Therapy That Works...

Jennifer Lopez Divorce Woes - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Want to watch Dr. Sylvia dish on J Lo's Divorce on CBS? Click here.

Friday’s shocking announcement by Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony announcing their decision to divorce left many of us confused. While the world witnessed their affection and devotion onstage, there was obviously a very different story behind closed doors.

What happened to this great couple?

This divorce is unfortunately very typical for many couples that are wildly successful. It is very hard to remain married in the glare of celebrity since you acquire power by being incredibly self-interested. Being married requires an entirely different way of relating to your significant other. You have to learn to share resources—time, decision making etc. Thinking as a unit rather than as a single person is difficult for all of us after marriage but is especially hard for people who have a lot of power. They are used to getting their way and often want to dominate in the relationship.

The other issue that is difficult in a marriage like this is fidelity. In a survey of over 1000 people, one research found that the more power you had, irrespective of gender, the more likely you were to cheat. In fact, the most powerful people were 30% more likely to have an affair.

Which raises the question - Is it more difficult for powerful women to remain successfully married than for powerful men?

I don’t think it is a gender issue. I think that the real issue is that a lot of couples don’t know how to have two equally powerful people in the same marriage. Women who have acquired influence and power do not want to be told what to do and how to act. Neither do their husbands. Each partner has an expectation of receiving respect and the same consideration they would give to the other person. However, it doesn’t always go the way they had planned. Powerful men and women are often reluctant to share and they expect their spouse to give in on the decisions. Essentially, they are usually pretty bossy. They will let the spouse vote but ultimately want to hold the reins of power. That’s when all the trouble starts.

What about the classic cliche of a seven-year itch?

There absolutely is a seven-year itch but it is more likely to begin in the fifth year of marriage. By then, the couple should have figured out how to be married--how to handle money, in-laws, sex etc. If you haven’t figured things out, you’re much more likely to be fighting about it at the five year mark and then divorcing at the seven year mark. Remember that after the birth of the first baby, marital satisfaction drops significantly for 2/3 of the couples. If you never resolve those problems and remain married, after twenty years your marriage will most likely be characterized by a chronic lack of intimacy and closeness that causes the marriage to erode and then end suddenly.

Here are some of the common challenges that powerful personalities face in marriage:

Public Prominence is a Battlefield: Celebrities have a dual relationship with the media. They need the media attention to stay top of mind with the public but they also invite criticism and scrutiny when things are difficult. That is a lot of stress for a marriage.

Spouse's Needs May Compete: Celebrities must be driven by relentless ambition and vision. The "spin" machine can de-stabilize even the best of marriages, requiring the relationship to shift with events. Expecting one another to be emotionally present may be unrealistic, especially with the demands of celebrity. The challenge is to become accustomed to "less" spouse at times while maximizing the time you are together.

Strong Opinions and Big Personalities: Being a celebrity demands a big personality that often comes with strong opinions, high expectations of others, and a lack of compromise and patience. People of influence are often stubborn and they want their way. When both partners are celebrities, they are bound to clash.

Here's what everyone can learn from J Lo's example:

Style of Marriage: When you get married, it is important to be clear about the style of marriage you want. A traditional marriage that involves an automatic imbalance of power (usually the man is more powerful) is often preferred. However, when you have a female who is very powerful and influential in her own right may necessitate the couple having more of a peer marriage in which power is shared and negotiated.

Are You Willing to Fight for the Relationship? The bottom line is to ask yourself how willing you are to fight for the relationship. Relationships can be pulled back from the edge if both partners are willing to push through. However, it requires a total overhaul of marital expectations and a willingness to sacrifice your own agenda for the sake of the relationship at times.

Women & Divorce Trauma - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss this on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Kennedy heir and award winning journalist, Maria Shriver’s headline breaking divorce from former California governor and megastar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has dominated the summer celebrity news. The pending divorce settlement will leave Maria with millions of dollars but it may also leave some psychological trauma.

So, how does infidelity trauma affect most women?

Most of the time it is devastating and there are few resources for women to turn to that explain what they are going through.

