Healing Together for Couples A blog about helping couples learn to communicate and heal 2017-10-18T01:32:56Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/feed/atom/ Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Does Getting Older Make Us Happier? It’s Complicated]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5312 2017-10-10T03:59:40Z 2017-10-10T03:59:40Z While most sixteen year olds want to be eighteen, how many 45 year olds want to be 65?

Research has increasingly found happiness to be a function of many dimensions. One of them happens to be age; but it is more complicated than we might think. The progression in age does not make us more happy or unhappy in a linear way.

The U-Bend of Happiness

The surprising finding is that people increase in happiness until around 30 then happiness heads downward into midlife and then back up again to higher levels after the 50’s.  This U-bend of happiness seems to hold true even across cultural differences.

People are the least happy in their 40’s and 50’s with the global low point being 46 years. Past middle age there seems to be growing happiness into the later years that occurs regardless of money, employment status or children.

These findings are further delineated by research psychologists Arthur Stone, Joseph Schwartz and Joan Broderick whose study of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the U.S., involved a telephone survey of 340,847 people. Their findings confirmed the U-bend for global well-being (overall happiness with one’s life) and more clearly identified the state of negative feelings across the life span.

They found that while there are some differences in the experience of negative feelings over time, overall they seem to follow the U-bend.

Let’s take a closer look:

Worry and stress decline from ages 20 to 30.

 One explanation is that you are no longer in the teens trying to figure who, what and where you are supposed to be. Dr. Jeffrey Arndt coined this as the age of “Emerging Adulthood” where many young people load, launch and land by 30. It is an in-between age; but it is often colored by optimism.

Worry increases after 30 and is most elevated in mid-life and then declines after the 50’s.

This makes sense in that the middle years can promise all, give all, and demand all. The colloquial expression is ” mid-life stress.” Many people in the late 30’s to 50’s are working, building families, juggling children’s needs, couple needs, social ties and extended family needs.

Globally they often feel fulfilled and happy with life and family. On a daily basis, however, their stress can make them very unhappy to learn that the meeting at work conflicts with their daughter’s playoff game; that somehow they are not covering their bills; they have no personal time; everyone needs them; they are struggling to find couple time and they worry if they are enjoying life or looking old.

These are the times when it is worth recognizing ( when you can) that happiness is not incompatible with stress, strain or disappointment; that every day is another opportunity; that feeling better is about accepting all types of feelings as human and that sometimes capturing happiness is in the moment, the day or a little one’s laughter.

Worry decreases after the 50’s and despite increasing health issues and less mobility, as people age, they are happier and less stressed than younger people.

 What Accounts for this U-bend of Happiness in Life?

Some of the theories that researchers, Stone, Schwartz and Broderick propose include:

  • Increased “wisdom” or psychological intelligence in handling life.
  • Less aspirations and expectations of self.
  • Sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
  • Greater appreciation for life.
  • Living in the moment with less worry about the future—the essence of mindfulness.
  • Greater ability to regulate emotions than younger people. (Older adults have much more patience waiting in lines or waiting rooms – maybe they are not punching a clock – maybe they have figured out it is not worth getting stressed.)
  • Less worry about pleasing everyone all the time.
  • Positive “effect” wherein older people recall fewer negative memories than younger adults.
  • Overall tendency to view situations more positively.

Maybe the take home message for any age is that you are not alone. There are many going up and down the same life trails. Drawing on the wisdom of those ahead on the trail – when in doubt, don’t rush, don’t worry what others think, enjoy the journey and don’t miss the view.



Image-Josephine Comins

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Coping in the Face of Deadly Violence: The Vegas Shooting]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5303 2017-10-03T04:13:41Z 2017-10-03T04:13:41Z The Vegas Shooting that took the lives of 59 people and wounded 527 others is the deadliest shooting incident in modern American history. It is a tragic and violent event.

As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families, the suffering of those wounded and the echoes of fear and horror triggered in so many who have faced violence and tragedy. In the face of such violent loss and injury we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events. How Do We Cope?

Psychological First Aid

We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers; there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief when life has suddenly become so terrifying.

Establishing Safety-Monitoring Media 

  • One of the most important sources of safety in the aftermath of catastrophe is the invaluable updating and communication of information through media sources. It can also be a source of heightened anxiety and re-traumatization.
  • Continual witnessing of a horrific event on social media or in the news can be frightening and dysregulating.
  • Events that are discrepant with our usual expectations are disturbing for adults and children. For most people, music concerts and trips to Vegas bring associations of fun, wonderful times and treasured memories. As such, the impact of this shooting needs to be moderated. Explanations of what has happened need to be made in age appropriate ways to teens and children.
  • Overall it is crucial to balance “ the need to know” with shutting down your own and the family’s media sources so that adults, young people and children are not assaulted by a 24/7 exposure to this tragic event.

Networks of Support

When a traumatic event has occurred, an invaluable source of physical and psychological safety is connection with familiar networks of support. People feel comfort, empathy and validation in community – be it family, friends, school, church or online communities.

It is often helpful for friends and family to have the opportunity to share their feelings about the events, their associations and their fears. Finding out that you are not alone with the emotional impact of a violent and lethal shooting – is helpful.

When a tragic event has harmed or taken those close to us, we often don’t even have words. There are no words. We can’t think and sometimes can’t feel. What we have learned is that the compassionate presence of those we love and those with whom we are most comfortable, help buffer the anguish and suffering of such loss.

Making Meaning of Common Responses to Trauma

It helps many to understand that there are common stress responses to experiencing and witnessing trauma and traumatic loss. These include symptoms of Hyperarousal; Intrusion or Re-experiencing; Negative Thoughts and Feelings; and Numbing and Avoidance. Not everyone experiences these responses and they rarely last more than a few weeks. When they persist, getting professional support can be very helpful.

Hyperarousal or the Persistent Expectation of Danger

Hyperarousal is reflected in an inability to relax, exaggerated startle response, inability to sleep or concentrate and irritability.  It is as if your mind and body does not yet know you are safe.

