Authentic Versus Romanticized Love, 1 of 3: What Love Is Not

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 6 min read

images-846What is authentic love in a couple relationship, and how is it different from romanticized love?

For one, by nature’s design, authentic love is not supposed to be “easy” to realize. It is a challenging life experience in which nature stretches us out of our comfort zones, in this case, inviting two individuals to stay engaged, and be transformed, by a process that grows the individual capacity of each to love and be loved, to give and contribute to own and others growth and wellbeing,  bring the love and energy they aspire to realize. In contrast, if anything, romanticized love is easy.

Before looking more closely at the characteristics of authentic versus romanticized love, this post outlines what authentic love is not:

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Pornography: Ways It Blocks Healthy Sexual Relations, 2 of 3

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 15 min read

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A key block to healthy sexual relations, as discussed in Part 1, is that porn depicts sexual relations devoid of emotional intimacy as “the” norm.

Whereas intimacy is an emotional sense of safety and love, a felt state of mind and body that occurs when the love and safety chemical oxytocin is released into the blood stream, and that forms an essential foundation for healthy sexual relations, pornography makes sex about body parts and treats people as objects at the disposal of other object-persons.

Here are three more ways porn blocks healthy sexual relations in a couple relationship:

2. Reinforces the idea that, for men, sex equates to self-worth

Porn promotes the notion that, when it comes to a love relationship, nothing is more important than sex, and that’s all a man needs to feel like a man, thus, to feel loved. This comes with at least two underlying expectations, that a man’s sense of self-worth depends on his female partner to: (1) never say “No” to sex when he wants it, and (2) never ask him to do things “unmanly” things, more specifically, “the love stuff” that he’s learned to associate with what women and children “need” to feel loved. An ideal woman “should want” only what already pleases him, such as sex, and thus never bothers him with petty requests, which pose a “threat” to his feeling manly.

In other words, this mindset holds that a man cannot feel loved if he’s loved, or loves, the way a “woman loves” — as if there’s really such a thing — that he must avoid this “love stuff’ to prove masculinity. 

There are high costs for men (and women) when they buy into this idea to include, that: 

  • It sets up a double standard; and in a partnership, when one partner feels shortchanged, both lose — and any “wins” are mere illusions.

This double standard says that, because sex is what a man “needs” to feel “loved like a man, and a man depends on his partner to feel like a man, a “good” woman must put aside her feelings and needs for “closeness,” and the like, to focus on what he needs physically, mentally, and emotionally, and he depends on to feel like a man.

This sets up rigid expectations. Men grow up feeling entitled to sex, and expect their partner to be available and attentive to their “needs” for sex. It’s not just sex, remember, it’s a belief that his self-worth as a man that is at stake. Thus, a female partner should never complain or ask her partner for “emotion stuff” to ensure he doesn’t feel “uncomfortable” as a man, it’s totally okay and expected for her to do things out of her comfort zone if that is his pleasure.

The problem with this double standard is that a human relationship is an emotional connection between human beings, period. The expectations for men to suppress, disown, even hate or regard with disdain, their hardwired inner emotion-drives for creating a meaningful relationship with self and another human being are both unrealistic and inhumane. The emotion-drives are needs not wants for human beings to matter in life. Men and women alike are hardwired to yearn for meaningful relationships, and that includes tenderness, human touch, nonsexual affection and the “love stuff,” etc. As real as physical needs for oxygen or water, these yearnings are also the most powerful motivating forces for most all human behaviors.

These are key ways a relationship is formed. And they enrich health and happiness by releasing hormones that nourish cells. A double standard of this magnitude cannot but cause problems for couples, setting up both men and women to fail in creating a secure, long-lasting relationship and sex life.

  • It sets up both partners to obsess on “fixing the other,” albeit in different ways.

The compulsion for men and women to fix one another is a real problem. Men and women have been conditioned, albeit in different ways, to treat one another as weak and not capable. In a world where certain groups are conditioned to believe a might makes right view of life, superiority on the basis of dominance, etc., are norms that spread like cancer, causing human beings to scramble for ways “to matter” on the basis of looking to identify and “fix” other’s weaknesses, faults. Thus, men and women as partners — and parents — too often seek to matter, and feel “needed,” by treating the other as weak and incapable. 

Truth be told, to a greater or lesser extent, both men and women have been culturally trained to look down on the opposite sex.

For example, as a group, men are conditioned to think of women’s “emotionality” as a weakness, proof of inferiority, even “craziness.” From boyhood, male partners (as well as fathers, brothers, etc.) all learn to view the female sex, in general, as prone to “emotionality,” that men have to guard against (stay away from) any influence (to avoid being called sissies, etc.). Men feel “needed” in their relationships by fulfilling their job of “fixing” women, as they do children, to act like adults.

In turn, women as a group are overall conditioned to think of men’s need to “win” or “feel superior,” to dismiss rather than listen or care about other’s feelings, etc. From girlhood, most female partners (as well as mothers, sisters, etc.) learn to treat men as “insecure,” that they depend on women need to “protect” men’s egos, to let men one-up so they can feel important, “in control,” etc. (and thus to avoid being called “selfish” or “controlling,” etc.)

Since deep down, no human being likes to be treated like a project that needs to be “fixed,” attempts to do always cause problems in love relationships (eventually, if not at first). Humans are hardwired to interpret their partner’s attempts to “fix them” not only as unloving, but also as disapproving, rejection or scorn, etc. This triggers core fears, thus the body’s survival system, defenses!

Not surprisingly, each reacts protectively to protest such action, and one of the most common ways is by resisting the other’s attempts to influence. Again, a partner may go along at first; once they begin to feel shortchanged, they start to resist. This is where the power struggle begins, and relationships start to go south.