Marital Crime: Infidelity is a marital “crime” and systematic concealment and falsification characterizes every affair. If you don’t lie, you can’t cheat. When you are the recipient of lying and infidelity, you have to go back and rewrite all of your past and present experiences. You begin to doubt your own perceptions since reality has now been redefined by these discoveries.

Trauma is Lack of Power: Trauma is a condition of powerlessness and when it is inflicted within a marriage, it is especially devastating psychologically for women. Trauma is magnified exponentially when it inflicted by the husband since that is supposed to be the one person she can count on.

Life Rearranged: Infidelity “rearranges” life for the woman who has been betrayed. When you are reeling from infidelity, previous formulas about life no longer apply. Trust is shot, the past and present are redefined and the future is an uncertain road that stretches on into oblivion. Your husband becomes someone “you no longer know.”

Isolated and Alone: Infidelity trauma is especially difficult especially when a celebrity is involved. The couple usually decides to withdraw into silence, as the affair is played out on the public stage.

But do all women endure long standing trauma after infidelity?

I think that most women go through some phase of trauma as they regroup and regain their emotional strength. Because women identify so fully with their relationships, their entire life is fundamentally affected. Happily, most women do move past it and are wiser for it. However, they have to be mindful of how damaging infidelity is on their self-confidence and sense of order and control in the world.

Here are the can make infidelity and divorce trauma better or worse:

There is a simple and direct correlation between the severity of the trauma and the effect on the woman.

  • How Long the Affair Lasted
  • The Number of People Involved (number of partners or the birth of a child as in this case)
  • Who was Involved (Best Friends versus Strangers)
  • The Level of Falsification and Concealment
  • How Long It Took to Discover - Affairs that involve incremental disclosure are much harder to handle. Such disclosures affect the basic feelings of control, safety and predictability in the offended woman. Overwhelming anxiety increases as the progressive discoveries are made.

Without a doubt, the betrayed woman is more likely to ultimately leave the marriage.

According to the research, Maria leaving Arnold is very predictable. A profound discontent seems to disrupt her faith and allegiance to her husband and over time, she may become disillusioned. Although the woman may often agree to stay in the marriage initially, she usually does not get the right treatment for trauma which sets her up to gradually detach from the marriage. However, sometimes the betrayal is so hurtful, as in this case, that the woman cannot stay in a marriage she now finds intolerable. Remember, that the erosion of affection is a progression, not an event, and many people—including the spouse who has cheated-- are shocked when the betrayed woman finally calls it quits.

Here's what women can do to cope with betrayal in their relationships:

First of all, we need to be compassionate with ourselves. Women are incredibly compassionate with others but often are hard on them. We often do not acknowledge our pain and do not process where we are. Infidelity is something that we survive but that we do not ignore.

Here are the three steps:

Kinder To Ourselves: Stop beating ourselves up all the time but don’t ignore the pain. Recognize that being sad and confused is a normal part of recovery and that things will get better. This doesn’t last forever.

Recognizing our common humanity with other women

Mindfulness: focusing on the blessings we have right now and not indulging in catastrophic views of the future.

We need to remember that after trauma there is always the potential of growth. In fact a substantial number of women show depression and anxiety but they move on and become wiser and better people. They have more self-confidence, are more aware of their personal strengths and they are more insightful with others.

For More Information:

"Flourish" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

"Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Herman M.D.

"Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

The Death of Osama bin Laden - By Chris Gearing

Monday, May 02, 2011

Shortly before midnight last night, President Obama informed the nation that Osama bin Laden had been killed after a ten-year manhunt. Finally, a fatal blow had been dealt against Al Qaeda and terrorist organizations around the world. So what do these historic events mean for Americans going forward?

So, why is the death of Osama Bin Laden so significant to so many Americans?

Osama Bin Laden inflicted the greatest crime against this country in our history. But he also inflicted one of the greatest traumas in our history. There are several reasons why these atrocities have had such a long lasting and profound effect:

Nothing We Could Do: Traumatic reactions occur when actions don’t help—there was nothing we could do immediately to change the events. The lack of predictability was particularly damaging—what had we missed, why didn’t we see it coming? When you can’t fight back and you cannot escape (the events of 9/11 had already happened), your usual self-defense strategies become overwhelmed and disorganized. That’s when trauma gets a grip on your mind.

