologize tragedy. We would be giving into the idea that those people need professional help, that those people are sick, and that the “mentally ill” are the real cause of tragedy. Never mind that major mental illness doesn’t make someone more prone to violence. Never mind the fact that any person, at any given time, could be diagnosed with a mental disorder for their actions or thought processes. In truth, we professionals often admit to ourselves, or to our loved ones when the weight of being that professional is too heavy, the terrifying reality that we cannot control another person’s actions even though we are responsible for their actions, that we can never truly know how far a person will go to end their own suffering, and that we are largely powerless.

What I do know, and what I like to remind myself in this work, is that there is something utterly human in the desire to be violent, in the desire to have our thoughts, our feelings, and our very selves, matter, and to have some power in our lives. When that familiar feeling of powerlessness comes up, it helps me connect more when a tragedy arises and to be a safe presence for others. That feeling helps me be compassionate to those that act violently, and it helps me be compassionate to those that are inflicted with violence. In that space, ideas of evil, monsters, and villains ring as hollow as words I had tried to memorize to sound somehow more caring.

Publius Terrence Afer, the playwright in his work Heauton Timorumenos (The Self Tormentor), insightfully wrote “humani nihil a me alienum puto” which loosely translates as, “nothing human is foreign to me.” It is a sentiment that I remind myself of every time I encounter someone’s actions that I struggle to understand. It is a sentiment that helps me be with those suffering, those inflicting pain, those that have lost loved ones, and those wanting to hunt down those monsters.

(Originally written December 19, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn evil, monsters, and tragedy

On forgiving yourself

“Brady, … I also find it hard to forgive myself for missed opportunities, fear, mistakes, etc. That’s hard to live with at times.

As a response to my previous post, I want to thank you for sharing this sentiment, and I’d like to spend some time with it. Forgiving others and being forgiven by others has a different shape and texture than forgiving yourself. It feels different too, because you must acknowledge what you have done and also how it has impacted others, as well as yourself.

I like to think that most of us want to be seen as loving, kind, and simply good persons. In that want, it can be painful, if paralyzing, to face evidence to the contrary. Shame may come up as we acknowledge that we aren’t as loving as we thought we were, as kind as we would like to be, or as good as we believed. Fear, too, can dig in the idea that we are somehow unforgiveable and not worthy of being loved because of what we have done, and therefore what we are.

As with others, we oftentimes hurt ourselves unintentionally, rather than going out of our way to intentionally damage our sense of self, our reputation, or our identity. We can do this by giving an answer to someone else about what they want to hear and not what we truly want to say. We can take the emotional easy route, because we do not want to be more tired. We can pass up a chance to try something new while hating the more dependable choices we tend to make. We can stay in a relationship for someone else, and not for our own wants. We can swallow our feelings, and secretly hate the shapeless quality of our emotions, because reason somehow dictates that we shouldn’t feel this way. We may have hurt others, yes, and yet, a persistent part of us knows that in fact we have also hurt ourselves.

Others might forgive us for what we have done, yet we are the only ones that can forgive ourselves for the choices we made, and the actions we took.

Other’s forgiveness might acknowledge your pain in not forgiving yourself, and yet it oftentimes feeds the hurt. Comforting words, that may seek to help others find a way to forgive themselves for mistakes, or missed opportunities, usually don’t comfort. These cold words sound like, “it wasn’t meant to be,” or “perhaps it’s for the best,” or even a twisty, “when one door closes another door opens.” These seemingly comforting words belay very little, and overlook the difficulty and pain of missed opportunities. Mistakes have the same hue. Others might offer a packaged response to console you, as if to say, “I know you didn’t mean that.” You might even say it to yourself, as way of trying to take back words that were spit out from your own lips; words you meant, even if briefly. With these expressions, forgiveness doesn’t really land, and we can be left unhealed and remain internally divided.

Living with what you have done, living with your actions, and wholly, if kindly, accepting the consequences is the challenge then with forgiving one’s self. To me, forgiving oneself can be a lifelong process of striving for redemption, and yet it can arrive unexpectedly in the space of your own heartbeat. To be kind to yourself, and to acknowledge what you have done, is at the same time the starting point, the long journey, and the soft end point in forgiving yourself.

We all do the best we can, as much as we are able to. That includes you. You did the best you could.

(Originally written December 11, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn forgiving yourself

On being forgiven

“Brady, … Forgiveness: its meaning, its application. What we can gleam from it? How to distinguish within ourselves when it is genuine? What happens next? What does it mean to forgive? How does it relate to the idea of moving on? Can there truly be forgiveness without forgetting?

