On true love

After writing an entry on the idea of tough love, I found myself also thinking of its close cousin: the idea of true love. Having counseled many couples, researching relational dynamics, scratching my way through novels, and watching more than a handful of mild relationships on television, I find the idea of true love to be a very disturbing idea that is presented all too simplistically. Part of the disturbing nature of the idea of true love comes from the magnitude of the idea itself and its own frightful measure.

True love is oftentimes represented in epic literary and cinematic relationships: the mythic Orpheus & Eurydice, the classic Romeo & Juliet, and even the contemporary Bella & Edward. Each of these examples may be held as a paragon of true love, for each represents that idealized and iconic love story between two people, against all odds, finding true love. To stay with the above image for a moment before getting into its measure, it is careful to note that these love stories are romantic pairings within the same economic class, racial background, and heterosexual makeup. I bring up this point, not to extol these similarities as the fundamental character of true love pairings, but to note that there is a similar coloring, richness, and balance in these images that many people also herald as one measure of right and true love.

There are also some glaring relational and psychological problems in each of these pairings. The problems themselves underscore the meaning of true love: how far we are willing to travel in our own personal hell to have love; how worthless life is without love; how much abuse we are willing to endure to keep true love. In many ways, the problematic dynamics of the three above relationships, and that they represent true love, confers the idea that some form of abuse, whether from another person or from one’s self, is a necessary element in true love. This is what disturbs me. What frightens me is how this idea is accepted.

The hurtful, harmful, and abusive elements of true love are accepted, celebrated even, under the rationale that love must be tested for it to be true.

I believe that many people want true love, and for them, love must be proved. The greatest proof, the ultimate test of true love, then, is giving or sacrificing one’s life for another person. I will not get into the theological nor philosophical dimensions of this understanding of love, but there are those dimensions when we talk about love, sacrifice, and having an undisputed test of being loved. On the psychological level, death becomes the only definitive measurement of true love, because that love supposedly will go on until death parts you from your beloved, and because your life is supposedly meaningless without this true love. There is no other measure, then, no other test, which truly proves the existence of love. Dying for your loved one appears to be the truest, ultimate, irrevocable, and final act of true love.

There’s more to true love than its definition. Wanting true love also means branding all other loves as less meaningful, as less honest, or as wrong when they fail the test. For true love to exist above all others, then all other relationships must be lacking: Orpheus would not go to hell for anyone, Romeo would not have killed himself over the thought of losing someone else, and Bella wouldn’t give up her life to have any boyfriend. This exclusive aspect of true love, perhaps, has the widest psychological impact of all. Truly loving more than one person isn’t true love, because with true love one person is everything, and only one person is worth your life. If one person completely satisfies, completely offers security, completely gives purpose and meaning to life, and fulfills every emotional need and want, then nothing else can measure up. Nothing else will ever measure up.

A summer fling that brought a glimmer of abandon but ended come autumn, therefore, isn’t true love. A marriage that ended earnestly or acrimoniously, therefore, isn’t true love. A few dates that were promising and passionate albeit brief, therefore, isn’t true love. A trusted and stalwart life-long friend, for whom romance never blossomed, therefore, isn’t true love. A lover that hasn’t proposed marriage and devoted her or his life to their beloved, therefore isn’t true love. A person that will not die for another, therefore, doesn’t truly love them. These examples are therefore “false” images of love because they do not measure up as true love. They were tested against the standard of true love, and failed.

True love, as it stands, is an exclusive idea, which discredits other definitions of love and other relationships that are not tested. Is it a misunderstanding of love, then, that stokes this idea of true love? I do not think so. I think a cognitive dimension is at work in this desire to test love and measure it. Many people like to be testers, and the ideal of true love is hardened by every failed relationship, every unspectacular kiss, and every relationship that was somewhat less than ideal. Those persons that are searching for the right measure of love, which by extension is searching for true love, keep these score cards. However, I think there is more than cognitive schema at work here, for I think that the idea of true love also arose from a deep desire to reject all failed relationships. Rejecting those failed relationships, and somehow holding onto this idea that it wasn’t really love, that true love still exists out there, untouched by a failed relationship, is a soothing idea for us on those lonely cold nights.

