Power In Your Hands

Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

Image by Candida Performa on Flickr

This remarkable article, “What if Age is Just a Mindset?”, about the work of psychologist Ellen Langer, ran this week in the New York Times. Its basic idea – that our minds have more power over the youth and health of our bodies than we’ve dared to imagine – is one that is near and dear to me and my work in ways that any readers of this blog already know.

[Langer]’s one of the people at Harvard who really gets it…That health and illness are much more rooted in our minds and in our hearts and how we experience ourselves in the world than our models even begin to understand.

Langer – a plainly dynamic and driven woman from the Bronx who reminds me not a little of Ilana Rubenfeld in this profile – has done experiments throughout her career that show the ways that our mindset can profoundly affect our physical health. Over time, “she came to think that what people needed to heal themselves was a psychological ‘prime’ — something that triggered the body to take curative measures all by itself.”

Perhaps the most famous of these experiments occurred in 1981, when Langer took a group of people in their 70s, and put them in a temporary time-warp: for five days, they lived, behaved, and were immersed in an environment that mirrored 1959. They were asked not just to reminisce, but to speak and behave as if they were 22 years younger. At the end of the five days, by several biological metrics, “they were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had ‘put their mind in an earlier time,’ and their bodies went along for the ride.”

They had been pulled out of mothballs and made to feel important again, and perhaps, Langer later mused, that rekindling of their egos was central to the reclamation of their bodies.

In the course of many years of work, Langer has continued to find that “mind-set manipulation can counteract presumed physiological limits,” with the ultimate goal being to “return the control of our health back to ourselves.”

Like Rubenfeld Synergists, Langer also places a strong importance on mindfulness, “on noticing moment-to-moment changes around you, from the differences in the face of your spouse across the breakfast table to the variability of your asthma symptoms. When we are ‘actively making new distinctions, rather than relying on habitual‘ categorizations, we’re alive; and when we’re alive, we can improve.”

The implications of her work are profound for those of us who work in the knowledge that when we help shift people’s relationship to their bodies, we can help them change how their bodies move in the world – and therefore, how rich and engaged their lives are.

Read the whole article and marvel at the implications here.

 

This week on Medium, a long article went around that told the story of a 16-year-old boy who realized that he was sexually attracted to young children. Rather than demonizing such non-offending pedophiles, the article follows his efforts not only to stop himself from hurting children, but to help others like him.

The pressure not to seek help in these young pedophiles is extremely strong. Mandatory reporting in this country can land people who have never hurt a child and who want desperately not to in jail. Many therapists do not have any frame of reference for dealing with these sorts of desires, which are more prevalent than many realize.

Some time ago, I wrote about the changes in the DSM-V that de-pathologized BDSM and other types of kinky desires and behavior, with the exception of pedophilia, for which there is really no acceptable outlet. This article gives me a little hope that for those afflicted with these terrible desires, there may be a way out that does not involve harming kids.

Warning that this article contains some disturbing descriptions and deals with an incredibly troubling subject.

You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?

More research, this time out of Harvard Business School, is emerging around the ways in which body language, body position, and other clear, controllable physical actions can not only change the way others think and feel about us, but how we feel and think about ourselves. Amy Cuddy’s research showed a two-minute change in body posture changed hormone levels in the body, affected self-confidence, and influenced job interviewers.

I’ve talked here some about Ilana Rubenfeld’s principle that the way you move in your body is the way you move in your life. The video below is a fantastic TED talk that shows how this is literally true.

In Cuddy’s experiments, just two minutes of assuming “power poses” significantly raised testosterone levels, lowered cortisol levels, improved people’s sense of self-worth and made interviewers much more likely to want to hire them. Two minutes of sitting curled up and making themselves small had the opposite effect: lowered testosterone, elevated cortisol, feelings of insecurity, and unattractiveness for hiring.

The implications of this would be almost alarming if they weren’t so accessible. In my work, we do a lot of imagining around what different options might be like. What if a client who has spent his whole life with his shoulders curled around his body could open up? What would that feel like? What might become possible? We might talk to the physical pain that trying this would be likely to cause: what protective mechanism has his body had in place for so long, but might be ready to let go and become something else?

For some, this process of healing, of becoming, can be slow, but it is possible. This science shows how it works. What is remarkable to me is how the power positions are all about being open, taking up space, being seen. Opening yourself up like this is exposing – relating back to the Brene Brown talks I’ve linked to here before on vulnerability. This relationship between vulnerability and power continues to intrigue me, and I’m sure you’ll hear more from me about it in this space.

For now, though, watch below, and don’t miss Cuddy’s own story, near the end, of how she, personally, overcome near-crippling self-doubt.