Resistance is a form of anger, which may be expressed outwardly or held inside (and acted out, passive aggression). Predictably:

Resistance of one partner grows in proportion to how much pressure they (perceive) from the other to “fix” them.

The growth of resistance is not a chance outcome by the way; it’s law. Human relationships are governed by laws of physics, in this case, Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” 

It happens in the bedroom too. When a female partner says “no” to porn, or certain sex acts (that he viewed on porn), it’s not uncommon for men to think there is something “wrong” with their partner sexually when she objects to porn or certain sexual fantasies. Assuming there’s something “wrong” with her, and thinking it’s his job to “fix” her to want what he wants, he starts to pressure her to comply. The more he demands that she wants more sex, the more turned off she gets.

Based on misguided perceptions, it makes sense that men may feel shortchanged or rejected when they hear “no” to sex, may even feel inadequate, emasculated. He’s likely to wonder: What else can he do to get her to stop this “neediness” for “emotional” stuff”? Is his performance lacking? Why doesn’t sex not make her feel loved? Is there another man? Why is she so difficult to please (sexually)?

In the meantime, she’s likely wonder: What else can I do to make him feel important (so that he then makes me like I’m his number one)? Why doesn’t he share what he’s thinking? Why does he push me away or refuse to talk about my feelings or “our” relationship? Why does it seem like a competition?

They’ve each tried “everything” to “fix” the other, after all, so there must be something wrong with “the other.”

Of course the “real” problem is not him or her, it’s rather the prevailing limiting beliefs, more specifically, romanticized love for women, and eroticized dominance for men.

Porn is responsible for creating a great divide between men and women in the bedroom, setting men’s ships to sail in one direction toward a sex that is mostly about performance, orgasm, body parts, novelty, etc., and women’s ships in the other direction toward sex and sensuality connected to their level of 24/7 emotional intimacy, closeness, shared communication, mutuality and partnership etc.

  • Another cost is that men perceive their partner’s attempts to emotionally connect as a competition for who’s in control

It’s not uncommon for most men to interpret a female partner’s complaints, wants or requests as selfish, demanding, criticisms — and attempts to be “in control.” That’s likely because, from boyhood, unlike women, men learn to regard relationships as hierarchical, for example, that there’s a topdog and underdog, and that the underdog is “always” vying to take away the topdog’s status. When this happens, a man’s brain is on guard, and their body’s survival system in ready position, hyper-vigilant and alert for any signs that his female partner is competing for who’s “in control.” 

In contrast, women think of their relationships as partnerships, two persons working together, mutually wanting to make one another happy and satisfied. When they make requests, even simple one’s, such as asking for flowers on Valentine’s Day, or spending time together, etc., men’s brains often go on the alert. They’ve been warned that women are going to take a mile if you give them an inch.

 

Men not only resist, they also think it’s their job to “fix” their partner’s “sensitivity” with logic — and, more often not, they use an array of tactics known as gas lighting, which are designed to keep women feeling confused, crazy, second guessing themselves, etc.

To a male partner, when she expresses “wants,” it turns the relationship into a competition of sorts of who’s in control. This follows from the belief, that: it’s “her” job is to make sure his wants and needs are the focus of her attention; thus his job to keep turning her “thoughts” away from her wants and feelings back to his.

To most guys, it’s fair game to do whatever is necessary to win, if only to block an “opponent’s” attempts to “win” or control them. When these attempts fail (and they always do because they fail to create a healthy relationship), men tend to blame any feelings of inadequacy, rejection, etc., on their partner.

The main problem with this approach, is that it leaves both men and women hurting, unfulfilled, feeling inadequate, powerless and ineffective, when they see that the relationship with the person they love is in danger. It’s a set up to fail; both men and women work at odds with one another. Not because there’s anything wrong with them; rather because the cultural beliefs they’ve inherited regarding what it means to be a “real” man and a “good” women are a set up for both to fail. Men have to succeed by making sure women fail in their attempts for closeness; and women have to succeed by making sure their relationship is close and secure. , and puts the responsibility for the success of their relationship solely on the female partner. They each feel powerless to create a relationship that gives them the sense of love and security they both aspire, as all healthy human beings do.

They are like ships passing in the night, seeking pleasure in opposite ways that neutralize one another’s efforts. Men seek pleasure and view their love relationship as a game of sorts to prove “who’s in control,” and women seek pleasure from and view their love relationship as a partnership of two working toward making one another happy.

Truth be told , if partners want mutually satisfying sexual relations in the context of a mutually fulfilling long-term secure relationship, both need to work full-time as a team of partners to make this a reality. A partnership takes two. In the same way that a business partnership would fail if one partner is checked out, a couple relationship takes two.

Additionally, this increases blame-game pattern. If it’s a woman’s job to make a man feel like a man, and he’s not happy or the relationship is failing, it means “she” has failed. If it’s a man’s job to romance her and make her feel like needed, and she’s unhappy and feeling unappreciated for all she’s done, it means “he” has failed. And the likely response to blame? Blame back. There’s no pattern more guaranteed to make a person, male or female, feel “powerless” than blame.  No wonder men and women so often accuse each other of trying to be “in control.”

  • It makes soil ripe for narcissism and codependency to grow, a dance of neediness, in which one partner anxiously hoards all the attention to both pleasure, pain etc., and the other anxiously denies their own needs and wants, to focus on the pleasure and expressing pain needs of the other. 

Another cost is that “masculinity” is defined as a fragile concept that both men and women, all of society anxiously needs to handle with care.

From boyhood, men learn they have to keep proving themselves as superior to one another, and they’re especially required to prove superior to their female partner.

From girlhood, women learn to deny what they need or want, and to be nice, to not hurt other’s feelings, and to prove they will sacrifice themselves to keep their relationship.