If we allow ourselves permission to abandon this comforting idea of true love, then we allow ourselves the ability to accept and embrace a relationship, whether it ends or not, without a measure or test. We can give ourselves permission to feel what love is there for us, rather than testing it.

I have written this brief note to describe, as much as I can, some of the psychological implications of holding onto the idea of true love, and the lengths that we can go to find a definitive, and somehow right and true measurement of love. We do not have to play this game. We do not have to test or measure love. At heart, I believe we achingly want to know that we are loved, and we have devised a loaded test to prove it.

 

(Originally written on 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 true love

On tough love

After spending a week thinking about love, and thinking about how expressions of love can be twisted or broken, I found myself thinking about the idea of tough love. The term was supposedly coined by Bill Milliken, in his seminal work, “Tough Love.” The appropriately named text, published in 1970, extolled Milliken’s personal, if evangelical, philosophy that love is good and arises from a deftly authoritarian place. This concept of love sits upon the hardened idea that love exists to better others, so that they, themselves, can become good.

This idea of love, and specifically of tough love, galvanizes another maxim: love is always good. This second idea is more commonly thought of in the Disney phrase, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Besides the shaky emotional and relational precepts, as well as the iffy understanding of morality, this combination of toughness and love is reductive of relationships, emotions, and love itself. From my perspective, tough love occurs when we choose to rename the feelings of hate and anger that can occur in our relationships, so that we can self identify as good and loving when acting out of hatred; love, then, remains unsullied and glossy white.

The idea that love is always nice and good, has an equally shiny counterpoint: saying you hate someone isn’t love and isn’t nice at all. This idea is a much more insidious idea, because it condones painful actions if they are done in the name of love, and because it buttresses an unrealistic expectation of the goodness of love. The idea of tough love, therefore, includes the follow through notion that when we love another person and yell, punch, wound, or sling invective towards them, then it is from a place of love and not from an actual feeling of hate or anger. If we allowed ourselves the possibility of not thinking in terms of tough love, we would still have to address our hostile actions in relationships. We would be more able, however, to better accept our feelings of hatred and hostility if these two ideas of love, that it is always good, and that it can be tough, weren’t as deeply embedded in our sense of love and relationships. However, I understand the desire to want a clear definition of what is love and how to act, even when that desire seeks to put on another coat of stale white paint to cover any hue of hate, so that love remains starkly good and nice.

I do consider it natural to feel hatred in close relationships. In close relationships emotions will run the gamut, and they will do so because our feelings naturally evolve along with our own sense of self. Forcing only one emotion, or only one kind of emotional expression, reduces a relationship into habitual roles, procedural rules, and a sanitized sham of a thing. We should feel all of our emotions, and feel free to express our emotions to our partners and loved ones if we are ever to accept ourselves as we are or to accept other people as they are. What do we do, then, when we feel hatred in our relationships? I think that the first thing that we can do is admit that we have those feelings, even if to ourselves.

Being honest with oneself about the totality of one’s feelings is a step towards a gentler understanding, and expression of love. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends” (XXII, Bestowing virtue, 3, ¶4). I agree with Nietzsche, that an understanding of emotions requires an ability to be honest with oneself about one’s emotion and to admit to feelings that may not seem acceptable or nice. What is love if not a gentle acceptance of ourselves as we are and others as they are? Moments of love and of hate come up in relationships, but we are, after all, not required to cover-up our emotions with either black or white paint. We can let our feelings breathe, uncoated and gently.

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 tough love

On saying “I love you”

I think I will offer my definition of love to start: love is the natural state of being with another person. What I mean by this is that when we are with other persons and we are in touch with our emotions, we find kindness, compassion, encouragement, trust, gentleness, consideration, and warm regard naturally arising for others. When we are with others, we can verbally communicate our feelings with gentle declarations, emphatic exclamations, and earnest descriptions, but only when we are truly in touch with our own feelings. Verbally saying, “I love you,” and how one says it, is an important matter, because we oftentimes struggle with feeling our feelings and putting our feelings into words, especially our feelings of love.

