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Desperate or Needy: OK for Many Men to be Needy?

Sadly, too many men define themselves as desperate rather than needy when the going gets tough.

man - desperate or needyIn this culture, it is not OK for many men to be needy. Too often they see themselves as desperate and sometimes justifying desperate behavior, often with terrible consequences for themselves and others. I was recently talking to a young man who laughed and said that he wasn’t sure that he wanted to see himself as having needs that weren’t being met. He was more comfortable seeing himself as desperate!

Here’s the deal:
I said to him, “It’s human to have needs and be needy at times in our lives. To have needs is part of what it means to be human, to be part of the human race. To define oneself as desperate in effect is to see oneself as apart from humanity, and to set up the justification of inhuman and entitled behavior towards oneself or others.”

He said he had never believed that it might be OK for him to be needy, but he was willing to think about it and to think about what he might be needing.

It might beat feeling desperate after all.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Getting In Touch With Our Feelings: Men vs.Women

I have written about how men are often out of touch with their needs, wants and feelings, and how this underlies taking entitled positions as well as other problems they may experience in relationships. Initially in counseling, they may have a great deal of denial about the significance or even the existence of traumatic experiences in their life, especially when they were very young, even infants.

If a man is willing to consider even the possibility of unresolved childhood trauma but can not feel it, he may be willing to hear me when I share with him that I am feeling his pain in a conversation we are having. He may be willing for me to reflect his pain back to him, thereby validating the importance of his getting in touch with his packed away feelings as an opening into his heart.

man and woman embracingWomen often do this unconsciously for men that they love, but since they do it unconsciously, they may not insist that a man then feel his own pain, and instead take his unresolved stuff on as their responsibility to feel and to manage for him. A man may then stay unconscious and continue to act out his painful feelings and early trauma in ways that are destructive to himself and others.

The bottom line here is that we may compassionately feel another’s pain and unconscious feelings, but we can not do their work for them. Paraphrasing something Carl Jung once said: “Enlightenment is not just about basking in the light. It’s about making the dark conscious.”

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Dynamics of the Journey of Self Recovery

When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.

The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.

But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Holding the Gold: Claiming Your Inherent Value

Sometimes a person comes in for counseling and needs us to “hold their gold” for them.

doubt vs. beliefI am indebted to Robert Johnson, the famous Jungian analyst, for turning me on to this important realization. It is not uncommon, as counseling progresses, that a person may not be able to claim his/her own inherent value.

What this means is that initially they are not ready to see the treasure that they are, and they unconsciously project their “gold” or their wonderful qualities onto their therapist. They may be caught in the vise of self-hatred, and no amount of trying to convince them of their own worth can initially dissuade them from their negative self image.

 

The challenge for the therapist is to “hold this gold” until the rightful owner is ready to claim it.

It can be tempting to hold on to the disowned gold of the other. The therapist must be ready to make the transfer back to its owner as soon as he/she is ready. It is extremely helpful, indeed necessary, for the therapist to have a deep sense of their own inherent worth so they are not tempted to keep the other person’s gold as their own.

That, indeed, would be stealing.

Share your thoughts below.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Perspective on Adult Definition of Play: A Balance of Energy

Play is fine for children, but what about us adults?

I think our culture needs an adult definition of play.

The perspective on adult play that I like the best is the following:
PLAY IS ANY ACTIVITY WE ENGAGE IN THAT
GIVES US MORE ENERGY THAN IT TAKES!

Pretty simple and extremely important!

Unless we experience a balance of energy in our lives, coming in as well as going out, we are likely to feel pretty unhappy. I think most of us experience more energy going out than coming in on a regular basis, and the expectations that we put on ourselves and others tend to not help matters. It is well known that on average, adults in the U.S. work more hours and take less vacation time than most people in the developed world. The demands of daily life can be extremely draining, and addictive behaviors do not really address this energy imbalance that many people experience in their lives.

So I recommend that we look at simple, healthy behaviors that we are already doing in our daily lives that give us more energy than they take.

having fun

This is our play, and we might want to be really subversive of the dominant culture and decide to play even more!

Take some time out of your day to go and play!

Let us know your thoughts – share comments below.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How Entitlements Are Destructive to the Entitlement Holders

I have long pondered the question of how entitlements may be destructive to the entitlement holders themselves. It is clear to others that your entitled positions are painful to them if they are wanting a relationship with you. There is also the piece about how for every hour of entitlement you take in a relationship, you get about an hour and a half of resentment from your partner. But there is something else that happens as well. When I take entitled positions, I am discounting my own needs, wants and feelings as well as those of others, and I may not even be aware that I am doing that or of the consequences.

consequences

I recently wrote about my retirement entitlement. Clearly as an entitled position, it was not respectful of the needs or wants of my wife or daughter. (Again, it’s not that I don’t have the right to retire, it’s the entitlement that’s not relational). What I gradually got in touch with was that in taking an entitled position, I was discounting my financial situation, my desire and want to keep doing work that I love that is of real service to others, and my feelings of deep connection and joy that I find in my work. In my entitled position, I was riding roughshod over myself as well as others that I care about.