In short, this is a training overall for narcissism for men, and codependency for women, which stem directly from harsh expectations for men and women in traditional roles.

From boyhood men expect continuous praise from the women in their life, and, from the men in their lives, they expect distance and harsh treatment, a message that first and foremost, above human feelings, even a child’s, a man’s job is to make sure he displays status, as master.

This environment is ripe for narcissism to grow. Feeling over-valued by one parent, he learns from the men in his life that men are to ignore women’s feelings, requests, as proof of their superiority and rightful dominance. For most men, childhood means emotional neglect. It is no wonder that men depend on women to take care of their emotions, and blame their partners for any sign of emotional weakness — a task that is humanly impossible.

The ideology imposes an artificial dichotomy on the emotional systems of men and women. There are emotional taboos for “good” women to not express emotions of anger, fear, hate or rage. Men are barred from expressing emotions of fear, hurt, sadness, and emotions of either vulnerability or exuberance in general; men are shamed to not feel these emotions, though they’re human as blood running through our veins.

Instead of working on the emotional connection between them, and getting professional help, men “expect” to be able to “fix” their “emotional” partners with logic, and use an array of tactics to silence or get them to think what they’re complaining about is “crazy” or “don’t matter.” Huge and futile energy wastes for both.

This sets men and women up to fail in the real world of relating to the woman in their life, and paves the way for the “need” to escape to the fantasy land of porn where fantasy women never “threaten” a man’s ego, who are okay with “men being men,” never “threaten” a man’s ego by asking them to take responsibility or “work” on their relationship. In fantasy land, men never have to leave the never-neverland world of “boys will be boys” they had in childhood. 

In effect, these cultural standards produce a huge disconnect between women and men, and it’s not because they are from Venus or Mars. The disconnect is rather due to certain prevailing beliefs, romanticized ideals that eroticize male dominance and female passivity, which define men and women in ways that limit their possibilities for being personally transformed in their love relationship.

3. Conditions men to think of sex as a weapon of power.

In a brave and insightful examination of the chains that can imprison the male heart, Wrestling with Love: How Men Struggle with Intimacy, psychologist Dr. Samuel Osherson explores how men in our culture fight from boyhood with the ambivalence of having to meet the standards that define masculinity in terms of hostility against emotions of tenderness and vulnerability—notably ones we have labeled as exclusively female—that are critical to the formation of healthy intimate relations.

In a stinging critique of mainstream pornography, Dr. Robert Jensen adds the following:

“Men typically consume pornography specifically to avoid love and affection. That means pornography has a problem. When all emotion is drained from sex it becomes repetitive and uninteresting, even to men who are watching primarily to facilitate masturbation. Because the novelty of seeing sex on the screen eventually wears off, pornography needs an edge. Pornography has to draw on some emotion, hence the cruelty.”

Pornographic images are a distraction away from intimacy fears. Remember, “real” men are not to have fears, not to feel pain, not to feel hurt. That’s a real problem, a wounding one. Men are human beings, and certain core fears of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, etc., are universal. They are human fears, and have nothing to do with gender.

There’s a problem with the way men are socialized from boyhood, which leaves them emotionally unprepared to connect as equals. In the mainstream, power is defined as a zero-sum competition for dominance, and proof of superiority on the basis of who subverts whose will. The prize? Self-worth. In contrast, partnership defines power as the power to make one another happy, and create a great relationship.

You may say that porn is fear of intimacy masked by secondary emotions of intense anger, hatred, rage against emotions or symbols that men have learned to associate with inferior status, weakness or vulnerability that women represent—impulses that men have been conditioned to hate, suppress, disown inside of them as a way of meeting the traditional standards for masculinity. Pornography is a means of externally projecting this self-loathing onto women.

Osherman holds that one of the most critical issues men face is the inability to embrace their yearnings for closeness without fighting, disowning, suppressing them by putting up defensive walls against them. These standards stir a battle between competing parts of the mind inside men, an inner conflict between the human need for emotional intimacy and connection with the equally powerful emotional needs for personal recognition and acceptance of self as uniquely valuable and capable. A similar though different conflict of these parts of the mind simmers inside women.

It’s not uncommon for men to think there is something “wrong” with their partner sexually when she starts protesting, avoiding or saying she wants “less” sex. Male partners assume there’s something “wrong” with women and it’s part of their job to “fix” them so they’re not so “sensitive,” “emotional” and “needy with love stuff,” and women assume she just needs to keep trying to “understand” why he denies or doesn’t seem (to want) to understand that, for example, something he “did” hurt her feelings. This set up is cruel to men and women alike. Furthermore, it erodes or blocks the formation of emotional intimacy and empathic connection in a couple relationship, however, also erodes healthy sexual relations.

4. Socializes men to view women as sex objects, rather than human beings

Pornography is a fantasy world that makes it easier for men to feel like men, and thus want to escape to, where women are content with being sex objects, and never have expectations for emotional intimacy, nonsexual affection, communication, etc.

When it comes to sex, porn socializes men to view women as objects for pleasure. Women are viewed as extensions of men, their only and main need to make him feel like a man, to keep propping him up, to keep him happy, to find what brings him pleasure, and not complain about “too much sex” or “hurt feelings.”

Real men should make women happy by being good providers and perform in bed. They are also “supposed to” avoid the emotional stuff. It’s common for men to view women’s requests, demands for emotional connection, shared communication as signs of weakness, defect, proof of inferiority of the female sex.

They take no personally, and may think it has to do either with their performance, or that their wives lied and deceived them at the start of their relationship — a time when they responsive sexually.

