Shame: How does it impact sex, relationships, and achievement?

Shame: How does it impact sex, relationships, and achievement?

This show furnished by Triune Therapy Group.

[Background music]

Dr. Kate: Good evening Los Angeles. Welcome to Behind Closed Doors. Heard at every Saturday at 6pm right here on Talk Radio 790 KABC. I’m Dr. Kate Balestrieri.

Lauren: And I’m Lauren Dummit.

Dr. Kate: And we’re the co-founders of Triune Therapy Group, a psychotherapy practice here in Los Angeles. Behind Closed Doors is a show about sex, relationships, mental health, addiction, staying healthy and other related current events. Today, we’re gonna be focusing on shame and how it impacts our relationships, our professional achievements and of course our sex lives. Who knew shame had such a role in sex.

Lauren: I know

Dr. Kate: But if you have any questions about today’s topic, call us at 800-222-5222. That’s 800-222KABC or private message us on Instagram or Facebook @behindcloseddoorskabc.

So Lauren, I have to tell you I’m really excited to talk about shame, and it’s such a weird kind of oxymoronic feeling because when we talk about shame, nobody is like “Wooh! That’s awesome.”

Lauren: Exactly. [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh] But I feel like most people try to avoid talking about shame like it’s leprosy. And I’m just really excited to talk about it because if listening to today’s program helps even one person redefine their relationship with shame or a shameful experience, then I feel like this whole episode will have been worth it’s time.

Lauren: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think it’s something that has come up a lot in the media, as we’re talking about the reasons people haven’t sought treatment when they’re feeling suicidal. And it’s so much more vast than that. So, I’m excited to talk about it today too.

Dr. Kate: Me too. And I’m glad you brought that up because so many people avoid seeking out treatment for mental health issues regardless of whether it’s feeling suicidal or because there’s infidelity involved or there’s some kind of abuse or trauma. I mean, shame is a real impediment to getting better and it’s often the very thing that needs to be addressed before we can actually see some sort of respite from these negative feelings.

Lauren: Yeah. Absolutely. And quite frequently, it’s you know, we live a life with shame at our core. A lot of the patients that we see in our practice, it’s just part of their being, and it really affects every aspect of their lives.

Dr. Kate: It does. Every domain of life. It’s really interesting and alarming how insidious shame is as a feeling when it goes unaddressed. Well, one of the things you know, that I haven’t talked about on the air yet is that I teach a course at Antioch University called Sexual Abuse and Human Trafficking Survivors. So, in this course, you know, I’m teaching clinicians how to work with people who have been sexually abused and who have been survivors of the human trafficking industry. And as you can imagine, there’s a ton of shame that comes with getting out of that culture, getting out of that environment and starting to piece together your life again. So, I always start the course by asking my students to go around the room and disclose something shameful about themselves. And you can imagine.

Lauren: That’s great.

Dr. Kate: I know. The looks on their faces though. I mean, gosh! First of all, they avoid eye contact with each other and me altogether, except for a good couple of little flash looks here and there that’s says oh crap! Do I still have time to drop the class? And then after their immediate you know reaction changes, then we get into the process and people can… they calm down a little bit and get into it. But I do this specifically to highlight how difficult it is for people, even trained clinicians, to really address and acknowledge and speak about shame. I mean, a lot of people think clinicians have it all together, but we still feelings too. And…

Lauren: Absolutely. Do you remember at our certified sex addiction therapy training, whether with a partner and tell them our five deepest secrets? “Hello. I just met you.” [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: Yes. Absolutely.

Dr. Kate: [laugh] Yeah. It’s a real act of bravery for people to look inward, and then eventually speak outwardly about the parts of themselves that they feel most unsettled about. So, this is what our patients do every day and the process demands respect. So, I start the shame purge with my class; as I call it. And after every one takes a turn, we all have a good laugh and discuss how scary it was to display our you know, deepest darkest innards for everyone’s judgment or compassion, hopefully compassion. And I thought you know, it might be interesting for us to do that today. So, do you want to do a little shame purge with me?

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: Before invite our special guest on?

Lauren: Can’t wait [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh] Would you like to go first? Or shall I?

Lauren: I can go.

Dr. Kate: Okay.

Lauren: So, it’s funny, cause when you talked about us doing the shame purge today, I immediately started thinking about stories and I was like “ouh, I’m not going to tell that, I don’t want anyone to know that.”