Trauma Lasts Longer: Trauma makes you feel powerless. However, when you have traumatic events that occur without warning, involve violent death and destruction and are engineered by a person who deliberately sets out to harm you, the trauma is more intense and more long lasting.

Intense Anxiety: If we cannot resolve the trauma by seeing justice done immediately, the body begins to encode the trauma. Physiological arousal increases—we are more anxious, on edge and agitated. Traumatized people feel like their nervous systems are still connected to the traumatic events.

Disconnection in Our Minds: Our minds begin to encode it too. We are affected in every area of our minds—our emotions, our thinking and our memory. Worst of all, trauma divides our mind—we feel but we can’t remember everything or we remember everything but we don’t have any emotions.

What would have happened to our country if Bin Laden had not been brought to justice?

He would have become more powerful in our own minds since he did not have to answer for his crimes. People who have been victimized need to see their victimizer held accountable. Without that, the perpetrator assumes an unfair advantage in our minds—he did the crime and got away with it. This can be extremely hard for everyone since we want to see our country as a just country with but one that insists that criminals face real consequences. His apprehension last night helped everyone breathe a huge sigh of relief and it will be very healing for the country.

Now, how will these events speed up the healing from the trauma from 9/11?

There are three broad stages or recovery that apply to both us as individuals and to the country as a whole:

New Sense of Safety: Seeing Bin Laden brought to justice gives all of us an incredible sense of safety and closure. This is a game changer because we can now begin to feel that our security is at least, somewhat in place again. We no longer have to think of this particular terrorist as free and plotting against us. We can embrace a feeling of renewed control and predictability.

Narrative of What Happened: Trauma recovery always involves coming to terms with the events, our part in them and creating a new outcome to those events.

Emergence as Victorious: Many Americans will feel safer now since we sent a clear message that terrorists will see justice, even if it takes us a decade to catch them. This is the final stage of trauma recovery—one of victory.

So here's the take away from yesterday's events:

Perseverance Leads to Achievement: This was a long battle to find a single man and sends a clear message to the Taliban. Our country was built by people who went the distance to achieve the goal and did not stop even if there was a setback. We persevered in the face of impossible odds and we did not back down. We hunted him down until we caught him. These events are a demonstration of pushing through until you win. Current generations that emphasize feeling good at the expense of achievement and hard work need to remember these core American values.

Seeking Justice: Most of all, Americans need to remember that our country seeks justice, even if it takes us a decade to achieve it. Once again, our military showed us why we are the best country in the world.

Princess Diane & Kate Middleton - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brides and Mother-In-Law Blues

Inevitably the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton cause many of us to remember Princess Diana and her fairytale wedding thirty years ago. As the wedding countdown continues, the press has been full of comparisons between the two women leaving many of us to wonder if we would want to be compared to our own mother in law, especially at our wedding?

First of all, why do we all think about Princess Diana’s memory at her son’s wedding?

We are still in love with the princess who was so much like us-- rejected, misunderstood, and betrayed by her husband and his lover. We identified with her failures as much as with her successes. We also still have enormous compassion for the sons she left behind so William’s big day is somewhat healing for us all—we like to think of him as comfortably partnered. But there are several reasons why Kate will be compared to Diana:

Both Larger than Life: Both women will have married the heir apparent to the British throne. We all love meteoric rises and we will enjoy seeing their lives transform from routine to royal.

Both are Open and Humble: Both of these women share an uncommon friendliness despite their great stations in life. They both enchant us in by their humble demeanors.

Dreams Versus Real Life: Diana enthralled the world with her dramatic life and we journeyed with her from Cinderella dreams to the stunning reality of betrayal and divorce. We don’t want Kate to suffer a similar fate so we are studying her similarities and dissimilarities with her mother in law to reassure ourselves.

How will Diana’s legacy impact the marriage?