Men come prepared to fulfill their role of “fixing” this defect in their partners, and when their attempts fail, they feel discouraged, inadequate, and like most human beings, they blame the other for not feeling happy or fulfilled.

As a result of seeing their partners as “not” normal and needing to be fixed, men may be dismissive and look down on their partners with scorn, perhaps seeing them as defective, inferior, weak etc.

Indeed, expressing hurt feelings is perceived as “not normal,” “weakness” or “inferiority.” Strong persons do not complain about emotions and communication. A male partner may respond by being dismissive or shaming. Their intentions are “good”; after all, they do the same with themselves or other men to suppress vulnerability.

Meanwhile, the more the emotional connection is absent for female partners, the more impact it has on their sex life, and her libido.

Since women have different expectations for closeness and shared intimate communications, and so on, it’s not unusual for women to start feeling used. They want nonsexual affection, however, if they begin to notice that it “always” leads to sex, at some point, they start to pull away from all touching and affection. This is red flag that the relationship, not just the sex, is in danger.

Under these conditions, her brain subconsciously forms neural pathways that associate sex with something she “dreads” or feels is a “burden” and forces herself to do to not feel guilty or upset him. At some point, she will likely experience loss of desire for her partner — or her libido.

This is not theory here; this is science. The brain is always learning, forming associations, as part of this process. It works the same way that forcing a child to eat broccoli risks that they hate  this nutritious vegetable for life.

Continued in Part 3



Growing Empathy: A Daily 30-Minute Gift That Can Rescue Your Relationship

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 2 min read

images-769The amazing work of neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni reveals human beings are neurologically “wired for empathy” and — an innate moral nature. The same brain circuits are mobilized whether feeling one’s own pain and others’, and merely observing someone performing a certain action activates the same areas of the brain in the observer.

The special neurons that make this possible are known as “mirror neurons” are linked with the experience of empathy, compassion and learning.

Not surprisingly, the ability to remain empathically connected, especially in challenging moments when you are triggered, is a key attribute of partners in strong, healthy marriages.

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15 Statements of Commitment That Couples In Therapy Can Make to Heal and Strengthen Their Relationship  

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 3 min read

Commitment 3Commitment is a foundation that nourishes a sense of safety, trust, and security, among other key ingredients that form a healthy, vibrant couple relationship. The same neurochemicals that make partners feel loved and loving are the same ones that make them feel safe and secure. That is an unalterable aspect of human life and relationships. We yearn to love and feel loved, to matter in life in relation to self and another, and when we perceive a treat or obstacle to this, we lose our sense of balance, safety and trust. It is in moments when we are at our worst that our defense strategies and desperate actions get activated, alas, to make things worse.

And, in a couple relationship it begins with a commitment each partner makes to self and the other to disallow difficult emotions, and defense strategies these activate, from controlling and blocking the level of emotional connection they’re wired to aspire and realize.  The shared drives for security and love is worth every ounce of effort into fulfilling.

Learning to navigate the emotional storms of a couple relationship, however, without getting overwhelmed, going into attack-mode or retreating to a pretend-everything-is-fine bubble, takes a lot of determination and know-how. The influences of past experiences imprinted in memory, in combination with a growing trend in the last few decades to mainstream junk values, mostly via TV, porn and entertainment, make this a nearly impossible task for many couples to do on their own.

Thanks to the latest findings in neuroscience, much of the guesswork is now science. Couples therapy can help partners identify and steer clear of toxic patterns, and focus instead on learning actions, specifically, to improve the quality of energy each partner brings to their relationship at any given moment — and how to energize heart to heart communications, in place of old toxic defensive patterns.

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Sexual Reintegration Therapy: Healing Solutions for Sex and Porn Addiction

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 2 min read

Bercaw BookCouples dealing with the impact of a partner with sex and porn addiction, according to Drs. Bill and Ginger Bercaw, face considerably greater obstacles than those facing other addictions, such as substance abuse. Because of the trauma caused by repeated acts of betrayal, healing and rebuilding a relationship will require extensive efforts.

Authors of “The Couple’s Guide to Intimacy: How Sexual Reintegration Therapy Can Help Your Relationship Heal,” the Bercaws are psychologists who specialize in sex addiction and sex therapy. The treatment approach they have developed, “Sexual Reintegration Therapy,” is specifically designed to heal the wounds caused one partner having a sexual addiction. The approach can also effective, however, for couples seeking to heal from love addiction, infidelity and other addictive patterns, as well as to improve or develop a healthier sex life.

Partners must be willing to make a commitment for the long haul, and work hard on their own individual healing before they can work in a more focused way on healing their relationship, with no guarantees the relationship will survive. In the words of Drs Bercaw,

“In sex and porn addiction, not only does the addict’s brain become ‘hijacked’ by the repetitive stimulation and then the secretiveness of his acting out, the spouse or partner is also repetitively emotionally traumatized by betrayal, secrecy and lies. Long-term healing requires rebuilding the couple’s relational system from the ground up. The added challenge is that the very thing that has caused so much pain—sexual behavior—cannot be cut out of the couples like as substances such as alcohol can be. On the contrary, the couple will need to heal from the wounds that the sexual acting out has caused and then decide how they would like to cultivate a new way of relating sexually with each other.”

         The Bercaws view the biggest challenge facing partners in recovery as being open to learning how to reconnect and be emotionally and sexually intimate after the impact of the initial shock and anguish. This involves new ways of relating that allow both to be “emotionally intimate,” perhaps seeing the other for the first time. A healthy emotional connection is what absorbs the impact of the trauma experience and sets the stage for “sexual intimacy” to happen. They identify four stages of recovery as:

  1. Shock stage
  2. Grief stage
  3. Repair stage
  4. Growth stage

Couples who make it through the first stage may find themselves feeling isolated and losing hope in restoring healthy intimacy and sexual relations. According to Drs. Bercaw, healing may only begin once the betrayed spouse has stabilized to some degree from the traumatic shock of the discovery of the addict’s secret life. For couples that survive the initial storm, the program assigns tasks specifically designed to help partners recover individually and reengage emotionally.

