Articles / written by Patricia Simko

If you have questions about these or other issues, feel free to contact me.

I originally posted articles on my early website to provide resources for young people and others who had no access to information or therapy. That was a long time ago. Over the years, I added more articles, deleted some others, and responded to readers’ questions and comments. Much has changed in the last 15 years. Now, information of all sorts is easily available to people everywhere, thanks to the internet.

My articles remain relevant to the concerns and questions of today’s readers. They appear widely on other sources on the internet, and are quoted in various written publications. People still feel the pains of addiction, codependency, grief, etc. The healing process still needs to address issues of emotions, identity, and change. I will continue to periodically author and post articles as ideas occur to me. Is there something you would like to read about on this page? Send me an email and share your thoughts.

Some of these behaviors may sound surprising when you think of them as addictions or compulsions. We don't think of being concerned with success, for example, as anything to worry about! But we can sometimes fool ourselves and think we are being quite healthy, when in fact, we are trying to sedate ourselves, or feel better, or avoid feelings by compulsively engaging some neutral or healthy-sounding behaviors.

If you have questions about these or other issues, feel free to email them to me. I will discuss issues in my blog, ShrinkWebbed.

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Addiction & Compulsions

In the past 20 years, theories of addiction have become popularized and widely understood. It has been helpful to society and to the individuals who struggle alone or in families with addictions, and many people have been helped by knowing more about what causes addictions and what to do to manage them. Many excellent books are available, and a quick perusal of the Hazelden catalogue can lead you to invaluable resources.

I want to broaden the discussion a bit, by introducing a wider concept of addictive and compulsive behavior. A compulsion can be virtually anything, any behavior which is habitually reenacted in order to alter a mood. We engage in compulsive activities to transform our bad feelings into good ones. So even normal behavior can be compulsive if it is used to sedate, uplift, calm down or relieve feelings. A compulsion is a behavior which is reactive ... the immediate agenda is to maintain basic survival in the face of what feels like certain danger. Our compulsive behavior temporarily brings about a sense of power, control, self-esteem or security. We may not know it, but the goal of our compulsive behavior is to re-establish safety, security, well-being inside ourselves.

Some specific addictive and compulsive behaviors can include:

• alcohol and drugs
• food
• sex
• work
• people/relationships
• exercise
• shopping
• gambling
• success
• acquiring
• filling time
• smoking
• rescuing

Some of these behaviors may sound surprising when you think of them as addictions or compulsions. We don't think of being concerned with success, for example, as anything to worry about! But we can sometimes fool ourselves and think we are being quite healthy, when in fact, we are trying to sedate ourselves, or feel better, or avoid feelings by compulsively engaging some neutral or healthy-sounding behaviors! One woman who took my class on Compulsions and Addictions wrote: "In my work, which is assisting woman develop careers or businesses, many of the sessions turn into relationship addiction talks. It is helpful to recognize women's natural tendencies toward helping as potential addictions!"

The major point about addictions and compulsions (we'll call them "a/c's") is that they allow us to push away the real feelings which we would otherwise feel. They create an illusion of control just at the time when, in fact, we usually feel the most out of control. It is this desperate need to control our unconscious minds and feelings which creates the compulsion behavior, which in turn creates a false illusion of control, which in turn keeps us stuck without authentic control! It is a vicious circle, and one which can repeat itself forever. Ask any alcoholic. Control is the name of the game, and it is all in an attempt to NOT FEEL. Why do we fight so hard to avoid our feelings? Usually because they are so frightening, because we are afraid they will destroy us, or someone else, because we are afraid that we are hopelessly worthless human beings, because we do not want to hurt, because we were messaged not to feel in our families, because we have poor self-esteem if we are angry ... there are loads of reasons why people avoid their feelings, and it always amazes me what people will do in order NOT to feel!

There is usually a cycle to a/c behavior, with specific phases.

  1. A buildup of pressure occurs, during which time we begin to think about the a/c behavior, perhaps;
  2. A trigger event occurs, something which causes an increase in the inner tension. This can be an unpleasant interchange, a bad day, a mood, or in the case of a full-blown addiction, a trigger can be simply the passage of time;
  3. Peak phase occurs when the internal pressure is so great that we rush to take action. We can't stand it, so we grab a cake, or a drink, or a cigarette; we are so lonely we go shopping. We can't tolerate the emptiness so we enroll in yet another workshop;
  4. The down-swing is the post-indulgent period. Here we often experience self-loathing, guilt, remorse, fear or shame. Perhaps we ask ourselves "how many times do I have to do this?"; or "what kind of a person am I?"; or "screw it, so what? who cares?" (Which is often a variation on the other kinds of recriminations).

Often we have to reach the end of our rope: emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally ... before we even recognize the cycle. In the 12-step programs, this is called "bottoming out." Then we must decide to deal with it! But to deal with an a/c behavior means that we have to stop and really look at what is driving us. As long as an external event or behavior is our focus, and we displace our hidden feelings onto that behavior, we don't have to look inside ourselves to examine what is really going on. And to face the feelings means that, usually, it will feel worse before it feels better!

A couple of other characteristics of compulsive behavior can be useful in dealing with healing. First, a/c behavior is usually out of step with reality. For example, over-eating can reflect some very unrealistic beliefs, such as "this is the only thing I can control," or "this is the only way I can fill up." The fantasy is that "if I can eat enough, I won't feel empty", or "if I control my body, I am in control." This fantasy is out of touch with reality because clearly eating cannot fix anything, and compulsive eating only hurts us further.

Here is an exercise you can try. Try to refrain from a compulsive activity. Instead of compulsively eating, drinking, shopping, interfering in someone else's business ... see if you can identify the feelings that you are having. Perhaps it is shame, anxiety, pain, loneliness, anger. See if you can tolerate the feeling for a little while. Se if you can tolerate the idea that you are a person who has this type of feeling! To give up compulsions means you must give up the unconscious belief that it can fix you. To change, you must be willing to accept yourself as you are realistically, without going for the "fix", without changing. This is terribly painful, and, at first, impossible! But it can be done, slowly and surely.

A second characteristic is that a/c behavior perpetuates more a/c behavior! Exercise addicts, for example, might use exercise to avoid intimacy, and to feel in control of something (the body). But since this is a total illusion, it must be renewed at every opportunity to keep working.

In addition, a/c behavior is reactive instead of active. Since we are basically involved in avoiding feelings, we get triggered into a/c behavior whenever a potentially dangerous feeling threatens to surface! This keeps us stuck and prevents us from putting our attention where we want to in our lives It's as if the trigger is a crying baby. Instead of putting out energy into areas we love, we have to stop, pick up the crying baby and feed it (by indulging in the a/c behavior) before we can get around to living our lives. We are run by the crying baby.

A final characteristic of a/c's is that they can point the way to understanding the underlying belief systems we have as a result of our early experiences. Our early lives are ALWAYS implicated when we are dealing with a/c's, that is, the seeds which become addictions and compulsions are planted in our childhoods. We will soon be talking about the role of the family and the family trance. Be sure to read that seminar to learn more about the family's role in a/c's; there is much to be learned which can lead to better recovery from understanding the family.

Let's summarize:

  1. Learn to observe if there is a compulsive or mood-altering behavior which negatively affects your life.
  2. Learn to observe and track the cycle and pattern of your compulsive behavior, and chart its destructive consequences.
  3. Learn to identify and encounter the feelings that the a/c behavior has been hiding.
  4. Learn to identify and name your underlying belief about the a/c behavior.
  5. Learn more about your family and the role it played in planting the seeds of you're a/c behavior.

As always, our behaviors and our personalities can teach us a great deal, if we would only stay open and non-judgemental to ourselves.


Anger is a popular, "hot" topic, and it is an important one. Anger is perhaps one of the hardest emotions to feel and to work through. (Sadness is the other hard one, and people tend to have a tougher time with one or the other of these feelings. That is, some people can express anger but have a tough time crying; others cry at the drop of a hat, but can’t feel their anger!) But more people often have a really hard time feeling and dealing with their anger, and there are reasons for this.

As children, we were rewarded with love for the behaviors and feelings that our parents wanted to reinforce. So we were loved for being cute, or smart, or funny, or helpful. But very few children indeed were ever told, when they were angry, "You are so assertive and I really appreciate the power of your anger!" Instead, we were messaged that our anger was wrong, inappropriate, and something we would be punished for. We learned not to show our anger as a first step. The second step was that some of us learned not to even GET angry!

If we have a national trait, it may well be hiding our own anger from ourselves. Here is a checklist to help you determine if you are hiding your own anger; any of these is usually a sign of hidden and unexpressed anger:
• Habitual lateness; Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks
• A liking for sadistic or ironic humor;
• Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation
• Excessive irritability over trifles
• Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness; an attitude of "grin and bear it
• Over-controlled, monotone speaking
• Frequent sighing (this indicated something is being held down!)
• Smiling when hurt
• Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things (yes, boredom = anger!!!)
• Getting tired more easily than usual
• Getting drowsy at inappropriate times
• Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams
• Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night
• Waking up tired
• Clenched jaws or grinding teeth, especially when sleeping
• Facial tics, foot tapping, habitual fist clenching and other unconscious, repetitive physical acts
• Chronically stiff or sore neck and shoulders
• Chronic depression (yes, depression=anger!!)
• Stomach ulcers.


This is not about rage. Rage is anger that is out of control and takes over your whole being. This is about the feelings we call "irritation," "annoyance," "getting mad," etc. And these things all have one thing in common: they are considered undesirable at best, sinful or destructive at worst. We are taught to avoid them, to avoid having them, if possible (it isn’t), but certainly to avoid expressing them! Unfortunately, many people go overboard in controlling negative feelings, and they control not only the expression of them, but the awareness of them as well.