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: And so just even thinking about these stories brought up a lot of shame. I also had to do this exercise once… like women’s like therapy group, and where I was one of the participants, and the assignment was we had to go home and write down a list of all the things we are ashamed about and then read them. Then I went first, and I had about twenty. Nobody else had anything on their list.

Dr. Kate: Oh, no! [laugh]

Lauren: So, talk about shame.

Dr. Kate: Talk about being a good student. Ah! God!

Lauren: I was like okay, I’m the only one with dark secrets.

Dr. Kate: That’s so not true. Everyone’s got them, but lots of people don’t wanna talk about them.

Lauren: Well, it does bring about feeling of being bad. You know, that you feel like flawed and something is wrong with you. The story I was actually going to share was: I was with my husband, we were not married yet, we were dating and it was one of the first trips he came on with my family. And when I get around my family, as do many people, I tend to regress, especially when we’re on a family trip.

Dr. Kate: No [laugh]

Lauren: So, this little rebellious angry teenager quite frequently comes out and I can’t see it, you know. I think often we have blind spots especially when it comes to our families. And so…

Dr. Kate: I know I do.

Lauren: Yeah. I reme… distinctly remember we were at the beach and my husband or boyfriend at the time turns to me and he goes “God! You’re being such a little spoilt brat.”

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: And it was like all of a sudden, this like heat, a heat; the sensation of shame just filled my whole body, because it was… you know, I cared what he thought about me and he saw this part of me that wasn’t pretty, and immediately my defenses came up and I just lashed out in anger which I had… we… I’d really never done in a relationship. And then I couldn’t even tolerate that feeling, and had to take an hour long walk down the beach and just run. And it was so interesting that I had such an extreme reaction to such a little comment, but we all have those parts of ourselves that it’s really difficult when someone can see them, but…

Dr. Kate: It is. It’s really… you know, and it can feel really scary when someone sees right through to our core and sees those parts that we just never want a spotlight shown on. It’s terrifying. Well,

Lauren: You mean I’m not a mature adult all of the time?

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: 99.9%, you’re allowed a little flaw.

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: Well, thank you. How do you feel after sharing that?

Lauren: It was embarrassing.

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: It is. It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I feel okay.

Dr. Kate: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that.

Lauren: [laugh] Well, it’s your turn now.

Dr. Kate: Oh no! [laugh]

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: Oh, careful what you wish for Kate. So, I thought I would share probably one of the earliest memories of shame that I have going back. And I can laugh about it now, but I’m not going to lie, when I talk about it, I still feel a little like “this is uncomfortable.” But I remember very vividly being in first grade and I was kind of a geek then and I’m still kind of a geek now, I’ll own that 100%. But, I remember I used to like line all my stuffed animals up in my bedroom, and I this chalk board and I would teach them lessons from school. [laugh]

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh] I am a bit dark I know. And it was a huge hobby of mine; I love to give lessons to my little stuffed animal classroom. And one day, I ran out of chalk and for whatever reason, my parents wouldn’t get me chalk. I don’t remember if I’ve been misbehaving or if we just didn’t have time to go to the store or what happened, but chalk was not in the cards for me that week and I was furious. I mean, there were lessons that needed to be learnt, and who was going to teach them. So, I remember going to school the next morning and Mrs. O’Connor; my first grade teacher whom I adored had opened the fresh box of chalk. And that’s how old I am: chalk was still a thing.

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: But she opened this fresh box of chalk. And on the way out of classroom, I just you know, very slyly stole two pieces of chalk, threw them piece of Kleenex and went home, and the lesson went on.

Lauren: Resourceful.

Dr. Kate: I know, right? Well, my parents as you can imagine were flummoxed when I had chalk and they had failed to buy it for me.

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: So, they realized I had stolen this chalk. And the next day, my dad made me march back into the classroom, tell the whole class that I stole the chalk and return it to Mrs. O’Connor. And my dad, for those of you who know him, you’ll think this is hilarious, for those of you who don’t, it’s still hilarious: he’s an Italian man and he’s very foreboding back then, he used to wear a suit and tie to work and you know, he look right out of Goodfellas. And for where I grew up, that was pretty intimidating and all the kids called them the terminator.

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Kate: So, we have the terminator march me into class and very sternly make me apologize, oh! I thought I was just going to melt away in my shoes and I would have been grateful for that, but I never stole again. So I guess lesson learned.

Lauren: Yeah. I guess it worked.

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: But how embarrassing, especially when it’s around multiple people, not just one.

Dr. Kate: Yes. It was mortifying to say the least. But, I remember just feeling that heat rise and feeling like if I could disappear into the walls, that would have been awesome.