For starters, couples with sex and porn addiction issues usually have a history of problematic patterns in how they communicate and emotionally engage to express their feelings with one another. The treatment consists of a structured program that outlines a specific plan for partners to reconnect intimately. The program invites partners to participate in a series of experiences designed to rewire the way they communicate and caress one another, and to believe that it is possible to replace unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling acting sexually with patterns that promote healthy relating and sex. Considerable effort goes into identifying unhealthy sexual behaviors and patterns to avoid, and recovery requires a willingness to abstain from harmful behaviors. There are five steps, or “criteria for readiness,” to take first before partners return to the question of “What is healthy sexuality” for them as a couple and individuals. They are to:

  1. Understand the four stages of discovery
  2. Fully participate in addiction and trauma work
  3. Conduct a ‘formal disclosure’ session (meaning therapist facilitated)
  4. Participate in emotional reflection leading to a clear plan for restitution
  5. Review critical incidents of betrayal in healing communications

A commitment from both to heal and restore their relationship is key. “The only way intimate sexuality will be reclaimed,” Drs. Bercaw explain, “is if it addressed directly and with a level of focus sufficient to make significant change,” once both parties agree to fully participate.



3 Agents that Can Derail Goals and Dreams (And Negatively Shape Your Life)

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 4 min read

images-252This is a great time of year to energize your dreams and goals, with momentum and high expectations for your success to unfold. In moments of stress, however, or when a set back occurs, you want to remain aware of certain negative agents that can automatically take over and influence your outcomes. By remaining consciously aware of agents that mostly operate subconsciously, hidden from view, the power is in your hands to rewire many of these pre-programmed emotion-command neural pathways.

The idea is to capitalize on positive-change mental imagery your mind is capable of producing, and in part, this means you are actively disallowing certain agents from blocking your capacity to visualize your future, the way you want it, and to make it an optimal sensory experience, one that involves all five of your senses, and puts you in charge of powerful creative processes.

There are at least three thinking patterns that need to be stopped from derailing your goals and dreams, they are:

1. Negative thought patterns

Your thoughts are an inner dialogue. Scientists speculate an average of about sixty thousand thoughts cross your mind a day, many of which you habitually repeat to yourself, and for the most part, have been repeating from early childhood! These thoughts, or “self-talk,” activate emotions accordingly. While certain persons or events may trigger painful emotions, they are not the cause. The real cause is what you tell yourself, this inner dialogue, in particular, your interpretative thoughts. Negative thoughts form more negative thoughts, and repeated over and over form toxic thinking patterns. Characteristically, toxic patterns are associated with either-or, black-and-white type of thinking that occurs when the body’s fear-response gets activated — at which time the higher, reflective thinking part of your brain is put offline, and reactive, defensive, on guard thinking automatically takes over. “Rehearsal” is a process you can learn and practice, if you do not already, that can put you, rather than your fear-based emotions, in charge of what you think, and do, and how events unfold.

2. Old limiting beliefs

Your thoughts are a powerful energy because they are linked to your beliefs, in particular, certain emotion-laden core beliefs regarding what it means to be a man, a woman, a human being in relation to your self, life and others. The power of these beliefs lies in that they produce thought-imagery in your mind, which activate emotion molecules that literally shape and direct chemical reactions accordingly within the cells of your body. Beliefs are limiting when they persuade you to view life, self and others, within the confines of black-and-white thinking categories. In essence, limiting beliefs are learned, habitual ways of automatically — and continuously — judging whether you or others fall into dichotomous categories of either “deserving” of love, respect, etc., on the basis of preset arbitrary standards of what ‘has to’ happen for you or another to … avoid punishment. 

The answers to questions of what it means to be a man or a woman, a human being in relation to another human being, however, should never imprison or dehumanize—but rather free you, as a human being, to relate to your self and others as miracle-making beings, ever yearning to be treated with dignity. 

When a positively charged state of emotional energy displaces a negative one, it has the power to permanently transform (heal) limiting beliefs. In any moment, you always have the power to connect to miracle-making resources inside, and must especially consider doing so to identify any fear-activating limiting beliefs as they surface—so you may replace them with ones that instead produce life-enriching attitudes and images, healing choices. This process directs your subconscious mind, the part of the brain that controls the autonomic functions of the body, to create new neurons and neural pathways, ones that will better support you to make optimal choices, actions, in the future in the direction of creating your best life and relationships.                  

3. Change-Blocking Associations

Your brain is always gathering data, subconsciously or not, and the most important data it collects pertains to its prized subject: you. It is continually collecting data, for example, regarding what you like and do not, what stresses and relaxes, what you find pleasurable and uncomfortable, and so on, and puts special emphasis on what triggers and calms your fears. Accordingly this forms associations, or neural pathways that connect neurons. Positive associations are ones that connect certain events, substances, activities with feel-good emotions and physical sensations, and negative associations connect experiences with feel-bad feelings. Naturally, because negative associations elevate fear, to the extent they do so, they have the power to block change. If your thinking has trained your body, unwittingly, to associate one of your goals, i.e., realizing a healthy relationship or a trim, fit body, with painful emotions, such as disappointment, guilt or anxiety, this may block change. Why? It means that whenever you think of what you want, your body activates thoughts and images of what you “lack” at present, perhaps past mistakes, or even failures. This negative association controls your behaviors.