But just because you are unaware of being angry does not mean that you are not angry. It is the anger you are unaware of that can do the most damage to you and to your relationships with other people. This is because when it DOES get expressed, it will be expressed in inappropriate ways. Freud once likened anger to the smoke in an old-fashioned wood burning stove. The normal path for the smoke is up the chimney, but if that is blocked, the smoke will leak out of the stove in all sorts of messy ways: around the door, through the grates, etc., choking everyone in the room. Likewise, the normal expression of anger is gross physical movement and/or loud vocal sounds...just watch a red-faced 5-year old sometime! But by age 5 or so, we are taught that such expressions are unacceptable to others and lead to undesirable consequences, such as being whipped or having affection withheld.

We learn to "be nice," which means hiding bad feelings. By adulthood, even verbal expression is curtailed since a civilized person is expected to be "civil." Expression is stifled and to protect ourselves from the unbearable burden of continually carrying unexpressed bad feelings, we go the next step. This is when we convince ourselves that we are not even angry, when we in fact are! Such self-deception is seldom completely successful, however, and the blocked anger "leaks out" in inappropriate ways, some of which have been listed above.

The items in that list are all danger signals that negative feelings have been bottled up inside. It is true that each of them can have other cause than anger (procrastination can be due to, for example, fear of failure), but the presence of any of them is reason enough for you to look within yourself for buried resentments. Since you are human, you will find some. If you are fortunate, you will find few since you will already have learned effective ways of discharging them. If you are like most people, you will need to unlearn some old habits before you can learn new ways of handling "bad" feelings – ways that are constructive rather than destructive.


Getting rid of a lifetime of buried resentments is a major task of psychotherapy. Whether such a process is useful for you should be decided upon in consultation with a professional person. Your immediate concern is to learn some techniques that will help you stop adding to the pile, whatever its depth is right now!


Dealing with your feelings happens all the time, but we can look at the process as if it had three parts: awareness, acceptance and action.




Everyone has his or her own particular body signal indicating on-the-spot anger. Look for yours. Perhaps a friend or relative can help you here since they may be aware of your irritation before you are, and may be able to tell you how they know you are upset. Some common signals are: clamming up, blushing, shortness of breath, finger drumming, foot tapping, shaking or twisting, laughing inappropriately, patting the back of your head, clenched jaw or fist, yawning or getting drowsy, breaking eye contact, fidgeting, apologizing unnecessarily, neck, gut or back pain, headaches, elevation in voice pitch. The list goes on and on...find out which are yours!


If you find yourself depressed or blue and don’t know why, think back over the past 24 hours and figured out what angered you. Depression is often the result of suppressed anger. Forget that you are a nice person. Imagine that you are the touchiest, most unreasonable, childish person on earth. When you find the incident, ask yourself why you did not get angry. Chances are you did, and did not know it. Remember what you said and did in that situation. Relive it, and you may see some of your own internal anger signals as well as your own method of discounting your anger.




This anger is YOURS. The other person may have said or done something that pushed your anger button, but the anger is yours and so are the other feelings it triggers. You cannot hold someone else responsible for your feelings. Blaming does not help. Nothing the other person does will help unless it is response to something you do.


It is easier to accept your anger if you realize that you do not have to justify any of your feelings. All your feelings are legitimate; you probably cannot justify them and they do not need to be justified! "Should" and "feel" are two words that do not belong together! It is simply not correct to say "I shouldn’t feel this way." Feelings are something that are just there; they are messengers to you from your body about a reaction that you are having on a body level. In fact, it is harmful and even dangerous to worry about what your feelings "should" be! This concern would just get in the way of finding out what your feelings actually are! Knowing what your feelings are is the best preparation for deciding how to handle them.




First of all, stop hiding your anger. Chances are you are not so successful anyway. Anger needs expression. If you have recognized it and accepted it, then you can develop a choice of when, where and how to express it. Society and your own safety prohibit violence. Friendships and other interpersonal relationships make explosive verbal expression self-defeating. What can you do? Simply say, "That makes me angry," or "I do not like it when..." This may not be as satisfying as bashing someone, but it is far more satisfying than doing nothing! In reality, there are few situations when it is in your best interest to delay expression of your anger, and there are no situations when you can afford to delay your awareness or acceptance of your anger.


When you express your anger directly and appropriately, you create the possibility of change, of having your needs met, of getting restitution. Unexpressed anger leaves behind a wake of resentments and bad feelings for everybody concerned, and it keeps you in the victim position as well!


It is very scarey to start to express anger. Many of us have moral positions about it, or we fear rejection. But it is important to start. Pick a safe situation to begin giving feedback in your life, and notice the empowerment you feel!


The body and the mind are very intimately connected. We have all heard this said, but perhaps we don't always grasp the meaning of that statement. It is hard to really understand that the body and all its physical manifestations are influenced by and actually reflect the state of the mind. So too, the mind is influenced and is affected by the body-self. Read on !


For example, one woman told me recently that she had spent her vacation at a spa, where she received a massage every day for a week. The massage therapist told her that she was holding muscle tension at a very deep level. Normally, this woman is very flexible and able to "let go," but here it seems that she was deeply clenching, although she was not aware of it! One day, while listening to some soft music during her massage, she had a thought about her father who had recently died, and she experienced waves of sadness riding over her. She began to weep quietly, and felt herself "letting go." At the same time, the massage therapist felt a deep release in her lower back muscles, just in a place where she had been chronically holding. In this case, the holding on to her father in grief was manifested in her body by a holding in her back muscles.


We also tend to treat our bodies in a way that corresponds to our mind's state. For example, Iris is a beautiful and lovely woman who was treated terribly as a child. She was an incest survivor, and a survivor of childhood torture as well. She suffered terribly at her father's hand. Now an adult, Iris is still working on the effects of these traumas on her life. She has worked hard all her life, largely at jobs requiring hard labor. She seems drawn to back-breaking work, and has undergone several surgeries and other injuries and accidents, due to the difficult nature of the work she chooses. She does not quite comprehend that she herself is imposing traumatic circumstances on her body, in much the same way her father imposed trauma on her body as a little girl, that she is re-enacting the scenario of disregarding the body self, of treating it poorly, of abusing it. The trauma to her body as an adult reflects the trauma to her body as a child: she has had numerous surgeries on her back due to physical stress, and can barely walk, let alone enjoy any sense of movement, or the sports she used to love. Her arm joints are beginning to suffer the same ill fate. Iris has not yet made the connection between her inner tortured world, and her outer tortured body, but as she heals, she is beginning to take better care of herself physically; to see doctors as needed, to get enough sleep, to allow touch to heal her, to take medication as needed.


The road back from physical abuse is a long one indeed. Whenever we were treated poorly - emotionally or physically- we will tend to abuse our bodies as we get older. Anorexia, for example, is associated with intense feelings of deprivation of maternal resources (milk, love, touch) at a very early age (often before the age of two). The baby who needed desperately more of mother, and could not get her, re-enacts that deprivation on her own later in life, by depriving herself of the same nurturing. The child who was driven by a punitive parent early in life may well tend to be driven as an adult, and may well experience sports injuries at the gym and while playing, due to over-stressing the body.


Dorothy is an adult woman who carries much anger within her. She manifests this anger in her behavior toward herself and her body by constantly hurting herself. She often burns herself while cooking, knocks into furniture and gets black-and-blue marks, trips while walking, gets paper cuts. Some of these "accidents" reflect inattention, others reflect impatience. But such a syndrome also speaks to the anger inside which we direct against our bodies. As she heals, Dorothy now knows to ask herself, whenever she hurts herself, "Why did I bump into that? Am I angry at something or someone right now?" When she gets in touch with what is going on for her at a deeper level, she has more options for handling her feelings.


Feelings are BOTH emotional and physical. In fact, before we are aware of experiencing emotional feelings, as small children, we ONLY know physical feelings! Many emotional feelings are associated with physical manifestations, because that is how babies know their feelings! All feelings are originally body feelings. "Feeling good" is originally a reflection of body satisfaction, that is , a feeling of being warm, safe, dry, satiated, etc. Fear is originally a body sensation, when the electrical energy of the body surges quickly from a stable baseline to an intense high. We are born with the capacity to discriminate 9 such affect states, each of which reflects a different routing of electrical energy, from low to high or high to low, for example, with different grades of intensity. It is this combination of direction of electrical energy and intensity of change that lead to the specific feeling. Of course, the baby does not know he or she is having a feeling of, say, disgust or shame or fear. The baby is responding to the physical change in energy. It is only later that the baby learns, from the mother or other care-taker, that the feeling he or she is having is called "happy," "angry," or "frightened." The body is the first knower of the experience.


Our language has captured this close association between body and mind. When we say "it's a pain in the neck," or "I got weak in the knees", we are referring to physical manifestations of emotional feelings. Fear often does indeed manifest as a weakening in the knees, and a neck pain often does reflect being overburdened, or otherwise overwhelmed. Something beautiful does soothe the vision ("a sight for sore eyes"), and disgust does manifest as nausea ("it made me sick to my stomach").


Many doctors and other practitioners recognize the emotional component in physical complaints. It is widely accepted that many ailments have psychological components, such as migraines, stomach ailments, ulcers, colitis, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, the onset of herpes and shingles, and some auto-immune syndromes. Dentists recognize that TMJ is often caused by chronic tension in the jaw and by teeth-grinding at night. The medical world has only recently begun to acknowledge the link between body and mind. Others have done more research and made further claims. Louise Hay, for example, has written extensively about the psychological component in virtually EVERY ailment, and furthermore, has listed the precise nature of the emotional issue for every illness! (Cf., Hay, Louise, You Can Heal Your Life, 1987, Hay House).


