General Articles

Good Bye And Good Luck!

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

shutterAfter one and a half years, I am retiring my blog about introverts, shy people and all kinds of Gentle Selves, and turn to the new and exciting field of the science of consciousness. It has been an honor to serve all readers who shared my interest, and I want to encourage all the check out my new blog Mind Matters – Neuroscience and Consciousness.

Woman behind shutter image available from Shutterstock.


The Power Of Being An Introvert

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

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Introverts and shy people all over rejoice: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with needing space and quiet, and preferring a low key dinner with a good friend to a loud and extravagant party.

There is nothing wrong with needing time to retreat from the world and recharge your internal batteries, or to feel overwhelmed by too much pressure or too much information.

I’m a latecomer to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s been out for a while, but that doesn’t make its message any less important.

One major point she makes is that introverts are thinkers and creators. “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement”, science journalist Winifred Gallagher is quoted. He concludes that neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor John Milton’s Paradise Lost was “dashed off by a party animal.”

Susan Cain adds more great achievements by venerable introverts: Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. Even techno revolutionaries like Google founder Sergey Brin or Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg are included. The list goes on to include Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

Many of us turn to the mind. We are called cerebral, innovative, brooding, creative. But also spiritual, psychologically minded, curious about the inner workings of all things. Endlessly fascinated by the wonders of nature, and inspired by the journey of discovery.

Of course, not all introverts end up famous. Many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear of conflict, depression and low self esteem.

Many times, our negative self image goes back to the messages we received from our families and our culture. Extroverted children are deemed preferable to quiet ones by lots of parents, for fear that their kids will end up as outsiders or loners. The angst they are putting on their children ends up creating just that: youngers who feel bad about themselves …


When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry – Part IV

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

digitalcoverZOMany people who come to enter codependent relationships with their teachers are–consciously or unconsciously–seeking to empower themselves by associating with a powerful figure. They project all the qualities they feel are lacking in themselves onto the teacher: perseverance, wisdom, enlightenment, strength, and so on. They become fixated on the belief that they can only develop these qualities the closer they are to the teacher.

Making the teacher their therapist, lover, or main confidante in their lives is seen as healing themselves from their sense of lack and inadequacy. Power is highly seductive in these constellations and easily becomes eroticized. The teacher is seen as the one who has the upper hand in all matters. But it is important to remind ourselves that she or he is not.

In her excellent article “Boundary Violations and the Abuse of Power,” psychoanalyst Andrea Celenza interprets the power relationship between analyst and analysand (which is applicable to the relationship between teacher and student) as rooted in three important basic conditions. She speaks of “the seductiveness of the analyst’s power,” which is derived from its setting: Here the seeker who wants something, there the teacher who has something to give.

It is the most fundamental power play a person can get into, because it mirrors the parental relationships. Secondly, there is the metaphorical nature of the power derived by the analytic/spiritual role, which is “to hold and penetrate.” And finally “power is sexy because it always was, i.e., because this is the way love was experienced in its first instantiation. We are born into a power relation, directing our first loving feelings toward those who have a temporal advantage, to those (parents or a parent) who have come before, so to speak. To be in a relationship with a person more powerful than oneself activates memories and expectations of love relationships structured around a power imbalance, of which the parent-child experience is the prototype.”

Empowerment is the key task of every teacher, if he or she is to work successfully with a student. But …


When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry – Part III

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

digitalcoverZOLove and care are at the heart of every functioning spiritual student-teacher relationship. It is almost never equally mutual or even palpable in overt ways, and it may never be acknowledged. It can come in many different forms and includes struggles and resistance. But the intensity of every significant bond that is forged in this arena implies by its nature the presence of affection and love.

Unfortunately, the nature of this love is often not understood. Students come to love their teachers for their compassion and wisdom, but will add transferential expectations of the past that distort their image of the teacher.

Teachers frequently underestimate the depth and nature of their students’ love, contribute to an unnecessary and inappropriate eroticization, and cause more suffering. The students end up feeling betrayed and exploited, and the damage done is difficult to heal.

The most harmful reason for teacher-student relationships gone awry is probably enacted sexual misconduct. Most of the time, such affairs involve a male teacher and a female student, although it does happen in different gender constellations as well. The psychological dynamics at work are idealization, regression, and psychological merger fantasies in both student and teacher.

One prevalent desire for many students, male or female, whether they have affairs with their teachers or not, is the wish to be special to the teacher.

A close relationship with an idealized authority figure makes the student special by affiliation. It almost doesn’t matter whether the relationship is physically sexual, non-physically eroticized, chronically flirtatious, or emotionally intimate on both sides. “When a woman makes any kind of compromise with inappropriate sexual expression from a man, she yields control over her own intimate boundaries and begins a dangerous collaboration that can lead to her victimization,” writes psychiatrist Peter Rutter in his book Sex in the Forbidden Zone.

