How to snap out of an ‘I’m still single’ pity party.

Last year, I stood at a booth at a women’s conference, selling shirts and telling visitors about the virtue of chastity. One of them — in her 50s and still single — loitered at the table until she found the words.

“This doesn’t work,” she said.

“What doesn’t work?” I asked her.

She pointed at the big, foam board replica of the cover of my book, Chastity Is For Lovers — which, then, had not yet published.

“This stuff,” she said. “I’ve lived my whole life for God, and I still don’t have a husband.” Continue reading “How to snap out of an ‘I’m still single’ pity party.”

Thoughts on men and their emotions.

Last month, a fellow blogger asked me what I — as a woman — think it means to be a man. So in a comment on his blog, I wrote the following:

I could write a whole post (and perhaps I will after I finish my book!). But here’s what comes to mind at first: A man uses words to communicate. He does what he says he’s going to do. He understands emotion to be a human thing, not a woman thing, and expresses his own. If he was raised not to express emotion, he makes an effort as an adult to unlearn what he learned (even if with the help of a licensed therapist). He has integrity, which means he doesn’t do stuff (or makes a concerted effort to avoid doing stuff) in private that doesn’t align with his public image. He practices chastity and knows love is a choice as opposed to a feeling.

Another of the blogger’s readers left a comment regarding mine:

Actually, in this, you’re buying into the mindset that tries to turn men into hairy women. No one *teaches* men to “not express emotion” — it is a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal. Furthermore, no one, needs, nor even wants, “men” who wear their emotions on their sleeves, least of all women [sic]When it comes to emotions, the world was better off when women worked to emulate what comes naturally to men, by keeping a lid on theirs. Instead, most “women” thesa days mentally junior-high school girls [sic] … as are far too many so-called men.

These are my thoughts on that:

  • To my readers who are men: IGNORE HIM. You are not a hairy woman if you express emotion. You are a person who functions. A “masculine ideal” that doesn’t let you be who you are or feel what you feel is a crock of you know dang well what. Reject it.
  • No one needs men who wear emotions on their sleeves? Reminder: Jesus wept.
  • Words like the ones written by that reader are the reason an 11-year-old boy I once met is more likely to put his fist through a wall than to cry when he’s upset. By telling boys “crying is for wimps,” you don’t encourage strength. You set them up to be alarmed by feelings when feelings arise (and they will). You discourage the development of their abilities to manage emotion, because you can’t learn to manage what you aren’t allowed to experience.
  • Emotion is human. The moment you call expression of it weak, it becomes strong: evidence of a willingness to go against the grain — a grain manufactured by people like the guy who wrote the comment. (A willingness, which, for the record, is totally attractive.)
  • Women don’t want men who express emotion? First, men can’t tell women what women want. Stop it. Second, if I wind up with a guy who cries when he proposes or commits on an altar to intertwining his entire life with mine, or when our kids are born or our pets and loved ones die, or the Fresh Prince rerun we’re watching happens to be particularly heart wrenching, GOOD. I’ll cry with him.
  • The writer posits that men aren’t supposed to express emotion because not expressing emotion is “a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal.” It is good, regardless of gender, to be in control of yourself. And it is normal to have emotions. But it is flawed to imply it is a loss of self-control to express them.
  • Perhaps the people who have lost control of self are not the ones who express emotion, but the ones who don’t. Who is in control when what you will or won’t do is based on what other people think of you?

[Interview] Porn use, addiction, and recovery.

dr-henryThe day I met Dr. Ryan Henry, only days remained between summer 2009 and the start of my first semester as a grad student at the University of South Florida. I would study rehabilitation and mental health counseling and Dr. Henry — a licensed marriage and family therapist — would be my advisor.

As it turned out, he’d also be a mentor, among my favorite professors, and a model for the kind of therapists classmates and I hoped we would become. At his practice, he is a therapist to couples, and specializes in working with couples whose relationships are affected by infidelity, pornography, and other “emotional injuries.” I’m grateful he took the time today to talk with me about pornography:

AS: How do you define pornography?

RH: That depends on who you are. The lowest level definition: it’s anything that sexually arouses you. And that opens up a lot more things than just internet pornography. So as a professional, I don’t try to define it for (clients). I talk to them in a way that lets them define it for themselves and for the relationship.

AS: How do you define porn addiction?

RH: I basically look at it like any other addiction. If it’s interfering with (a person’s) functioning in life, they’ve tried to stop and they can’t, if it’s had a negative impact on their relationships and they’re still not willing or able to give it up, those factors lead me to the idea of addiction. But I don’t really work from an addiction model. I work from an escape model. Pornography is used as an escape from past trauma and current negative emotion. Although I agree there is an addictive component to it, it’s a way to escape life and that’s what really needs to be addressed.

