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Affairs

Affairs often happen because a long term relationship becomes boring, especially sexually. When in a blooming relationship in the throws of lust and passion the fantasy of who the other person is remains under the surface and this is very exciting. It takes between 6 month to 2 years before the rose coloured glasses come off and “what we see is what we get, warts and all”. It is difficult to keep romance alive in monogamous relationships, years ago I interviewed many male sex experts around the world who said even if they believed in monogamy it did not come easy and they had to work at it. While the female sex experts believed that monogamy was easy once they were in a committed relationship. Perhaps a central part of this behavior is our hormones and brain wiring. Men with high testosterone are visually on the look out for the next mate to procreate with while women’s estrogen is helps them focus on nesting and settling. Interesting research was done showing that when women who were not on the pill were ovulating they were attracted to men with high testosterone, to procreate with. While women who were not ovulating were attracted to men with higher estrogen which is essential in nurturing a family.

I often wonder when a woman has been on the pill and starts a relationship and then goes off it and starts to feels different about her mate whether she would have been attracted to him if they had started dating when she wasn’t on the pill, is it the hormones or lack of them that have fueled the attraction or lack of it ?

Perhaps when a woman chooses a mate she will be conscious or unconscious influence either to be attracted to someone she can have a wild sex life (who is hard wired to have affairs) or who can nurture and raise a family. However this doesn’t take into account why women have affairs.

A workshop I attended run by Dr Marty Klein a sex and relationship specialist from the US, he believes that there are often dynamics at play regarding the desire for intimacy verses the desire for autonomy and power, as well as the desire to sexually experiment which is often difficult in long term relationships. Other factors can also come into play in this scenario are based on the fact that the focus on each other has changed whether it is because of work, family life, or commitments this has meant that the couple have grown apart. Even simple things like nurturing the attraction between them has disappeared. I often sit with clients who discuss how they no longer feel attractive and their partner does not seem to be sexually aware of them.

When infidelity occurs this is a time for the couple to renegotiate their relationship this can take a long time because it is looking at why the affair has occurred and how the couple want to work together to create something different. Emotions of hurt, anger and shame are often there on both sides.

The clients who want to heal and stay together focus on what is needed for them to re-bond and recover. Areas that are not helpful are discussing the details of the affair and punishing the spouse that has had the affair. For the emotionally injured party I suggest focusing on what the couple do have together by developing and expanding this. Also realising that the partner has come back to the relationship because of what they have together. This takes time and the willingness for both people to discuss and accept each others feelings as well as the pain that occurs on both sides.

If either party display behavior of being a victim this can undermine the healing process as it exacerbates resentment and the willingness to move beyond what has happened.

Brain Power

I have read a wonderful book The woman Who Changed Her Brain by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.

It is about the remarkable journey she took to ‘complete’ her brain after being born with neurological defects that effected her comprehension and conceptual understanding. She was able to devise exercises that helped her neurons to fire together and therefore wire together. She now has a school in Toronto Canada helping children & some adults with their neurological functioning. I remember as a child growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia and feeling dumb and stupid compared to my school companions, eventually I was able to accommodate as my reading and math’s skills slowly improved. It came back to me a few years ago while trying to understand statistics because conceptually my brain could never fathom  the twists and turns based on algebraic logic.

I wish that every child who found things difficult to learn could have a school available like the one Barbara Arrow-Smith set up because it would open up a new world of understanding. I know my world would have been very different.

If you want a good book to read that gives you hope for improving mental tasks and activities, this is the one enjoy!

Real Behavioural Change Can Happen

I have had the privilege of meeting Dr Norman Doidge, a Canadian psychiatrist who has greatly influenced the way I work with changing behavioral patterns. His book The Brain That Changes Itself, showed research that supports the belief that behaviour can change through changing our thinking patterns.

Before his book and the exploration of the research I noticed unhappy clients dredging up the past and critically analysing themselves, friends and partners. I wondered how helpful this was in changing their out look because instead of giving themself insight and awareness it simply reinforces their unwanted pattern. I now know that this behaviour simply led to them re-traumatising and reinforcing their neurological pattern.

I see how it plays out with unhappy couples in their communication of criticism and blame. They continually bring up the past, focusing on their spouses misdemeanours. It is interesting that this creates such stress and cortisol release that can even lead  to memory loss.