Prince William has already been quoted as saying that “no one is trying to fill my mother’s shoes.” He will, no doubt, be highly protective of Kate since he does not want her to be pursued and hunted by the media like Diana was. This is ultimately a chance for William to do what he could not do for his mother—protect her. Diana’s example has also made this couple much more careful in committing since they know that the spotlight can be tough on a marriage. Diana’s legacy will make them much more likely to move as a team and to put their marriage first before their royal positions.

So for the rest of us, why are mother in laws often so challenging for daughter in laws?

There are several reasons:

Confused About Roles: There can be natural tension because these two women have to share the same man. Many mothers are reluctant to move from being the top female in his life to a secondary position. On the other hand, many women enter the marriage demanding that they “own” their husband and the mother in law is seen as interference.

Mom is Right: Research shows that men are often reluctant to “buck” their mothers even if their wife demands it. They see the wife as stronger and younger and the one who must make concessions to the older woman.

Empathy is Needed: Men have more difficulty talking about emotional matters than women. The woman initiates eighty five percent of relationship- focused conversations. A man becomes overwhelmed by conflict faster and he shuts down to prevent his discomfort from rising. When his mother is the issue, this habit on his part can be especially frustrating since he shuts down and disappears into silence.

Closed to Reassessment: Many men refuse to look at things from their wives’ perspective. “She didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re too sensitive” are common excuses. Sometimes mother in laws do mean exactly what their daughter in law thinks they mean. On the other hand, some women can be oversensitive and inaccurate in how they’re interpreting their mother in law. Their husband needs to at least hear her out and help her reach a solution in her own mind.

Here's how you can improve your relationship with your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law today:

For Mothers:

Respect her relationship with your son, don’t criticize her parenting even if you disagree, don’t criticize your grandchildren to her, and please do not compete with her mother. Keep your boundaries and focus on your grandchildren—they are your ultimate legacy!

For Wives:

Your mother in law is your husband’s mother and holds a sacred place forever in his life. Hold your boundaries with grace. Lose that idealism about how things should be and focus on making things better as they are. Don’t compete with her, please try to diffuse conflict by being overly gracious and don’t cut him off from his family. Your children will suffer and you will regret that loss.

Remember that you will be a mother in law someday and that you are teaching your children how to navigate differences in a family. Be kind because we always reap what we sow!

Celebrity Addicts - By Chris Gearing

Friday, March 25, 2011

Charlie Sheen & Addiction - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Charlie Sheen and Addiction - By Chris Gearing

Friday, February 25, 2011

With Charlie Sheen’s latest public tantrum denouncing the writer and creator of his top rated show, Two and a Half Men, CBS has canceled the show for the rest of the season. With a long-standing history of addiction and failed rehabilitation, Sheen seems to be in serious trouble.

So how do you know that someone is at rock bottom?

Sudden Regressions: Chronically addicted people tend to regress suddenly and severely with no warning. Once the addiction switch is flipped, it is incredibly difficult to reverse his emotions and behavior. He has no insight and no judgment. He begins to destroy every area of his life—his job, her relationships and even his health. Addiction hijacks the mind and better judgment.

Addiction Takes Over: Self-destructive behavior is the inevitable and predictable end point of a long and down ward spiral. The addict’s emotional outbursts indicate that his addicted brain has taken over fully since there is no demonstrated ability to censor his words or his behavior. His recklessness and self-destructiveness may well continue.

Psychologists often diagnose two other serious problems that contribute to the addiction illness:

Bipolar Disorder: The leading contender is bipolar illness, which is a type of depression in which the mood becomes elated and then depressed. People can cycle in and out of explosive, grandiose manic episodes and then be flat on their backs with a debilitating depression in the same hour.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: This disorder is often present in the addicted person and remains undiagnosed due to the overwhelming addiction. The individual is arrogant, grandiose, entitled, shameless, vengeful and highly impulsive. Striking out at others even if it results in unfortunate consequences is common when the person becomes enraged or frustrated.

Remember that other unaddressed psychiatric disorders that accompany addictions often sabotage treatment in the end.

Celebrities who are under pressure to perform are especially vulnerable to addictions. Unfortunately, money often insulates people from the accountability that is necessary to overcome a serious addiction. They become more and more entrenched in the addiction because their power allows them to control the treatment. We are seeing this in the tragic examples of Lindsay Lohan and the late Michael Jackson.

