On submission and surrender

There are many moments in life when we are faced with the unknown. With each beautifully unknown moment we are able to grow, to change, to define and redefine ourselves, and to come to a better understanding of who we are and where we stand in this world. These events occur, unbidden, and we can easily feel defeated and submit to whatever life throws at us.

In those moments when we submit to another person or to the world, we accept an external definition of who we are and what is possible. A child in a new class is assigned to sit in the front row, which induces anxiety; she submits and doesn’t ask to sit in the back where she would feel more comfortable. A lover wants to experiment sexually with something new, and we follow along while not wanting to experiment; we submit so as to keep our partner and to have some semblance of love in our life. A friend consistently asks for help, and you unfailingly help; you fearfully do not discuss your limits and submit to their direction of the friendship, which is uneven yet stable. A colleague professes their public support of you, while also telling your boss that there are problems with you; you submit to authority and allow your boss to reprimand you without requesting a proper mediation with your colleague. Yes, there are often gracious and noble intentions to submit, and to defer to another, but there is a cost in submission. The cost is what is possible.

Psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams bitingly wrote, “Submission is the perversion of a healthy striving for the experience of surrender” (p. 11). I agree, in that we have a deep need to face the unknown and unexpected experiences in our life with integrity and purpose, and we do yearn for surrender from an ancient need to let go and to touch all that’s possible. However, submission reduces the possibilities of what may occur, what we can choose, and who we want to be, into one option and one response: a bruised acknowledgement of what we don’t want, painted as what we should want.

I liken submission with violence, and I mean the simplest of violent acts, wherein violence is the will of another, whether personal or political, being imposed over our own will. There are other options, of course, for we may protest, push back, run away, or cry out with the earnest feeling of “no.” We have every right to say and feel our “no” and to not want something. The subtlety in saying “no” is something that I will explore at another time. For now, this finer aspect of “yes” is what I am focusing on in this blog. A particularly violent form of submission occurs when “yes” is the only response permitted, especially in cultures where questioning is deemed disrespectful, defiant, morally weak, and immature, while obedience is valued above all else. This is a restricted “yes”, a violent “yes” of submission, and the “yes” where “no” is outlawed. This is worlds away from the “yes” of surrender.

Submission isn’t the only option when faced with something we do not want, for we have the option to surrender. Surrender comes from that inner place of letting go while looking up, rather than being beaten and looking down at oneself. I’m reminded of the beauty of surrender when I see a person allowing their dreams to inspire their life’s direction, rather than walking along another’s pre-drawn path. I think of surrender when a lover ventures into sexual territory, and rather than running away, willingly stays with an uncomfortable experience to explore what happens with their partner and within oneself. I, too, witness an act of surrender when a person consents to a psychotherapeutic relationship and begins to allow their emotional pain to be felt, and their hurt to be healed. In these, and many more ways, we can choose to surrender and allow ourselves the possibility of accepting definitions yet to come and understandings still being formed.

I believe that these unknown and uncalled for moments come to us, not from our own will, nor to break our will, but to pull us further along into our own being and who we are becoming. When we surrender, we touch the possible, and we can feel all the bare yet honest contours of who we are. We can let go of what we had, and who we thought we were, to discover something undefined by others yet wholly ours.

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 submission and surrender

On accepting a compliment

There are a multitude of reactions whenever I give a compliment to another person, usually along the lines of genuine acceptance, a greedy grab, cold rejection, casual dismissal, or even a minimization to the point of not being a personal compliment at all. I’m talking about an actual compliment, a felt statement of appreciation and respect for another person, not empty praise, which does not truly touch a person’s sense of worth or their impact upon another person. Compliments are our way of reaching out to another person, holding our emotions, giving a place in our hearts, and acknowledging the meaning and worth of another person in our life; they esteem another person and if the compliment is accepted, and internalized, it fortifies self-esteem.