Couples that want to move forward in their relationship strategise on ways not to bring up the past.  The most important thing is having a 3 to 6 month hiatus, where nothing negative from the past is brought up and discussed. This can enable new brain plasticity to form as the couple focus on positive bonding experiences. The only way I have seen this work if for my clients to take an active role in changing their thoughts before their anger starts to rise.  Initially distracting themselves from their negative thought eg. getting up and making themselves a tea or having a glass of water, think of something pleasant to do, ring a friend etc. This starts to change the pattern while relaxation techniques are the key to reinforce real change. Leaning how to say to yourself “ …. is doing the best they can”,  “ .. was not done on purpose”, “ I am not going to let small things effect me, because I won’t feel the same about this in a week, a month, a year, so how would it feel if I felt like that now ”.

I have watched wonderful results with highly stressed and anxious clients as they became focused on helping themselves by re-train their brain through a different way of thinking. Their commitment over a period of weeks and months lead them to be able to have choices in their communication.

I have used this process many times on myself and remember a few years ago when I was going through a difficult patch, I consciously decided not to focus on my unresolved problem but on what made me happy and fulfilled. The problem did not resolve for many months and yet I was able to find meaning and pleasure in my life, which meant that I could appreciate what I did have rather than what I did not.

Sleep, we all need it!

The conversations in my life with my friends, colleagues and clients seems to end up talking about ‘lack of sleep’. Sleep is such an important repair process both physically and cognitively. I wonder whether Margaret Thatcher’s Alzheimer’s was accelerated by her only having 5 hours sleep a night, when it is recommended that we need 7 – 8 hours.

Research has shown that toxic plaques develop in the brain through sleep deprivation, and that this plaques also builds up around the heart valve that can lead to cardiovascular problems. Also simple issues like weight gain can be caused by not getting enough sleep because insulin is produced in the middle of the night to help digest food.

 Shift work has long been recognised to increase the likelihood of developing cancer because at night the hormone melatonin is released that suppresses tumor development and if you do not sleep during the night hours the body does not produce it.

There are many things that help you get a good nights sleep including spending time in natural light in the morning without sunglasses as the circadian rhythm is able to kick in making the body clock ready for sleep at night.

When I am trying to go to sleep  I say to myself “ if I was going to fall asleep how would my body feel ( heavy and relaxed, so what would that feel like now ) how would the bed feel, how would my pillow, what would it be like if I was able to really enjoy the sensations and expand this ” ? It does work most times as I find my body drifts off to peaceful slumber.

There are some areas that no matter what self relaxation techniques are used sleep is not possible, especially around hormone fluctuations. For many women going through peri-menopause and menopause, sleeplessness is part of the symptoms because of the progesterone fluctuations.

Many times I look at my beautiful sleeping cats and hope that my nights rest will be as easy as theirs seems to be, so wishing everyone a restful sleep tonight.

Mitzvah Therapy

The start of each year gives us all the opportunity to be look at our behaviour and our level of generosity. A workshop I attended years ago had an impact on me because it taught that being generous to others is essential to us being happy and was coined ‘Mitzvah Therapy’.

It is based on being helpful to others and that this inadvertently leads us down a path to become enriched and fulfilled ourselves. It also has the added benefit of  lowering anxiety and depression, as well as improving our over all happiness. I call this ‘being generous of spirit’, just doing things for others out of the goodness of our heart. Even marriages and relationships benefit from this approach with couples reporting they were five times more likely to say the marriage was “very happy”, because of high amounts of generosity.

There is research that believes that this altruism has a foundation in human evolution and is wired into our survival.

Perhaps it would be helpful to imagine the person we have decided to be generous to, is actually a close relative. I do know that the more ‘generous of spirit’ I have become the happier I am as a person. I am interested in other peoples experiences, so please let me know what priority ‘Mitzvah Therapy’ is going to play for you in life?

Safe Sex

In a recent study on internet dating of women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, by Deborah Bateson the Medical Director of Family Planning NSW she found that there has been an increase in Sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). As women go back into the dating arena after years of monogamy it is difficult to renegotiate safe sex practices. I remember decades ago running seminars with females on this issues, they said it took them a while to have the confidence to speak up because it was such an embarrassing experience. It reminded them of their adolescent youth where they preferring to wait for their male counter-part to take the lead and pull out the condom.

Procrastination

As we near the end of 2011 I wonder how many of you made new years resolutions at the beginning of the year and have been able to sustain them ?

I recently read an interview by experts on procrastination, Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

They define procrastination as a lifestyle where an individual leaves everything to the last minute or deals with things after the due date eg. late tax returns & bills. Ferrari & Pychyl  define this as problem of self-regulation in response to authoritative parenting, where it is a way to try to rebel. As a by product they believe that the health of a procrastinators suffers with increase colds, flu and gastrointestinal issues as well as problems with alcohol and substance abuse.