Strategies to address hyperarousal include:

  • Self Care of your basic needs – Are you sleeping, eating and do you have a way to relax?
  • All of your basic needs are helped if you make use of physical and emotional stress reduction opportunities to exercise, play music, cook, read the paper, pray or do something that calms you.
  • This is the time to use your relaxation strategies. In the disorganized state of trauma, people often forget the value of re-setting and using their own routines.
  • Be very careful about the use of alcohol and drugs. People often see them as quick ways to relax; but they actually add to the physical and emotional disorganization experienced after trauma.

 Intrusion or Re-experiencing

Feeling caught in the imprint of the trauma, many re-experience the images or sensations felt at the time of the traumatic event. They have nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive memories.

If you find yourself jolted by a picture in the paper or have a nightmare, consider that such reactions are the mind and body’s way of assimilating an incomprehensible event into your life experience.

Strategies to deal with them include:

  • Re-frame them as understandable sequels to an event outside your life experience.
  • Share them, write about them, express them in music, art or some medium – move them from frightening fragments to something for which you have more mastery.
  • Use positive re-focusing — once you have identified them as unassimilated glimpses and traumatic memories, turn your mind and body to something that feels transformative. People find nature, pets, sports, music, prayer and helping others to be effective.

Negative Thoughts and Feelings: It is common that the direct experience, witnessing or learning of a violent event will trigger negative thoughts about the world, excessive blame of self or blame of others. It is important to know that such feelings are part of the fight/flight reaction to an unspeakable event.

Strategies to Deal with them Include

  • Cognitively accept and reframe these thoughts or feelings as symptoms of traumatic exposure. They will shift as time passes and as you take opportunities to lower your stress level.
  • Many people find that being with people they love and care about reduces these feelings – be it playing with your children or feeling grateful for dinner with a loved one.
  • Taking on an achievable goal – particularly one that benefits someone else reduces the feelings of helplessness and is an antidote to anger and self-blame. Generosity to others lowers the fight/flight reactivity.
  • Gratitude for what is precious and awe inspiring in this world like the wonders of nature or the way that people step up to help each other fosters loving kindness and a calming perspective.

 Numbing and Avoidance

Numbing is a response to trauma that involves physical and psychological shutdown. Like the other responses to trauma, it is actually a functional way to survive in the face of overwhelming danger. For some teens, children and adults it may be a necessary first survival strategy.

When numbing persists, it often unfolds into avoidance and isolation as an attempt to avoid triggers of traumatic memory or intolerable feelings of loss, grief or pain.

The problem with avoidance, if it persists, is that it leaves a person alone with the trauma. It does not allow for sharing, diluting, normalizing or integrating the traumatic event.

Strategies to deal with numbing and avoidance include:

  • Reaching for and accepting the offer of someone who knows what you have faced and can be a compassionate presence – a friend, a partner, a family member, a professional, a spiritual caregiver.
  •  Just being with someone who cares regardless of whether you are walking, cooking, shooting hoops or listening to music takes you away from the trauma and allows you to dare to feel again – a crucial start.

Access You Coping Skills

In the aftermath of trauma, it can feel as if you are frozen in time with the trauma. The past seems gone and the future seems impossible. It is really important to reach behind the wall of trauma to your passions and resiliency traits because they still belong to you and they are what you have drawn upon in life to cope in situations of pain, disappointment, adversity and even loss.

Be it physical strength, intelligence, social skills, love of nature, sense of humor, creativity, playing music, mindfulness, spirituality, generosity and the wish to help –these strengths are the best of you.

 Violent events as the shooting in Vegas take life and threaten our freedom to live safely, enjoy music, travel, and have wonderful times in the company of others.

 As individuals, families, communities and cultures, we must now go forward to bear witness, mourn, bond, pray… and find the music again.



Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Improve Diet Success: Remove The Roadblocks]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5294 2017-09-21T02:41:47Z 2017-09-21T02:41:47Z Too many people in this culture have good diet intentions with bad results. From cleanses to no carbs, from eating vegetables to eating by blood type, the diet options abound, as do the roadblocks to success.

Changing how and what we eat is not easy—but it is possible. One step that may set the stage for success is recognizing and removing the roadblocks that sabotage the efforts to eat less or to eat in a healthy way.

 The Roadblocks:


  • While the causes for overeating or eating problems are complex and personal, research finds that one factor that bears on most people’s eating is convenience.
  • Be it at home, at work, on a plane or at a wedding, if it is convenient– we are more likely to eat it.
  • In A Pew Research telephone survey most people reported convenience as their reason for eating junk food.
  • Food researcher, Brian Wansink author of Mindless Eating Why We Eat More Than We Think found that the farther away a candy dish was from the secretaries’ desks, the less they ate– a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

 A little inconvenience can reduce a lot of eating.


  • You have probably heard comedians say they are on the “See Food” diet–eating everything they see.
  • In reality, they are correct. Research reveals that visible foods trigger eating in a way that is difficult to resist.
  • Neurochemically, seeing food invites the anticipation of food and trips secretions that add to our craving and our overeating.
  • The bombardment of food and drink commercials on TV sports is intended to make you order the pizza and reach for the beer.

 If the first thing you see on the kitchen counter when you are starving in the morning or exhausted at night is high in carbs or sugar—that’s the first thing you are likely to eat.

 Multi-Tasking Equals Multi-Eating

  • In our continued attempt to multi-task, we pay a price-especially when it comes to eating.
  • Because we eat in front of TV’s, computers, while texting, working at our desks and talking on the phone, we eat without focus.

 One woman who frequently spoke on the phone while grabbing something to eat, reported that the trail of wrappers, crumbs and containers were often the only indication of her eating. She hardly remembered eating, much less feeling satisfied.

  • Anything that takes our focus off the food makes us more likely to overeat or eat poorly because we are eating in a mindless way.

The value of those advocating Mindful Eating, is an invitation to take the time for focus on food. Be it the shake you are having for breakfast or the twenty-minute lunch you purposely take away from technology, a routine to actually experience eating will be more filling and fueling.

 Sleep Matters

 The next time I am staring into the refrigerator at midnight, I need one of the milk cartons to say –”You don’t need to eat–You need to sleep.”