For example, each time you see someone with a fit, healthy body, for example, you make feel disgusted or unhappy with your self. The result? Your subconscious mind may interpret this to mean that “your dream” is something you want to avoid – a clear miscommunication! It’s just the way the brain works. Its operating system is hardwired this way. With “rehearsals” you can correct limiting associations, and be in charge of the process. You are more likely to be energized to take sustained actions toward reaching a goal, when thinking of your goals makes you feel emotions of determination, hope, belief, confidence, excitement, and the like.

In sum, you want to remain aware of any thought patterns, such as the above, which have the power to derail your goals and dreams, and negatively shape your future.

Often incorrectly described as “self-destructive,” among other self-blame and accusatory labels, describing yourself as against yourself only contribute to the problem by doing more of what the real problem is: energy draining thought habits.

It is more helpful to work with and heal these old patterns by understanding that, while misguided, their primary intent is benevolent and well meaning: to protect, to defend, to ensure your survival.

While the effect of the above thought patterns may be destructive, it’s more accurate to describe them as benevolent and well meaning in their intent, merely misguided ways your brain and body have been subconsciously trained (i.e., by your experience and exposure to other brains) to automatically protect you.

Protect your goals and dreams from the above “interfering” agents. One way is to energize your behaviors and chart your momentum in a certain direction by … rehearsing your future.

Imagery works because it allows the bright future you imagine to unfold, layer after later, step by step, to keep creating your masterpiece, regardless of any challenges or setbacks. It’s up to you to protect your power for possibility thinking and imagination from any
“interfering” emotional states that certain “agents,” or pre-programmed emotion-command neural pathways have the power to automatically activate. It’s your job to stay energized when you think of your highest goals and plans for the future. 

 



5 Prerequisites to Unlock Your Communications — Re-Image Your Partner As Capable of Loving You, 5 of 5

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 10 min read

1021326634_f207f0dd51Certain shifts in perception are essential to unlock your imagination to work for you in creating a healthy, vibrant love relationship. To summarize the first four:

  • The first shift (see Part 2) sees a commitment to individual healing, each participating fully in your own and one another’s healing processes, as an essential aspect of relationship building.

Your relationship will make you happy, to the extent you are each open to grow, to learn, to stretch your capacity to love, to understand, and that often means to protect and know how to do your part, as needed, to bring positive energy to your relationship. You cannot afford to wait until problems are solved, and so and so does such and such first before you feel happy, loving, loved. You must each cultivate the ability to do your part to enjoy each other, and disallow challenges along the way to drain positive sources of energy inside you. In other words, even as you seek to improve your relationship, your happiness must not depend on present circumstance. Happiness is not a goal, it’s the way to live to create more happiness and other positive emotions, such as gratitude, hope, belief, appreciation, determination, and so on. 

  • The second shift (see Part 2) has to do with how you view and relate to emotions overall, in particular, painful ones that trigger you.

You need to cultivate an openness to feel your emotions, and see them as information that is vital to your decision making. When you get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions, this ability more and more frees you from the pull of old comfort zones and stuck places, and allows you to transform your fears to assets. Your developing ability to embrace painful emotions, as potentially vital information, prevents your body from unnecessarily activating your survival response when you’re triggered (which cuts you off from core inner capacities, i.e., to deeply reflect, to see new options, etc., when you most need them). In effect, this ability to remain engaged and present, and eager to learn and understand, is about developing an intimate relationship with your self, your emotions, thoughts, body and mind, fully accepting all aspects of y-o-u. To the extent you get to know and love yourself, you grow your capacity to love another amazing — albeit also imperfect being — your partner!

  • The third shift (see Part 3) is to see yourself as 100% in charge of the energies you choose to bring, in any given moment, to your relationship interactions.

This shift affirms you are fully equipped and capable of becoming a consciously aware and wise captain, one who acts as an observer, creator and choice maker, and who regulates the energies of your mind and body so that your actions and responses to moment by moment events stem primarily from love-based emotions. Without this shift, you’re likely to waste a lot of energy focusing on what “the other” needs to change or stop doing, instead of focusing on where you really have power, and that is, to manage your own body’s relaxation response so that you can be present. Otherwise, you have little or no ability to stop the reactivity of your own body, and a state of mind in which your wounded-ego self takes over, and automatically activates, your early survival-love defense strategies to protect you.

  • The fourth shift (see Part 4) is a shift away from issues to focusing on protecting and building a healthy and secure love relationship.

Rather than focus on issues, a more powerful focus is to tune into what works, or doesn’t work, to keep a health, vibrant connection between you — a relationship is strong and vibrant to the extent both partner feel they matter in relation to the other. You cannot do the other’s part, any more than you can breathe or exercise for them. You can however do yours, hopefully in ways that inspire the other to join the dance. The dance takes two. In practice, what nurtures and strengthens your relationship are ways of being and responding that say you care about one another’s deepest yearnings, core intimacy fears and dreams, that take time to intimately get to know one another’s strengths and vulnerabilities, and make a commitment to ever treat one another with dignity, especially when you’re triggered.

  • The fifth shift is the topic discussed in the remaining section. 

In the same way that you need the prerequisite shifts above to re-envision yourself as capable of creating happiness in your life and relationship, of becoming an ever better version of yourself, to keep stretching in ways that help you expand your capacity to give and receive love, you also need to re-envision your partner, and hold a vision of them that energizes and inspires you — and them — hopefully both to ever hope and believe in one another. 

5. See your partner as capable of loving you, being thoughtful, aware, caring, responsive, available, engaged, reflective, and so on.