 

It doesn’t take a bodyworker to tell you that sexuality is a touchy topic in modern life.  Sex is one of the driving forces of our human existence, and its prominence in what drives us is evident equally in the suggestive images and messages that bombard us daily, and in the repressive messages we still receive from family, church, and politics.  Sigmund Freud – perhaps a bit too obsessed with sex – based his entire theory of psychology on what he called the “sexual model.”  But whether he was obsessed or not, it is undeniable that sex and sexuality are major issues for many people seeking therapy of one kind or another.  Sex is powerful, and society’s mad efforts to control it, promote it, discourage it, regulate it, sell it, and use it to sell us other stuff we don’t need can seriously screw up our relationship to it.

The therapy world has a problematic history with clients and sexuality, starting with Freud and continuing to this day.  Therapists have taken advantage of patients who, in their vulnerability and trust, have expressed sexual or romantic interest in them.  Bodyworkers – particularly massage therapists – often have to navigate sexual responses in clients, inappropriate requests, and even assault; some also assault their clients.  Our professions are rife with potential issues because so much is in the room: emotional difficulty, sexual difficulty, deep connective trust, and in some cases, touch.

In Rubenfeld Synergy, the focus on the body and the touch – though explicitly clothed and non-sexualized – can easily evoke sexual response, remind a client of a sexual experience, put the client in touch with his or her emotions and fantasies, or trigger a traumatic response associated with a sexual assault.   I explicitly deal with clients who have issues around sexuality, and I’ve encountered a number of different questions around how to deal with sexuality in sessions.  I want to explore them individually, in an effort to bring light to something that is too infrequently discussed.

In future posts, I will discuss clients who come in for other issues but then reveal sexual difficulties; clients who become aroused during sessions; clients who attempt to take advantage of the therapeutic relationship to indulge their fantasies, and clients who need grounding around touch and sexual trauma.  There are strategies for walking the fine line that can thread itself through these sessions, and I hope to explore them in detail in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned…

 

I have long been suspicious of the fitness industry, and in particular the more recent, particularly self-punishing styles of workout that have become so popular.  For my own part, I believe in eating whole foods, indulging from time to time, and being as active as you can in a way that doesn’t cause injury.  I’ve found new levels of fitness lately, doing an activity I love.  I will never be as ripped as a fitness model.  But I’m getting into reasonably good shape.

I don’t fault those who push themselves to their limits, and discover that their limits aren’t where they thought they were. What I object to are the constant, insidious or sometimes overt messages that say that we should ignore our bodies’ messages, push ourselves past our limits to injury, and collapse, puke, or pass out rather than fail.

Today’s beautiful if rageful response to this culture is from a father of a young girl, who doesn’t want her growing up in a world where heroin-chic has been replaced by hypergymnasia, a newfangled approach to anorexia that involves obsessive exercise instead of not eating.  The article is a response to six images from Fitspiration, most of which show fitness models posing sexily and text like “Your body isn’t telling you ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I need to stop.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘It burns.’ Your mind is.  Shut it up with more.”

And that’s the message: your body is a weak vessel whose voice should be ignored, your mind is lying to you, and when you think you should stop because it hurts, you shouldn’t listen to yourself.  What part of you is left, exactly, to push back at the meatsack you are apparently inhabiting at this point is unclear.  It only knows that you need to look like a fitness model or you’ll never be happy or sexy.

Health is a wonderful thing.  Fitness is glorious.  And exercise is good for you.  But this kind of thing is really, really screwed up, and it makes me sad that our culture has gone so far afield from the idea of befriending our bodies that we’re actually making them our enemies, to be dominated and overcome (for their own good, of course).

Read it here.

I have long been suspicious of the fitness industry, and in particular the more recent, particularly self-punishing styles of workout that have become so popular.  For my own part, I believe in eating whole foods, indulging from time to time, and being as active as you can in a way that doesn’t cause injury.  I’ve found new levels of fitness lately, doing an activity I love.  I will never be as ripped as a fitness model.  But I’m getting into reasonably good shape.

I don’t fault those who push themselves to their limits, and discover that their limits aren’t where they thought they were. What I object to are the constant, insidious or sometimes overt messages that say that we should ignore our bodies’ messages, push ourselves past our limits to injury, and collapse, puke, or pass out rather than fail.

Today’s beautiful if rageful response to this culture is from a father of a young girl, who doesn’t want her growing up in a world where heroin-chic has been replaced by hypergymnasia, a newfangled approach to anorexia that involves obsessive exercise instead of not eating.  The article is a response to six images from Fitspiration, most of which show fitness models posing sexily and text like “Your body isn’t telling you ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I need to stop.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘It burns.’ Your mind is.  Shut it up with more.”