There are also treatment modalities which incorporate both the body and the mind. The Rubenfeld Synergy Method (R.S.M.) is one such treatment. Started by Ilana Rubenfeld, RSM combines gentle physical releases (done while the client is fully clothed on a table) with verbal Gestalt-type therapy. Rubenfeld invented her technique while she was training to be an orchestral conductor at Julliard. She would see her therapist and feel body sensations and restrictions which called out for touch, but of course, her therapist could not touch her. So she would go to her body worker, who would work on the body stress, but was not trained to talk to her about the feelings that were coming up at the same time! Eventually, frustrated with going to two people for what she realized was one piece of work, she invented her own style of treatment, where the therapist gently touches areas of tension, while working verbally with the emotional component of the holding.


Many people live in their heads, in fact, most of us do! We have trouble recognizing that, for every feeling, we have a place in the body where we feel it! In fact, most people cannot tell you what they are feeling, let alone where they are feeling it! If you ask most people what they are feeling, they will answer you with a thought. "How do you feel about that?" They will say, "I think she shouldn't do that", or "I'm used to it," or "I think it will work out better this way." Do you see how far away from feelings these answers lie?


Lori is a 35-year old woman who has suffered from a deep, chronic depression for many years, since the death of her mother. She has been in therapy for 12 years, and has tried many types of medication. She has had much success with therapy and meds, but there is still a place of deep sadness and melancholia within her which immobilizes her frequently. Soft-spoken, Lori lives mostly "in her head," and is out of touch with her body-self. Recently, as we did an RSM session together, Lori began to scan her body for sensations and images. Descending from her head, she got no further than her chest. There, she reported, she felt "long strands of knots. Knots, knots, knots", she expressed, getting more and more animated. She said that anger accompanied her experience of the knots. Then, after a pause, she said, "There is so much NOT in me. I want to say, 'I WILL NOT," and "I DO NOT". "Not, not, not," and "no, no, no"...This was the message of Lori's tightened chest. In a subsequent session, she reported feeling something in her abdomen, like a fire inside a grate. The fire was contained, but it really wanted to get out. This was scarey, because if it got out, it would devour everything. Lori realized that she was afraid of her rage, and only could experience it if it was kept strictly confined ("behind a grate"). Lori's work is just beginning, but she is already integrating her body experience with her head experience, which is a very big accomplishment for her.


Alexander Lowen, M.D., the founder of Bioenergetics, believes that suppressing negative feelings and impulses actually armors and de-vitalizes the body, blocking the flow of energy which allows us to function in a life-affirming way. He believes that we suppress our feelings and impulses as a result of continual holding back of expression, and that this becomes a habitual mode and an unconscious body attitude. He says, "In effect, the area of the body that would be involved in the deadened by the chronic muscular tension that develops as a consequence of the continual holding back. The area is effectively cut off from consciousness by the loss of normal feeling and sensation in it." ("The Energy Dynamics of Depression," in Sacred Sorrow, J.E. Nelson and A. Nelson, Eds., Tarcher/Putnam, 1996.) Lowen argues that depression can be healed through bodywork, because the relation between depression and depressed breathing is so great that any technique which activates breathing loosens the grip of the depressed mood. He says, "It does so by actually increasing the body's energy level and by restoring some flow of bodily excitation. Generally the increased breathing will lead sooner or later to some form of emotional release, either to crying or anger." (Ibid.)


Many, many books have been written about the body/mind connection. You can find much to read in your local library, or on the WEB.


By now, many people have heard the term "co-dependency". That is because the syndrome of co-dependency is so widespread, and it appears with ever increasing frequency. What is co-dependency, exactly? And why is it harmful? Why should we care about this strange sounding phenomenon?


Co-dependency is actually an umbrella term; it represents an entire range of feelings, beliefs about ourselves, behaviors and symptoms. The main characteristic is a BIG focus on another person. This is usually our loved one - spouse, significant other, lover, boyfriend/girlfriend. But a person who is co-dependent often is focused on EVERYBODY else, rather than on her/himself. For example, when going out to a restaurant with a group, everyone might be trying to decide on where to go. The co-dependent person will demur, saying, "I don't care, anywhere is ok with me." While this can be a very useful strategy in a group and make getting places easier, for the co-dependent, this lack of decision-making ability and knee-jerk compliance is a big problem. The co-dependent becomes so compliant and passive, eager to please the others that s/he really does forget to know what s/he wants/likes/prefers!!


Typically, the co-dependent person came from a dysfunctional home in which their emotional needs were not met. Their parents were not able to provide the attention, warmth and responsiveness which kids need in order to feel that their needs count. So, they grew up feelings that their needs did NOT matter, that their desires were unimportant, that they themselves were 2nd class citizens. Over time, the co-dependent person actually FORGETS what her or his needs, desires, feelings about things even are! In one cartoon which captures this dynamic, the husband and wife are looking at each other over their menus in a restaurant. The husband says to the wife, "I forget, which one of us doesn't like fish?"


Of course, as kids, we try and try to get the response we need from our parents ... at least until we give up completely. But we remain always drawn to that same sort of familiar person ... an emotionally unavailable person whom we can try to get love from, whom we can try to change. The need to re-play the childhood drama and TRY, TRY, TRY to achieve a different ending is so intense, that it determines even the type of person the co-dependent is drawn to! A person who is kind, stable, reliable and interested would not be attractive, typically, to the co-dependent person ... they would appear "boring." Having received very little nurturing, the co-dependent tries to fill this unmet need vicariously, by becoming a care-giver, especially to any person who appears in some way needy.


Many consequences flow from this sorry state of affairs. For one, co-dependents become addicted to emotional pain and to unhealthy relationships. They are drawn to people who are not available to them, or who reject them or abuse them. They often develop unhealthy relationships that eventually become unbearable. Because relationships hurt so much, co-dependents are more in touch with the dream of how the relationship COULD be, rather than the reality of the situation.


The co-dependent is often immobilized by romantic obsessions. They search for the "magical quality" in others to make them feel complete. They might idealize other people and endow them with powerful symbolism.


In the relationship, the co-dependent will do anything to keep it from dissolving. This is because s/he is terrified of abandonment, the same psychic abandonment s/he felt as a kid when the parents were not there. So nothing is too much trouble, takes too much time or is too expensive if it will "help" the person the co-dependent is involved with. Co-dependents are willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility, guilt and blame in any relationship (one person told me that when people bumped into her, she was the one who said, "I'm sorry.")


Accustomed to lack of love in a relationship, co-dependents are willing to wait, hope, and try harder to please. At the same time, they have a desperate need to control the relationship. This is because the need to exact the missing love and security s the foremost motivation in any relationship for a co-dependent. Co-dependent people mask these efforts to control people and situations as "being helpful." In fact, attempts to "help" other people, when these others are adults, almost always have elements of control in them.


The paradox here is that co-dependents really fear relationships, because of their bad track record at home! But they continually search for them. In the relationship, they fear abandonment and rejection, or they are chronically angry. But outside of a relationship, they feel empty and incomplete. This is because their self-esteem is critically low, and deep inside, there is some sort of belief that they do not deserve the love they seek, they do not deserve to be happy. Rather, they must work to earn the right to be happy ... and of course, they never win.


By being drawn to people with problems that need fixing, or by being enmeshed in situations that are chaotic, uncertain and emotionally painful, they avoid focusing on their responsibility to themselves. While constantly seeking intimacy with another person, the "desperate" quality of their needs makes true intimacy impossible. In trying to conceal the demanding-ness from themselves and others, they grow more isolated and alienated from themselves and from the very people they long to be close to! They may be predisposed emotionally and often biochemically to becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or certain foods, especially sugary ones. They may have a tendency toward episodes of depression, which they try to forestall through the excitement provided by unstable relationships.


No doubt about it, co-dependency can be a serious, even fatal addiction. Most of us have some of these characteristics, at least at times. And we have to ask what can be done about it? Fortunately, there is hope for the person caught in the trap of co-dependent relationships/personality traits. Recovery from co-dependency is much like recovery from any other addiction: it takes time, commitment, and a willingness to do the work. Help for Co-Depencency will address recovery issues.


Help & Hope for Depression.


There are many resources available to anyone who wishes to begin the recovery process. Here are the steps for recovery as outlined by the 12-step recovery group, Co-dependents Anonymous:


• Go for help. A reputable therapist or a recovery group is a very important tool here, because others can help you see your own co-dependent behavior and attitudes in ways you may not see yourself. Co-dependents Anonymous (CODA) is a free group which meets in many places around the country. Therapists likewise can help, and are everywhere. Therapy clinics often offer low fee, professional services provided by therapists who are training for advanced certification.


• Make recovery a first priority. Like all addictions, co-dependency is insidious; you may recognize yourself in the symptoms, but then deny their importance, or deny that they apply to you after all. You make decide to change, and then time after time, find yourself doing the same old things. Making recovery a first priority means outlining your destructive behaviors, finding alternative behaviors, and then implementing them! It means going to meetings, challenging yourself, talking with others about changing, and then changing!


• Identify with others in your group and begin to know yourself. The more you learn about this disease, the more you will see how it creeps into every aspect of your life, and how destructive it can be. Listening to others, and identifying with them can help you recognize yourself and understand yourself better. These are the first steps toward accepting and loving yourself, and setting higher standards, more appropriate goals.


• Develop a spiritual side through daily practice. An inner life is important to those recovering from co-dependency, because it will allow you to see that you are loveable, and that your whole world does not have to revolve around the other person. Your practice might be daily meditation, reflecting on nature, watching the sunrise or sunset, playing music and experiencing its effects on your body, praying to a higher power, working in your garden ... any activity which is serene and focuses you on a source of nurturance outside of your brain.