Most partners enter their relationship with certain ideals they formed in childhood — early survival-love maps. In adulthood, these early imprints in memory can leave them at risk of feeling increasingly needy, powerless, inadequate, alone, etc., when certain inevitable core issues surface in relationships. In most cases, a couple starts off thinking they’re in a heavenly match, that is, until a triggering issue surfaces, and then stays like a guest that keeps living with you even though they were only invited for a weekend! Wittingly or unwittingly, at some point, partners start to entertain negative thoughts of the other, such as “this is not the person I married,” and the defense strategies they also mostly learned in childhood increasingly take over.

Partners may think they are in control or worry their partner is in control; in truth, their protective strategies are in control.

These protective defenses, after all, helped each partner literally survive childhood. They did so however at the expense of learning how to avoid feeling certain painful (triggering) emotions. In their adult relationship, these automatic behaviors are emotion-command activated neural pathways in their brains are the real culprits, preventing them from successfully connecting. Their attempts to navigate life and their relationship under the subconscious influence of these early-survival love maps is like attempting to take a shower wearing a raincoat (in more extreme cases, perhaps also rain boots, hat and an umbrella and more!).

When couples get stuck it’s usually because they get locked into certain behavioral interactions in which they each automatically activate one another’s survival response. The real culprit is always fear, more specifically, elevated levels of core intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment.

In short, the real reason partners get stuck is because each partner has been focused on making continual improvements mostly to their defenses strategies!

The more partners attempt to get back the loving feelings they had at the start of their relationship, and do so with defensive acts of desperation, the more they intensify their own and one another’s fears, In turn, more and more, this weakens their connection to love-based emotions, essentials such as empathy and kindness, hope and belief, fun and passion, and the like.

The key to unlocking your hearts again lies in … your thoughts, more specifically, cultivating your ability to shift to loving, hopeful, inspiring thoughts of your partner, at will.

Your thoughts activate images in your mind that literally form actual structural in your brain, such as emotion-command neural pathways. In turn, when these program are fired, they automatically activate certain behavioral reactions. In other words, your thoughts decide the words you speak, and the actions you take. Unless you take conscious charge of your choices, to change the old program, it’s stuck in the old pattern.

It’s just the way the brain works. Its operating system is hardwired to operate this way. It is particularly challenging to change old wiring that is associated with early survival-love needs of childhood. 

The words you speak, and the emotions they convey, are rooted in underlying perceptions, mindsets and beliefs, which should be thought of as powerful energies, which moment by moment create your future.

The mistake couples make is (likely) the same mistake their parents made. Instead of primarily using words that inspire love-based emotions of hope and belief, they use words or “logic” that primarily activates fear-based emotions of shame, guilt, anxiety, and the like. Like their parents, they hold subconscious programming that causes them to rely on the use of punitive tactics of dominance and force to “get” the other’s cooperation and love. There negative — limiting — beliefs are, in effect, lies that “seem true” because you have subconsciously trained your body (through your thoughts) to think they are true, such as the limiting belief that you have to punish, humiliate, shame someone when they do something hurtful to keep them in line, to “teach” them a lesson, etc., otherwise, you will lose control, they will not respect you, etc.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s impossible to control another person’s heart. No one can make another really, really love you inside, and thus, it’s not possible for one person to control another — not even a parent to control a child. From the time you were born, you have been in control; no one has ever been in control of you, only you. Your real problem is not preventing your partner from controlling you. It’s preventing your subconscious programs from being in control of you and your life. Your emotion-command neural pathways, and not your partner, are really to blame for making you feel, among other things, like an unloved, unappreciated or powerless child.

Negative associations of your partner in your mind block your change — and theirs — because they amp up fear-based emotions that drain energy. When you hold negative expectations for your partner, what emotions are you likely to feel whenever you think about realizing a satisfying, great relationship? Most likely painful, right? These emotions put more negative images in your imagination, for example, reminders of past hurts, mistakes, failures, or what you, your partner or relationship lacks, etc. This then produces more negative associations, and best explains why, when you and your partner start to talk about a painful issue, if you’re not careful, you’re likely to get derailed, and start talking about a dozen other past hurts instead of the issue at hand.

The result? Your subconscious mind has formed negative expectations of your partner. Whether you express these expectations outwardly or stew on them inside, there is nonstop communication taking place between your partner’s subconscious mind — and yours! Whatever you believe becomes your body’s truth.

In the same way that top athletes and champions are trained to “act as if” — you and your partner need to cultivate the capacity to shift to your highest expectations, not only for your self, but also for your partner. It is a behavior of the most inspiring and effective leaders to hold in place high expectations for others. Why? Others live up to our expectations. If you approach your partner “knowing” deep down inside that you’ll never get through or they’ll always be out of control, etc., at some level, you’re contributing to the problem instead of being part of the solution.

This does not mean you should take honest discussions of issues off the table!

You have most leverage to lower the fear and to amp up the love instead is always … your thoughts.

The bottom line?  Painful feelings can really get in the way of your dreams. You need to know how to protect your relationship goals and dreams from any “interfering” emotional states. One way is to energize new behaviors and momentum by “rehearsing” or re-envisioning your partner and your future together. This is not mean you should take honest discussions of issues off the table!

“Rehearsals” can help you correct these negative associations with ones that help you re-image — see, feel and treat — your partner as capable of loving you, being thoughtful to you, responsive, available, and so on.

In truth, they are! Every human being is hardwired with these capacities! It’s a matter of cultivating them, and rehearsing is one way to wire them into your brains.

If this sounds interesting to you, here are a few suggestions to get started.