And that’s the message: your body is a weak vessel whose voice should be ignored, your mind is lying to you, and when you think you should stop because it hurts, you shouldn’t listen to yourself.  What part of you is left, exactly, to push back at the meatsack you are apparently inhabiting at this point is unclear.  It only knows that you need to look like a fitness model or you’ll never be happy or sexy.

Health is a wonderful thing.  Fitness is glorious.  And exercise is good for you.  But this kind of thing is really, really screwed up, and it makes me sad that our culture has gone so far afield from the idea of befriending our bodies that we’re actually making them our enemies, to be dominated and overcome (for their own good, of course).

Read it here.

An interesting profile in Boston Magazine of Lisa Barrett, a psychologist who is working to challenge the long-held belief that there are six universal emotional facial expressions.  The work of Paul Ekman, who first pioneered this field, is now being seen as too simplistic:

[E]motion isn’t a simple reflex or a bodily state that’s hard-wired into our DNA, and it’s certainly not universally expressed. It’s a contingent act of perception that makes sense of the information coming in from the world around you, how your body is feeling in the moment, and everything you’ve ever been taught to understand as emotion. Culture to culture, person to person even, it’s never quite the same. What’s felt as sadness in one person might as easily be felt as weariness in another, or frustration in someone else.

The comments on the article are especially good (something that doesn’t happen all that often!), and delve more into the difference between affect – emotional reflexes that occur even in infants – and emotion – our reaction sets that are built from our culture, life experiences, and other contextual clues.  As one commenter succinctly puts it: affect is biology, emotion is biography.

I’m encouraged to see a nuancing of emotional reading in the field of psychology; those of us who do somatic work know that interpreting emotion is not as simple as a smile meaning happiness, or a scowl meaning anger.  As a person’s body contains the life story of that person, so a person’s emotional expression manifests itself differently depending on a multitude of factors.

It will be interesting to see how this research progresses; in the meantime, I keep reminding myself that every individual is unique.

 

As reported by The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the makers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM, has released its new edition (DSM-5).  In previous editions, paraphilias – a catch-all term for “unusual” sexual desires falling under the umbrella of fetishes, BDSM, or kink – were basically considered mental illnesses.

In the new edition, the Manual is making a distinction “between atypical human behavior and behavior that causes mental distress to a person or makes the person a serious threat to the psychological and physical well-being of other individuals.”

This strikes me as quite a step forward, and I’m pleased with the psychological community for finally starting to look at the wide panoply of sexual and gender expression among human beings and seeing that sometimes – perhaps even most of the time – it’s simply not a problem.

Now, in order for these types of desires to be classified as mental disorders, they have to meet several criteria.  Besides having desires that are considered out of the ordinary, these desires must cause the person to:

feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval; [emphasis mine] or

have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

What this means for my own clients as well as for kinky people everywhere – especially kinky parents who, historically, have been involved in custody disputes resulting in their children being taken from them – is spectacular.

The DSM-5 also distinguishes between sexual interests and sexual disorders.  The disorders currently defined under the DSM-5 are: exhibitionistic disorder, fetishistic disorder, frotteuristic disorder, pedophilic disorder, sexual masochism disorder, sexual sadism disorder, transvestic disorder, and voyeuristic disorder. However, any of these may be an interest in a healthy person, rather than a mental illness.

For example, a person may be an exhibitionist, but not have exhibitionistic disorder: a condition that causes her significant shame, guilt, anxiety, personal distress and adverse effects on her life, or causes harm to others.  A person may have masochistic sexual interests: i.e., he might get sexual arousal out of being hurt.  But that doesn’t mean he has sexual masochism disorder, which might mean he desires pain that causes him significant permanent injury, or that he seeks it out in ways that violate the desires and consent of others.

The one exception is pedophiliac disorder, whose clinical definition remains essentially the same as that in the DSM-4.  Having such desires, even if they are not acted upon, is still considered a mental illness, as it falls under the category of “desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.”  They have simply changed the name from “pedophilia” to “pedophiliac disorder” in order to maintain consistency.

I have complicated opinions about this last point, but I will save it for another post.  For today, I just want to express my happiness that what are simply unusual sexual desires and practices (and honestly, I think our culture is showing more and more that they’re not as unusual as we think…) have been officially de-pathologized.

 

 

As reported by The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the makers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM, has released its new edition (DSM-5).  In previous editions, paraphilias – a catch-all term for “unusual” sexual desires falling under the umbrella of fetishes, BDSM, or kink – were basically considered mental illnesses.