We do know that male addicts can function in the workplace for decades without detection. The alcohol or drug problems are concealed carefully. However, when their performance at work is affected, they have crossed a line and surrendered to the addiction.

Separation stresses such as a marital dissolution can impact a fragile personality intensely causing regression and a return to the addiction. Addictions make people very self-centered and they have minimal accountability so the marriage ending feels like an injury or wound they find intolerable. Engaging in the addiction becomes a way to sooth their embarrassment and to escape the pain and agitation.

Remember that the drugs and alcohol have hijacked the mind of the addict and they have minimal abilities to rescue themselves.

Intervene, stay firm, set your boundaries firmly and refuse to participate in the addictive behavior. While it is the hardest thing you will ever do, you have to refuse to accept the addiction as inevitable and unchangeable. Believe in recovery, believe in their ability to fight against this illness and light the way back to health for the addict who is truly lost.

The Tragic Gabrielle Giffords Shooting - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mental Illness is Not an Explanation for Violence

The tragic shootings in Arizona of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords once again highlight the link between mental illness and violence. The suspect Jared Loughner reportedly had shown symptoms for years but was never treated. Many of us automatically think that a psychological disorder will predict irrational or even violent behavior in the future. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Millions of people struggle with mood disorders, eating disorders, addiction issues and a host of other problems and are never violent.

In fact the real danger to your physical safety comes from some one who is using some kind of substance—either alcohol or drugs.

In a 2009 analysis of nearly 20,000 people, researchers reported that an increased risk of violence was associated with drug and alcohol problems, regardless of the presence of any mental disorder such as schizophrenia.

We do know that violence is more common when there is paranoid thinking that convinces the offender that others are against him. He feels persecuted, misunderstood, the victim of wrong doing and badly mistreated. If paranoid thinking becomes psychotic-- meaning that he loses touch with reality--things can get very dangerous. Although, he is systematically capable of planning a murder and execute it at this point, he will have no understanding that his judgment is impaired and that is completely out of touch with reality.

So what are some warning signs for violent behavior?

The prediction of violent crimes include the following:

Violent Language: Words are often our first signs of murderous intent and as we see in this case, the suspect had used plenty of violent language on the Internet and at school. When someone is planning to commit violence, their language has themes related to:

  • Revenge
  • Conspiracy
  • Entitlement
  • Grandiosity and attention seeking

Justification for Murder: When someone is about to commit a violent act they begin to justify their crime at least to themselves if not to others. Not only are they convinced that violence is an acceptable choice, they begin to argue that it is the only choice they can make.

Here are the four steps they move through on their way to violence:

  • They believe that they have justification for the crime.
  • They have no alternatives for the achieving the outcome they want
  • The consequences for their actions are acceptable
  • They have the resources and the abilities necessary to carry out mass murder such as access to guns, bullets and tragically the victim.

Danger Comes with Warnings: I am convinced that danger comes with warnings almost every time. However, odd behavior or even threatening behavior is often explained away or misunderstood as something more innocent. Our tendency is to ignore such threats since we conclude that its either none of our business or the person has no malicious intent.

Now, as this tragedy in Arizona illustrates, we have a responsibility as a society to speak up about people we are concerned about. Our community mental health systems must receive the requisite funding to handle the mental health issues of those who need it most.

Advocate for increased mental health services. This young man who allegedly committed these crimes was obviously in serious trouble yet was never treated. We must fundamentally reexamine our mental health system and mandate the new laws and harness new social resources to save not only the victim’s life, but also the life of those who commit such crimes.

Most of all, we need to make sure that our own intuition trumps our rationalizations. If you see disordered behavior, take it seriously. If you are the victim of threats to your safety, do not disregard this. Violent behaviors are predictable if we increase our awareness, learn the warning signs and act to protect ourselves. Pay attention to what is happening and remember that in most cases, the only person who can save your life is you.

Elizabeth Edwards' Courage and Resilience - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards' Courage and Resilience - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

With the passing of the internationally acclaimed advocate and attorney, Elizabeth Edwards, it is important to consider not only the brave example she set for people worldwide after the infidelity of her husband, former presidential candidate John Edwards but for her lifelong example of psychological resilience she displayed to all of us.