He stresses that inappropriate conduct almost always precludes victimization, because it is typically the man who is in power: He has control over her psychological and spiritual well being. “The mere presence of sexual innuendo from a man who has …


When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry, Part II

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

 

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In my previous post, I discussed the pitfalls of idealization and just how easy it is to put a seemingly highly evolved person on a pedestal. What often comes with idealization is a certain degree of regression, which means that the admirer goes back to a psychologically less mature place and looks up to the spiritual teacher from an almost childlike place. This is what puts the person in authority in such a powerful place.

Spiritual leaders, and people in the healing professions, must become especially familiar with how idealization and regression works in the minds of the vulnerable, and make every effort to show them their whole personality–”warts and all.”

The way to go about  showing one’s true face as a  teacher (or any other person in authority) is to slowly introduce the students to one’s less favorable sides, and to stop responding to, or even reject, their declarations of love and adoration.

Of course, it’s convenient to leave them in a  state of admiration–the more flattery there is, the easier it is to actually buy into it. Who among us doesn’t want to believe just how great we are when met with flattery and adoration? But it won’t serve anybody in the long run. The more realistic the teacher can be about his or her own capabilities, the more realistic the student sees the world altogether.

This is how students move out of those vulnerable states of regression and childlike attachment, and progress towards a more mature way of relating to others that includes obstacles and conflict  resolution rather than avoids it.

When this gradual erosion of idealization and infantile longings doesn’t take place and is disturbed or cut off by a traumatic rupture in the relationship, the student is in danger of continuing to search for the perfect teacher, or relationship, that will give what is expected. Even when there is not a big bang but just a disappointed, lukewarm drifting  apart, the disillusionment can leave a mark.

A persistent hunger for love and validation may remain, which includes an inability or unwillingness to deal with the more frustrating realities of life. “We shrink  rather than open our hearts when we become our teachers’ clones, puppets or wannabees,” writes Scott Edelstein in his book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. “There is the delusion that someone who is wise, enlightened or spiritually advanced is …


When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry, Part I

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

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The story of spiritual relationships going bad has been repeating itself in many ways in virtually every religion. We think about the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church. Violent outbursts in cults like the Branch Davidians. And bitter disillusionment when a spiritual leader we turn to ends up not having our best interest at heart.

Eastern religions in America have not been spared. There have been sex scandals in Yoga centers all over the country, where self proclaimed gurus betrayed the trust of their students and exploited their position for their own personal or financial gain.

Buddhism in America too has had its controversies. This is what my new book Buddha Betrayed wants to explore. Teachers in Zen as well as other Buddhist schools of thought have been accused of sexual misconduct and boundary violations, mostly between male teachers and their female students.

Initially it involved teachers from India, Japan and other Asian countries who came to America, unfamiliar with the social conduct and flat hierarchical structures of this country, who ended up exploiting their students’ trust and their position of power. But there were many others who followed in their footsteps, and the psychological damage done can be traumatic.

My book is trying to explore what kind of pitfalls religious seekers must become aware of in their own minds, when they engage in a relationship with a spiritual teacher.

Perhaps the most prevalent and potentially harmful phenomenon is idealization. Often just the uniform of such a person – the robe, the foreign name, the shaved head – instills respect and awe.   We want to believe that this teacher, who may have done spiritual work for many decades, has fully overcome all their shortcomings and imperfections and is now a fully mature and transcended being.

We expect them to have their live together. We want them to be kind and understanding at all times, and firm and decisive when needed. We want them to have psychological insight and give us spiritual guidance. In short, we want them to be perfect.

But the truth is that they are not. Spiritual teachers have developed …


How To End Codependency

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

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Codependency is defined as one partner being dependent on the control and the needs of another, like when a self defeating partner falls for a narcissist. For the codependent person, the needs of the other become paramount, and one’s own needs and desires – sometimes even the whole personality are obliterated.

The primary task of a codependent person is individuation. Becoming one’s own priority. Knowing and realizing one’s desires. Discovering the self. And eventually standing on your own feet within a partnership.

The way a person becomes codependent often goes back to childhood, when a parent or an important family member or a caretaker used the child as an extension of the self and did not allow the child to develop his or her own personality.

The most important job of the child was to attend to the narcissistic parent’s needs – be it directly by obeying whatever the parent said, or indirectly, by becoming the person the parent wanted us to be: be good, be quiet, be compliant, be like them, become the better version of the parent and so on.

Parent and child became emotionally fused. There is no independent will the child may pursue. There is only the needs and fears of one person, the all powerful and dominant parent.

