A FATHER’S DAY FANTASY

hefner and twinsFantasy’s a powerful thing.  It fuels the head trip of desire and compels the illusion of feeling good, even when there are no hands on.   Multi-billion dollar industries – from publishing to prostitution to porn – start here first.   

But how does the brain distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined?   Scientists’ hypotheses point to the involvement of different areas of the brain and the multi-directional processing among them.  

Sexual fantasies are a solo adventure usually leading to release through orgasm.  For some the mind’s eye is enough to induce a significant physical event like orgasm.  Actual visual stimulation is so powerful that doctors’ offices getting sperm samples provide men with sexually explicit magazines as a way for patients to get it up and over with.   Humans are not alone:  Species that are down the evolutionary ladder from us also purposely seek out ways to feel good “down there”.  Elephants rub, monkeys twiddle away the hours masturbating, and male dogs lust after people’s legs.

Sometimes fantasy goes wild and boundaries are blurred, creating a new “reality”.  One example is the substitution of social bonds created by in-person interaction with texting, sexting, and hook-up sites.  We’ve always looked for love in the wrong places but it’s easier now; you don’t have to take a shower to “chat”.  Carried to extreme, fantasy never becomes reality:  the lure of being anyone you choose, often without consequence, is a strong inducement to stay impersonal.

It’s long been known that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, with specific neural pathways acting as highways.  As with anything pleasurable, the possibility of overindulgence, abuse, is possible.  While most brains have stopping, or surfeit, mechanisms, other brains are glitched to go wild.  Especially worrisome is the effect on young brains of unrelenting and ever-more-present societal messages about sex.  Young brains are not yet equipped with that Jiminy-Cricket-battle between the super-ego and the id; with this age group (and for some adults), the id wins almost every time.  Understandably there is concern for young people among parents, educators, and the mental health community.

The mental health and medical communities are concerned about the rise within the broader population of sexually identified mental health diagnoses as well as the rise in sexually transmitted disease.  It’s no longer unusual to know someone with herpes; it’s even been authoritatively predicted that in ten years over half of women and 40% of men will have contracted genital herpes.

Fantasy enables our addiction to the belief that if we can imagine it, we can make it real.  It sounds snappy when Sony says it, but those are dangerous words.  Not only because that’s not always true, but because it shouldn’t always be true..  Powerful as it is, sexual fantasy is just that.  Many of us are still hanging with Freud rather than updating our belief that it’s abnormal not to fantasize when bringing about orgasm. 

In praise of sexual fantasy: 

  • Leads to sexual activity, conjoint or solo, and that’s a good thing;

  • By inducing orgasm the body rids itself of stale sperm, an evolutionary advantage;

  • Orgasm reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, counts as exercise, lowers heart attack risk, lessens pain;

  • Can infuse a dulled relationship with newness;

  • Takes us on a journey we probably otherwise wouldn’t be capable of;

  • Stimulates creative thinking;

  • Enables us to practice social skills;

  • Offers an escape from criticism that may induce self-consciousness or an inability to function sexually;

  • Makes us feel good about ourselves, powerful, potent, and desirable;

  • Enhances relationship;

  • Mostly, sexual fantasy Is fun.

Sex is the adult version of play and fantasy is our way of looking forward to playing.  As thinking beings we need fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination as a pathway to our best self.  Fantasy is a pleasure in itself. 

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability or illness for whom sexuality is often a significant issue.  It’s probable that childhood exposure to an overly enthusiastic dog is the reason she’s a cat person.  Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  With their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, she and her husband David live in Colorado Springs where she maintains a private practice and where she and David co-instruct Couple Communication Workshops.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard, LLC

50 YEARS LATER: IS MARRIAGE A WEAPON IN THE WAR ON POVERTY?

waronpovertyfail

If nothing else, after 50 years fighting poverty, one thing’s clear:  America hasn’t found the right WMD.

Poverty’s still the winner.

Among the most ill-advised social programs developed to counteract the effects of single parenthood on women is one that promoted marriage as an effective weapon.   While it’s true that a healthy, stable marriage between two committed people helps in the battle against hopelessness and helplessness, there may be a population not committed to marriage in the first place.   