  • A frequently overlooked obstacle to healthy eating is lack of sleep.
  • A study measuring the brain activity of healthy, normal weight adults aged 22-26 found that a lack of sleep causes brain signaling to significantly increase in areas associated with food acquisition.
  • We need food to survive. When we are tired, our cells think we need more energy, which triggers a powerful subconscious urge to eat.
  • When we don’t sleep enough, cravings related to addiction and reward come in to play.
  • Even in children, lack of sleep is associated with weight gain.

 Are you famished or fatigued?

  • Be mindful of your body states by deciding if you are really hungry or really tired.
  • Managing you sleep by aiming at 7-8 hours of sleep time will help regulate eating.
  • If you know you have had too little sleep or your sleep will be disrupted, be prepared to eat protein and high-energy foods to stave off your need to eat for energy instead of catching up on sleep as soon as you can.

 The Influence of Others

  • There is hardly a culture or a person that does not seek and savor the opportunity to share food with others. For most, it is central to their family and social connections. As such, it is understandable that both friends and family have an influence on our consumption norms and expectations.

 It is not easy to forget the “ clean plate rule” or replace the family ritual of ice cream as a stress reducer.

  • Researchers found that having a friend who is gaining weight makes you 57% more likely to do so yourself. Professors Fowler and Christakis reporting on social contagion suggest that consciously or unconsciously, people use what others are eating as a gage for themselves-be it the oversized fries or the chocolate dessert.

 The occasional evening of food and fun may be well worth having. Being swept into mindless overeating and overdrinking on a regular basis is physically and emotionally costly.

 Recognizing and removing the roadblocks to dieting may activate your motivation, improve your weight- loss success and foster your overall sense of mastery.

 Listen in to Dr. Christopher Calapai Dispel the Diet Myths on Psych Up Live







Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Couples Trapped in Silence: “We Don’t Talk Anymore”]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5279 2017-09-08T03:51:19Z 2017-09-08T03:51:19Z Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words.

Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “We just don’t talk anymore!”

If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the collaboration of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then the experience of “silence between us” can start to feel emotionally deafening.

How do couples who once had so much to say end up trapped in silence?

  • Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage?
  • Is there a way back?

Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.

Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality; but if couples become curious rather than blameful about the silence between them–they may find reasons and remedies to speak together again.

The Reasons:

If we look closely at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing wrong or what has happened to shut down verbal connection.

Here are some possibilities:

The Monologue:

Sometimes a partner is in so much need of attention or affirmation by the other– they never stop talking. More interested in what they have to say, they barely realize there is no space for dialogue. The listening partner often complies as audience for a time but as there is less and less sharing –there is less and less reason to talk.

The Critique:

Sometimes speaking has become unsafe if one or both partners imply by verbal criticism, overt disinterest or non-verbal behavior that what the other is saying is of little interest or importance.

Some are embarrassed or enraged into silence. Some give-up. Some find outside confidantes who want to listen—while the silence at home builds.

The Interrogation:

Demands that a partner report feelings, the day’s events or reactions to what has been said, take the wish to share and turn it into obligation. The result is an emotional shutdown. Events may be reported but there is no sharing as partners.

The Secret:

Often when a partner is holding a secret from the other – be it a financial problem, infidelity, self-doubts, fears, illness or even a new personal goal – authenticity is impossible and real communication compromised.

The Unsayable:

Sometimes a couple has suffered a traumatic event outside the realm of everyday life that has taken their breath away as well as their words.

Be it the traumatic loss of a loved one, a serious injury or unexpected destruction, they avoid talking about it as a way to avoid the feelings attached.

Until they find a way to talk, however, talking about anything else can feel impossible.

The Remedies

Can couples find a way to speak again?

I have maintained in working with couples over many years, that if partners want to re-set their relationship—-almost anything is possible. Here are two remedies that work in tandem with each other.

Self and Mutual Reflection: 

It is always valuable to start with self as we have more capacity to change self than anyone else. We also know that if we are doing something for reasons that we do not own, raising our awareness puts change back into our hands.

Accordingly, it would be valuable for each partner to personally consider and then possibly share the following:

  • Am I speaking in a way that makes my partner want to listen?
  • Am I listening in a way that makes my partner want to speak?
  • Would I be willing to share my thoughts with my partner?
  • Would I be willing to ask for some feedback?
  • Are my non-verbal communications (eye contact, touch, body language) shutting down communication and closeness?
  • Should we seek consult from a professional?
  • Would outside help offer a perspective for healing and reconnection that we may be unable to find on our own?

 The Re-setting Experience:

  • A quick way for partners to re-set a pattern of shared connection, interest and talking is the decision to share something new together.
  • Be it getting a new pet, planning a trip, starting a mini business, joining a club, competing as a couple etc., couple research tells us that what is novel can stimulate interest, co-participation, reasons to talk, neurochemistry and even sexual arousal.
  • While this may seem simplistic, what we know about domains of communication is that when two people are doing something with a mutual goal, they inevitably speak.
  • When they speak, they are interested in what the other has to say, which helps them feel valued and valuable.
  • They see each other in a new light.
  • Often they even feel desire.

When there has been considerable pain connected with “ talking,” there is often more mileage in initially doing something positive than saying something positive. The shared positive experience can often be an important step in resetting the connection.

When attempts to move out of the painful silence are impossible, it is very valuable for partners who want their relationship to recover to seek professional help. The mutual goal is an important step toward “ finding something to talk about.”

“Many times in life I’ve regretted the things I’ve said without thinking. But I’ve never regretted the things I said nearly as much as the words I left unspoken.” 
Lisa Kleypas,

 Listen in “When Marriage Gets Messy” on Psych UP Live

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[We Need to Feel “Awe”- Solar Eclipses, Sunsets, Snowflakes…]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5257 2017-08-21T01:42:01Z 2017-08-21T01:42:01Z If you have ever felt speechless looking up at the Grand Canyon, compelled to take a picture of an incredible sunset, or riveted by a flock of birds in formation, you know the sense of “Awe.” 

The Meaning of Awe

According to Dascher Keltner, researcher and founder of the Greater Good Project, “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”

Those witnessing the full totality of the Solar Eclipse or even some part of it on Monday August 21, 2017 are likely to have an experience of “Awe.” Those who have experienced the Solar Eclipse many times and describe themselves as eclipse chasers, describe it as  a primal feeling of excitement- “ Wow, this is really strange and beautiful ” an “ Oh my God” experience.