AS: How pervasively do people use porn as an escape?

RH: If we’re using that term, pretty much everybody! It’s like video games. If we’re talking about real addiction, not able to stop, interfering, constantly being on their mind, it’s a smaller population. But it doesn’t have to reach an addiction to be a problem.

AS: How likely is it that a person who uses porn for the first time will become addicted to it?

RH: That is a difficult question to answer. There are a lot of factors that go into someone getting hooked on pornography after one use. If they accidentally are exposed to pornography and quickly shut it down, the likelihood is extremely low that they will become addicted. However, if that first use is intense and tied to a sexual experience, it has a higher likelihood of trapping the individual in the addiction cycle. So I do believe it is possible to become addicted after one experience with pornography, just like after one drink certain people become addicted, but I do not have a sense of how often that is the case.

AS: How often do you work with clients who are addicted to porn?

RH: All my clients are couples. In that sense, only 20 percent of couples come in for that specific reason. And that’s probably even high (compared with the norm), because I specialize in that. When I worked with individuals, it was more like 50 percent of my clients. Most of them weren’t in committed relationships; some were. Young married to mid-life (is the range) I see presenting with this, (ages) 26 to maybe 40.

AS: Based on what you’ve seen in clients, what impact does porn addiction have on a person’s relationships?

RH: The obvious ones are that if you’re putting your sexual drive into pornography, it’s taking away from the sexual attachment to your partner. But it also kind of distorts reality – pornography distorts intimacy, the ideal woman, what sex should look like and be like for a couple. And so there’s a lot of misconceptions that occur and then the relationship gets compared to the misinformation and a lot of times dissatisfaction with the relationship results, because then you’re asking why don’t you do it this way, or look this way, or why aren’t you always wanting sex? When reality is compared against it, it falls short. That’s the nature (of) comparing reality to non-reality.

AS: And the less obvious impacts?

RH: If you’re continually escaping into porn and you’re not dealing with the trauma or negative emotion you’re escaping from, it begins to impact your mood. A lot of times I see aggression or anger coming out. (Additionally,) the investment in pornography takes away from your investment in your real relationship. We have a 100 percent ability to be attached. If we give 80 percent of that attachment to pornography, that only leaves 20 percent to invest in real relationships. The (other) person in the relationship is going to feel that, and they’re not going to be satisfied with that detachment.

AS: What impact does porn addiction have on a person’s health?

RH: When we’re talking about real addiction, it consumes the person. So they don’t take care of themselves in any other way. Just like an alcoholic — they’re consumed by drinking. I’ve had clients say they’ve stayed up all night watching pornography and they’ve had to go to work the next day. Then work goes so badly they want to check out again when they get home, so they stay up all night. The other thing is it survives or breeds on secrecy and so there’s an emotional impact of holding secrets. It’s a burden that weighs on you. This only applies to people when using pornography doesn’t align with their value systems. In order to continue to use, they have to lie to themselves and the people around them and that has an emotional and a spiritual impact.

AS: If somebody’s use of pornography isn’t an addiction, can it still negatively impact his or her life? In what ways?

RH: Yeah – it can impact the relationship. There are some relationships that agree it’s ok to view pornography individually, some only together. (In) other relationships, it’s not ok at all. Depending on the relationship rules, it can have a negative impact, whether it’s once a year or daily. It doesn’t have to be an addiction to cause problems.

AS: Is prevention of porn addiction possible?

RH: It’s possible to stop an addiction from occurring, but it’s not possible not to ever be exposed to (pornography). The goal, if you come across it in your life, is that you have a way of handling it that keeps you from going further into it.

AS: Is recovery from porn addiction possible?

RH: Yes.

AS: What routes can a person take toward recovery from porn addiction?

RH: You have to address it at all the different levels. There’s the habitual part, where it just becomes a habit. There’s the emotional piece: you have to deal with trauma, find a new way to cope with negative emotions, and really get down to what’s the need you’re trying to meet with the pornography. It might be power, or intimacy. Pornography does a great job of mimicking intimacy. You have to get down to what’s really driving this (addiction) for this person and address that need. If you don’t address that need, it’s just going to come out in a other way that’s destructive, even if you get rid of the pornography. There’s also the biological component. When you use pornography, certain chemicals are released into your body that your body then starts to crave. You have to find ways to release them that are healthy, like exercise.

AS: What role – if any – does forgiving oneself play in recovery from porn addiction?