This is a great topic, and such a necessary one to spend time on. As I tend to do, I like to sit a little longer with thoughts and feelings and find a way to describe what it is to sit with those thoughts, feelings, ideas, and questions. That stylistic preface aside, to me, forgiveness can narrowly be viewed as a two-fold transactional process: on one end we can ask for it, and receive it, and on the other end we can give it or not give it. However, I think it is vastly larger than that, and within that vastness, it is hard to find and harder still to move beyond.

I say that because for two people forgiveness can be in entirely different places and look like entirely different unspoken concepts. For some, forgiveness involves forgetting what was wronged, for others it involves a surrender to another person and a recognition that it is their choice to allow you back into their life, and for a few, forgiveness is not a healthy option because to forgive and let someone back in is to invite more hurt. In this way, forgiveness is about the opportunity for two people to come back together, both moving towards one another, and a willingness to travel the distance between the gulf of that hurt.

To be forgiven, that divide must be acknowledged. In acknowledging that divide, forgiveness can be asked for, apologies can be made, and amends can be offered to heal that rupture of trust and to close the distance. That might be enough.

For some, it isn’t enough, and forgiveness isn’t given because apologies weren’t believed to be sincere enough, amends weren’t done the right way, or any other hollow rationale wherein we simply do not want to believe another person. We don’t have to believe an apology is genuine, but to not accept an apology is more about our choice to not accept it than it is about distinguishing the genuineness of the apology that was offered. If you choose to not forgive another person, own it fully as your choice, because whether or not the other person deserves an honest reply, you deserve to be honest with yourself about the choices you are making.

To sit a little deeper, what if we want forgiveness and it isn’t given? Is it then our duty to continually offer apologies in the hopes of getting closer, because as the wounding party we should be eternally apologetic? Is that what asking for forgiveness truly means: an ongoing act of continual apologizing and wanting to be close to another person, and a continual asking of forgiveness? If I could offer you any comfort, or any kind answer about what to do, or what guidance to give, when it seems like you can’t do enough to gain someone’s forgiveness, it would simply be this: you’ve done enough. At some point we must accept another person’s decision to not offer forgiveness, and that is their decision to make. We can be left alone, still wanting to be close to another person, and with no where to go but away from them.

If we are forgiven, it means we are close again, and that is significant. Its application, or how we are forgiven or not forgiven, is also significant because where we go in our relationships and how we relate to one another is a choice. Ideally, in relationships we make those choices together, with clarity and understanding. When it comes to forgiveness, having clarity and understanding means facing that wounding place of rupture, that place of distance, and that place of forgiveness, and knowing that it exists.

Forgiveness, if it is true, is an honest acknowledgement of what happened, and that it isn’t forgotten, but that it is willingly moved away from, by both parties. With this, forgiveness is truer when the act isn’t forgotten, but is remembered, albeit kindly. Whether forgiveness is given, or if it is not, there is only moving on from a place that exists, and from a place that cannot be unknown.

Thank you again for those questions. They are a great reminder for me to look at those subtle movements in forgiveness and how it shows us where we stand in relation to another. I think exploring forgiveness and discovering what you want to do when you are hurt or have hurt another, and the choices you can make, is a great place to be, on either side of that divide.

 

(Originally written December 5, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn being forgiven

In dismissing gratitude

Offering thanks and appreciation to a person, either for what they have done for us or simply for being in our lives, is an act of gratitude. Underneath that act is the feeling itself: an earnest acknowledgement of the importance of another and a desired response to reach back to them, with kindness, with warmth, with love. However, there are many ways that we can dismiss gratitude and many reasons that we make for not wanting others to reach back to us.

We might have been the recipient of having our gratitude dismissed, and the messages that we have received probably hit a similar note: “You should be more grateful,” “You are selfish,” “Of all that I have done for you, you aren’t even thankful,” or “This is the thanks I get?” The receiving end of these messages can burn unspoken messages, possibly deeper, into us: “You don’t really care enough about me,” “You shouldn’t bother,” “You don’t really love me.” These deeper messages can hurt both our relationships and our sense of identity, for if our true expression of thanks and gratitude isn’t enough, then we aren’t enough.

That is on the giving side of gratitude, yet it is in the act of dismissing that I find a fascinating psychological mirror for a person to see their own character. In dismissing gratitude, we may have our own personal reasons. Those reasons may be entirely valid for us, and we may feel more deserving of gratitude, wanting more thanks, more appreciation, and are better than others. Our reasons may also be cultural and bound up with familial hierarchies and power dynamics, wherein the gratitude of others can only be one-directional and is never enough. Familial and cultural teachings may galvanize those reasons and can make accepting gratitude seem immodest, yet there is a relational stance to be examined when gratitude is dismissed. Age, culture, and religious differences can all flavor the dismissal of another’s gratitude in different ways, yet the taste remains.