Whoever conceptualized that encouraging the chronically ill-prepared to otherwise marry was delusional at best; a bureaucratic butt-kisser at worst.

What were they thinking?

Not in doubt is that solid relationships can be beacons, gateways to education, employment, mental and physical health.  The kicker is that such relationships can’t just be imagined, wished for, or expected without knowing how solid relationship works and passing it on, for at least 5 generations that adopt healthy marital functioning.

Marriage, itself, is a complicated construct that, in the hard sense, pre-exists poverty.  Lack of knowledge is a set-up to failure to anything (imagine wiring a house without knowledge of electricity), especially regarding something as profoundly complicated as building a better relationship.  Put bluntly, how can anyone expect that partners raised in dysfunctional families would, by dint only of wanting to, create a functional one?  That marriage is imbued with such magical powers that, by its very existence, an intricate human condition is untangled?  Or that the people who inhabit those relationships remain, generation after generation, committed to their marriages?

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

Children learn what they see.  Further, children seek more than anything to belong and to be loved.  When the cost of having that is withstanding an environment that is counter to family/relationship health — e.g. abusive, withdrawing, uncommitted, adulterous, enabling, permissive, angry, addicted or violent – children often choose unhealthy over healthy.  Immature brains learn that this is what marriage and family looks like.   Even people who strongly react against their upbringing stand the risk of riding the pendulum to the other extreme, becoming overly compliant, accommodating, permissive, rigid, pious, rule-bound.

The knottiness of relationship is that each of us brings a perspective on these experiences that are often different from our partner’s. Often explosive, this confluence paves the way for increasingly unhealthy negative behaviors for each partner as well as the relationship.

Marital success is promoted when partners participate in learning relationship skills.  Partial participation, which seems the rule, doesn’t count; it’s like being “sort of” dead.  Besides, when a parent is struggling to provide the basics of life, little, if any, focus is given to the hard work needed to sustain a healthy union during formal couples education, let alone past its end.

Abraham Maslow put it elegantly when describing what needs to be in place before someone can even minimally “become”.   The condition of being poor, pregnant and female plays out on a stage of basic needs where relationship improvement is trumped by paying the rent.  In the same way, one wonders if self-esteem can be extrinsically motivated in generations raised dysfunctionally.

Poverty in America is generations-old; institutionalized; a mind-set.  It would stand to reason that any upward movement on the psychosocioeconomic ladder would also be a lengthy process.  A multidimensional process.  And a difficult one.   As we see development of the New Poor, Americans’ marital behavior will be interesting to track.  Will there be a relinquishment of the values that inspire healthy relationship?  Will difficulty bind people closer together?  And what will happen to the trillions of dollars spent on social welfare programs that, fifty years out, have been unsuccessful in eliminating poverty?

That social success in other countries is not surprising given the unique social structure and size of the United States.  While a nation as small as Finland, for example, may be socialistic success in reducing the strife of single parenthood, Finland is not the United States. Not in vastness of size, diversity, political structure, and multiculturalism.  Even in the best of situations, marriage is no less multidimensional or difficult; with behavioral and attitudinal improvement also measured in generations.

While I offer no resolution to the multiple dimensions encompassing poverty (my magic wand is broken) better minds than mine have tried and failed.

I do know that a uni-dimensional solution to single mothers’ poverty through marriage insults the problem and ignores the complexity of the fix itself.

For more insights, read Julie Baumgardner’s response to the Council on Contemporary Marriages position on this subject.  Ms. Baumgardner is the Chair of the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Colorado.  Over almost two decades, she has seen low percentages of middle-class couples who have engaged in relationship education continue to apply what they learn.  She calls the ones who have, like Adam and Leslie, “Super Stars” and their existence is cause for a smile every day.  For almost 30 years, Kathe and her husband, David, have been committed to each other and to their marriage.  As Jethro Tull once said, nothing is easy.  Read more about their programs for couples at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.
 
©2014, Being Heard, LLC

THE RORSCHACH WENCH.

the-aestate-color-rorschach-inkblot-ink-blot-green-acid-art-print-painting

I keep a book in my office and if I had a coffee table, it would be on it.