A compliment is a felt statement of regard. “I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me.” “I was going through such a difficult week and having you there when I called, crying, in the middle of the night, well it made me feel not alone in all of this.” “That dinner was exquisite and I’m warmed by the meal and all of the care you show for my and our health.” “I’m speechless, touched, and just at a loss for how to thank you.” These are some compliments that have truly touched me.

A compliment is not praise. “You’re so nice!” “You’re such a good friend!” “Dinner was super good!” “That was amazing!” What do these statements of praise convey, other than a vague liking? Much like, “I feel that you are a great friend,” is a thought and not a feeling, the above statements are presumed compliments, but ring as hollow praise. Praise is often offered instead of a compliment, for it is simple to say that we like something, and it takes time and effort to explain what we like about something. In this way, praise is a passive regard for what occurred rather than a genuine and personal acknowledgement of what happened. Calling an act “good” robs the act of the impact that was intended; a personal touch lost in a lazy blanket of approval.

Praise is not a compliment, despite the dictums of etiquette guidebooks. Those guidebooks also combine the two and often recommend that the polite thing to do, when given a compliment, is to defer back to whatever happened. In this, I understand the knee-jerk reaction to appear humble, and to not think too highly of oneself when given a compliment, but this reaction serves neither the giver nor the receiver of the compliment. There is nothing humble in overlooking what another person has done. It is not selfless to abnegate a compliment, for it is a truly personal dismissal. If “I really didn’t do anything at all” is true, then the act and the compliment is void, and it didn’t matter, and by extension, you and your feelings don’t really matter.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, it is said that, “The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquility.” I see this statement not as support for denying compliments, but as a call to acknowledge a compliment and the meaning it has for the giver. Accepting a compliment, with weight and kindness, is another gift, an action that says again, “yes, you do matter” that deepens bonds and evokes tranquility in our relationships. We do matter to each other, and when we realize that, and give compliments from that place where other people matter and our own feelings matter, then we are more fully with others.

Giving and receiving compliments is one of my soapbox issues, for I believe we need to give compliments and share how people have contributed something of worth to our lives. I believe we need to accept compliments and admit that we have an impact on those around us. I believe we need to reach and touch each other, both with words and deeds. If we don’t, then impersonal acts, polite denial, and hollow praise is good enough, but not really

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 accepting a compliment

On thinking about sex

I often think about sex, more specifically the complicated way we come to understand ourselves as sexual beings. I think about all the ways that we, as a society, and fellow human beings, talk about sex trivially even as it is sensationalized. Most people are comfortable discussing sex in terms of numbers, timing, and measurements, but rarely in terms of emotions and meaning. However, we must discuss the emotion and meaning of sex if we are ever to think honestly about sex.

There are many ways that a person can run away from examining their sexual nature. A person can let their partner(s) decide what it is they sexually want and will do. A person can refrain from sex altogether and not address their sexual nature. A person can lose themselves in multiple partners without regard for their emotional well-being or of their partner(s). Conversations can be avoided. Topics can be deemed too private to be discussed. Too adult. Too personal. Too emotional.

Concurrently, thoughts on sex can be overvalued, overemphasized, compulsively sought after, and hyped too far in some ideals of monogamy and matrimony. On the other end, sex can be conceptually undervalued, mechanized, sanitized, carelessly sought after to appease boredom, called meaningless, and thoughtlessly dismissed, as if to say sex is but a distraction when one acts promiscuously. These aforementioned thoughts on sex, whether undervalued or overvalued, are all too often the lived experience of people, which is not to say they aren’t true. It is to say that one’s thoughts and value of sex impacts the sex that one has and the relationship that one has with oneself as a sexual being.

Truly understanding one’s own sexual wants and needs, and the values therein, is a difficult task. What makes it all the more difficult are the many thoughts that are other’s or society’s that cloud the ability to understand what is true for a person. The divide, I see, between over and under valuing is in finding one’s own value of sex outside of societal or relational pressures. That personal acknowledgement of what sex means, outside of external forces, is part of the divide; the divide between what I want and what others want of me, the divide between the sex I have and the sex I want. Coming to an understanding of that divide and lessening it happens through an honest conversation with oneself, asking those questions, and living with those answers.