Elizabeth Edwards will long be remembered for her advocacy for national healthcare and for the poor. She was a shrewd strategist, advocate for the less fortunate and outstanding mother to her four children. Perhaps her greatest contribution to this world may ultimately be the extraordinary courage she showed after the multiple traumas she endured.

The loss of her beloved son, Wade at age 16 in a car accident and then the humiliating discovery of her husband’s extensive infidelity were devastating. However, this extraordinary woman showed tremendous self control and class even when her heart was breaking. Elizabeth Edwards epitomized what psychologists call the "resilient personality."

Here are the personality characteristics of the resilient personality:

Challenge: These people show a special strength since they view challenges as opportunities to achieve and even flourish. Their determination to persevere is outdistanced only by their steady focus on achievement and progress.

Control: When they are "hit" with a setback, they focus on what they can control, break down their tasks into manageable goals and ignore everything else. They do not dwell on their own helplessness or ineffectiveness. Adversity is never seen as permanent or insurmountable.

Commitment: They are always committed to a cause greater than themselves. In Mrs. Edwards’ world, her unflagging dedication to the social and emotional welfare of others embodied one of her key strengths. She simply believed in a cause greater than herself. Resilient people strive for excellence because they are convinced that there is a greater meaning in life and their actions will make a significant difference.

Psychologists now know that your achievement in life ultimately depends on how you think about the events in your life.

Your thinking style or how you explain events to yourself is literally the lens through which you view the world. Your thoughts determine your emotions and your behaviors. Facing an unexpected challenge like infidelity, especially in the national spotlight, is a unique situation to encounter. Psychologists report that psychological resiliency is the key ingredient to weathering such losses. It literally may make the difference in whether you pull forward with success or allow the setback to define who you are.

Now we do know that trauma is an inevitable part of life. Up to 80% of people who seek counseling have experienced at least 7-8 distinct traumas in their lifetime. Years of research have revealed that people have four fundamental uses for resilience:

1. To Overcome Adversity: Many of us are from emotionally abusive backgrounds, divorced families or have just suffered the slings and arrows of life in the modern world. We use resilience to create and maintain a positive view of life. Through remaining resilient and optimistic, we escape emotional wounds and focus on creating the adulthood we now choose to experience.

2. Steer Through Daily Hardship: Every life has its ups and downs. If you are resilient, the daily tribulations of life will not interfere with your productivity and well being. In fact, you will view the setback as manageable and surmountable. Having an inability to navigate past daily hardships is where most people get "stuck."

3. Bouncing Back: Most of us encounter a major setback at some point. Depending upon our resilience, we will become helpless and deeply mired in resignation. Bouncing back is a sign of strength and courage.

4. Reaching Out for Good: This use of resiliency is the hallmark of Mrs. Edward’s legacy. As she demonstrated, moving past our own self interest to benefit others is a key sign of psychological resiliency and happiness. At the time of greatest pain, she still championed the welfare of others including writing and teaching about psychological resilience.

People often wonder why some people are so strong in the face of vast suffering and strife and others are not. We do know that some people are simply born with an innate wisdom that cannot be explained by their psychological or genetic background. Intellectual ability only contributes around 20 percent to one's success in life.

We have discovered that emotional intelligence—the ability to accurately identify our emotions and to process them to our advantage-- is really the bottom line in sustaining resilience.

Individuals with more sophisticated social and cognitive skills have better problem solving skills under stress and are better able to understand another person's perspective, even when they are challenged or stressed.

In the end, the life of Elizabeth Edwards reminds us that we all have a choice in the attitude we use to face the world. The loss of her son and the loss of her marriage to infidelity could have overwhelmed the less resilient soul. But her life taught us that we can view setbacks as chances to grow and flourish and to discover our better nature. Choosing to allow our failures to define our lives and to direct our choices was not an option for this magnificent woman. In the end, she demonstrated that wisdom in life involves not only emotional accountability but remaining doggedly hopeful about the future. We are never better than when we remain constant to those values.


Recent Posts


Tags


Archive