Lauren: Well, and it’s so funny cause when we are the object of the shame, we often think that everybody hates us or we worry what they think about us. And the truth is people are mostly thinking about themselves you know. They’ll probably think you know, “Oh god! Glad that wasn’t me.”

Dr. Kate: Exactly. They’re probably going through the list of things they’ve stolen and didn’t get caught for.

Lauren: Exactly. Right.

Dr. Kate: Yeah. Well, thank you for playing the shame purge game. I feel a lot better now and a little bit more warmed up, like we can talk about this topic and it’s not going to be so difficult. Hopefully, it will inspire other people to start examining their own shame.

Lauren: Well, it’s interesting. I think that we isolate in our bubble of trying to be perfect and hide the bad parts of ourselves, but really it’s still our flaws that we end up connecting. So it’s the very things that we don’t want people to know, because we think that they’ll think negatively about us, that actually end up bringing us closer together.

Dr. Kate: Right. Right. I mean, how many times have you like bared your deepest darkest to someone and it just makes you feel so much more alive and in love and connected and nurtured.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Dr. Kate: Good.

Lauren: And vice versa when they shared theirs, it opens up a feeling of freedom to express myself.

Dr. Kate: This is the basis upon which intimacy is formed.

Lauren: Exactly.

Dr. Kate: Well, we have to take a quick break, but in a couple minutes when we come back, we’re gonna talk more in depth about shame with our guest psychologist Dr. Stephan Poulter. Dr. Steve is the author of many books including The Art of Successful Failure, The Mother Factor, The Father Factor and an upcoming book specifically about shame called The Shame Factor. I’m super excited to have Dr. Steve on and to talk more about this topic.

So again, follow us on Instagram and Facebook @behindcloseddoorskabc and send us a message with your questions. Stay with us, we’ll be right back.

Lauren: Thank you.

[After break]

Dr. Kate: Welcome back. You’re listening to Behind Closed Doors. I’m Dr. Kate and my co-host?

Lauren: Lauren Dummit.

Dr. Kate: And we’re talking about shame today and its impact on our relationships, our professional lives and our sex lives. One of our special guests today is the renowned Dr. Stephan Poulter. Can I call you Dr. Steve?

Dr. Stephan: Dr. Steve is great. Thank you.

Dr. Kate: [laugh] Dr. Steve is a local psychologist and a accredited author many times over. Dr. Steve tell us a little bit about your background and your upcoming book The Shame Factor.

Dr. Stephan: The Shame Factor is probably thirty years worth of work.

Lauren: Wow.

Dr. Stephan: Cause shame is something… We were just listen to both your stories few minutes ago about how at age five or six, we can’t have a fourth wall, we go toward feeling good enough about ourselves or look we’re bad. And it’s usually because we did something. I jumped off a teeter totter and the kid fell; it cracked his head open.

Dr. Kate: I’m bad.

Dr. Stephan: I’m bad. Even though we had been doing that for an hour.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And no one got hurt. So, that’s how it goes. So, that’s really… I deal with a lot of teenagers, I’m a former police officer and I find a lot of people, they don’t understand why they feel bad. And people come to therapy to feel better.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And I think shame gets misdiagnosed as depression and anxiety and it doesn’t go away.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And that trauma, it continues to build; just like I call an emotional cancer.

Dr. Kate: That’s a great way to think about it. It’s very descriptive.

Dr. Stephan: It’s emotional cancer, because you gotta remove the mask. If you don’t, it controls your life.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And everyone’s got a secret, they feel so pressed down and eventually can’t get it out.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: So that drove me to write the book.

Dr. Kate: Great. Well, I’m so excited to read it. When is it anticipated?

Dr. Stephan: In March. It’s going to be on Prometheus press, Harvard press. It’s coming out. I need to finish it, but here we go.

Dr. Kate: [laugh] Well, good practice today then. We’ll help you get more involved in the outline.

Dr. Stephan: Thank you.

Dr. Kate: So, lots of people view shame and guilt as the same thing, but it’s really not. Dr. Steve, can you differentiate for us between what is guilt and what is shame? And why is it important to know the difference?

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. Guilt fundamentally is I did something wrong. I guess my moral compass. Shame is I’m bad.

Dr. Kate: So, guilt is I did something bad. Shame is I am bad.

Dr. Stephan: Correct.

Dr. Kate: I see.