Avoiding the questions do not make the questions go away.

Figuring out one’s own ideas and values of sex is a complicated and deeply emotional process. It often involves thinking about and talking about the oftentimes unspoken aspects of sex; what emotions you and your partner(s) feel during the arc of sex, how wants are discussed and mutually acknowledged, when sex feels intimate or hollow, where one’s thoughts go during sex, why sex occurs at all, and who we are when we do have sex and are at our most vulnerable with another. These are very telling questions, and questions that deserve time and careful attention. I regularly ask these frank and earnest questions about sex of myself and of others, because, I find it necessary to examine one’s life, especially in regards to an aspect of one’s life and identity that is vital as it is integral.

In becoming honest with oneself about the value of sex, the personal meaning of sex, and the ability to be present during sex, a person can be more able to experience the breadth of sexual experience. I’m not talking about gimmicks, techniques, or variegated costumes and candles. I’m talking about a whole range of human connection that is possible during sex when one is fully willing to examine oneself as a sexual being and fully willing to express themselves as a sexual being. Discussing and coming to an understanding of what sex truly means for each of us is a deeply adult process, and one that allows us to act honestly.

Coming to a personal meaning of sex is a kind of sex education that doesn’t happen in structured school-based curriculum, and rarely happens in conversations between parents and children, or between sexual partners. It is a conversation that must happen, even if we have it only with ourselves.

-Brady

BradyOn thinking about sex

On saying “yes” to “no”

On saying yes to no

I think of integrity as the internal place from where we find our own footing in this world. It is how we learn to stand up for who we are. It is how we learn to love ourselves. It is essential for confidence, conviction, and character, not in the sense of thinly drawn personal motifs and habitual euphemisms, but character in the sense of the impression that we leave on others and on the world. Our presence. Our self-worth. Our ability to love. Our footprint.

Figuring out what we want is difficult. Declaring what we want is often frightening; once we declare what we want, we can choose to follow through, or abandon, on our wants. How, then, do we find the courage to step? How do we move with our integrity? How do we say yes to what we want? From my perspective, I see integrity emerging in those loud moments of youth.

Most parents love it when their child doesn’t cry, doesn’t put up a fuss, does as told, is seen and not heard, and is therefore a “good kid”. A screaming and crying child is difficult to be around, because so often the reflex of “good parents” is to quiet and seemingly soothe their child. I don’t believe it is healthy for parents to call children “good” when they are silent, for a person’s inability to feel their feelings, to find their footing, begins when their feelings are silenced. Oftentimes our building or losing of integrity begins in childhood.

When parents silence their child’s anger, frustration, or any small or loud feeling, and quiet it, as if to say “you shouldn’t feel this way,” they teach their child to stand outside of their integrity and bend to someone else’s will. This commonly happens when well meaning parents tell their children silencing phrases. “You don’t hate your sister.” “Say it nicely.” “Don’t talk back to me.” “Don’t be disrespectful.” In these small ways, a child’s emotional response is compromised; their integrity is compromised. Yes, it is very hard to be with an unquiet child, much less an unquiet parent, friend, or lover.

I do not blame parents for wanting to silence a loud child, as if a parent is bad for using distractions or ignoring a crying child. I would only like parents to realize the consequences therein, and to remember what it is like to feel silenced, to lose one’s footing, to be told no, and to also remember the beauty of integrity. It is a beautiful thing to witness a person stand up for what they want, for a parent to witness their child become an adult, for a lover to hold onto their wants while holding onto their partner. It is also beautiful to witness a person walk away from a hurtful situation, for a child to grow more independently despite parental pressures to conform, or for a lover to end an unsatisfying relationship. Our parents can loosen our footing and be the greatest under-miners of our integrity; they can also be our greatest supporters in our first few steps.