It’s red, with a coffee spill down the front that’s dried into a Rorschach-kind of thing.  Nifty for it to be in a therapist’s office.

Inside, dozens of clients have written their “should’s”.

It’s not instructive to describe what they said; more than likely, their self-flagellations are the same as  yours.  What catches the new subscribers is how similar their self-flagellations are.  Put another way, there’s nothing special in their dysfunctional thinking.

Back when I was exploring how should’s get perpetuated, I was stunned and amazed to find myself described in the exact words I’d always used in describing my neuroses (notice I used the plural).  Admittedly, there was disappointment in seeing myself laid out like some common Rorschach wench.   I suspect that others, too, hold their depression, anxiety, mania, whatever, as a sort of badge of differentiation from others.

For others, as it was for me, depression is powerful; it was the coin of my realm and the way I bought into the realm I inhabited growing up.  Depression can get attention, especially when nothing else seems to.  That can be true in a  marriage where one partner exists with an invisible disability.   And just like for the kid who acts out, it’s attention of some kind, even if it bears a high price.

Being a therapist, consequently, has been double-edged: one edge cuts through the dysfunctional thinking, the should’s, the irrespective unfairnesses; while the other is sad to see those defenses so cut down.  What I do in my office forces me to be embarrassed at my own mental laziness.  Being depressed is hard; so is being anxious or manic.

But hey, it’s hard even when you’re not.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She comes by depression naturally as well as artificially and has recently added anxiety, for which she can thank multiple sclerosis.  Petey and Lucy, the two hooligan cats Kathe and David share their lives with, are too annoying to let depression settle too quietly in their home.  Kathe and David get out of the house by teaching partners the communication skills their relationships need.

A PRETTY BIG BUTT

Americans who don't show up in labor force statistics because they didn't keep up a regular job search.  Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Graph: CNNMoney

Americans don’t show up in labor force statistics when they stop searching for a job.  Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011. Graph: CNNMoney

Doing work you’re passionate about has been the imperative for years now.

This, despite the contined high unemployment rate, a rate that doesn’t even reflect people who gave up trying to find work years ago. Ironically, they’re called the “invisible unemployed” and there’s about 86 million of them.  Like the “invisibly disabled”, both are a large part of our society where the “invisible” part suggests monkeys with hands over their eyes.

That we’re supposed to be finding passion through work might explain why the U.S. birth rate in 2012 declined for the 5th year in a row.

If you’re tired, though, or queasy, or breathing with difficulty, passion may be easier to define than it might be to find.  Passion may be found in small measures.  It’s simple:  sleep, a settled body, breath.

Being invisibly unemployed or invisibly disabled are both shameful ways of being.  Many in the mainstream believe there’s nothing wrong that getting off their collective lazy asses wouldn’t fix.   That’s a pretty big butt.

Being marginalized for any reason wreaks havoc with the central core of us and not surprisingly with relationship – marital, friend network, family.

For the people marginalized in this way, hunting down passion is a luxury.  Suggesting there’s a choice about it is lofty, naive, and exclusionary.

However.

Invisible or not, it’s a mental health responsibility for each of us to somewhere find joy, pleasure, peace, passion or whatever you want to call it.  To take charge of being part of humanity; to assert to yourself your right to be.  That might or might not be through volunteer or paid employment, marriage or relationship, or the family/friend network.

Kathe Skinner is married to one of the “invisible unemployed”; she herself is (sometimes) “invisbly disabled” by multiple sclerosis.  She’s a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach on Colorado’s Front Range.  More about the two of them at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

WANNA BE HEALTHIER? EAT DINNER TOGETHER AS A FAMILY.

The family that eats together grows healthier together.

The family that eats together grows healthier together.

Overwhelmingly, the percentage of people I see in my psychotherapy practice don’t sit down together as a family at dinnertime. Could this be an indicator of family and personal health and well-being?  In a word, “yes”.