Dr. Stephan: And guilt is always related to an action.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: While shame is the feeling you can see somebody and just suddenly feel terrible, feel paralyzed. But shame is a feeling word, guilt is in a word good shame; tends to be like something I’ve done or didn’t do and I feel guilty about it.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Kate: What will be an example of that?

Dr. Stephan: I think for instance it’s like someone feels guilty that like on the 405, they cut somebody off and they cause an accident. I saw it happen the other day; a motorcyclist got hit.

Lauren: Aww gosh!

Dr. Kate: Oh, no.

Dr. Stephan: The… that was terrible, but he’s okay. And I told the driver that it wasn’t his fault, but he goes “I feel so ashamed.” That was right out of his mouth.

Lauren: Oh, wow!

Dr. Kate: Wow!

Dr. Stephan: That’s the exact word. Shame is you go to a family barbeque and they’re talking about how much they’re doing and what not, and you feel bad cause you’re not… you’re not that person. Or you’re single and everyone’s married or you know, you’re married and everyone is single. You feel like there’s something wrong with you.

Lauren: So, it’s about going one down and feeling less than.

Dr. Stephan: Correct.

Lauren: That makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Kate: It does make a lot sense. I mean, it’s always interesting to me how we can meet people who on the surface, others would say wow, they are so accomplished, they’ve got so many things going for them, but they’re walking thinking as if they’re just lucky to be sucking up the air in the room because they’re so undeserving.

Lauren: Yeah. I’m always surprised when we go to these professional conferences and we’re surrounded by professionals who are extremely brilliant and published and have all of these accolades. And quite frequently I hear from other participants that that’s what’s coming up for them: is they’re feeling less than around these other professionals and here, we’re all on the same boat.

Dr. Stephan: Cause it’s inside of you.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: To your point Dr. Kate, is that people think I can heal my shame by my accomplishments, relationships or x, y and z, but the problem is it doesn’t know zip codes, it doesn’t know accomplishments or degrees, it’s inside of you.

Dr. Kate: That’s right.

Lauren: So, that make sense why it would drive perfectionism, because people that are perfectionist, it gets like a never ending quest to feel better about themselves.

Dr. Stephan: And I always say that perfectionism is a form of self-loathing.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Cause it’s impossible to be perfect and you don’t like yourself, you don’t accept yourself.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And self-acceptance starts to diminish shame, starts to take the power away from it.

Lauren: So, one of the questions I had in reading some of the chapters that you had written was that you mentioned that of all the psychological or emotional issues, none of these disorders have a more toxic and residual power than shame. And you described it as underrated and terribly misunderstood human condition. Why do you believe in your opinion that it’s so taboo?

Dr. Stephan: I felt this way for about twenty-five years now.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: I read in article year ago. It was in the New Yorker about shame. And a gentleman described this paralyzing. He saw a young woman, here is a college professor, and he had like sexual thoughts about her. He was paralyzed for three days emotionally.

Lauren: Wow.

Dr. Kate: Really?

Dr. Stephan: Goes for therapy and his therapist, psychiatrist saying that’s anxiety. You realize it’s shame. Like I’m a bad person. Now, in the East, eastern psychology, they call it ‘Maya’: meaning it confuses you. Or in India, they call it delusion; it confuses you. And many times here in America, in the Protestant community, it’s considered sin.

Lauren: I see.

Dr. Stephan: Like you are defective.

Dr. Kate: Right. Right.

Lauren: Interesting.

Dr. Stephan: Inherently.

Dr. Kate: Well, that’s such an interesting distinction between Eastern and Western cultures. And interesting that in the Western culture, there seems to be so much more stigma attached to the idea of shame. You know, it’s a sin, it’s bad. Whereas in other cultures, it’s viewed as something that’s disorienting.

Dr. Stephan: Correct.

Dr. Kate: Which certainly speaks to the physiological reactions of shame which can feel very disorienting. People can feel a heat flash, they can feel sick in their stomach.

Dr. Stephan: Right

Dr. Kate: They can feel dizzy, their vision can become myopic. I mean, it’s a very physiological process and it feels like you just got knocked out of your own skin sometimes.

Lauren: It does. It feels like the wind got knocked out of you sometimes. I’ve had experiences where I literally could… all I could do was go home and lie down.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Lauren: It’s very powerful somatically.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. I always ask people, where do you feel it in your body? I may feel it in my lower back. Had a client this morning, he was talking to me; he was feeling it in his chest. Wasn’t palpitations, it just felt like this weight.

Lauren: That’s exactly how it feels to me.

Dr. Kate: Yes.

Dr. Stephan: It felt like this weight was on him cause he feels bad about his body.