It is even likely that those throughout the country who gather to see a full or partial darkening will also be awed by the sheer number of people gathered together to look beyond our planet to witness an incredible phenomena. Shared emotional experiences of awe connect people.

Something that evokes a sense of awe is transformative – even if it lasts for a moment.

As such, it is important to know that feelings of awe are not necessarily tied to big events. Researchers find the feeling of awe can be stimulated by music, the sight of your toddler sleeping on top of the dog, the size of the tomato growing in your summer garden.

We Need to Feel Awe

Historically, psychologists like Maslow underscored the importance of awe as “ peak-experiences” important for health development.

Dascher Keltner maintains that for evolutionary reasons, awe is good for our minds, bodies and social connections.

  • Keltner’s findings reveal that experiencing awe (looking up in a grove of the tallest eucalyptus trees in North America) seemed to make people more inclined to help someone in need.
  • In addition, they reported feeling less entitled and self-important than study participants who did not have the awe experience.
  • In other studies, Keltner found that feelings of awe, more than feelings of pride or amusement, led people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others.

Christopher Bergland lists the sense of awe as one of the tools of “The Vagus Nerve Survival Guide to Combat Fight or Flight Urges.” Drawing upon emerging neurophysiological research on the experience of “ awe”, he suggests is that unlike worry or even very strong positive emotions, the experience of awe uniquely activates the vagus nerve which sets in motion the parasympathetic nervous system and the heart regulation, deep breathing etc. associated with a calm steady state.

Getting a Daily Dose of Awe

Whether the whales in Alaska or the morning butterflies in your garden, research finds a daily dose of awe contributes to our well-being. You can even try out some awe practices. 

Science writer, Matt Hudson who shares the awe experience of a “new dawn” as central to infusing him with the self-acceptance he struggled with as a young adult, underscores the transformative potential of what is experienced as awesome. As the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking – he affirms the magical power of a rainbow after a long storm.

Embrace the Experience of the Eclipse and Don’t Miss The Daily Moments of Awe











Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Married Women and Affairs: Reality and Reasons]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5247 2017-08-16T02:02:02Z 2017-08-16T02:02:02Z When we talk about affairs the cultural inclination is to think of a married man with a younger unmarried woman. The reality is that life is far more complex than cultural stereotypes. Married women also have affairs.

Recent infidelity statistics suggest that in over 1/3 of marriages, one or both partner admit to cheating. The data suggests that 22% of men report having been unfaithful to their spouse with 14% of women acknowledging an affair in their marriage.

Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The Reasons

Having worked for many years with men and women and trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest that most married women as most married men, don’t condone, pursue or plan on having an affair – but it does happen.

 Do women have an affair as a way to end their marriage? Most would say, no.

 Do women have an affair for sex? Not in most cases.

Do women want the feelings stirred by an affair in their own marriage? Most would say, yes.

The primary reason that married women often end up in affairs is emotional. In many cases the affair reflects what feels like the chance to have and to hold a long forgotten or unknown sense of self that feels respected, loved and desired by a partner.

The difficulty is that while the affair seems to emotionally give – it also takes.

 How Does it Happen?

A close look at the path to an affair suggests a number of social, psychological, marital, and sexual factors that bear on this choice.

 The Social Culture

Ours is a culture that espouses social and sexual monogamy. According to Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, marriage is now seen as the bond that is supposed to do it all.

The goal is great – so is the pressure to live up to it.

 Self-Critique-While both men and women often feel that they are dancing as fast as they can, women tend to be more self-critical. Wired to nurture, they too often expect to be able to take care of everyone and everything.

Sex as a Chore-Caught in cycles of employment, children and family commitments that leave little couple time, men can more easily look toward sexual connection as an oasis without the time for ongoing romance.  Women, who need the romance to feel the desire, often see sexual relating as one more chore on their list or one more failure on their part.

Nobody’s Talking-Whereas women are good at complaining about chores and car pools, they find it more difficult to make their sexual needs clear to a partner who may feel rejected.

It is most often “ what is not said in a marriage” that makes a partner more vulnerable to stray- than what has to be said.

 Unmet Needs-Most people need their partners to provide what Self Psychologists call self-object needs.

  • Partners need to mirror each other in a way that affirms a sense of value and a special place. It could be “the look across the room” that makes them know they are different from anyone else.
  • Partners need to “ idealize” each other, to be proud of the connection and the association to the other.
  • Partners need “ to twin” with each other, to feel mutuality about some things; to get each other’s sense of humor; to be friends as well as lovers.

A married woman’s vulnerability to an affair is often increased by her own lack of self-esteem or a spouse’s issues that impair attunement, idealizing or mutual connection.

 Personal History– Sometimes a woman has so little history of good parenting that regardless of how successful she is in other dimensions of her life, in intimate relationships she is untrusting, insatiable and unable to be pleased. She may look outside her marriage for what she won’t find anywhere.

Partner’s History-Sometimes a woman has a strong sense of self and is well able to reciprocally respond but she is with a partner whose own history compromises his ability to attend to or respond to her. Often she begins to believe that is something she is doing or not doing that keeps her from getting what she needs.

 Sexual Needs and Desires

For reasons that may be conscious or unconscious, many married women and their spouses sabotage the opportunity to satisfy sexual needs and desires in their marriages.

  • When there has been a history of little or no personal interest, attention and affection by a partner, many married women stop feeling or risking sexual desire. If they do feel sexual interest it may well be for someone who treats them differently.
  • Some women disconnect their home lives from their outside lives such that they dress, act, display confidence and invite sexual interest in a way that is never brought home. Without realizing it, they lose the chance to experience their partner’s response to this unknown and desirable self.

 From Validation to Temptation

  • The affirmation, mutuality and support that many men and women share in the workplace, community and in athletic endeavors can be an important source of personal validation. When it becomes an eroticized source of interest from someone whose novel attention stimulates “ the chemistry between two people,” it becomes temptation.
  • For some married women, the temptation is not just the surge of sexual interest in another man – it is the awakening of an experience of self as sexually desirable and valuable.

The Choices

  • Buoyed by the sexual interest and attention from another partner, some women make an attempt to change and improve their marriage.
  • Some are so startled by what they have missed, but so committed to their marriage, that they test or prompt similar responses from an unsuspecting spouse, hoping to get a reason to stay faithful.