Our words, in many ways, are the basic means we have to touch others lovingly, for words do touch hearts, and they do break bones.

Our words have weight.

Statements of love can have the weight to move and affect us. This concept was eloquently described by Rollo May (p. 29) when he wrote, “The interrelation of love and will inheres in the fact that both terms describe a person in the process of reaching out, moving toward the world… and opening himself to be affected.” Willfully, consciously, purposefully declaring one’s love has weight, and expressions that do not have weight don’t quite land.

There are many weightless expressions of love. “I love you so much!” “You are such an amazing girlfriend!” “I just, like, love you!” There is primarily weightless gush in these and many similar exclamations. For some people, the gush is enough and the gush matters most of all. I do not deny the experience of some people feeling loved from declarations such as these. I think of it in the same way that a person says, “I love you too”, as a reaction and not a genuine response. A true weighted statement of love is personal, is specific to the other person, is felt, and elevates. “I love you, and I feel that my life is more full for having you by my side.” “You mean the world to me and I feel strong, more capable, and a better person because of you and your love.” “I only want you to know how deeply I love you and how much your happiness matters to me.” These are some weighty statements of love. These statements touch me.

In addition to weightless expressions, there are also lowly statements of love that contain veiled hurt. “I’m lucky to love you, because you are too good for me.” “I don’t know why you love me but I do love you.” “I don’t deserve your love.” These aren’t declarations of love, for the natural way that we are with others isn’t cowering from worthlessness; these are the gush of low self-esteem. These statements can feel like love, perhaps, to people that feel unworthy of love, for whom the weight of love is too much to bear.

Saying, “I love you”, can be weighted and weightless, from a place of equally high regard or from low self-regard, and they can also be too measured. Those measured statements are the rational declarations of love, where love is presumed rather than naturally arising. “You are my wife, of course I love you.” “I love all my children equally.” “How can I hate you? I love you.” “I think I love you.” Rational expressions have an uneven quality to them, as if the brain is telling the heart what to feel. Rational expressions of love reduce relationships into tidy formulas of agreements, rituals, and greeting card scripts, which extol the necessity of saying, “I love you”, to “X” number of times a day. A part of me bristles at the thought of a person promising to say, “I love you”, a certain number of times a day, as if that measure of repetitions holds the appropriate weight of love, rather than the feeling itself.

I’ve spent a while describing the ways that we say, “I love you”, but I would also like to address what happens when we do not say those words. Choosing to say, “I love you”, out of a rational habit, without taking the time to feel and express how another person uniquely touches our heart, doesn’t quite feel loving. Choosing not to say, “I love you”, also walls us off from touching others and being touched. There are seemingly rational reasons that people give for why they refuse to verbalize their feelings. “I don’t want to say it all the time, cause then it will be over used, and it won’t mean anything.” There might also be emotional reasons for not saying, “I love you”, which can include the fear of rejection, the uncertainty of one’s relationship, or present feelings that are thought of as the antitheses of love: fear, worry, anger, or hate. Let me be clear, whatever the reasons for not saying, “I love you”, it is a choice to not verbalize one’s feelings. It is a choice that has response, which is feeling unloved.

Yes. Most of us carry wounds from former lovers, current friends, and even parents wherein we were somehow told: “I don’t want to be with you”, “You don’t matter to me”, “Go away”, “We are over”, or simply “I don’t love you”. These words wound us because they hurt our sense of being loved and being ourselves: they break our bones, or more metaphorically, our backbones, so that we can’t stand up for ourselves. In being loved by someone else, and having someone accept us and be with us as we are, we are also given a greater capacity to love ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, and to love others. It is commonly thought that to love someone else, you have to love yourself first. I think the reverse is true; to love yourself, someone else has to love you first.

I can keep writing about love, but for now I’ll end with an earnest plea. When we are with others, and we are open to feeling our feelings and open to expressing our feelings, expressions of love naturally arise. When they arise, say them. Saying, “I love you” is a simple way of putting into words that I am with you, you affect me, and we are together. I truly wish that more people would feel it, say it, and put some weight in it.

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 “I love you”

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