Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

A lot of feelings will draw your attention elsewhere where your attention doesn’t do you any good. The feeling of frustration is this way. When you’re feeling frustrated, your attention is on the object of your frustration when it should be on yourself.

You’re trying to be on time for an appointment and two elderly drivers are traveling ten miles below the speed limit, side-by-side on the highway. If you’re feeling frustrated, your attention is on those two drivers because they’re in the way. It appears that you will feel better or worse depending on whether they let you by. Your feelings are in their hands. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take control if you pay attention to what you’re doing instead of paying attention to them.

Let’s be clear about what frustration is. The feeling of frustration is what you get when you expect or try to do the impossible. Continue reading

The Ambiguous Picture


Continuing my series of the objects I keep in my office, today let’s look at a picture I keep in a frame on the bookcase facing the couch. It’s a well-known image.

Ambiguous picture

If you look at it one way, you see a young woman with a big hat, turned away from the viewer. If you look at it another, there’s an old woman in profile. It’s impossible to see both at the same time. If you’re seeing the young woman and want to see the old, you have to locate a prominent feature and redefine it. Find the young woman’s necklace and think of it as a mouth. The rest of the image of the old woman will fall into place. Then, once you see the old woman and want to see the young, go back to that feature and call it a necklace. The young woman will return.

The reason I have this image in my office is because it illustrates a problem many people have when they come to therapy. Their thinking is stuck. Often, it’s negative thinking they’re stuck in. Things are actually better than they think they are. They’ll admit they don’t really have anything to complain about, but they complain, anyway; they are unable to do anything but complain. They are like the viewer stuck on seeing only the old woman (or, if that sounds too ageist for you, the young woman). How can they switch? Continue reading

The Dance of Relationship: A Guide to the Positions

Old Posts

When we think about love, we may picture something like this: <>

This position is called Turning Towards. You’re facing each other, open to each other, and paying attention to no one but each other. You may be touching.

You might believe this is the most desirable of the positions, but it’s very intense. It’s hard to do anything else when you are Turning Towards. It’s also hard to sustain attention totally to your partner, and it may feel threatening to have someone pay attention to you, not missing a thing. Still, the moments in which we are Turning Towards are meaningful, tender, and warm.

It’s also the position you are in when you are in a fight.

The second position looks something like this: > <

This is Turning Away. Most of life in a relationship is like this. You may be mad at one another, but, more likely, you’re just busy and doing other things. Love can look like this, too. It may be a picture of two people who feel so secure in one another that they can let each other go and pay attention to other things. When you are permitted to turn away, you are free to explore.

Watch what happens when one partner changes position and turns toward. You get the third and forth positions: < < and > >

Turning Towards/Turning Away. In these positions, one partner is paying attention to the other while the other is attentive to something or someone else.

Sometimes, the Turning Toward partner is content watching. He simply admires his spouse, enjoys seeing her interact with others. He has no need for attention.

The Turning Away partner may feel her spouse has her back. He’s there if she needs him. She’s comfortable being the object of his attention.

Often, though, there’s an insecurity in this position. They’re the most unstable. Turning Towards/Turning Away can be very uncomfortable for both parties.

The Turning Towards one may feel ignored, neglected, and abandoned. He might feel jealous of the object of the partner’s attention. He may blame himself for being sticky, dependent, and needing excessive reassurance.

The Turning Away partner may feel clung to, limited by him. She may believe her partner has excessive demands. She may have the urge to flee.

These positions are sometimes the beginning of a ghastly dance. One partner clings, while the other breaks away. The more the one clings, the more the other needs to escape. The more the one avoids, the more the other hangs on.

There is a final position that should be noted. It looks like this: < O >

In this one, both partners are focused on the same thing. It could be a show they’re watching, a problem they’re trying to solve, or a child they’re raising. Having an important common purpose can be the most compelling reason to be in a relationship. You do more together than you could possibly do alone. However, the thing you are both focused on can be the thing that separates you and forces you apart.

Spend a few days noticing these positions in the natural world. See what it feels like for you to be in each position and see what you instinctively do next.

When You Need Your Space

Old Posts

Some days, you just need your space.

The trouble is, your partner is there, too, and if you try to get some space, they may take it personally. You don’t want to get into a long discussion over why you need your space when you need your space. It may not be good to get into discussions when you need your space. They seldom go well, then.

What you need, at times like that, is a hat.

Not just any ordinary hat, but a hat that is easily recognizable and officially designated as the I Need My Space Hat.

So, some time when you don’t need your space, pick out a hat and talk with your partner. Put the hat in a common area where both of you can find it. Whenever you need your space, put on the hat. Only use this hat for that one purpose. The hat communicates something to your partner, so you don’t have to. It says, I need my space. It’s not about you, it’s about me. I’ll tell you why when I take off the hat.

It’s important that you have this discussion first, before you need it, so both of you understand what the hat means. It’s also important to obey the hat, no matter which one of you is using it. Finally, it’s important to talk after you take the hat off. Tell your partner why you think you needed your space and was going on with you.

Some days, you just need your space and it’s hard to get it. Unless you use a hat.

What if We’re Wrong?


What if a person really could forget the horrors of the past?

Yes, I know; we therapists tell you it’s impossible to do without paying a price. We say that you have a lumber room of the mind, a hidden closet in which you stuff all the traumas and memories you wish you had no use for. We say, in time, the contents of this room start to smell. House guests, looking for the bathroom, will open the wrong door and let all your heartaches escape. The closet gets crammed with memories, so that if you try to put one more in, two more are dislodged and tumble out at your feet. All the horrors will find a way out, somehow, or they will make life difficult if they remain locked up. There’s no end to the neuroses, psychoses, character dysfunctions, family dysfunctions, and general malaise you are subject to if you try to put anything into that closet.

Therapists tell you it’s impossible to be effectively rid of the past and want you to take our word for it. You have to deal with the past, clean out the closet, pull out every item in turn, dust it off, and find a place on the coffee table to keep it. Face your demons or forever be running away from them. Deal with it, we say, as if you’re a lackadaisical croupier and we’re eager blackjack players. Become conscious of the unconscious, we urge. And we would be the very people to help you.

“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” you might say. “I don’t have any demons in the closet.”

Every therapist would then just smile. It’s no use trying to explain repression to someone who’s repressing. You’re never going to get it.

But, what if therapists are wrong, and it is possible to forget the horrors of the past? Continue reading


Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

We have no emotion that’s not useful in some way. Everything is there for a purpose, even an emotion that undermines its purpose.

I’m talking about shame. Its purpose seems to be to help us fit in with others. Shame, and its milder version, embarrassment, comes up when you violate a social norm which might get you expelled from the group or, at least lower your status. Continue reading

Mental Illness Happy Hour

shrinbks-links-photo1If you have ever thought you were the only person who thinks the thoughts that you do, in the way you do, I would recommend that you listen to the Mental Illness Happy Hour. There, you will hear yourself think.

The weekly, hour-long audio podcast of interviews with artists, friends and the occasional doctor is hosted by Comedian Paul Gilmartin.

Paul hopes that you hope, that the show and its website give you a place to connect and smile. So look at the website, listen to the show, fill out and read the anonymous surveys, and watch for hope returning on the horizon.

Click here to start.