 The Affair

For those married women who make the decision to step outside their marriage, it is a highly emotional choice of both pleasure and pain underscored by denial.

  • Most want the feelings, the attention, the erotic affirmation – and they want their marriage. Feeling guilty, they often try to convince themselves this is possible until it is proven impossible.
  • Some are willing to forgo the marriage in order to attach to a self they have never known. If they give total credit for this new self to the new partner– they still don’t own it.
  • Some experience the affair has the only opportunity they will have to regain some positive feelings of being loveable and valued. For them, it is worth the cost of the family disruption and a divorce.
  • Some find that their spouse, while hurt and betrayed, wants them back and is able to join in examining what went wrong and sharing the recovery and reconstruction of a new second marriage-together.

 Apart from condoning or condemning, an affair is a rupture in a marriage and a crucial communication.

 When we are willing to use it to make meaning, to own and to learn about self, it becomes a difficult but important point in our growth and the viability of our future relationships.


Listen in to Podcasts on Psych UP Live with topics like:

Saving the Marriage After the Affair

When is divorce the best decision?

Surviving and Thriving after Mid-life Divorce

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Truth or Dare: Online Dating in Midlife]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5234 2017-07-31T03:31:33Z 2017-07-31T03:31:33Z While many mid-lifers cringe with the initial thought of online dating, the reality is that more and more are trying it.

Online dating use among 55 to 64-year-olds has risen substantially since the last Pew Research Center survey on the topic. Today, 12% of 55 to 64 year-olds report using an online dating site or mobile dating app versus only 6% in 2013.

If you are going to venture into online dating, here are some findings and observations that may prove helpful:

 What to Bring to Online Dating

The best things to bring to online dating are curiosity, self-reflection, patience and a sense of humor.

  • Online dating is very different than shopping for the item with the most stars. On-line dating is more about engaging in a process than finding the ready-made “perfect partner.” It is about self-reflection and identifying your core values and your enduring passions.
  • What have you loved from your early years that you never stopped pursuing? What qualities do you have that your closest friends and relatives hold most dear? What makes you laugh?
  • If someone you meet shares those passions or seems to enjoy or appreciate those qualities in some way – take a closer look.

 What to Include in an Online Profile

  • When it comes to creating a profile for yourself, less is more and authenticity is crucial.
  • While everyone wants to present herself/himself in a good light, little is gained by describing a fictionalized version of yourself intended to please all.
  • Choose a picture or pictures of yourself that you really like and present yourself as a person interested in meeting others who might match some aspects of you. Just a glimpse is far better than an autobiography.
  • For example – Do you love being in the out-of-doors or… prefer museums, know every sports team, enjoy exercising, love food but hate cooking, love laughing…

 Getting Enough Clicks or Winks

  • A profile designed to have universal appeal may bring hundreds of clicks; but that is not necessarily a good thing.
  • Many clicks tend to leave people feeling too overwhelmed and faced with the impossible challenge of discerning who is real and who is right for them!
  • This fits with what has been described by Ben Schwartz as “ The Paradox of Choice.” According to this theory, the more choices we have, the more anxiety, decision fatigue or choice overload we feel.
  • With too many choices, we are less able to make a decision or feel that the one we finally make is a good one.
  • We don’t want dating to turn into the famous “ jam study ” in which researchers in a grocery store placed six samples of jam on one table and 24 on another. Whereas 20% more people were drawn to the table with the 24 jams, only 3% of those people actually bought jam as compared to 30% who went to the table with just six jars of jam.

It is far better to have a few people responding to your specific profile…even if it takes many rounds… then many responding to a generically appealing description.

Anxiety About Rejecting Someone

What do you do when you meet someone who likes you more than you like them?

  • For as many people who have little or no empathy for anyone but themselves, there are many wonderful people who struggle with interpersonal relationships because they have been well trained to care for others – at a cost to self.
  • Over-empathy for the needs of another person– in the case of online dating, someone you hardly know–is often at the cost of your own needs. It takes you out of empathy with your own feelings and needs. It jeopardizes decision-making.
  • Of course, no one deserves to feel discarded. The best response to someone who persists in contacting you, but is just not a match,  is to treat him/ her with respect. Without leading them on, let them know you thank them for the interest but choose not to go forward.
  • Ultimately no one wants to be with someone who stays connected out of pity or obligation.

Worry About Being Deceived

A The New York Times article entitled “ Love, Lies and What they Learned,” addressed the question of deception with reported research.

  • The article suggests that there is actually less deception on sites where people are seeking long term romantic partners -given that the initial emails and conversations eventuate in face-to-face meetings.
  • According to this report, there is some minor deception found in online dating that is driven by the wish to make a positive first impression. Women, for example, describe themselves as 8.5 pounds lighter. Men lie by 2 pounds about weight but men lie more often about height, rounding up a half inch.
  • The report suggests that a few lie about age; but I would add from my observations that some lie about age because they feel trapped in a profiled age category. This speaks to the need to meet in person asap if there is interest – as trust and reality make it easier to disclose and accept people regardless of age.
  • In the study, no one seemed willing to talk openly about politics but particularly in the present culture, most people are likely to reveal their leanings as conversations unfold.

Identifying Hackers and Scammers

 While the majority of people are on-line to meet potential dates and partners, the increase in online dating in the last few years does bring with it those people who clearly misuse the dating sites with no intention of appropriate connection.

The best way to limit wasting time with imposters or “catfish,” as they are called, is to stop responding to anyone who trips your “emotional smoke detector” as offensive, pushy or inappropriate in some way.

Jeff Cohen’s 30 Minute Guide to Online Dating offers six common sense tips to avoid deception. Be concerned:

  1. When a person avoids certain topics
  2. Acts funny when receiving calls if you are out on a date
  3. Cancels a lot and makes excuses
  4. Has omissions and inconsistencies in his/her profile
  5. Refuses to talk about certain periods in their life
  6. Does not know things most people would know – important events, important dates in their own life etc.