Dr. Kate: Yeah. Lots of people talk about that.

Dr. Stephan: Yeah.

Dr. Kate: They talk about feeling sort of perpetually nauseous. Like it doesn’t matter what is going on around them, they feel as if they could throw up at any point and it’s all related to that feeling of being unsettled internally.

Dr. Stephan: And that feeds into how addictions develop.

Dr. Kate: Well, we’re gonna talk about addictions in a little bit, but I wonder if we can just slow down a little bit and kinda get back to some basic ideas about shame. So, a lot of people that would argue especially in child rearing that shaming is necessary in order to encourage adherence to certain social mores and a collective value systems, but in your opinion Dr. Steve, is there such a thing as healthy shame?

Dr. Stephan: It’s a really good question. And the publisher told me to write about it on the book. And good shame is your integrity.

Dr. Kate: Can you say more about that?

Dr. Stephan: Yes. Good shame is I should’ve done that and I feel ashamed I didn’t do that. I should’ve helped that person, I should’ve returned that call. In good shame, I see it many times as with parenting, shaming is very dicey because you could… that was a bad action, not a bad kid.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And we’re shaming you’re a bad kid.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Regardless of what you did.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: That’s why do I really believe there’s such a thing as good shame? I think it’s semantics.

Dr. Kate: Well, I think what you’re describing is the difference between being shaming, which I don’t think is ever healthy, verses feeling shame which in small doses can be necessary. Like you said to maintain our integrity, right? It’s our own internal checking balances.

Dr. Stephan: Correct.

Dr. Kate: Whereas if somebody is shaming us, that’s an imposition from an outsider’s perspective and as children, we internalize that as gospel.

Dr. Stephan: Correct.

Dr. Kate: Right if mum or dad says I’m a bad kid, well then I must be really a bad little nugget.

Dr. Stephan: That’s right. I… guilt is the causing effect. A + B = C.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Actions, Boundaries, Consequences. Shame: Action Boundaries M, I feel miserable.

Lauren: I remember when I was young, my grandma… they’re getting mad at me about something and she was babysitting me and I just lost it. I was crying, and I said “you don’t love me anymore!” And so, I don’t remember what the action was, but clearly I was feeling shame about it. And I remember my grandma saying “I still love you, I am just very cross with you.” [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Dr. Stephan: I love it.

Lauren: And so I think that’s kind of the difference is you know, I was feeling shame, but she differentiated that no, you’re not bad, I’m just angry because of what you did.

Dr. Kate: Yes.

Dr. Stephan: To go on the record, I don’t believe in good shame.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Kate: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: I really don’t… cause I… You got shame in a sentence as saying there’s good cancer.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: I don’t think there’s good cancer.

Dr. Kate: That’s a really good point.

Lauren: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: Okay. So, I hear the word ‘good shame’, I’m like urrgh! How about guilt?

Dr. Kate: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: Guilt is much more understandable.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: Do you know how with little kids… it’s interesting. Little kids either feel defective or they feel confident. That’s the fork in the road.

Dr. Kate: Sure.

Dr. Stephan: And shaming gets them on the defective side.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right. They start to feel like there’s no point in me trying because I’m just always gonna be bad.

Dr. Stephan: Exactly.

Dr. Kate: Right. That’s where we see children kind of fall into the roles that they’re being scapegoated into in their families.

Lauren: Right. And then you see them getting really good at being really bad.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. And between ages five and ten, they have kind of made a commitment to that role.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: And after ten, they’re executing the role.

Dr. Kate: Well, how do we differentiate between you know, toxic shame and carried shame?

Dr. Stephan: Toxic shame is extreme. That’s like saying you have a couple of cancer cells. Toxic shame is having leukemia.

Dr. Kate: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: It’s debilitating, it controls your life. And alternately, that energy is gotta go somewhere. And that’s why there’s such a high rate of suicide in boys between the ages of 15 and 24. Cause they don’t know how to manage it.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And that’s why the highest rate for eating disorders for girls is fifteen to twenty-four.

Dr. Kate: Interesting. And carried shame quickly is?

Dr. Stephan: Carried shame goes back to your childhood.

Dr. Kate: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: Like an event; like a parent dies. Many kids feel responsible, you know it’s irrational. As we all know, kids think what happens at home, it’s my fault.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And if it’d good, it’s I’m just part of the party. But carried shame is an event. And on your shows, you’ve talked about trauma. I call that carried shame.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Kate: Well, let’s come back to that in a second when we return. We have to take a quick break. When we get back, we’re gonna continue the conversation about shame with psychologist and author Dr. Stephan Poulter. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook @behingcloseddoorskabc and message us with your questions. Stay with us, we’ll be right back.