If you know what it is you want, stand up for your wants, declare them to yourself and to the world around you, then sometimes you can step forward to meet them. However, we cannot always move and frequently don’t get what we purely want. Your ability, though, as a person to not discard your wants because of what the world offers, is an acknowledgement of the limits of the world. It is a saying “yes” to the “no” rather than saying, “no, are right, I should say no and I shouldn’t want what I want.” Your integrity is your full ability to say, “yes,” to yourself.

Deeply accepting that we can’t always get what we want, while not abandoning our wants for inadequate substitutions, is the sandy footing of our self-worth, our own integrity, and our capacity to love each other and ourselves.

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 saying “yes” to “no”

On wanting to help

There is a certain humbling and awakening moment when, as an adult, one comes in contact with one’s childhood list of wants and dreams. I had this very moment when I saw a handwritten list of what Christmas presents I would like as a 9 year old boy. All of them were painfully idealistic. All of them were about what I thought was best.

This list, this very mirror into my childhood, led me to think about the idea of helping and how the identity of the person that helps is shaped and shapes the way that one helps. That’s my abstraction of this experience, for in actuality, it reminded me of my own journey into understanding how to help others. For now, I won’t write in the abstract, even though I thought more about the impersonal dimensions of identity and helping. I would like to share what I saw when I looked at that mirror.

As a child I remember being told to ask for help, and that little boys should always ask of others if they need help. A part of me knew early on that helping, for a boy, wasn’t assumed; helping was what people asked for. This idea became gendered, and it was what I thought all little boys did. I didn’t question it at the time, because good boys shouldn’t question adults; I wanted to be a good boy. Then when I left my parent’s home, I began my collegiate studies in psychology, and I realized I used the word “good” to describe most everything in my life and by using the word “good” as my descriptive clutch, I described nothing at all.

I built a new working vocabulary in my collegiate studies and in my quest to help others. I learned that describing how to help others requires an acknowledgment of problems, a naming of symptoms, and following the arc of another’s life. I began to use more careful words for how the mind does the best that it can—for how the heart can break. I studied the mechanisms of loneliness, the ubiquity of self-medication, the delicate nature of beliefs, and the weight of words. I found authors, poets, theorists, and dusty quotes that reflected back to me experiences and truths that I didn’t have the words for; good boys don’t talk about messy things like other peoples feelings because they just help. I had to let go of being good so I could be more honest with myself, so that I could find happiness for myself, and so that I could actually help people. Then, after a continuous 23 years of formal studies in psychology and 6 years as a practicing psychotherapist, I returned to an image of my own childhood curiosity about the problems in the world and how we as fellow humans can help fix those problems. I saw those aspirations of a good boy, written with perfectionistic cursive, and I felt compassion for how much he would grow and how difficult that growth would be—how much he wanted happiness for himself and for others and how little he knew of it.

As a child I was in love with the idea of helping, but becoming an adult was my own process of unraveling this idea of helping.

As a child I was told to ask others if they needed my help. As an adult I now know otherwise. Now, I know better than to assume that other people have the clarity and wherewithal to fully explain and fix all of their problems; for when we are in pain we often lose our voices. I also know better than to rush in and tell people what their problems are or what would make them happy. This silences. This injures.

I know better than to perpetuate this idea of blaming the one who suffers, of blaming the victim, of focusing on something other that the pain and hurt of another person. This further wounds, distances, and shames another person for their experience.

I know better than to be a good boy. If I am to help another person, if I am ever to make a real difference, I cannot offer some generic or good advice. I have to connect to another person to really help, and in connecting to another person I cannot let my own thoughts, feelings, or identity go unexamined. If I am to help others I can’t reinforce notions of good and bad, as if I am some arbiter livelihood. As if I know how to live your life better than you do.