• Stop managing and controlling others. This is a big challenge, but an important one. Here you stop telling the other what to do, how to live, what is wrong - or right! - with him or her. You stop intervening, helping, advising, trying to make things better, trying to fix it, trying to force a solution. You simply stop. You allow this other person to make his or her own decisions, for right or for wrong, you let them live their own life. This includes taking responsibility for their own mistakes, their future, their unhappiness, their issues and their own growth.


• Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings. Now that you have liberated your energy from the other person's life, you have lots of time and energy to focus on your own life. All the things that occupied you with the other might actually need attention in your OWN life! Often co-dependents in recovery say that they never realized how chaotic their own lives were, or how empty, how lonely, etc. Now is your time to face yourself, instead of dissipating your energy on trying to fix someone else.


• Cultivate whatever you need to develop as an individual. In facing yourself, you may see that you need to get in touch with your anger, or grieve what you have lost or what you never had, or contact your inner life. You need to sit still with yourself, that is important ... WITH YOURSELF ... and find out what you need to do, what you need to be, what you need to address to continue with your development.


• Become "selfish." At this point, you need to practice putting yourself first. Do you know how they tell parents on airplanes to always put on your oxygen mask first before trying to help a child with its mask? The adult has to be able to breathe and to have his or her needs adequately addressed before being able to help anybody. This is true for all aspects of life, not just for oxygen masks! Make sure your basic needs are met before you start giving away your time, energy, money, and other resources. Make sure you get your sleep, your meals, your serenity, and whatever else is important to you. When you are adequately supplied, then and only then will you have "stuff" to give to someone else. When co-dependents tell me that they really don't care what decisions are made, and it's ok for the other person to run the show, I tell them to START CARING ... to show up and have an opinion. It is important here to learn how to advocate for yourself.


• Begin to feel that you are worthy of all life has to offer. This is tricky. Most people, if asked, will say "of course I think I am worthy!" But if you look at their lives, you may see a pattern which belies that belief. They are unhappy in their work, underemployed, bored or otherwise unhappy. Perhaps they don't take care of their bodies, and fail to consult doctors when they need to. Or they overwork, and fail to give themselves enough rest. One woman blew off her doctor's appointment to help her lover with some clerical work; another person needed to be reminded that she was entitled to take her vitamins and be healthy. One way to know the areas in your life in which you have low self-esteem is to look at the places in your life which don't work! What do you tend to complain about? What needs fixing in your life? In your personality? How do these areas reflect low self-esteem?

Recovery from co-dependency is based on increased self-esteem ... a self-esteem which can be gained by increased self-knowledge, your strong points and your weak points, and a full acceptance of yourself. There is a basic self-love, which you carefully nurture and expand. You get in touch with your feelings and attitudes about every aspect of your personality, including your sexuality. You begin to not only accept, but to actually cherish every aspect of yourself: your personality, your appearance, your beliefs and values, your body, your interests and accomplishments. You begin to validate yourself, rather than searching for a relationship to give you a sense of self-worth. As you do this, you can enjoy being with others, especially lovers, who are fine just as they are. You will not need to be needed in order to feel worthy.


You also work on accepting others as they are, without trying to change them to meet your needs. You know that you are safe because your standards are higher; you become open and trusting, but only with APPROPRIATE people. You no longer expose yourself to the exploitation of those who are not interested in your well-being. Your higher criteria and standards are reflected in your approach to relationships. Now, instead of hanging on to your relationship for dear life, you ask, "Is this relationship good for me? Does it allow me to grow into all I am capable of being?" When the answer is no, when a relationship is destructive, you are able to let go of it without becoming terrified or unduly depressed. You will find a circle of supportive friends and healthy interests to see you through crises.


Your values change; now, rather than your partner, you value your peace of mind and serenity above all else. You lose interest in the struggles, drama and chaos of the past. You become protective of yourself, your health and your well-being.


You come to realize that for a relationship to work, it must be between partners who share similar values, interests, and goals, and who each have the capacity for intimacy.


You come to know that you are worthy of the best that life has to offer, and you know that with help, perhaps, you can find a way to achieve that!


Creativity, the divine spark. That thing that makes us sit upright, take notice, smile. Creativity is universally hailed as desirable, a positive quality, one that parents seek to enhance in their children’s characters. What, though, do we mean when we speak of creativity? The word is hard to grasp and actually refers to several different concepts that often get conflated and confused in the literature. Typically, creativity evokes notions of novelty and originality. Other qualities cited as relevant to creativity are spontaneity and flexibility. Lists of as many as 40 characteristics have been circulated to explain what makes something ‘creative.’ And there are so many working definitions of creativity, some 75 or so, that researchers have even grouped them into 6 different categories: perception-type, end product, esthetic, psychoanalytic, solution thinking, and other! You can see how complicated it can be to talk about a single notion of ‘creativity!’


Much of what has been written about creativity, the older texts and the academic texts, typically refer to the creative process. When you open one of these books, you will find the author discussing how it happens that a ‘thing’ can arise from ‘nothing,’ how an idea springs from within and moves through to manifestation, how a product goes from a state of potential to realization. If you pick up a scholarly book on creativity, chances are you will find a presentation of the 4 or 7 or x number of stages in the creative process.


A second thread in the literature concerns the creative product. What is it that makes a given thing, a painting, a poem, a design creative? This literature often discusses how creativity is embedded within the social, cultural and familial environment. There is discussion about the relativity of the standards of creativity. What is creative at one time and place may not be considered creative at another time or in another place. There are endless lists of the characteristics of the creative product, of creative behavior etc. And discussions follow about fostering creativity in the school system, in the home, how to make and keep society “ creative-friendly.”


And the third area of discussion concerns creativity as a trait in the individual: the creative person, and what makes a person creative. Here, too, we see how challenging it is to try to grasp exactly what that means. And we see that ‘creativity’ actually is an umbrella term for many other traits and qualities. And still, there is no universal agreement on the issue! We still ask the question, “What makes a person ‘creative’?” And so we rely on lists composed by aficionados of the subject.


Here is one example of such a list, this one setting forth six criteria for creativity in an individual: lack of conventionality (making up rules as one goes along), integration and intellectuality (makes connections and distinctions between ideas and things, puts things together in a new way), aesthetic taste and imagination (has an appreciation of the arts), decisional skill and flexibility (follows gut feelings in making decisions, can change directions when needed), perspicacity (questions societal norms, truisms, is willing to take a stand), and drive for accomplishment and recognition (is motivated by goals, likes to be compliments on work, is energetic).


This is a good list, a reasonable list. But it is only one of scores of such lists! It seems that every person who has studied creativity has some different way to define or try to capture it! Some of the most fun definitions of creativity are the artistic definitions, analogies or metaphors. Here are some: creativity is like plugging into the sun, like listening to a cat, like cutting holes to see through. Creativity is an arbitrary harmony, an expected astonishment, a habitual revelation, a familiar surprise, a generous selfishness, an unexpected certainty, a formable stubbornness, a vital triviality, a disciplined freedom, an intoxicating steadiness, a repeated initiation, a difficult delight, a predictable gamble, an ephemeral solidity, a unifying difference, a miraculous expectation, an accustomed amazement. When I recently asked my creativity class for their working definitions of creativity, most of the students said that they thought of creativity as somehow thinking outside the box, being different, being original. And this seems to be a common assumption about creativity…it involves originality, unconventionality, difference. Certainly the lists of attributes include these traits. But I propose a slightly different way of looking at the issue, a way of conceptualizing creativity as a life stance. When we decide to take a life position that promotes the creative process, that maximizes individual creative potential, it involves seeing ourselves as ‘source.’ When we see ourselves as source, our life, our thoughts, our behavior, our actions, our relationships, flow from us, imbued with the attributes of one’s own unique individuality. We become the drop that holds the ocean, the local, personal channel for the universal creative force. This is an important decision in one’s life, and a decision that many people never make. Seeing yourself as source has many ramifications. It means not only being creative, but more, it means BEING CREATIVITY ITSELF: not being the consequence but the source, not being the victim but the context of one’s life. ‘Source’ has ultimate responsibility, for the manifestation or for the experience of the situation.


What a revolutionary stance! Try it! What flows from this place of source has qualities that lead to ultimate creativity. There is a personal-ness in the creative work or individual, an intimacy that is inviting, coupled with an authenticity and genuineness that imbue the work and attest to the artist herself. Spontaneity is also a hallmark of the creative, and even a carefully planned work has, paradoxically, as aspect or moment of spontaneous surrender in its unfoldment. Perhaps what makes something or someone creative is not that it is different, or not simply that it is different. Rather, what we label creative is what flows spontaneously and authentically from the source place within the person, capturing, along with the universal creative energy, the individual unique attributes of the artist.




One question that researchers have explored is the connection between creativity and intelligence. Sometimes there is an assumption that creativity belongs in the realm of genius, and that the creative genius is always intelligent. Somehow, the argument goes, creativity cannot belong to the common person! Starting in the 1960’s, many studies were conducted to explore this connection. Typically, students were tested on measures of creativity and measures of either intelligence or achievement. Some studies found a relationship between intelligence and creativity, others found none. Some studies examined instead the life histories of famous people, usually men, and used measures of intelligence and achievement based on historical profiles, such as Goethe, who wrote poetry in Latin when he was eight and scored an adult IQ of 185. In one such study, it was found that Voltaire had an IQ of 175, Mozart 155. In general, great philosophers averaged 170, poets, novelists and dramatists 160, and scientists 155.


Again, there is a wide divergence of opinion about the relationship between IQ and creativity. It is currently thought, however, that while many creative people have a high or superior IQ, a large percentage, about 50%, have an IQ within the normal bell curve of distribution. However, it is thought that a minimum IQ of 120 is normally associated with the quality of creativity in an individual. 120 is higher than average (the average IQ is 100) but certainly nowhere near the standard of genius, or even brilliant, or even bright! And this standard of association has come to be accepted in the field today.