Other Suggestions Include:

  • Inviting a friend to read the back and forth or hear what you have experienced. It is an advantage and sometimes fun to confer with someone when in unknown terrain.
  • If you have met a person who seems too good to be true, offer to step out of the virtual world for a telephone chat or actual cup of coffee.
  • If the other person does not offer this or does not respond to your offer, despite continued expressed interest and pursuit of you– think twice.
  • Too good to be true is too often not true.

 Valuing Your Authentic Self

Perhaps the most daunting task when on-line dating in midlife is valuing and expanding your authentic self.

If we re-define the goal of midlife dating as not simply the search for a partner but an opportunity for validation and expansion of self, then we go into dating with curiosity. What will this person be like? What will I learn about myself, men, women?

Some guidelines that foster your own authenticity and make mid-life on-line dating more of an interesting journey than a survivor show include:

  • Don’t make online dating your life’s mission and mirror.
  • Balance it with outside opportunities with men, women or both– doing things you love, learning new things, taking on new projects and opportunities. Find situations that nurture your confidence, build new skills, celebrate your talents and help lighten whatever life baggage you carry.
  • In terms of online dating, try different sites, and when you start emailing with someone, move out of virtual connection to an actual meeting as soon as possible. Take charge – A face to face is worth a hundred texts.
  • Believe in your own intimate and sexual timetable. There are no rules that necessitate intimacy because four weeks have passed and the other is insisting it is time. There are also no rules that preclude the invitation or disclosure of desire.
  • The real issue is self-reflection of why, when, mutual desire and mutual discussion with the other partner. If mutual considerations aren’t possible in the early stages of a relationship – they won’t get easier.
  • The more confident you feel, the more flexibility you may have with respect to meeting people, reading people and growing as a person.
  • Flexibility to unexpectedly liking someone or trying something new is not a desperate disavowal of self–if it feels right to you.
  • When it turns out to be unexpectedly ridiculous — laugh- You have another life story!
  • If it leads to a wonderful relationship or a more expanded knowledge or appreciation of self-Enjoy.

While it may not be for everyone, online dating might open doors you never considered.

“ Sometimes You Fall In Love With The Most Unexpected Person at the Most Unexpected Time”

( Lovendar.com)





Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Being Smarter About Using Our Smartphones]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5210 2017-07-10T04:45:07Z 2017-07-10T04:45:07Z Sometimes you know that something in your life impacts you in certain ways but you don’t know the official name and you really don’t know exactly how it works. That is how I felt about Behavioral Architecture.

The first time I came upon the term was reading Adam Alter’s book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.

Alter asked the following question: How far are you from your phone right now? Can you reach it without moving your feet? And when you sleep, can you reach your phone from your bed?

Whereas I had to admit I could easily reach my phone without using my feet, I can’t reach my phone from my bed but it is in the room. What about you?

Essentially, Alter is inviting us to consider that the location of our smart phones may be unwittingly shaping the degree and impact of our smartphone use. It is worth consideration.

Smartphone Use

We are using smartphones more than ever. Since 2011, the ownership of smart phones among US adults has gone from 35% to 77%. The use of social media since 2005 has gone from 5% to 69%.

We are using smartphones more than ever because they meet basic needs and more in terms of interpersonal connection, information, self-expression, exploration and convenience. We not only can find the item I need – I can have it in 24 hours or less. We not only can connect with relatives in distant locations – We can facetime with them.

The reality, however, is that many of us hardly put our smartphones down. In a Survey of 536 respondents representative of the US population, 75% reported keeping their cell phones on all day and night. Almost half of the respondents (46%) check their smartphones as soon as they wake up and while they are still in bed. Sixty-six percent of Millennials check it before getting out of bed and 28% over breakfast.

According to a study reported by Business Insider, the typical cellphone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times every day, with extreme users touching their phone 5,400 times.

 Designing Our Smartphone Use

 The question to consider is whether the day and night availability and continued checking and signaling of our smartphones starts to tip use from asset to liability.

Here are three possible liabilities that might be reduced by drawing upon Behavioral Architecture to use location of the smartphone and planned time segments to design our smartphone use.

Distractibility in the Office

Experts suggest that although many of us have the illusion that we are “multi-tasking,” we are really doing something called toggling between tasks, which demands constant context switching.

The typical office worker gets only 11 minutes of focus between interruptions and it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus on the original task or context. When we add the presence of our smartphones, we compound those interruptions. Someone said that emails are like zombies- “You can kill them but they just keep coming.” The average time an office email goes unread is six seconds!

The impact on performance and productivity is great. According to Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, people who report being great at “multi-tasking” are actually found to be chronically distracted. His research finds that although they say they can shut it off and become laser focused, they cannot. Ultimately they waste more time trying to multi-task. In addition work performance, concentration and creativity are all compromised.

Reducing Distraction in the Office

  • What if we planned to keep our cell phone out of view in the office (in our pocket, purse, drawer) with the plan of designating 20 minute segments for checking personal email, messages etc.
  • Professor Clifford Nass suggests that a planned 20-minute rule of focus on email rather than 100 to 200 minutes of “ little bits and bleeds” results in better efficiency and treatment of your brain.
  • Letting family and close friends know that you plan two 20-minute sessions in the course of your day, for example, reduces the pressure and anxiety that drives constant vigilance.
  • Supporting this type of planned use of on-line connection, Tim Ferris recommends a list of apps and options to interrupt interruptions. One of these called “ Freedom” is an apple app that will allow you to turn off your Internet irrevocably for a set period of time. If you have the guts to hit it once- you are free and won’t be able to turn it back on until the end of the time you set aside. What a gift!

 Danger on The Road

 According to health news, people just can’t seem to walk down a street without doing something with their mobile device. The result has been bumping into walls, falling down stairs, and stepping into traffic.

Much as with driving, even with a handsfree phone, when you are texting, emailing or talking on a phone, that becomes the primary task your brain is focusing upon. When walking, awareness of traffic, your surroundings, and situations of danger, become secondary.

One new study entitled “Walking While Texting Could be Deadly” reports a 10% spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of last year – the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths in four decades.

 I was walking in New York City on a busy workday when I stopped with many at a curb just as the light turned red. One young woman in high heels, eyes glued to her phone kept walking. As she crossed, making her way almost to the curb, a large truck came storming by. When it passed we all gasped as we saw her lying in the road. As we all lurched to run toward her, she suddenly got up (apparently the wind from the truck had knocked her down) looked down at her cell phone and kept going!! Sadly she missed the terrifying lesson we witnessed.