[After break]

Dr. Kate: Welcome back. You’re listening to Talk Radio 790 KABC. This is Behind Closed Doors. I’m Dr. Kate Balestrieri

Lauren: And I’m Lauren Dummit.

Dr. Kate: And we’re here today with special guest Dr. Stephan Poulter whose upcoming book: The Shame Factor examines how shame impacts us at every juncture in life and details what to do about it. So, just before we cut out, we were talking about toxic shame and carried shame. And I wonder Dr. Steve, what are some of the most common triggers for people’s shame?

Dr. Stephan: I think part of it is the triggers can come in many forms such as feeling bad, not good enough, kinda like you’re a fraud.

Dr. Kate: That’s a big one. I hear so many patients and friends talk about feeling like they’re an imposter, feeling like someday, somehow, someone is just gonna look right through them and see that they’re full of you know what, and they don’t know what they’re doing in life and everyone’s just gonna be in on this secret that they know to be true inside. And that just is heartbreaking.

Lauren: And it’s a really common symptom behind depression.

Dr. Kate: Yes. It is.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. And there was an article in the New York Times last week about the Imposter Syndrome. I call this shame syndrome, because it’s that part─ the wounded part of you that you are hiding.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And it doesn’t matter what your job is, you’ve got it covered up.

Lauren: Well, speaking of hiding, one of the things you talked about in your book is how shame create a fragmented sense of self. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. And I also have a question: is that similar to the idea of the shadow? The parts of ourselves that we are trying to disown.

Dr. Stephan: Yes.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Stephan: Yes and yes. You know, your core self… look at the example of a bike wheel; the spoke is coming out. And what shame does, it bends the spokes, so the wheel doesn’t roll fluently.

Dr. Kate: It’s a great metaphor.

Dr. Stephan: And it really… and the more you straighten the spokes out, the better your life rolls forward. I don’t mean to be so metaphorical, but it’s the truth.

Lauren: No. It’s a great metaphor.

Dr. Kate: It’s a great metaphor.

Dr. Stephan: And this shadow, what you and his point was to the degree that you deal with your shame, the part that you don’t want to deal with will be to the degree that your spokes get straightened out.

Dr. Kate: Well, it’s so true. I mean, and it feels so paradoxical. To heal shame, we have to lean into it. Right?

Dr. Stephan: Exac…

Dr. Kate: And be willing to expose it.

Dr. Stephan: Right.

Dr. Kate: And that’s terrifying and can get people very stuck you know, and often prohibits them from even starting the conversation, whether in treatment or with someone that they care about.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Incredible. That— what you just said Dr. Kate, will take people… like people will ask how long does it to heal my shame? Cause there’s something or something about yourself that is so frightening to look at, it’s buried way way back in the warehouse in a vault.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: But once you expose it, it’s like a cave going to be dark for a thousand years, and the minute you turn the light on, it’s never dark.

Dr. Kate: Exactly.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Exactly. It’s an immediate catharsis.

Dr. Stephan: Exactly.

Dr. Kate: And I think about you know, for people who stay so stuck in that, how tragic it is to lose so many good years of their lives when they could be so living them you know, in a way that feels more congruent for how they want to be leaving.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely.

Lauren: Well, and I think also we have to remember not to take ourselves too seriously in life because the truth is…

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: We are human and we are all flawed like it or not. And I think it’s so important to just be able to laugh at ourselves you know, like oh, look how human I was today.

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: Instead of look how bad I was today.

Dr. Kate: Right. Right. I’ll often reframe things to patients or to friends when they say “oh my gosh! I was such a mess this weekend.” No, you were perfectly human.

Dr. Stephan: Right.

Dr. Kate: Let’s calm down.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: We all regress. So I wonder you know, men and women often experience feelings differently and they exhibit behaviors around those feelings differently. In your opinion Dr. Steve, what are some of the similarities and differences between how men and women experience shame?

Dr. Stephan: Excellent question Dr. Kate, cause that’s part of why I wrote the book. Men tend to externalize their shame.

Dr. Kate: What does that mean?