In our next discussion on creativity, we will look at the source of creative content within the mind, accessing the fonts of creativity within each one of us, and plumbing the depths of our unconscious content. We will explore some of the most common blocks and obstacles to creativity and suggest methods for overcoming them. In future essays, we will look at the myth of the creative genius and come to understand what truly constitutes the creative experience, and we will explore the common assumption that creativity is somehow linked to depression, madness or pathology. I expect there to be 2 more essays on creativity, and hope to have them up within a short period of time.


One of the things I want to be sure to talk about in these spaces is depression. Most of us think of depression as something we feel from time to time, like when we have the blues, and we think it is not important or worth taking steps toward treating. Alternatively, we tend to think that depression is something that only other people get. There is a lot of denial around the levels of depression, which are extremely high in our modern world, for reasons we will understand later. Really, depression is a very, very common phenomenon, and the symptoms might actually astound you.

Depression is actually an umbrella concept, and includes several symptoms. It is diagnosed when a person has 5 or more of the following: feeling sad or empty or tearful, losing interest or pleasure in most of our activities, weight change (either weight gain or weight loss), changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping much more or much less, feeling paralyzed or, alternatively, more anxious, feeling fatigued, worthless, guilty, having difficulty concentrating, and having recurrent thoughts about suicide. Sometimes people with entrenched depression know that what they are suffering from is called depression. They may even know how to handle it, how to emerge from the grips of the disorder, how to live with it.

But here I want to point out some of the lesser known symptoms of ordinary depression, the so-called dysthymic disorder, which many, many people suffer from. Often, we don’t know when we are depressed in this way, and this is the painful part. There is such a stigma associated with depression that many people are not open to acknowledging that depression might be the problem. We are so hard on ourselves that we view depression as some sort of moral failure, and we beat ourselves up for being depressed in the first place. I believe that many of us have been brought up to view weakness, vulnerability and sensitivity as failures. So when we are hurting, we hurt doubly, because on top of our pain, we have our own harsh judgements about how weak/wrong we are to feel that pain in the first place.

How often do you ask someone how they are, and are told “fine” when you KNOW things are not fine? How often do you treat yourself with harsh retorts, admonishing yourself to “get over it”, or “pull yourself together” rather than feel what you are feeling? I agree that there are times when it is appropriate to not dwell on the negative, or to let go of minor upsets and focus on the positive. I do not dispute that. What I am talking about is the self violence that we perpetrate when we refuse to allow ourselves our own responses to the pains of our lives. For example, the incest survivor who tells herself that it wasn’t so bad, she really is ok, while she lives a desperate and unhappy life. Or the gay man who hides his feelings of inadequacy and shame, caused by the cruelty of childhood schoolmates and rejection by his father, by drinking and seeking male companionship through anonymous sexual contacts on dark streets. Or the bulimic woman who does not acknowledge her depression, but instead compulsively eats and purges whenever she feels confronted, or whenever anger threatens to break through. How much easier it would be if we could simply say, with no judgements, “I hurt.” Even if we could say it only to ourselves, we start to undo the cycle of violence towards ourselves that tells us to get it together. One thing is certain, ALL FEELINGS ARE LEGITIMATE. If you are sad, or hurting, or angry, or despondent...there is a reason for that. You deserve to know that reason, and it is virtually guaranteed that once you begin the exploration, you can expect to feel better. If  you tell yourself, or if someone tells you “You shouldn’t feel that way,” that person is doing you a disservice. The more appropriate response would be, “Why do you think you feel that way,” or “What is going on that you feel that way?”

One explanation of depression is that it is the squelching of feelings. If you are trying to live your life while you have feelings bottled up inside of you, be it anger, sadness, fear, jealousy, grief, WHATEVER, you can expect to be depressed. There is a big difference between depression and sadness..people who start to work through depression and start to feel real sadness say that the sadness, though it hurts, feels good in a funny way. This is because the truth is always liberating, even if it is sad, or even if it hurts.

Depression is also thought of as anger turned inward, and this is often the case. Scratch your depression and you might be amazed at the fact that you are angry. A good experiment to try is the following. The next time you feel depressed. Ask yourself, “If I were angry at someone (not myself), who would it be?” And just let the response arise. There are many reasons why anger gets turned against the self. Most of us were not allowed to express our anger when we were growing up. Few of our parents actually said,” Yes, dear, I see how angry you are! Tell me all about it!!” Right? So we were messaged that anger is NOT ok, and that it would result in love being denied us. Our loved one would usually either retaliate (get angry back at us: as in “I’ll give you something to cry about!”) or collapse (get sick, cry, attempt suicide, in one case I know of). We learned certain things about handling anger, including not to express it directly. Over time, we learned to forget what we were angry about, and we even learned to forget how to feel angry, at all! But guess what, instead we discovered we were depressed.

Work on your anger, assertiveness and power, and you will find yourself less depressed. Sometimes, anger is a symptom of depression. If you are very sensitive, if your feelings are easily hurt, if you lose your temper easily, chances are you have an underlying depression. Depression can be masked by anger, jumpiness, sensitivity, easily hurt feelings; it can be covered over by compulsive activities, addictions to alcohol, drugs, work, food, or any other substance or activity, or other sorts of compensations. The truth is, sometimes it is very hard to acknowledge that we are depressed.

Another explanation of depression is that it is the result of feelings of inadequacy, a deep state of empty depletion. In this case, depression is referred to as an “empty, depleted depression.” Not all depressions are paralyzing, or are characterized by lethargy. Some people become quite worked up, anxious, agitated or upset when they are depressed, and in that case it is called an agitated depression.. It is thought that depressions of this sort are the result of narcissistic depletion, that is, they are caused by deep feelings of inadequacy, failure, being a loser, not good enough, broken, etc. Most survivors of childhood trauma suffer from these deep beliefs. Even without childhood trauma, you might have a deep self-image of this sort. In either case, the beliefs come from childhood experiences which failed to validate us when we were forming our self concepts. For the most part, I am referring to a lack of mirroring, that is, the validation by a parental figure of the child’s subjective experience. We all needed mirroring when we were becoming ourselves, we all needed to see a “gleam in our mother’s or father’s eye” which would communicate to us that we were loved, approved of, that we were OK. We might tell ourselves in our heads that we know they loved us, but if we did not have the gut experience that they thought we were ok, we will feel inadequate somewhere inside. So a failure of mirroring causes depression. And a failure of mirroring in the present also causes depression.

We all need mirroring, throughout all our lives. A woman whose husband does not notice her and does not care what she does with her time will of course be depressed! A person living alone in a new city with no one to talk to about his day may very understandably feel depressed! We are social beings and our inner realities are formed through social interactions. We need others to feel adequate, on a deep inner level! (Until we become enlightened, that is). And social support is one of the best ways to emerge from depression. Find someone to talk to, any one person who is a good listener can help you. Write letters to someone; speak at a 12-step meeting, join a free support group. These are tools for depression management which may make more sense to you now.

Other good ideas are to get exercise, this is because exercise helps generate the bodies own endorphin, which make us feel better. And exercise allows the discharge of anger...there is nothing like punching a bag, or hitting a golf ball, or swinging a bat to get aggressive feelings out of the body. Even digging in the garden allows discharge, or baking bread! Of course, therapy can be very useful, and medications can open up entire new vistas for people with lifelong histories of depression. The new generation of antidepressant medications can afford relief like nothing ever has before. If you suffer from depression, or from any of the symptoms we have talked about in here, if you see yourself on these pages, remember, you do not have to suffer in silence any more.

Signs of Depressions


Although we all suffer sometimes from the blues, there are certain symptoms which can alert us to the presence of a real underlying depression. Sometimes it is helpful to know if we have a tendency toward depression; it can help to normalize the way we feel. The following are a list of the most common symptoms, and a description of how they feel to those people who experience them.


• Persistent low mood. The low mood of depression may feel similar to the low mood of the normal cycle, except that it lasts and lasts. To qualify as depression, the low mood must last at least 2 weeks. Upon reading that, a depressed person will probably say "Two weeks! I've been in a low mood for 20 years!" That is because the seeds of depression are often planted early in life, or in adolescence, and those who experience depression have probably always had to fight it off, to some extent. In addition, the low mood of the depressed person can be paralyzing. When a nondepressed person experiences a low mood, it often motivates him/her to take an action to restore feelings of well-being and higher self-esteem.Not so the depressed person, a low mood just translates into inactivity.


• Low energy. Depressed people tend to have no energy, and they also feel that nothing really matters, anyway. People with depression can spend hours, days, weeks simply watching tv, or lying around the house. The extreme case, catatonia, results in a person' s being unable to even move a limb. Chronic fatigue syndrome is often thought to be a physical manifestation of depression. Depression is a physical illness as well as a mental one, and the body tends to manifest the symptoms through low energy, joint pain, headaches, stomach upset, muscle aches, etc.


• Restless irritability. Some people with depression become fidgety, anxious, unable to sit still or remain quiet. They become compulsively active, pacing, tapping their foot. Along with this, there is usually a low frustration tolerance, and short fuse and an explosive temper, although some people express their anger through insults, sarcasm or contempt. It is sometimes amazing to realize that underneath that angry, hostile exterior is plain old depression.


• Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. There is a sense of powerlessness that accompanies depression. "There is nothing I can do to change this, and there is nothing ANYBODY can do." The depressed person feels impotent, gloomy and despairing. If you feel powerless, hopeless and despairing, chances are you are depressed.


• Withdrawal. Depression leads one to withdraw. Someone might become aloof, cool, stand-offish or more radically, isolate, become reclusive. It becomes too tiring to try to socialize, or even to spend time with friends. Depressed people find themselves more and more alone as they push their loved ones away. Yet social support is one of the best cures for depression!