 Avoiding Danger

  • Where you place your smartphone (purse, pocket, briefcase) can place you out of harm’s way. No one can look at a phone and look at traffic, surroundings or potential danger at the same time.
  • Why not set up a message on your emails that you will return messages after a certain time? Why not stop and step into a safe place to text you are on route and will respond when you have arrived.
  • Why not consider that most people don’t expect instant response unless they are conditioned by us to get it!

 Disconnection with On-line Connection

  • Do our day and night on-line connections compromise the quality of our face-to-face relating and relationships?
  • Apart from the pros and cons of Facebook, such as the magic of making new friends and connecting with old friends vs. the downside of comparison with everyone else’s picture perfect lives, we might want to consider the impact of constant beeps, tweets, instagrams, snapchats and signals that interrupt face-to face connections.
  • The worry that we will lose a friend or be the only friend who doesn’t respond to someone’s instagram, can start to dilute our in-person connections.
  • Since our behavior shapes our children’s behavior, our inability to sustain a focus on them, has to disrupt their sustained focus. The four year old we were playing with may act up or give up when you disappear into the phone- the teen will most likely take out his or her own smartphone.

Reconnection Despite On-line Connection

  • Perhaps reconsideration of the visible location of your smartphone and the decision to be unavailable on-line so that you can be available in person for your relationships has the greatest payoff.
  • The research of neuropsychologist, Allan Schore and others inform us that we are wired to make eye contact. From the earliest infant-mother connection, gazing is crucial to bonding, regulation of feelings and development of healthy attachment patterns. You and your children need this eye to eye bonding without disruption.
  • In your adult relationships, it is compliment for someone to observe you ignore the beeps and signals of your phone for them. As I shared in an earlier blog, there is increasing evidence that eye contact is associated with the power to influence, connect, support, invite trust, and enhance intimacy with another person.

Design Your Smartphone Use.

Being Smart with Your Smartphone is in Your Hands.

Listen in to issues and recommendations for On-line Connectivity – Podcast with social media expert, Dr. Evans on Psych Up Live




Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[We Need Fiction To Deal With Life’s Facts and Feelings]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5199 2017-06-23T03:27:32Z 2017-06-23T03:27:32Z We never grow tired of loving and needing the fiction we find in books and movies. As children we beg for one more book before we give over to sleep or ask to hear the favorite, over and over again. As adults we continue to trade in sleep to finish the chapter, see the end of the show, binge watch the series or re-watch favorites on a host of devices. Why?

We love fiction and we need fiction. We learn from fiction, we upload our imaginations to access fiction, we feel our way through fiction, we connect and we find ourselves and others through fiction.

What is it about fiction that makes this possible?

Why do we hold on to fiction in a way that we never remember facts?

Fiction transports us.

We engage with fiction. We suspend vigilance to inaccuracies, reason, time and place. We project on to the villains and we identify with the heroes. We experience vicarious love, pleasure, power, hate, fear, and suffering, etc. We are moved emotionally and neurophysiologically.

Psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock argue that entering fictional worlds “radically alters the way information is processed.” Their studies show that the more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them. 

They propose that when we are highly absorbed in the story, we barely detect “ the false notes” or inaccuracies. It is not a matter of ignoring the false notes—We don’t even see them!

 Fiction connects us.

Whether it is the story you are reading to your child or the movie you are watching with hundreds in a theater, the experience of laughing, screaming or crying together connects us to others. Even if we watch separately, the fiction in books and films become part of our shared experience.

Movie titles, characters and dialogue evoke certain meanings, become part of the culture and are used in our daily lives long after a film is seen.

We know what it means to hear someone say:

  • “May the Force be with you” (Star Wars, 1977)
  • “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
  • “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” (The Godfather, 1972)
  • “I’ll be back.” (The Terminator, 1984)
  • “You had me at hello.” (Jerry Maguire, 1996)

Fiction enhances empathy and feelings

Fiction triggers empathy emotionally and by stimulating our neurochemistry through mirror neurons.

  • When we are driving a racing car, neurons in our brain fire. When we watch James Bond drive a racing car, a subset of those same neurons also fire giving us the virtual reality experience of driving.
  • In terms of emotional or affective experience, if someone wounds me or steals my child, a set of neurons (anterior cingulate neurons) register pain and anguish in my brain. If you witness my pain a subset of mirror neurons will fire in your brain putting you in empathy with my pain i.e. registering that this is what you would feel if wounded or tortured in the same way.
  • As such fiction invites us to see and experience the world in other people’s eyes. From the earliest days, childhood movies and books put us into the pain, joy or dilemma of another. There is a reason that Bambi is one of the most upsetting Disney movies.
  • Ninety-four percent of us cry together as watch the final scenes of the Titanic (the most viewed film).
  • Sophie’s Choice as a novel and as a film reveals a choice most of us cannot fathom. There is the urge to resist being placed so close to the horror and grief of choosing which of your children must die.

Fiction validates life experiences

Fiction allows us to know we are not alone in our feelings and thoughts. Many have embraced the reality that they are not the only one in a dysfunctional family thanks to films like “ Christmas Vacation” “ Home for the Holidays” and “ Little Miss Sunshine”  When in public, they have heard someone in their family say , “ Try to be normal.”

Fiction offers escape

Fiction fulfills the request, “Stop the world, I want to get off.” It allows us to escape from our world to the worlds of fantasy and magical thinking. In The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Hobbit, we enter worlds of shared imagination that are very different and far from our day-to-day lives.

Fiction allows justice to prevail

Many films and books provide the justice and moral reckoning we crave but can’t guarantee in life. We believed in the decision of Twelve Angry Men. We never tire of police shows that solve the case. We embrace Mission Impossible because many days in our lives feel like a “Mission Impossible”. We have needed James Bond, Code Name 007, since he arrived in the 1953 novel, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

Fiction inspires

We are moved to be all that we can be with films like Rocky, Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List and a Beautiful Mind. We are inspired by the mix of love, friendship and mortality shared in the words and pictures of children’s books like Charlotte’s Web by EB White (1952).