Dr. Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:

  • arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • avoiders who display fear of failure or success, and are overly concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  • decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. They think by not making a decision that it absolves them of responsibility for the outcome of events.

My tips to assist to transform procrastination:

  • Procrastination comes from a habit, so break this by doing the hardest things first.
  • See things as a circle with a start and a completion.
  • Break things up into small areas and just take on and complete, one small thing at a time e.g. clean up a cupboard first rather than pressure yourself to clean up the whole room.
  • You can start by visualising yourself doing what you have been procrastinating about, and finding the task much easier than what you imagined.
  • Mindfulness is very helpful in breaking patterns, because it helps a person to become aware of their self-sabotage and supports them in creating a new awareness around their behaviour.

It works best for me to do the hardest tasks first and then to give myself the reward, rather than the other way around.

Forgiveness & importance of friendship

I am a avid reader of author Alexander McCall Smith’s, he was a Bio-Ethicist and Professor of Legal Medicine. I have found his books not only light and easy to read but invaluable because they are laden with pearls of wisdom which are helpful in everyday life.

There are central themes that his characters grapple with and one issue is forgiveness. If we are able to forgive another we can move forward in our life and not become stuck in fear, anger and blame. Psychologist Bill O’Hanlan tells a lovely story of not staying in our fear focusing on walking through it, rather than allowing us to be overwhelmed. It is this process of walking through and looking at the bigger picture knowing that change is possible at any moment which becomes our choice to how we live our life.

Other areas that I have enjoyed in Alexander McCall Smith’s books is the importance of friendship because it is something to be valued and is an interracial part of how we can give to ourselves and others. His characters take time to stop and listen and I really like this because I know in my experience taking time to listen to others stories has been invaluable.

Often we can forget how rejection and ostracism are so detrimental, this is because humans are pack animals and are wired to belong. Unfortunately when we are ortracised it can lead to depression and anxiety  so as we move closer to the end of the year and the festive season, it is nice to get together with family, friends and colleagues and celebrate. As the year draws to a close it is important to forgive others the hurt they may have caused us and if appropriate to forgive ourself.

Women & Orgasms

I often have female clients see me about orgasmic difficulties and thought I would pass on some of the understanding I have gleaned over the years. For women to have an orgasm requires them to relax and focus on the sensations of sensual energy as it builds up, rather than focusing on thoughts. If women have thoughts like “ is it going to happen this time ? ” “ Am I doing things right, is my partner enjoying themselves? ” it is  be very difficult for her to connect to the sensations in her body. This is because thoughts intrude on body sensations and unfortunately stop sexual sensations as they build up. I have found hypnotherapy can be helpful by asking the woman to imagine what it would be like to trust her body and relaxing into the sensations. The breath is another important factor because taking deep breaths enhances sensation especially as the woman becomes aroused ( which can take about 20 minutes). When she reaches orgasm she will hold her breath for a few seconds and this enables the tingling sensations that have built up to stream through the body. In my book Self-sexual Healing I go through exercises including breathing techniques that I have found very beneficial in helping my clients. I have spoken to many women who have never had an orgasm until they used a vibrator, so this many be another option.

Relationships

According to research affairs are 20-25% the cause of a relationship breakup and divorce, while 80% of the time the reason given is deterioration of intimacy. It is interesting how in the 1970’s more men (70%) than women (40%) had a affairs but now the numbers are about equal. This is because of the changing social structure of women’s roles in the work force and the expectation of an equal partnership.

The basis for any relationship conflict is poor communication skills, and tend to end due to high conflict in a 5 to 7 year period, or loss of connection and intimacy which occurs over a 10-12 years period.

I have watched in my private practice how stress plays such an important factor. When men get stressed the old fight and flight comes into play and the man needs space, while for the woman who becomes stressed she wants to bond and feel connected. Often it is learning about compromise and feeling that you can be ‘generous of spirit’, believing your partner is ‘doing the best they can’.

Saying positive comments 20 times to 1 negative, builds up trust and friendship. Understanding how your partner feel loved and doing or expressing it will show a difference in a short time.  The three areas that people feel loved are; saying loving and nice comments, doing things for your partner so they feel cared for or being loving and affectionate. Find things in your life together that you both enjoy and build on them, as well as prioritising spending time together. Often we forget to keep life simple, I believe if you go back to what initially attracted you and build on this it makes a difference to our general well-being and the quality of the relationship.