• Increased desire for intoxicants. As one becomes more isolated, one tends to turn more and more to non-human forms of self-soothing. It is true that beneath most alcoholism, drug use and other addictions, there is depression. Depressed people try to self-medicate with these substances, searching and searching for SOME WAY to feel better. Some people drink more, others take pills or other drugs, other people may 'shop til they drop', eat chocolate, or do something else in an effort not to feel the feelings.


• Tendency to cry over small things. Many people cry easily, it is a part of a sensitive character structure. But a depressed person will often manifest an exaggerated tendency to cry over small things, often generalizing them to the world. For example, one person told me she heard about a friend's taking in a stray dog. She started cryng about all the abandoned dogs in the world. Another person reported spilling a pitcher of lemonade, and couldn't stop crying from the upset over the incident. The crying responses of a depressed state are one of the most recognizable symptoms.


• Insomnia. Sometimes people with depression just want to sleep and sleep. But often, even if it is possible to fall asleep, the depressed person wakes up in the early morning hours, and cannot go back to sleep. This is very difficult, since lack of sleep itself contributes to depression!


• Inability to experience pleasure. This classic symptom of depression is also known as anhedonia, an inability to experience the joy of the good things of life. Depression leads to a loss of libido, sexual appetite, to a loss of the ability to get turned on by anything, music, sex, food, nature...Depression feels like wearing a shield over the entire psychic system; nothing good can get in!


• Self-loathing. The inner sense of personal failure of a person in depression is reflected in the self-flagellation which they heap on themselves. Most depressed people call themselves "losers," "worthless," even "better off dead." If you find yourself having these thoughts, you are probably struggling with depression. The thoughts are not real, they simply are a sign that you are depressed.


• Inappropriate guilt feelings. The depressed person tends to think that she or he caused all the bad stuff that happens around them. For example, one person said she felt guilty because the stock market went down a week after she convinced her sister to open an IRA account. Or someone might think that a family member suffered an illness or accident because she or he failed to call as planned. In serious cases, these guilt feelings can lead to beliefs that are unreal and entrenched, such as that God is punishing him or her, specifically, for being so "bad."


• Distortions of reality. These guilt feelings described above can become serious enough to be distortions of reality. Thinking that you caused someone else's illness or bad fortune just because you were involved in some peripheral way in a circumstance is not sound thinking! If you find yourself having these thoughts, you may be suffering from depression.


• Suicidal urges. Suicide is the depressive person's last stand. Suicide ranks as one of the ten leading causes of death in all age groups, except those over 65, and most suicide victims have suffered from depression. If you are having suicidal thoughts, consider speaking with someone about your depression.


Depression is a constellation of symptoms. This is important because the only way you will know you are depressed is to notice the symptoms and say, "That means I am depressed." It is important not to believe the thoughts you have when you are depressed; and it is important not to take actions which you may think you should take, like committing suicide! If you see yourself in this list of symptoms, it is possible that you are depressed. Call your doctor or a therapist. Get help.

Depression is an illness, but it is a TREATABLE illness, for which there is usually a 100% (or close to it) chance of feeling relief. People too frequently do not realize that they do not have to suffer from depression. IT IS TRUE. If you are depressed, you CAN feel better.



One of the mind’s most exciting creations is the dream. Dreams are the portals through which we gain access to the unconscious and its miraculous content and process. We do not know what exactly exists in our unconscious mind, precisely because it is unconscious! -- but the dream is our greatest and most prolific tool for comprehending what we have stored in this vast part of the mind.


Virtually every person dreams, and with amazing regularity! In fact, dreaming appears to be a necessary function for biological and psychic well-being. Sleep deprivation is a known tool of torture, and it is now believed that the most harmful component of sleep deprivation is dream deprivation. We suffer from dream deprivation sooner than from sleep deprivation! Rats who are prevented from dreaming die after 10 days, even if they are allowed to sleep. Interestingly, they die of starvation. Newborns of all species spend 50-95% of their time in dream states, and it is hypothesized that dreaming helps store memories. The fox kit who has just pounced on its first mouse may dream of the experience and thus remember it more easily the next time it is out hunting! So, on the physiological level, dreaming serves to regulate metabolism, as well as to consolidate memories.


We tend to dream at specific periods throughout our sleep cycle, during times known as REM sleep. REM stands for "rapid eye movement," because during these times, our eyes are literally darting back and forth beneath the closed lids. We have several such REM cycles throughout the night, in fact we move up and down through sleep stages, lighter to deeper and back again, a few times throughout the average night. REM sleep is not a particularly heavy sleep; it is characterized by low amplitude, high frequency energy waves, almost like a waking state EEG! Dreams are caused by energy firings at the base of the brain. It is hypothesized that, because these firings land near the visual cortex of the brain, dreams are primarily visual in nature. And since the gait center is also located in this specific area, we tend to move in dreams. However, it is only in dreams that we move while sleeping, for we are almost immobilized during REM sleep. Our major muscles groups tend to be virtually paralyzed, an adaptive response which keeps us from acting out our dreams!


What do we dream about? So much has been written and debated in dream research. Van de Castle and Hall conducted an excellent content analysis of dreams, and I refer you to Van de Castle’s excellent book, The Dreaming Mind. It is safe to say that we dream about the content of our unconscious, whatever that may be! And it is also safe to say that what we have stored in our unconscious is UNFINISHED BUSINESS. Generally, there is some sort of conflict, anxiety, longing, questioning, emotion or some other sort of unfinished emotional business surrounding the contents of our unconscious mind. So, if you are dreaming about something, it means that you are trying to work something out around it.


Of course, you may not be dreaming about the exact picture which appears in your dream! Because dreams use visual representations, and because these are often very symbolic, the pictures in your dreams may actually stand for something else. So, say you dream about an ocean voyage. This does not mean, necessarily, that you have unfinished business around ocean voyages! It means that you have unfinished business around whatever that ocean voyage really represents, perhaps a psychic journey into a new inner place, perhaps beginning therapy, or something of that nature.


Freud, the first person to take dreams seriously and the first person to analyze his own dreams to explore the content of his own unconscious mind, has strong beliefs about the meaning of dreams. His theories continue to influence scholars to this day, for it was his entire theory about the unconscious mind which gave rise to the study of dreams as we know it now! Freud said many important things about the dream. 1. It is the function of the dream to safeguard sleep! Freud believed that the dream was an attempt on the part of the mind to present the issue in a visual form in an effort to work out the issue, and allow the sleeper to remain asleep, to be undisturbed by the problem. 2. The dream is a wish fulfillment. Freud believed that every dream –if properly analyzed-could be seen to hold a wish. And not just any kind of wish, but a very specific wish, one originating in childhood and based on the sexual longings of the child. Freud’s overall psychology was one based on the stages of childhood development, and he was the first to talk about the sexual nature of the individual, even the child. Sexual drives, which must be controlled, socialized and sublimated, continue to manifest in our dreams, throughout our entire lives.


Because there is so much conflict around the sexual nature of dreams, it is impossible to experience them directly. Therefore, our minds engage in a sort of hide and seek game, to present the dream, but in a heavily disguised way. Freud spoke at length about the mechanisms the mind uses to disguise these dreams. One of these is condensation, whereby we might take characteristics from several things or people in life and put them all together in one dream symbol. So, perhaps there is a person in your dream who has your father’s nose, your boss’s car and your husband’s pipe. This one dream person is a symbol for those other 3 men, and a condensation of their characteristics! Displacement is another dream tool, whereby we take the characteristic which is important to us and replace it with another, less conflictual one. So, for example, if you see a naked person carrying a bunch of flowers, displacement might lead you to dream about a bunch of flowers, and leave out the naked form entirely! There are other dream tools which are fun to play with, and in fact, figuring out the meaning of a dream is great fun altogether! One person reported a dream of her mother and father floating on a raft on the Nile. As she reported this dream, it sounded very much like she said "...on de Nile" and I asked her to repeat the narrative. Then I told her that I had heard her say, "...mother and father floating on a raft on denial." This, in fact, is a very good picture of her family, and we both had a chuckle at the tricks the mind can play. Watch for puns!


So our dreams can capture the personal history and experience of the dreamer, from early life experiences which have not been mastered, to the state of the present self. Dreams of falling, emptiness or empty things etc. capture the inner state of depletion; dreams of desert-type landscapes capture the state of inner alienation and loneliness; dreams of chaos and confusion capture states of fear, chaos and inability to self-soothe. There is, in fact, a self component to most dreams, and our dreams can be very useful in helping us figure out what is going on with ourselves.


I work with dreams–my own and others’–for many reasons. First and foremost, they tell me what is really going on with the mind. So often we get lost in our stories, but a dream is a direct communication from the deepest part of you! There is no story there, only actual experience. Your dream, when properly interpreted, will reveal You to You!!! Dream work is very rewarding and useful.


Of course, we must talk about families! We all grew up in a family of some sort, and it is within the context of the family that we became the person we are. The importance of the family, for better and for worse, cannot be overstated. And in doing any work on ourselves, we realize that we have to understand the role of the family, and in addition, our individual role within the family! There is so much to say about families, but let's keep this simple, and start with a description of the healthy family. Of course, there is a range from healthy to dysfunctional, with no family being all good or all bad ... but families can be described along many dimensions, and we'll start with the characteristics of the healthy family.