  • Set aside at least 5 minutes several times a day to re-envision your partner, in a relaxed state of mind and body, taking deep long, loving breaths.
  • Imagine the qualities you loved about your partner in the first phase of your relationship, as if they happen now.
  • Imagine other qualities you’d love your partner to express, as if they also currently happen.
  • Now do the same for yourself. Imagine the qualities you expressed and felt at the start of your relationship — and perhaps other ones you’d like to express, cultivate, and so on– again, do so as if they currently exist.
  • Imagine your partner softly whispering words such as, “I love, value and cherish you as you are.
  • Imagine yourself whispering the same in return.
  • As you “watch” or envision your partner in this “movie creation,” see the two of you together, and take in all the vibrant colors, hear the sounds, feel the emotions and sensations in your body, even smell fragrances with your nose, and tastes in your mouth.

To enhance your practice, here are a few more tips:

  • Remember, this is your “movie creation” and you are the director and producer; the important thing is to be present as if you are there, completely and fully, body and mind and emotion.
  • If any limiting thoughts or doubts surface, whenever they do, breathe into them and let them go — and smile confidently and return to your vision.
  • The key is to make sure this elicits pleasurable feelings of joy, happiness—gratitude—inside you as you do. Smile. Feel grateful.
  • Think of this time as a fun and delightful retreat, a transformational exercise you look forward to jumping into a few times a day, or as needed, to rehearse the life and relationships you want to create  – and speedily bring into your life.

When you feel pleasure “rehearsing” your future in the present moment, you are seeking to “influence” or retrain your subconscious mind to have new beliefs about you’re capable of. Remember, this is the part of the mind that runs the entire body—and that controls the formation of memory and habits.

Perceptions are learned. Since you have the power to transform your experience at any moment by the words you speak and the thoughts you think, why not use it instead to re-envision a brighter, more hopeful view of your self, your partner and your relationship?

You can begin, today, to practice a shift or two in your perception of events, to explore the possibility of replacing the old limiting ones.

You need perceptions that “train” your mind and body to “see” discomfort as your friend, and your imagination as your ticket to realizing success in your personal life and relationship. Protect your imagination from harsh criticisms, doubts, negative forecasts, and the like. You deserve to give your self and one another this gift.

Eventually, what once seemed “uncomfortable” will become more and more comfortable. And, at some point, you may be surprised to discover that you actually enjoy or love “this” challenge, and when you do, you’ll become champion material. After all, the main reason champions love challenges is because, when the doubts and fears surface, they focus instead on what inner strengths, talents, abilities, etc., they can access to conquer the challenge. They literally love to do so.

To get to heart to heart communications, partners need to shake off any limiting perceptions of their partner, and replace them with ones that are enriching and foster mutual responsive and caring actions.

It’s a question of whether partners will permit their survival-love fears to create their future, or choose a new reality for themselves.

It only takes a word or glance from either one of you to cause your brains to automatically activate your body’s survival system. When the survival response is activated, however, the brain has little or no access to the higher thinking power of the frontal cortex. In short, what seems like “thinking” and “logic” to you in your discussion is neither.

 



A Gift Guaranteed to Improve Your Love Life — and Brain? Make Your Relationship a Criticism-Free Zone

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 13 min read

images-888Here’s a gift to add to your list of what to get him/her on that special day, which is guaranteed to boost your brain’s capacity to work for you, and at the same time improve your love relationship. There’s one condition, however: Both of you must give this gift wholeheartedly to one another to experience its life energizing effects.

What is this gift? It’s the gift of making your relationship a criticism-free zone. There’s perhaps nothing as corrosive to your physical health as well as your love relationship than criticism, at least certain types.

To clarify, expressing what you like or don’t like are not criticisms per se. It is healthy to make descriptive observations of a problem, explore what actions or habits work or do not work, make suggestions or requests for something you’d like to see happen or stop occurring, and the like, for example. All of these, potentially, are relationship building actions.

In contrast, criticisms are detrimental to your health and relationship specifically because they are attempts to resolve issues through the use of words that attack or judge or label a partner’s character in derogatory ways. What we’re talking about here are words or phrases, such as shame-, guilt- or fear-inducing statements, which are purposefully designed to get the other to change or stop a certain behavior — in other words, to give you the love you need, etc. They are also widespread because they consist of parenting practices most of us experienced as children.

Continue reading… »



The Latest on Healthy, Long-Lasting Relationships? Three Types of Responses to Bids for Connection, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 6 min read

Kindness0Advances in neuroscience inform us that our brains are social in nature, and that, as a species, we’re continually affecting one another’s mental and emotional states of mind and body. This is just one of the findings reported by cofounders of brain-based therapy, Drs. John Arden and Lloyd Linfor in the January/February 2010 publication of Psychotherapy Networker. “ In their words,

We write ‘brain’ as a singular, but in a real sense there’s no such thing as one, single brain—only brains and nervous systems in some sort of relationship to one another.

As discussed in Part 1, decades of research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman indicate that the longevity and happiness of a love relationship can be predicted with 97% accuracy, for couples in which both partners practiced habits of generosity and kindness toward the other. For the long haul, it takes two to tango.

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The Latest on Healthy, Long-Lasting Relationships? Both Partners Cultivate Two Key Traits, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D. • 5 min read

Kindness1It seems unfair. Of the many couples that get married each year, hoping to find lifelong companionship, lasting joy, friendship and fulfillment, only about 50% will stay married, and of those that do, the vast majority, about 70%, devolve into arrangements that are unsatisfying at best, and dysfunctional or even destructive at worst.

Cheer up, however. These trends are not necessarily bad news, at least not if you think of them as information regarding what works — and doesn’t — to create healthy, vibrant couple relationships! They speak to key elements that relationships need — must have — to stay alive and thrive; and they also point to unrealistic yet prevailing expectations that need to be identified, let go of and replaced. Why? Expectations are life shaping agents. If they form thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that limit the capacity of men and women to nourish and strengthen their love relationship, they are set ups for failure.

Continue reading… »



 
 

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