When parental schedules revolve around their children’s, the result is that every weeknight and most weekends are taken up with a child’s activities. Not only doesn’t the family eat together, they may rarely be together at all. Even without the interference of outside activities, many parents automatically model what they’ve experienced. Children may be on their own while both parents are working. At day’s end, adults may be too mentally and physically fried to put a dinner on the table. Everyone is on their own: a bowl of cereal in front of the computer or the t.v.; a salad consumed standing at the kitchen counter; stopping for a burger on the way home. For whatever reason, parents and children go different ways.

The family is split apart.

Dissatisfaction between partners is often de-escalated by focusing on children, on whose shoulders it falls to “save” the family, become the family’s “good” definition. As mini-adults, success where parents have failed has everything revolving around these children.  This is enormous pressure for a child, especially when the family doesn’t know how to cope when a child falls short of expectations.

And so it goes: Children who grow to be self-absorbed and entitled; over-anxious because of innate inabilities that don’t match expectations; parents who don’t spend time together, weakening their relationship and modeling how couplehood looks; spending only “family time” together, thus negating the separate roles of each family member must play.

Perhaps saddest of all, families without knowledge and understanding of who they are in the grand scheme of connection and continuity to their own Family History. As each individual of a family grows, so does the family grow. Family is a separate entity as much as it’s an entity made up of its parts. It’s where we learn who we are and find comfort when that’s hard to figure out. Where we can heal and repair. And where we can learn healthy ways of being “part of”.

Metaphorically and really, health begins here, at the family’s table at dinnertime.

Except for sitting at the dinner table alone until her plate was clean of beans, Kathe Skinner’s memories of dinnertime with family and friends are fond ones.  The experience continues in the homes of Kathe and husband David and their families.  Their two cats, Petey and Lucy, have opted out of people food and don’t join them for meals.  Kathe is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in couples, especially those experiencing invisible disabilities.

BEING INTENTIONAL: HOW DID I GET HERE?

erasing brainThe autopilot in us keeps us so far from making choices that our lives go by like getting to work — can’t even remember how we got there.

I tell myself that if life wasn’t so full and whirling I’d be more of a participant instead of bystanding   But getting in “the flow” isn’t singular and it isn’t the same for each of us.  While I suspect that lots of us get caught in a fast flow, I don’t know how many of us feel overwhelmed by it.  Nor do I know how many of us realize how many different “flows” are there for us.

For me, with the cognitive sequelae of multiple sclerosis (and for other people whose chronic illness or hidden disability does the same to them — chemo brain comes to mind) what I remember and what I miss, is the ability to click it out, project after project, day after day, for years.  I stayed on top of things, moved and shook my world.   And I felt I created my world, all I was really doing was joining someone else’s flow.  Nevertheless, by America’s professional and monetary standards I counted myself a success.

Today, I fail to take into account how much life has changed in the years since I moved and shook my world.  Looking back, technology hasn’t been my friend.  Today I’m outsmarted by phones and made (too) aware of bad hair days because of someone’s visual access to me.  Moreover, being lost in the internet is akin to being down the rabbit hole, where time is immaterial or at least irrespective of my reality.

Like a merry-go-round that some bigger kid has pushes faster and faster, I’m dizzy from the motion and tired from hanging on so tight.

Not meaning to be dramatic or negative, let me be both:  if I was somebody else biting into the pickle I’m in, I’d spit it out.

So what does this have to do with being intentional?  Simple.  We don’t have to stuff the whole pickle into our mouths at once.  Nor do we have to eat the whole thing.  Part of the lack of intentionality is being black or white, all or nothing, impulsive.  Choice is instinctively exercised by most (all?) organisms as a way of preservation.  That my cat won’t approach the blow-dryer unless she first makes sure it’s dead and can’t hurt her is demonstration of intentionality.   How odd, then, that multiple times a day the hair dryer beats up the most evolved organism on the planet.

Turning on the computer doesn’t mean I’ll sit in front of it for 12 hours; I make that choice.   Choosing how to live those quickening days needs to be as intentional as that.   Thought-full, not automatic.   Damnable that choosing to get out of the fast flow is so difficult to do.