Wanting to help others, I have learned, is different than helping others. For in wanting to help others we unintentionally limit others and limit ourselves; if I know how to help you before I know you, then I don’t really know you and I don’t really know how to help you. I had to become an adult, and abandon notions of prescribed helping so that I could develop my sense of security, a confidence, and the skills necessary to help others. I had to learn how to be with myself, so that I can be with others.

I look at this list through an analyst’s gaze. I see cognitive dimensions, identity formation, relational sensitivity, foundational schemas, interpersonal concerns, age related stressors, and I see a little blond boy wanting to be good. A fearful little boy that will learn to admit his wrongs. A defiant little boy that gives answers too quickly. A curious little boy one that will learn to sit with questions longer. A hopeful little boy that is not good, but is free to be happy.

-Brady

BradyOn wanting to help

On determination and time

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Success isn’t a matter of talent alone. There are many elements that contribute to success. Even if you’re the most talented person, even if you have real insight, if the right time has not come, you won’t be successful. So you just do your best, and if conditions are sufficient you’ll have success. You can never be sure that you’ll be successful. That’s the reality.” (p. 134)

This week I have been thinking about this quote and the way we think of ourselves doing things that we want, when we want to do them. Determination, ambition, drive, will, agency; these are the internal shapes of action. The external shapes and measures, those beyond our control, are what we try to control, as much as we try to control our own actions. These two things, and how we “make” time and our determination, are interesting parallel thoughts.

The first thought is supported by the second thought. The underlying division and assumption is that although these two are separate, they must be controlled. That we must somehow control ourselves and the external world to accomplish our solitary goals. This thought, that we can make and shape those internal and external forces to achieve what we decide, is a comforting one. I think we would have a broader definition of success if we loosened our ideas of determination and time.

What if we changed our thoughts on the external world and were more allowing than controlling? Not that we made time, or that we fixed our determination, but that we allowed time, ungraspable, to move accordingly. Perhaps our determination would then be to not control, but to be with whatever happens.

I set aside a day to write this blog. My first draft took 20 minutes. I sat with it, reread it a few times in passing while listening to the rain, and 5 hours later decided to publish it. I liked my time with this post, and I consider that, more than this post itself, a success.

BradyOn determination and time

On personal and political violence

After spending a week thinking about and studying for my psychotherapy exams, I realize that I have spent a lot of time thinking about violence as a personal experience while the nation thinks about violence as a display of patriotism; our veterans have sacrificed their lives and taken other lives for the idea of us as a country.

Violence occurs in many dimensions, and in many ways, and oftentimes it is done with simple notions of right and wrong. I realize that pacifism, to many people, is simply the antithesis of patriotic. I realize, too, that pacifism and the opposition to war can be seen as weak, and disrespectful to those that served in the military.

As a therapist, and as a pacifist, I have been called disrespectful and unpatriotic because I oppose war and violence. As a therapist, but also as a person, I strive to understand and humanize those that commit violent actions, which, I have noticed, war supporters do not do so in kind.

Whether a person is a pacifist or pro-war, I think it is important and necessary to think about war and violence in our own lives and the value that is placed on it. Sanitized notions of war as “defending democracy” deny the experience of war, for people are killed and people are killing each other. We like to think of those people that murder, that rape, that torture others as somehow monstrous, evil, and not really human. We also like to think of veterans and service members as heroic, honorable, and valued.

It is difficult, and deeply challenging, to remember that all of us, especially the angry and violent among us, are still human. We are still human when we commit violent acts out of personal pain, or out of patriotism, but it is violent.

Voltaire offered, “Every violent action destroys those small alterations in the features, which sometimes disclose the sentiments of the heart.” (1774, p. 64)

Perhaps it is true, that in wanting to destroy something else, we show our humanity as we deny others of theirs. Those small sentiments of the heart remain, even as we reduce others to victims, to monsters, to others.

-Brady

[reposted blog entry from my prior website]
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 personal and political violence