However, that is the bind in dismissing gratitude: to dismiss gratitude and call another person selfish and ungrateful for not being more appreciative is in its own way an act of selfishness, and an act of putting oneself above another. In dismissing gratitude, we are demonstrating a lack of gratitude for another person and a looking down on another person, simply from looking at one’s own self-worth and not looking at another person’s emotions. Therapeutically speaking, it is neither good nor bad to dismiss someone’s gratitude, for it is simply a relational stance and a choice.

Have I dismissed the gratitude of others and thought that they weren’t truly thankful or appreciative? Yes. Have I felt less than and inadequate when my gratitude has been dismissed? Yes. Have I tried to express gratitude, not from a place of feeling less than deserving, but from a place of mutual appreciation and understanding? I’m still working on that.

Is having a more even sense of gratitude, that neither degrades nor elevates others, then the ideal? Is being able to offer and accept gratitude without dismissing it or hierarchically looking above or below oneself then the better way to be? Very simply; that’s not the point for me. Whether we think ourselves better than others and dismiss their feelings, think of ourselves as equals and empathize with the feelings of others, or think of ourselves as less than others and strive to improve, we have a greater capacity to see ourselves and see how we hold ourselves in relation to others when we examine our response to gratitude. That is the point for me. In exploring gratitude and how it tastes when it is offered, and how it is accepted or dismissed, we have an opportunity to examine how we are with others, change our interactions, and mindfully shape our character.

Whether we dismiss a thank you, a kind act, a gentle word, or not, we have a choice in how to respond to others when they reach out to us.

(Originally written November 28, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyIn dismissing gratitude

On anger: swallowed

When angry feelings come up, they can seem overwhelming, cataclysmic, and downright petrifying. It isn’t only the angered, saddened, or painful emotions that are swallowed, because the happier ones can be swallowed as easily: “try not to get your hopes up,” “don’t just sit around smiling,” “don’t get too excited.” However, what I would like to spend some time expressing, is that when anger isn’t acknowledged and allowed to breathe, fearful consequences are compounded.

As a preface to this article, I’m not advocating that we all should go around and intentionally be angry all the time, or that we should live our lives fueled by rage. I am advocating that if we feel anger, we allow ourselves to feel it and we acknowledge that it is there rather than denying that it exists.

When we swallow our anger, not allow ourselves to feel angry with our partners, not get angry with our kids, not express our anger towards others, we hold our tongues, avoid discussions, hide our reactions, drown them with alcohol, numb them with pills, or find some escape from those feelings. In these actions our anger doesn’t disappear, it simply goes further inward. We can be angry with ourselves for being angry. We can push others away to not hurt them with our anger. We can beat ourselves up for not being nicer. We can hate ourselves for having these feelings while we hate others for the feelings they evoke, and the cyclical descent continues.

The more that anger is swallowed, the more that it is buried under a deep fear of being released for the damage it might cause; damage arises from the swallowing of anger and not from the anger itself. Swallowing anger and burying it under a fear of release is a reaction that for many people becomes a habit, which in turn seemingly becomes the only way to endure life and to survive. With that, pressure builds and unwanted feelings are driven out any way they can, which can be damaging to one’s self and others.

If anger goes unreleased and continues to build, then in the smallest way, words go unspoken, and in the largest way, persons can be killed. I write that, not to sensationalize anger, or to stoke a fear of anger, but to point out something I have seen very clearly in my life and in my work. To put it another way, we don’t die from feeling our feelings, no matter how scary they may seem. What can happen, which many people would like to conveniently forget, is that as fragile beings, we can restrict our lives and die from not feeling our feelings.

(Originally written September 20, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn anger: swallowed

On anger: justified

How I see it is anger isn’t an emotion in the same way that happiness or sadness are emotions. Happiness and sadness arise from deep inner experiences of trust, while anger, at least from my perspective, is attached to the belief of rightness; trust and belief are distinctive, and their exploration is something that we will explore at another time.

What I mean by, the belief of rightness, is that anger is more of a reaction anchored in the thought “(blank) is wrong!” That “blank” can be another person, a group of people, a country, a politician, or even one’s self. Anger arises from some thought that is connected to a belief that someone holds as right. However, thoughts do not arise singularly, for the second half of that belief of rightness looks a little like this: if, “(blank) is wrong!” then something other than (blank), “is right!” In this way, anger can easily be attached to the idea of fairness, rightness, righteousness, justice, but more often than not, anger is simply regarded as justified.