Even when the parent outwardly rejects the child, because he or she doesn’t seem to live up to their expectations, the child will still try to gain the approval of the parent and won’t be permitted to become an individual.

Children of emotionally fused parents will end up in codependent relationships later in life. Becoming aware of this dynamic is very painful. The first task is to grieve the lost self, and to find the pillars on which one’s own personality rest.

Even if it feels like all energy goes into the needs of other people, there is still a fundamental inner core that represents the true self.

Go back and look at old pictures. Maybe there was an aunt or a grandparent that fostered independence and ideas in you. Maybe there was a game you played with other kids, or an art project …


How To Communicate Instead Of Having A Fight

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

shutterstock_34411321We’ve all been there. It’s Sunday morning. The husband wants to see his parents. The wife would rather go take a hike in the woods. Or the other way around. One insists on what they want, the other resists or doesn’t really engage and you’re off arguing what to do with this Sunday afternoon.

The most important aspect to avoid a fight is your attitude towards the other person. If you internally roll your eyes and get ready to defend your position as the one and only possibility, then you’re already on the path of war. But if you’re able to look at it from a joint perspective – as inwe are going to figure this out together - then you will have a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

When couples disagree about how to solve a problem, both people should put their own opinion on the back burner. Instead, explore what else you would be willing to consider.

Do a little brain storming without getting attached to a solution first. What else could you do with your afternoon? Maybe swing by the parents for a cup of coffee and then take a short walk together? Hike with the in-laws? Have a romantic afternoon at the beach and make dinner plans with the family for next Saturday? Split up and each do your own thing? Find a whole different strategy all together?

Before getting attached to one particular idea, create a pool of possibilities first. Come up with some ideas what each of you want to do. That way you come closer to what each other is willing to give up in order to come to a joint solution.

First you have to give a little. That’s when you gain your partner’s trust and willingness to compromise. If you get hung up on only one solution (yours) you inevitably get into a power struggle and only one person can “win” – but the victory is short lived, because resentment will build within the other.

Change your mindset and include the other in your thought process rather than exclude them. From then on you will get what you want.

Happy couple photo available from Shutterstock


Treating Depression Naturally

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Bright and Beautiful!

Depression, especially when mild and manageable, can be treated with natural means. Lots of people are not comfortable taking psychotropic medication when they feel blue, but still want to be proactive in trying to help themselves.

Psychotherapist Nicole McCance has now published the book “52 Ways to Beat Depression Naturally”. It begins with breathing exercises to calm you down and behavioral tips how to get motivated. I especially appreciate the reminder to simply go outside into nature in order to activate mind and body when feeling sluggish and depressed.

Very important are the listed tools to increase self awareness like journaling, handwriting, how to deal with fear, and gratitude exercises.

McCance looks at depression holistically and adds ways how to improve sleep and nutrition. She discusses the benefits of light therapy, aroma therapy and body-mind exercises.

“52 Ways to Beat Depression” is a much needed guide to help alleviate sadness and anxiety and to show ways how to be happier without resorting to drugs.

 

 

Vinoth Chandar via Compfight


Therapy Is Not For Wimps

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Pieces of Me? Most people who seek psychotherapy believe that they are weak, that their life force has been shaken to the core, that they can’t face the world and its challenges. But it’s quite the opposite. Daring to look at oneself and one’s imperfections really is an act of heroism.

Most of us don’t like to admit that we often are in need: we crave to be in a loving relationship, grow roots and find stability in a community, want the security of having a financial  cushion and so on. So much of our self exploration focuses on our needs and how we can avoid the pitfalls of never saying no to anyone.

And not just that. Sometimes we are weak. When our child is in pain and we can’t help, we feel each pang of that pain with them.  When we are exhausted and run down, we don’t have it in us to stand up to whoever we feel treats us unfairly.

Defeat cannot always be averted. All there is to do is to admit that we have failed. There is no way to pretend otherwise. We need to be able to face the truth of our human existence.

Admitting to feeling vulnerable and confused automatically takes the aggression out of a fight. Saying calmly “that really hurt me” or “I just don’t have it in me” deflects anger and opens the door for dialogue and cooperation. It avoids defensiveness and the typical downward spiral of self righteousness and stonewalling.

Seeing our weaknesses enables us to move past them, because we first have to become aware of our limitations before we can try to do something about it.

Knowing that we are vulnerable makes compassion with others possible. Everyone appreciates compassion, kindness and gentleness.

Every feeling is temporary. All things must pass, as George Harrison said. And there will be an end to feeling weak and incapacitated too. It’s all part of the human experience.  The sooner we can accept that, the easier we will move past it.

 

photo credit: CarbonNYC


The Gentle Self Buddha Betrayed
Gerti Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self
and her latest book, Buddha Betrayed. Check them
out on Amazon.com today!

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