In the new edition, the Manual is making a distinction “between atypical human behavior and behavior that causes mental distress to a person or makes the person a serious threat to the psychological and physical well-being of other individuals.”

This strikes me as quite a step forward, and I’m pleased with the psychological community for finally starting to look at the wide panoply of sexual and gender expression among human beings and seeing that sometimes – perhaps even most of the time – it’s simply not a problem.

Now, in order for these types of desires to be classified as mental disorders, they have to meet several criteria.  Besides having desires that are considered out of the ordinary, these desires must cause the person to:

feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval; [emphasis mine] or

have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

What this means for my own clients as well as for kinky people everywhere – especially kinky parents who, historically, have been involved in custody disputes resulting in their children being taken from them – is spectacular.

The DSM-5 also distinguishes between sexual interests and sexual disorders.  The disorders currently defined under the DSM-5 are: exhibitionistic disorder, fetishistic disorder, frotteuristic disorder, pedophilic disorder, sexual masochism disorder, sexual sadism disorder, transvestic disorder, and voyeuristic disorder. However, any of these may be an interest in a healthy person, rather than a mental illness.

For example, a person may be an exhibitionist, but not have exhibitionistic disorder: a condition that causes her significant shame, guilt, anxiety, personal distress and adverse effects on her life, or causes harm to others.  A person may have masochistic sexual interests: i.e., he might get sexual arousal out of being hurt.  But that doesn’t mean he has sexual masochism disorder, which might mean he desires pain that causes him significant permanent injury, or that he seeks it out in ways that violate the desires and consent of others.

The one exception is pedophiliac disorder, whose clinical definition remains essentially the same as that in the DSM-4.  Having such desires, even if they are not acted upon, is still considered a mental illness, as it falls under the category of “desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.”  They have simply changed the name from “pedophilia” to “pedophiliac disorder” in order to maintain consistency.

I have complicated opinions about this last point, but I will save it for another post.  For today, I just want to express my happiness that what are simply unusual sexual desires and practices (and honestly, I think our culture is showing more and more that they’re not as unusual as we think…) have been officially de-pathologized.

 

 

A colleague responded recently to my post on finding my ideal clients by talking about the four needs of attachment theory.  In short, a client needs the same things from a therapist or Synergist that a child needs from a caregiver – or an adult from a loving relationship.  I’ll simply quote my friend here: “To be open and trusting for a healing experience, we need to feel like: I Exist (I am seen and heard), I am Safe, I am Loved (accepted) and I Belong.”

Since I just returned from a big fat Pagan conference, I couldn’t help looking at these four really excellent pillars of attachment and linking them to the Four Powers of the Witch/Magician, as they relate to the four elements in many Pagan traditions: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silence.  These correspond to the elements/directions of Air/East; Fire/South, Water/West, and Earth/North.

What many people come to various kinds of therapy, counseling, body or energy work looking for is to feel empowered and in control of their lives.  There’s a reason I decided to call my business Power In Your Hands; besides the reference to the work being hands-on, I wanted to give the feeling that coming to see me will help you claim your own power.  The Four Powers are the ways a magical worker – or anyone, really – have of getting anything done.  To achieve a desire, first you have to Know what it is, and gain as much knowledge as you can about how to go about it.  Next, you have to Will – to take definitive action toward your goal.  In the course of your action, you also must Dare: open your heart to vulnerability, to the possibility of failure or success, to the various surprising paths that might open as you take the leap.  And finally, to Keep Silence: to digest what has happened, to rest from your efforts, to germinate new ideas as a seed rests in the soil until spring.  (This last step is the one our culture tends to encourage us to skip: it’s all Know! Will! Dare! Know! Will! Dare! None of this is sustainable without rest, recovery, and reflection.)

In counseling or therapy, the client is seeking help in tapping into these powers, and as my friend pointed out, four pieces need to be present in order for the healing to occur.  To feel the sense of “I Exist” or “I Am Seen” is what precedes “To Know”: one must have the clarity of Air, which brings definition, acknowledgment, and curiosity – not to mention breath! – for both.  To Will something into being – to take action – one must first feel Safe; the power of Fire needs a strong container in order to be harnessed, and the feeling of safety provides that container. Water is associated with emotions, love, fluidity and openness: one must feel that they are loved and accepted before being willing to open to vulnerability: To Dare.  And finally, Earth brings the sense of grounding, home and hearth, stillness and being with what is.  The feeling of “I Belong” corresponds well to this, and a person who feels like they belong has an easier time Keeping Silence and being still with what is while the next course of action gestates.

I hope that even those readers who have no knowledge of or interest in paganism can relate to these ideas.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.