It is those two sides, that for something to be wrong another thing must be right, that has led to what I think is part of the problem with anger: it is inherently justified by the person that is angry. When a person is in the right, and they believe themselves to be, the anger that is there can seem unending, ever growing, and unquestioned.

Yes, there is a utility to anger and understanding the wrongness of an act. However, and this to me is the key, justifying anger, only seeing one’s rightness and only seeing the wrongness of others, denies the emotions and experiences of other parties for one’s own way.

When anger is justified, it bears a hint of entitlement as well. As an example, “I am angry! Why? Because you’re wrong! I am right and you know better! You can’t see how wrong you are! I’m overreacting? I know better than you to not be that stupid! My reaction is completely normal! You should feel the same way as me! You don’t? You’re a bigger idiot! I’m angrier!” That’s an abridged version of many arguments and disagreements I have experienced over the years, and in each, the same sense of justification cyclically furthers the disagreement and the divide between parties.

This cycle of anger continues, and the justification of anger furthers the divide between two people or parties, and for some, anger is a long road that does not end, with no signs saying stop. It cannot end, so long as someone is right.

(Originally written September 6, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn anger: justified

On sexual assault: one’s being

No. I do not believe that the worst thing that we do defines who we are, nor do I believe that the worst thing that is done to us also defines who we are. From this place, and in discussing sexual assault, I realize that for many people their identity, and their being, becomes inseparable from the sexual assault that they have endured.

This becoming inseparable, of an act and one’s being, is noticeable in the words that people use to talk about themselves.

In the language of sexual assault, the word, “victim,” is used sparingly. Using a word that reminds a person of their being victimized, of their powerlessness, of that moment of painful reality, can be too much. For that reason, many people use the word, “survivor,” to add a sense of reclaiming power and identity, which isn’t evoked with the word, “victim.” However, in this way, “survivor,” is as limiting as the word, “victim,” because it keeps a person defined by that moment.

Yes, I believe that sexual assault needs to be discussed, publicly. I believe that those that have endured sexual assault have a right to reclaim their voices and to reclaim their bodies. I also believe, truly, that a person can be trapped in their hurt and see their whole lives as colored by one, or a pattern, of unwanted events. Addressing sexual assault is a long process that requires acknowledging what happened, and, to be truly healed from that pain, defining one’s life not by that hurt.

Being healed and being safe starts with saying, “no,” to the act itself. It continues by saying, “no,” to being defined by that act.

(originally written on August 12, 2012)

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn sexual assault: one’s being

On sexual assault: one’s body

When a person is sexually assaulted, the body, and through it, the world that can be experienced, is irreparably changed. What once might have been a safe and secure world is no longer as safe, as secure, or as gentle and whole. Those traumatic feelings, these frozen experiences, are not solely in the mind, for they arise in and through one’s body.

The effect of sexual assault on the body is long lasting. For some people who are sexually assaulted, the ability to trust one’s own body, and one’s own experience is also damaged. A warm gesture from a friend, the simple sound of footsteps, first date stomach butterflies, a kiss on the lips, even sex with an old and trusted partner, can in their own way bring up physical memories that are unexpected and unwelcomed. In its own way, the body hold’s onto experiences, because that is the language of the body.

Am I saying that a person who survived sexual assault will forever endure the experience of being assaulted? No. I do not believe that sexual assault is the defining moment of a person’s sexual or physical self understanding, but it is a defining moment: a moment that sometimes gets reawakened; a moment that casts a very long, if diffuse, shadow; a moment of hurt that must be healed; a moment that can be remembered tightly or held loosely.  It is also not a moment that time will erase, for time doesn’t heal all wounds.

With sexual assault, the body is forced into an experience, so the very physicality of an act of assault becomes seared in the body and also into the person.

Getting to the personal and emotional place, where one’s body feels safe and secure, and whole, may not happen to a person that has endured sexual assault. I do not say that to be downcast, but to be honest that reclaiming one’s sense of safety and security is more of a process than a fixed point. The process, as I like to think of it, is a physical process of learning to hold onto the experience loosely, rather than being stuck, and physically trapped in that frozen, helpless moment. It is a difficult and challenging process to heal, and to come back into one’s body after such a wounding.

As much as we hold onto our trauma and pain, it is possible to hold onto those experiences not as tightly. With being gentle with one’s self, with being tender with one’s self, without hiding from one’s self, the body can heal.

(originally written August 4, 2012)

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn sexual assault: one’s body