• Safety. The healthy family provides an environment where every member feels safe, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Children, especially, need to be provided with parents who are safe, and who communicate that safety will always be ensured. A child needs to feel that s/he can relax and not be on the lookout for potential danger, either from the parent or anyone else. In a disrupted family, safety is missing in a number of ways: emotional unavailability of a parent leads a child to feel very unsafe, for a child needs to feel that feelings are part of the business of the family. Loss of control in a parent also leads a child to feel unsafe, and this happens when there is substance abuse - alcohol, drugs, food, etc. - as well as when a parent is a rage-aholic or otherwise tends to lose control. Failure to protect children from hazards - whether it be dangerous situations like electrical outlets, or dangerous people - like sexual abusers - also leads children to feelings of danger, and that safety is missing. Direct physical abuse is another way in which children can come to mistrust the family environment, and feel that safety is missing.


• Open communication. In a healthy family, every member feels that s/he is free to speak about what is going on. It is ok to speak about feelings that I am having, and it is ok to tell mom or dad or a sibling whatever it is I want. This open communication is a cornerstone for confidence building, and for a sense of trust in relationships. In a disrupted family, it is known that you must watch out with what you say. Often secrets are kept in order to keep the peace ("Don't tell Daddy about the money we spent today," or "Don't tell your brother that I gave you this thing," or "Let's let this be our little secret." ) In a disrupted family, often it is the facade of normality that is important; the truth really doesn't matter. How you feel doesn't matter; what you think doesn't matter. What matters is how the family looks to the outside. I call this "the lookin' good family." In this family, feelings are hidden, and if you are upset, it is important to smile and pretend. Often there is some sort of rule like "don't upset Mom," or "don't be angry." In some families, the rule can even be, "don't be too happy." One woman I work with came from a family where the father represented death. He could not wait to die; for 45 years he walked around saying that he was sure he would die soon. In her family, any expression of life or joy was forbidden, because "it upsets Dad." Finally, in this family, children are often made into confidants of one of the parents, because the parents do not talk to each other.


• Self care. In a healthy family, each person feels like it is ok to take care of themselves. It is ok to rest, to use the family resources to provide for needs, to take up space in the family. For example, a parent might feel fine using savings to pay for a needed item, or a child who is delegated a job responsibility might would feel perfectly fine taking a lunch break. At the dinner table, each person feels entitled to take up space and time talking. In a disrupted family, there is a sense of a scarcity economy. Sometimes children are scared into not using the resources, because it is assumed that there is simply not enough to go around. In families of alcoholics or other addictions, the children know that the alcoholic's needs come first. In one family, dad's case of beer was bought every week, before anything else was paid for. In another, mom's makeup came first. Another way the disrupted family violates self care is that family members start to feel responsible for other's problems. Many people from troubled families have a big "fix it" attitude.


• Individualized roles. We all come to have roles in our families. The difference is that in a healthy family, we decide what role we want to have. Our role gets defined by the person we become, by our likes and dislikes, by our talents and skills, by our needs and capacities. And our roles change as we grow and change. In a disrupted family, the needs of the family dictate our role. Perhaps dad is drinking again, and, like it or not, the oldest son has to go out and find him and bring him home. This is a role which is not chosen by the child, but imposed by the parent's dysfunction. The daughter of a preacher might be messaged that she must be always a good girl, because she is in the public eye. One man told me that he wanted more than anything to be an artist, but his father eat him when he saw him dancing. In this family, the son's role was imposed by the father's prejudice.


• Continuity. A healthy family offers each member a sense of continuity; a real sense that the family will be there tomorrow, just as it was there yesterday. We feel not only a sense of safety, but a sense of enduring presence, like the family is something we can count on. In a disrupted family, there is instead a sense of chaos, like "what now??" Or perhaps we feel an arbitrariness, as if there is no predictability to what might happen next. In one family, the son never knew what to expect when there was a message from home, because his father - an unmedicated manic-depressive - might have lost his job, bought an airplane, divorced his latest wife, or attempted suicide! Often, in dysfunctional families, there is an on-going fear right beneath the surface that the family might dissolve. Children report being afraid of parents' divorcing, of being left alone.


• Respect for Privacy. In a healthy family, there is a respect for the boundaries of others, and therefore, a respect for each person's privacy. Children can trust that a closed door means that no one will come barging in, that private papers will not be read, that phone conversations will not be listened to, and that privacy will be respected. In a dysfunctional family, parents can become very intrusive, even when there is no reason to suspect others of any wrong-doing. Often, in a dysfunctional family, "privacy" is confused with "secrecy," and the parent feels that s/he is entitled to any such information. People who grew up in such families often have confusion later in life, and sometimes they feel that they are not entitled to ANY privacy, and must tell their spouses EVERYTHING, for example. I often must teach people from these families that "private does not equal secret." Or, in another scenario, people from these families come to have tons of secrets, as a way of rebelling against the lack of privacy afforded them as children.

Even from this short list of characteristics, you can begin to think about your family in a whole new way, and appreciate and evaluate what you grew up with, and what you are creating now. This is an important start to doing work on your family of origin.

Grief & Loss

Losses are an inevitable and a constant occurrence in our lives, and our responses to loss play an important part in our well-being. The importance of the grieving process is rarely understood, because most of us try to rush through those feelings that accompany loss.


Understandably, we want to feel better, happy again, we want to get over the grief and get on with our lives. In addition, other people often do not know how to respond to your grief; they may try to make you "feel better" by telling you that you’re better off now, that a loved one who died is happier now, that your loss wasn't such a major thing ... Often these people are well-intentioned, and just trying to offer comfort. But messages like those really communicate an inability to deal with the complicated feelings of grief. In effect, when we hear messages like those, we hear, "Get over it," "I don’t know how to deal with your pain," and "Spare me!"


But rushing through grief is a mistake, and we pay the price, inevitably. When the feelings of grief are not fully felt and metabolized, they linger. The unfelt pain, anger, fear, loneliness and sadness is experienced in the body as a physical symptom: headache, ulcer, back pain, digestive disorders, muscular tension, insomnia, etc. Or the feelings can manifest as depression, a lingering melancholia that we never seem to bounce back from. Or they can surface as an alternative emotional syndrome, like the inability to love again (this often occurs when a person does not fully mourn the death or departure of his or her partner). Or they can manifest in a belief, such as "Love isn’t worth it; the loved one always dies or goes away."


Grieving is so difficult because it involves not just one, but MANY feelings. And the feelings are intense, long-lasting and sometimes very disorganizing. The recipe for grieving is sort of like this: Take one part of each of the following: denial, rage and anger, terror, sadness, pain, disorganization. Mix together, all at the same time. Jump in.


One woman who recently lost her father said that it was as if someone took her psychically by the throat and shook her up and down, and tossed her on the ground, saying, "Ok, deal with that!" This woman had done a lot of emotional work on her relationship with her father and EVEN THEN, she was amazed at the intensity and length of the grieving process. With a parent’s death, it is always more complicated. This is because when a parent dies, we lose not only the parent we had, but also we lose the parent we never had, the parent we wished we’d had, the fantasy of the perfect parent we wanted. Often when a parent dies, we re-experience the early messages that we got from that parent, and we must deal not only with the parent’s death, but with the old message, which we may have thought was gone! The woman above, a successful middle-aged professional, spent 6 months following her father’s death dealing with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. Her father’s message to her was largely, "You don’t count."


Because grief is so difficult and misunderstood, there are many myths about it. Here are a few of them:


• "You never recover from a major loss such as death." In fact, you can recover a full life after a major loss of any kind.


• "Time is the only healer of grief." It is true that it takes time to grieve. But it also takes hard work, self-examination, reaching out, feeling.


• "If you love someone too much, your grief will be worse." The truth is, the more you loved someone and the better your relationship was with someone who has died or left, the more satisfying your grief work can be.


• "No one else can help you with your grief." Many people can help you with your grief, and especially those people who have gone through similar losses. Groups like MADD, and other support groups are miraculously effective in helping others.


• "The death of a spouse is easier to handle than a divorce." Grief that follows divorce is similar in many ways and different in many ways from grief following death. But it is every bit as painful. It is wise to remember that grief cannot be compared, and that THE WORST GRIEF IS YOURS.


• "Your loss was God’s will and you should not question it." Rather to think that it is never God’s will that you suffer or that your loved one suffer or die. Death and loss are a part of this mortal life.


• "If you keep busy, your grief will go away." Not true! If you keep too busy to face your feelings and avoid talking about them, you subject yourself to a higher risk of illness following a major loss! One woman who flooded herself with activity following her husband’s death looked great and sounded great, but she was unable to connect on any emotional level, even 10 years later. She had become a robot.


Here are some of the symptoms of grief:


• Physical symptoms: tightness in the throat, heaviness in the chest, emptiness in stomach,


• Feelings of guilt at times, and anger at other times,


• Feeling restless, but finding it difficult to concentrate,


• Feeling as though the loss is not real, that it did not actually happen,


• Sensing the loved one’s presence, like expecting them to walk through the door,


• Wandering aimlessly around, forgetting things, being unable to finish what they start,


• Having difficulty sleeping; dreaming of the lost one,


• Assuming mannerisms and traits of the loved one,


• Feeling angry at the loved one for leaving,


• Feeling guilty or angry over things that happened or didn’t happen with the loved one,


• Needing to tell and retell things about the loved one, and the experience of the death,


• Feeling their mood change over the slightest thing; crying at unexpected times.


There are others, of course, but perhaps you recognize yourself in some of these.


There are certain things that tend to go on during grief, and these have been widely spoken about. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross set forth the contemporary theory of grief. She suggested the 4 phases of grief: The first is denial, when we react with the feeling of "No, it’s not true!" This often occurs when we are stunned with a sudden diagnosis, or news about a loss. One woman refused to "let in" that she really had cancer, and did not tell her family. No one knew she was dying of cancer until she was actually on her death bed. Sometimes you hear about a parent who maintains a dead child’s bedroom exactly as it had been during the child’s life, as a sort of "shrine" to the child. Denial is powerful, and stops all processing, boom, like that.