Dr. Stephan: Unfortunately, it usually leads to violence. People are like how does this boy take an AK-47 to school? He’s got to seek revenge. And part of the male code is you don’t talk about your feelings.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: You act them out. The gag, I call it the gag order.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Okay? The male gag order. And it goes for my age up and beyond; below. That’s why male shame comes out differently. Female shame is much more inter… they internalize it. They’re really feeling defective; cutters, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, being involved in wreck… dangerous relationships.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: I see a lot of that with women; relationships with the guys they should like never say hello to.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: So, they are often the victims of violence.

Dr. Stephan: They are. And I’m not saying… but the guys that are violent, that is it’s been building for years. It’s gone to leukemia. It started off a couple cancer cells, it’s now a major…

Dr. Kate: Stage four.

Dr. Stephan: Exactly. And the boys, they… what’s interesting these… in the last few years the guys that did these terrible shootings; the majority of them ended up becoming suicide.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Because that is the end of shame; its self-hatred.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: That’s the end of the road. And so turning the car around, is going towards is going towards self-acceptance.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right. Well, we often see that in our work with addictions too you know, they tend to be kind of two extremes. People externalize or they go into binges or periods of excess or indulging which you might consider to be some of that aggressiveness, right? But it’s externally focused. And then we see more deprivational sides of that continuum as well. “I am so bad, I don’t deserve community, I don’t deserve to be involved with other people, I don’t deserve this food or this music or these things that will bring me joy.” And so we see people live in sort of the extremes of these relationship with worthiness, which is a pivot and a branch off of it and ultimately shame core.

Lauren: Well, it’s interesting because I think it’s shame that often drives addiction and as they get deeper into their addiction, the lower they go down the scale, and they end up doing things that cause more and more shame. Sitting in session often with couples that are dealing with sex addiction, it’s so outstanding sometimes to the betrayed partner that their husband, boyfriend, and I’m being heteronormative here, “how could they betray me and now they are being so mean to me and they are so angry at me? I didn’t do anything.” But what you see is they’re deeply ashamed.

Dr. Stephan: Deeply ashamed.

Lauren: And anger is the defense that comes out to protect them.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: You know the offset could be fatal.

Dr. Kate: It can.

Dr. Stephan: It absolutely.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: Men, I’m a guy and trust me, the knee jerk is to blame.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: We had a client being hetero biased here, women tend to internalize it. And it just… and that’s the hard work.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: Is to get… find the middle. The middle is self-acceptance.

Dr. Kate: Right. But this is where we often see crimes of passion occur, right? Whether somebody betrayed someone and now is projecting their shame unto the other person, or if they feel betrayed and are then projecting their shame unto the other person, either way, the object of their rage becomes the focal point for what is making me feel shame, and it’s so intolerable that unconsciously I feel like if I can hurt, mame, or destroy the trigger to my shame, then I can feel alleviated from that feeling.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: So, that is like the impetus for a lot of domestic violence, a lot of crimes of passion and it’s really dangerous when shame goes unaddressed because it can be fatal.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely.

Lauren: Well, and when one’s still in shame, they are extremely vulnerable and you know, to go along with the stereotype that you were talking about and then have difficulty talking about feelings and being vulnerable, anger is a lot more powerful.

Dr. Stephan: Exactly.

Lauren: Right. It makes them feel strong and powerful.

Dr. Kate: And activated.

Dr. Stephan: And the word I’ll like to use: anger is sanctioned.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Amongst men.

Dr. Stephan: Among men. A man who cries, it’s… even and we’re in this time and period of life, might be considered weak. When it’s as if we know that’s the inverse.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: I mean, it takes so much courage to cry.

Dr. Stephan: To own it.

Dr. Kate: And ultimately and conversely for women, it takes a lot of courage to stand in your power and to stand in your assertion, whereas women are often socialized to cry and internalize and really just keep those feelings to themselves in a different way.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: But I wonder you know, outside of these extreme examples, how do shame based belief systems show up and impede intimacy in relationships? I mean, how did they get in the way of us having really strong healthy connections?

Dr. Stephan: It’s a glass wall, a glass ceiling and your partner can feel it. There’s a glass wall between the two of you.

Dr. Kate: They can feel it like they can’t get to you fully?

Dr. Stephan: Correct. They can see you, but they can’t get through it.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Lauren: Interesting.

Dr. Stephan: And that glass wall is not coming down.

Dr. Kate: Right. That can be so frustrating for couples because they you know, they like “this… my partner always disconnects from me. They come home, they are on their phone or they’re here, we’re going in, doing things, but I feel like I can’t get in; they won’t let me in.

Dr. Stephan: Yes. So, it’s actually the shame wall.