Sadly, one of the first lessons most men learn in guy school is to put away their own needs, wants and feelings. In replacement for the richness that is taken from them, they pick up the barren mantle, the stone shirt of entitlements. In the Men’s Journey Work at RRC, we help men recover their birthright of owning their needs, wants and feelings and put down the entitled positions that are hurtful to others and themselves.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How a Cooking Lesson Translates to a Life Lesson

Many years ago, I had been intensely involved in my own psychotherapy for a number of months and was frustrated by my attempts to make the process go faster.

Try as I might, the more I struggled with my demons, the less progress I seemed to make.

One night, this beautiful Native American woman befriended me in a dream and deeply and happily surprised me …

In my dream, she was preparing to cook a meal over an open fire. She had this funny looking round frying pan that had a very small cooking circle in the middle. Instead of using the larger part of the pan to cook in, she placed a little food in the inner circle to cook. When that was ready, she took it out of the pan and repeated the process again. I came over by the fire and laughed and asked her why she was cooking that way. She smiled up at me and held me in her gaze for what seemed like an eternity and said to me, “A little bit at a time, John, a little bit at a time. . .”

When I woke up, I realized she had given me the key to solving some of the thorniest of my life’s problems … a little bit at a time.

step by step

I will never forget her magical frying pan with the little circle inside the larger circle and the most important cooking lesson I have ever received.

Sometimes you need to take it a little bit at a time and realize that being gentle and kind to yourself is much more useful than beating yourself up to get yourself to change.

This approach usually works much better with others as well.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Catch Them Doing Good: Significance of Small Successes

Quite a few years ago, when I was a social worker at Fort Logan Mental Health Center, I was intrigued by a colleague’s work in another part of the hospital. He dealt with children who came to the Center with very challenging problems. He had amazing and wonderful success with many of them. One day, I asked him what he was doing different that seemed to work so well.

He said: “John, it’s simple. I catch them doing good.”

key to successYou see, instead of focusing on their problems, his focus was on what they did well, even if this was in the smallest increments. It’s not that he ignored their acting out behavior, he just wasn’t very excited by how they messed up. He was very interested in their small successes and acknowledging these.

I left Fort Logan not long after our conversation, but I had learned a great lesson from him.

I became much more interested in what people do that works rather than what they do that doesn’t work for themselves or others.

This approach doesn’t usually sell newspapers or make for exciting TV.

But then, I stopped watching most of what is on TV a long time ago.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Spiritual/Life Journey as Surfing

Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life.  Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me.  We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way.  We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.

AND, we will not always catch it just right.  We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot.  Still, we can choose how we react to the experience.  We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work!  What can I do different next time? “  We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.

Mary Simon, Psy.D.

Thoughts on Relating with Men

Relating with men feels like a mixed bag to me.  “Some of my best friends are men!”  In fact, a lot of them are!  I have two sons that I really enjoy relating to.  Of my colleagues at RRC, I feel most comfortable with the men in many ways.   On the other hand, I feel closer in some ways to my daughter-in-law than I do to my sons.  I do more things socially with my women friends.  And I experience a deeper level of intimacy in talking with my close women friends than I do with the men in my life. Our relationships just happen differently.

What is the difference?  I think that, when I’m with women, we talk more about our personal lives – from clothes, to relationships with others, to our feelings about ourselves and our lives.  It feels “juicy”. This certainly doesn’t happen with all women but, in relationships where this doesn’t seem to flow, I find myself moving away from the relationship.   With the men that I choose to spend time with, I find that we talk much more about ideas – from philosophy, to politics, to movies or books.  There’s something that feeds me about these conversations also.  AND, especially in mixed groups, I begin to get bored and feel disconnected when this goes on too long.

So, what does this say about men and women relating in general?  I’m not sure.  Does it mean that we are just very different and have to accept this?  When I say that I realize that, to me, this means that I have to be satisfied doing relationships with men their way!  I seem to believe that I have no right to expect, even ask, that they come in my direction!  I wonder if this position/belief is common in women.  It worries me that, even with all my experience with men who value me and want to be relational with me, I still feel that I must adapt!  Is this particular to me and my dynamic, or is it still part of the cultural norm and expectation?

Mary Simon, Psy.D.


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