Ultimately, that final final choice isn’t one we’re allowed to make.

k-cropped-4x6Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach, Certified Relationship Specialist whose professional strength is working with couples affected by hidden, or invisible, disability in Colorado where she conducts communication workshops for couples, pre-married’s, the invisibly disabled, and the over 50 crowd.  Kathe enjoys collaborating with other professionals in order to reach more relationships affected by hidden disability.  She sits on the Executive Board of the Invisible Disabilities Association, is a regular contributor to Disability.gov., and is an ardent-and-natural-teacher-without-a-classroom.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 30 years.  More about Kathe at www.BeingHeardNow.com.Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family therapist, and Relationship Coach. Suddenly, she finds herself in the midst of a confluence of “flows”

How Come It’s “We’re Pregnant” But It’s Not “We’re Disabled”?

I don’t know when it became fashionable to identify pregnancy as an adventure à deux.  It always seemed lopsided that pregnancy excluded men from throwing up, having swollen ankles and shrewish moods.  I’m not even talking about all those forever changes like stretch marks, a bigger butt, and wider hips.  With the possibility of gestational diabetes, postpartum depression, or miscarriage, the adventure becomes a challenge, albeit one that affects the relationship although it is physically experienced only by the woman.

Not to make it one-sided, men’s experiences are extraordinary, too, and may include being the target of a woman’s whacky moods or being the late-night junk food scrounger.  For guys, it hits that the two of you are now a family, with all the attendant expectations to be the one who forevermore protects and provides.

Without a doubt there are many, many women for whom pregnancy is a delightful experience. The glowing, the growing, and giving life is an experience like no other.  Pregnant women and moms belong to an exclusive club that has unbend-able  membership rules.  So even if it was the two of you being pregnant, only one of you, in the strictest sense, is a mom.

It’s the same when a woman is disabled or chronically ill.  Only one of you is impaired even while both of you — your relationship — can be impaired.   Having an invisible disability can be the worst of all.

Our society looks for proof; needs to name it; needs to touch it or otherwise experience its reality.  You can’t be “a little bit pregnant”; you either are or you’re not.  Pee on a stick and you prove it.  With invisible disabilities, there’s no pee test.  For some people, taking it on faith is harder than believing that what isn’t seen is true.  For example, not being able to prove the existence of god doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist.  Obviously, it’s the emotion surrounding belief that counts; to disbelieve or doubt a person’s physical or emotional perceptions is tantamount to discrediting someone’s very existence.  The truth of it is immaterial, while the emotion surrounding such thoughts is what counts.  The thoughts may even be rooted in jealousy of a sort – “What, so you get a break but I don’t?”  “Buck up, you’re just being lazy.”  “I worked all day but I still have to make dinner and do the laundry and get the kids to bed before I can sit down and catch my breath and where are you? in bed.”

Quantification when invisible disability is present requires a different yardstick but most of all it requires belief, support, and compassion.

Adding a stress load to any system that is already compromised results in a predictable, and usually disastrous, outcome (think of how a building with cracks in the foundation responds to an earthquake).  The same thing happens when an already dysfunctional body system is unable to respond well when stressors are piled on.  Such stressors may include walking through a mall or having relationship difficulties.

“We’re pregnant” or “we’re disabled” is an implicit bonding between partners.  Life-changing events happen from which there is no return.  Legal sanctions apply in both situations:  the 20% of women, nationwide, who are disabled are entitled to lifetime support; children until they reach the age of majority.  Society doesn’t seem to have recognized that the “we” of marriage with children and the “we” of disability in a relationship are the same thing.

To say “we’re disabled” says that both partners are in it together, that there is emotional and physical support of the partner who is less capacitated. Pregnancy usually involves the active participation of both partners while acquiring disability isn’t chosen by either partner.  Parenthood never ends, just as disability does not; a major difference is in the expected trajectory – that parenting gets more pleasurable once the nest is empty, while disability often does the opposite.  Disability is different in that there is no consent, no pre-planning, and certainly no enjoyment in acquiring the condition.

Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach in private practice.   Specializing in relationships, especially those with invisible disability in the mix, she offers both in-person and web-based programs for couples.  See http://www.BeingHeardNow.com to find the right program for you!

©Kathe Skinner, 2012