RH: You definitely have to address the forgiveness and shame piece. It’s ok to have these drives. That’s part of being human, and for a lot of men, that’s part of being male. A lot of people fight that, resist it, and it becomes bigger as they try to do that. Think of it as a wave washing over you: You see an attractive woman and it produces this sexual drive in you. Acknowledge it: there’s an attractive woman, I feel aroused, and I’m just going to let it wash over me. If you put up a dam, you’re all of a sudden going to feel the full force of that wave. If you let it wash over you, you can go about your day. It’s basically removing the shame of it, (saying) “that’s normal response to have in that situation, and now I’m going to move on.”

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To learn more about Dr. Ryan Henry, LMFT, visit his website.

[Q&A – Relationships] What do you say to someone who feels unlovable?

The Q: “What do you say to someone who feels unlovable, whose 20s are gone, who believes there is nobody out there for him or her?” -Trish

The A: What I’d say is not as important as what I’d do. First I’d respectfully oppose his or her viewpoint by expressing my belief that humans are of intrinsic, infinite value, on the never-ending receiving end of authentic love and unabashed affection from the creator of the universe.

Then I’d go Albert Ellis on ’em.

Albert Ellis, a now-deceased psychologist, created rational emotive behavior therapy, a counseling theory designed to nip distress-inducing, irrational thought in the bud. Its purpose, according to Dr. Greg Mulhauser, is “to help clients to replace absolutist philosophies, full of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’, with more flexible ones.” How we’d use it with somebody who feels unlovable, whose 20s are gone, who believes he or she never will date again or marry, is threefold:

1. We’d pinpoint the person’s ultimate current beliefs (that being unattached equals being unlovable, that people who don’t meet somebody in their 20s never meet somebody, that he or she must have a significant other, etc.).

2. Then we’d dispute them (What evidence do you have that supports the belief? What evidence contradicts it? Is the belief rational, or irrational; reasonable, or unreasonable; constructive, or destructive? In what ways does having the belief help you meet your goals? In what ways does it hurt you?).

3. Then we’d replace them with better beliefs – rational, constructive ones (How single I am doesn’t determine how lovable I am. People meet each other and establish meaningful relationships at all ages. Nothing requires me to have a significant other; I’m not breaking a law by being single, etc.).

Other helpful tools to use when we’re stuck on a distress-inducing belief include making an appointment with a mental health counselor, or scouring the five principles for determining whether a belief is rational, Ellis’s list of irrational beliefs (and their replacements), and the ABC’s.

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Q&A is an occasional feature. If you have a Q, I can come up with an A (and if I don’t have an A, I’ll find somebody who does). To submit a question, click here. No topic is taboo (although I can’t promise I will answer every question).

Click here to read all the posts in this series.

What I learned in grad school that you really need to know.

As I type, I am six days from walking across the stage at the Sun Dome in Tampa to shake hands with the University of South Florida’s president and to accept my master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling. After 20 classes (60 credits) and three counseling internships in nearly four years, there is only one succinct way to sum up what I learned in grad school:


Some of it applies solely to people who’ll work as counselors. Some of it applies to everyone.

Here are four of my favorite parts of the latter:

Don’t pamper your kid. It is okay to let a kid work. He or she spills milk on a high chair tray? Hand him or her a sponge and have him or her help you clean. In my human growth and development class, I learned that in children whose parents do everything for them or whose parents otherwise shield their children from work or stress, the part of the brain that buffers it doesn’t fully develop. If you want your kid to turn into an adult who can handle stress, you have to let your kid experience stress. According to Alfred Adler, “pampered children often grow up expecting others to care for them and so do not develop their own resources.”

Be open to experience (and to not deciding to do stuff solely to impress somebody else). According to Carl Rogers, “healthy and fully functioning people (are) those who are open to experience, appreciate and trust themselves, and are guided by an inner locus of control rather than by an effort to please or impress others.” An inner locus of control says “I am responsible for me.” An external locus of control says “other people and/or my circumstances are responsible for me.” You’ve got a heck of a lot to lose when your happiness (or your esteem or your success or your value) depends on people or events you can’t control.

Close the gap between your expressed values and your manifest values. Expressed values are what you say you value (i.e., “I believe TV is a waste of time.”). Manifest values are what your actions imply you value (i.e. you watch TV for five hours each day). When there are discrepancies between what you say you value and what you actually do, the odds of feeling fulfilled are really low. According to one of my text books, “Our success in leading lives that are congruent with our values is strongly connected to the meaningfulness of our lives.”

Tear down your walls. Boundaries are good. Walls are not. In authentic relationships (all kinds), we stretch and grow. In isolation, we wither. Nobody says it better than my textbook: “People who avoid closeness with others and live isolated and circumscribed lives may believe that they are protecting themselves, but in reality, they are preventing their growth and actualization.”

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All quotes in this post come from the second edition of Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills by Linda Seligman.