The second aspect identified by Kubler-Ross is rage. "This isn’t fair", "how can I have cancer? I am too young", "why did I have a miscarriage, I don’t even have one child yet" "why did god take my husband; what am I going to do now?" "It’s not fair that my dog died; I loved her so much!" Anger is a normal part of grief, and must be experienced. We may also experience a third thing, bargaining. Sometimes this is subtle, but we try to bargain with God. "God, if you just let him live, I’ll never do this-or-that again." "If you just let me have this baby, I’ll give money to this-or-that." "If you just bring him back to me, I’ll never complain again." Sometimes, all these three things are jumbled up together, and we just bounce around, from one out-of-control state to the next.


The final phase is acceptance, and this can occur in lucid moments between the other times, or it may occur more easily, or perhaps never at all. In acceptance, we come to see that we have to deal with the situation, whether we like it or not, whether it is fair or not, whether we deserve it or not, whether we are ready or not. Whether we become a "grief survivor" or a grief casualty depends a great deal on how we handle our own grief.


Here are a few suggestions on what you can do to help yourself in the difficult work of grief:


• Don’t let others rush you. Take the time you need to work through your feelings.


• Put off major decisions; grieving is a time of instability.


• Avoid the temptation to numb your pain with alcohol or drugs.


• Understand that you will have good days and bad days. Don’t be surprised by backsliding, especially during times of special significance, holidays, birthdays, "firsts."


• Crying is the healthiest expression of grief. Don’t try to suppress tears for the sake of others.


• Remembering is a healthy way of mourning. Look at photos and savor your memories.


• Seek out friends and relatives who allow you to talk and remember.


• Ask for what you need from people who offer their help.


• Let yourself "convalesce." Watch your diet, rest and exercise. Be attentive to your own health, as your immune system is suppressed during grieving.

Some people come through grief better than others. Yes, it is true that some people suffer more and have a tougher time. Much has to do with attitude. Believe it or not, the one thing that all grief survivors tend to have in common is a simple thing: the belief that they will make it through, that it will work out ok. But there are many other survivor attitudes which can help you. Things like, "I will examine the future." "I will not be defeated." "I will take advantage of available opportunities." "There is still time for me." "There must be some meaning to be found in this event." "I will not assume a victim posture." "I will accept life’s challenge." –These attitudes are useful in helping all of us greet the challenges of life, no matter what the hardships or losses have been.


Survivors plan ahead whenever possible; in the event of sickness, potential divorce, etc., they have a plan in mind. Survivors are not complainers; they find a way to express negative feelings, and they proceed to do and act. They draw upon the resources inside. They take responsibility for making their lives livable and rewarding; in the face of a challenge, they work to overcome the environment or whatever impairs them. They enjoy life at times, even while hurting. There is an ability to see humor in a situation or laugh at themselves. They find a way to gain from misfortune something of benefit to themselves and others. They have lots of determination, and they work hard on their own recovery. They set about improving things, setting things right, and they learn to be flexible in order to work out their own happy endings. Perhaps you can see an emerging attitude here: survivors know that they will be ok, and that they are responsible to make it ok! And then they do it.


On the other hand, some of the behaviors which point to a poor outcome include: excessive drinking or eating; being accident prone; developing chronic health problems, like asthma, ulcers or allergies; insomnia; overspending; entering into an abusive relationship; engaging in compulsive care-giving; rejecting close and healthy relationships; fantasizing about suicide; resenting other’s happiness to such a degree that s/he behaves spitefully; being plagued by guilt or anger; lacking all powers of concentration; and perceiving himself or herself as a burden to others.


If you recognize yourself in these behaviors, you need to start to work on your impacted grief. Find a therapist, a support group at a local hospital, start to write in your journal, take care of your health, get exercise ... WAKE UP.


You will know you are emerging from grief successfully when you can begin to answer "yes" to these questions:


• Am I able to integrate moderately into social situations?


• Am I able to talk about my loved one without experiencing disabling pain or despair?


• Can I perform my job and concentrate on the task at hand?


• Are my dreams of my loved one often pleasant and reassuring?


• Do I enjoy close relationships with other people?


• Am I genuinely interested in other things and other people? Am I able to smile and laugh without feeling guilty?

When you are healing successfully, your life has a purpose, a future and you have an appreciation for your own humanity. The same things which made you feel deep grief also make your life worthwhile, and something to be treasured. To love well is to grieve well ... to have a life without grief, you would have to live without love. Not such a great alternative.


Incest is a very disturbing topic. It is even troubling to think about the concept of childhood incest. When we start to think about the reality of incest, with all the psychic trauma, betrayal, physical trauma and implications about lack of protection that the child experiences, it becomes quite sickening. And it is sickening to realize the extent to which incest occurs in our society. More and more survivors of childhood incest are beginning to speak up about their experiences, and we are seeing the astounding numbers of people who suffered this early life trauma. This frequency of occurrence is often attributed to the breakdown of the moral fabric of society, to the increase in alcoholism (which breaks down natural taboos against incest) and to the increasing narcissism and self-centeredness of the modern world. Whatever the explanations for its frequency, incest is one of the most devastating occurrences that can disrupt a child’s world.


When we speak of incest, we are referring to the sexualization of a familial relationship. The perpetrator could be the father or the mother, a grandparent, a brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle, a cousin, or another person who is like a member of the family. The sexualization of the relationship can result in an overt act, with or without penetration, or it can remain in the realm of the emotional, attitudinal or energic. It can involve torture, force or coercion, or it can be subtle, accomplished by suggestion alone. No matter what, incest always involves a boundary violation, whether the incest is overt or covert. The violator is the senior family member, and the incest is ALWAYS the fault of this person. This is because a family member has the absolute right to assume that their sexuality is safe in the presence of another family member. Once this safeguard has been violated, the child is never again the same; something is changed forever. An innocence is lost; a trust has been betrayed.


When incest occurs, it is as if a mirror has been shattered. The self of the victim is, indeed, shattered. On the level of the conscious personality, there may or may not be apparent symptoms. Sometimes incest survivors become sexually active early in life; this happens because the child learns an erroneous lesson through the incest ... the child learns that intimacy equals sexuality. While this is not true, and should never be true in the context of the family, the incest survivor nevertheless has had another experience. Sometimes survivors remain sexually inactive or fear physical intimacy throughout their lifetimes, especially if they have not had a healing therapy to deal with the experience. The relationship to sexuality is almost always affected in some way. Trust is virtually always disrupted, as well. Sometimes trusting others becomes an enormous issue; sometimes survivors indiscriminately trust virtually anybody. Incest survivors tend to become victims of other sex crimes later in life, and it is thought that this is because their sense of what is appropriate around sex is so profoundly disturbed by the early incest experience.


Some of the things incest survivors fear are: loud noises, men’s voices, nighttime, going to sleep, basements, garages, back seats of cars, getting shots or having anything put into their bodies, dentists’ fingers, being approached from behind, secrets, boundary violations, not being noticed, being noticed, speaking up for themselves, being in relationships, being alone, being awakened, dreaming, losing control or not being in control, letting someone in, intimacy, crying in front of someone else, appearing weak or needy, trusting others, speaking the truth about their experience, orgasm, having relationships that are non-sexual, locked doors, hands around their throats, massages, anesthesia, confinement , not being able to breathe... the list goes on and on. While many people, even people who are not incest survivors, may fear some of these things, incest survivors fear them for different reasons: they are associated with a traumatic, sexual betrayal.


On the level of the unconscious, the damage to an incest survivor is inevitable, and it is great. Incest survivors are always hurt at the deepest level of self experience. Often, the self-esteem is greatly damaged. A child who is used sexually often cannot help but feel that s/he is not loved and cherished for his or her total self, that somehow, it is only her/his sexuality that makes him/her desirable. S/he comes to feel inadequate, unloved, unwanted, uncherished, used, manipulated, exploited, unworthy, broken, like a piece of shit, blemished, tarnished. S/he feels it is her fault; s/he is the cause; s/he should have said no; s/he shouldn’t have felt any physical or emotional pleasure from the experience (sometimes there is physical pleasure; sometimes there is an emotional gratification from the attention or the closeness); s/he should have spoken up; s/he should have stopped it. But it is usually not possible, at least, not for a long, long time. I often say that when the incest occurs, it is as if the clock stops on at least a part of the growing up experience. The sexual self of a 7-year old who is incested, for example, remains 7 ... and s/he will be unable to stop the incest, in all probability, for many, many years.


In addition to the damage to the self-esteem, deep damage occurs to the sense of safety to the incest survivor. S/he comes to feel that the world is not a safe place; that tomorrow is not a safe time; that s/he is dying; that there will never be safety; that no one will ever rescue her/him; that no one can ever understand. The loneliness and isolation of the incest survivor are heart-breaking.


It is understandable then, that the incest survivor in recovery from childhood incest is often furious, sometimes MORE furious, at the mother, even when she is not the perpetrator. The rage is often at the mother because she failed at protecting her child from the incest. The rage is often because the mother failed to notice that there was anything wrong with the childhood picture. The incest survivor often says, "How could she not see that I was being molested? How could she not notice that I was acting inappropriately, crying all the time, missing school, suddenly sullen, etc.?" In working through the incest, the survivor often has to confront, acknowledge and deal with this first level of betrayal ... that the childhood home was not safe.


And when we are dealing with parental incest, it is true, as Heinz Kohut, the founder of self psychology says, that incest rarely occurs in a vacuum ... more often, it is an act of gross abuse which occurs in the context of an environment which is ALREADY NON-RESPONSIVE to this vulnerable child on an on-going basis.


Incest survivors have many resources to deal with the paralyzing after-effects of their trauma. There are 12-step groups, other support groups, knowledgeable therapists, many excellent books ... these things are now available. Also available is this website, and your questions and comments are welcome here.