Fiction facilitates healing

Fiction allows us to revisit unspeakable and traumatic events at a distance. It interrupts the code of silence and the symptom of avoidance so common to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It allows small, safe, visual and emotional steps to re-experience, find the words and integrate the unthinkable – tragic death, child abuse, and war etc. Films like Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Mystic River etc., evoke feelings and bear witness in important ways.

Fiction takes us into the experiences, feelings and thoughts of people we don’t know, fear, or stereotype.

A study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, explored the specific impacts of reading Harry Potter books. It found that children, high school and university students reading Harry Potter had improved attitudes towards stigmatized groups.

A number of fictional shows have helped shape America’s attitudes about gay relationships-Will and Grace, Modern Family, Roseanne, Friends, etc.

Films like Twelve Years a Slave, The Help and Remember the Titans raise consciousness about the horror of slavery and racism and offer a glimpse of hope in the actions of young people using a sport to connect.

Fiction addresses our fear of death and destruction

These days we spend a lot of time in Post-Apocalyptic Neighborhoods dealing with The Walking Dead, Zombies, Leftovers, and more. One hypothesis is that this is actually a counterphobic solution to what terrifies us–which means we are so anxious about death, we can’t stop dealing with it, denying it, rounding up other survivors or watching it in fiction.

Some report enjoying this fiction. They find the characters, the plot, and story interesting and entertaining. I believe it is true-there are a number of fans in my family.

Years ago one of my patients reported that when he was depressed, horror movies shifted his mood and always made him feel better!

Fiction Fits

As much as some love The Terminator others, others love The Danish Girl, The Good the Bad and the Ugly or When Harry Met Sally.

There is a story for everyone because we are part of the stories we need and love.

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb


Listen in –Podcast on The Power of Children’s Books to Address Fears and Feelings with Dr. Sileo on Psych Up Live

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP http://wwwcouplesaftertrauma.com <![CDATA[Are We Wired to Harm or to Help? A Close Look]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/?p=5188 2017-06-15T01:30:28Z 2017-06-14T06:03:12Z In an uncertain world with continual headlines of violence, war, discrimination and stigmatization, the question of man’s proclivity to dominate and harm another comes to the forefront.

While perhaps not as riveting as what frightens us, there is also ongoing evidence of another persistent pattern, our inclination to connect, help and cooperate with each other.

The Mission of a Superhero

In the newly released blockbuster, “Wonder Woman”, the superhero’s belief in the essential goodness of man is confounded by the reality of war. Her mission equates to destroying the belief embodied by Ares, the God of War, that men are inherently evil and deserve to be left to kill each other. Her mission prevails.

The Reaction to Terrorism

Two weeks after a suicide bombing killed 22 young people and parents at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, and one day after another terrorist attack targeted and killed seven people in the heart of London, Ariana Grande returned to tens of thousands of fans to offer The One Love Manchester Concert. Together with a group of named performers they invited all attending to “stand strong together” with love, tears and collaboration. The intent to harm by terrorism did not deter them. The headline read, “ United They Stand.” More than $12 million was raised for the “ We love Manchester Emergency Fund.”

A Documentary that Asks- “ What’s Wrong with the World?”

An Important Documentary, “ I AM” by Tom Shadyac, asks two questions: “ What is wrong with our world?” and “ What can we do about it?” After a life-changing accident, Tom Shadyac, the filmmaker known for his blockbusters, “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and “Bruce Almighty, travels the world to find answers to the question of man’s basic nature- Are we wired to dominate or cooperate?” Interviewing the great thinkers in science, philosophy and religion, the filmmaker gathers evidence that questions the Darwinian perspective of survival of the fittest and shows that in the animal kingdom- the Golden Rule prevails. Discussing with experts the science of mirror neurons, the nature of sympathy, and the universal expression of compassion, the filmmaker builds credence for our natural instinct to cooperate. In the words of Desmond Tutu “ We are — because we belong.”   The use of love as a natural force exemplified by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc. challenges our preconceptions about the nature of man and reveals what is right about the world!

 What is it that Challenges Man’s Inclination to Connect?

If we are wired to connect and cooperate, why do we see men violate and humiliate each other across nations, families, schoolyards and personal relationships?

The Meaning of Power

One answer comes from the understanding of power offered by social psychologist and researcher, Dacher Keltner, author of the book, The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence.

According to Keltner, power is about making a difference in the world, in your family, in your relationship –in someone else’s life. Wealth, education and occupational prestige account for only 10 to 15 % of how powerful or influential people actually feel at any time.

The keys ingredients to power are empathizing, giving, expressing gratitude and storytelling. These are potential elements in every social interaction. They are paths to achieving enduring power- between nations or peers.

 The Power Paradox

 What Keltner has found, however, in countless social experiments, is that once power is attained, it can make us vulnerable. We lose the focus on others, compromise empathy, withhold respect and create an urgency for self- gratification which quickly leads to abuses of power.

  • We have seen those who abuse power ultimately topple due to corruption, dishonesty and betrayal of others.
  • We have seen how misuses of power in the workplace, government or family leave others feeling powerless and humiliated. We have seen how anger and shame can lead to violence.

The Positive Use of Power

 For as much as we have seen power slide into abuse and disgrace, we have also seen power retained by those who never lose sight of others and the use their gifts to make a difference in others lives.

Dacher Keltner offers a fivefold path to gaining and retaining power:

  1. Be aware of your feelings of power and your ability to make a difference for the greater good. (One of the most powerful women I have known is Esther, a nurse’s aide whose intelligence and kindness in a senior citizen facility makes her opinion the one that cares and counts.)
  2. Practice humility. Power is a gift. It gives us a chance to make a difference in the world. (Whomever you are helping is also helping you.)
  3. Stay focused on others and share power with generosity. (Mutually empowered spouses have better marriages and more democratic nations where many are empowered have healthier and happier citizens.)
  4. Practice respect and treat others with dignity. (The unexpected act of kindness and respect is priceless to the giver and the recipient.)
  5. Look for opportunities to reduce powerlessness by what you do and what you say. (A concerned bystander becomes a superhero.)

Are We Wired to Harm or to Help? 

 “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

Victor Frankl


Listen in -Dacher Keltner discusses The Power Paradox on Psych Up Live