Lauren: Right. Well, if you’re feeling inadequate or like an imposter, it’s very difficult to show up and be present. [laugh]

Dr. Stephan: It’s terrifying.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Dr. Stephan: Cause of some of the triggers, intimacy hands-down is the number one.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: Hands-down.

Dr. Kate: Intimacy is a huge trigger.

Dr. Stephan: Yeah. And then in the work place.

Dr. Kate: How so?

Dr. Stephan: You… you don’t want to be like we said earlier about being an imposter, or be a fraud or be found out that you’re… you don’t know everything. You’re not capable, or you don’t want your coworkers to think you’re in-confident.

Dr. Kate: Right

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: I see that a lot.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: So, in terms of… you talked about in your book how shame also impedes people from achieving their true life’s purpose or life’s journey. Can you took a little bit about that?

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. I think many times with shame, I’m not good enough to do it, I’m not good enough, someone’s better.

Lauren: So they don’t even try.

Dr. Stephan: Exactly. They’re just… I want to say riveted with self-doubt.

Lauren: So, would you say a person that is very fear based is most likely shame based?

Dr. Stephan: I wanted to say fear is the carrier of the shame.

Lauren: Okay.

Dr. Kate: That would make a lot of sense.

Dr. Stephan: Cause shame… you know, I’ve had to deal with my own. I much rather walk on hot coals.

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Lauren: You’re right [laugh]

Dr. Stephan: That’s the truth [laugh] it’s not exactly feels like. But I’ve not met someone who’s excelling in their career, but often goes sideways. They’re scared, but underneath it is this shame as I’m bad, I’m not good enough. It’s one of those five or six qualities.

Lauren: Marianne Williamson has a great quotes about you know, one of our biggest fear is being success and not failure. And it seems like that is tied into shame as well: is that I’m not deserving, I can’t do it and as soon as I start achieving some of that success, you know, I need to hide before it get… You know

Dr. Stephan: Right.

Lauren: It comes out.

Dr. Stephan: Before I became exposed.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And that’s the big deal.

Dr. Kate: Before they figured out I’m a big phony inside; is the fear.

Dr. Stephan: Absolutely. In my other book, The Art of Successful Failure is there is no failure. The failure is not doing it.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: It’s not the outcome.

Dr. Kate: Well that’s a really good point. And, let’s talk a little more about that and we’re gonna talk about how shame impacts dating in our sex lives when we come back. We have to take a quick break. Thank you Dr. Stephan Poulter. We will be right back with you. And when we come back, we’re also gonna be speaking with Dr. Matt Nejad, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills who we’re excited to have join us as we discuss the role of shame in sensuality and sex. Thanks so much.

Lauren: Thank you.

[After break]

Dr. Kate: Welcome back. You’re listening to Talk Radio 790 KABC. If you’ve just tuned in, you’re listening to Behind Closed Doors. I’m Dr. Kate Balestrieri.

Lauren: And I’m Lauren Dummit.

Dr. Kate: And we’re here taking your calls and your messages on Instagram or Facebook, so feel free to reach out to us @behindcloseddoorskabc on either social media venue with your questions or comments now.

So, we’re here with Dr. Stephan Poulter, psychologist who specializes in the topic of shame. And we’re really excited to bring on the phone with us Dr. Matt Nejad, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills. So Dr. Nejad thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to Behind Closed Doors.

Dr. Matt: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Dr. Kate: We’ve been discussing shame today and its impact on a lot of different aspects of people’s lives. So, tell us a little bit about your practice and how the perception of a compromised smile can impact patients negatively or result in some shame.

Dr. Matt: This is actually something I’m really passionate about because I’ve gone through this myself, but when my practice is all about cosmetic dentistry, it’s something that I really am emphasizing in the day-to-day. And patients come to me and they want veneers or some sort of smile makeover, but at the base of their treatment desire is that they are not confident with their smile you know, they don’t have to say that. Usually they come in and they say it’s the chipping, the ware, the shade, but the reality is they are not comfortable smiling. They feel like if they smile it’s awkward or they are self-conscious about it. And it’s one of my favorite things to help restore that because smiling is truly one of the few things that has such far-reaching powers: it can change your life, your attractiveness, your self-confidence, your happiness, it just goes on and on and on. So, when patients come in, I think that they are a 100% aware that there is something going on, but they haven’t pinpointed that it’s their smile and their lack of confidence in it.

Dr. Kate: Right. Well, like you said, it sounds like they can really articulate that there’s some sort of perceived flaw that they have in their smile, but really what they are communicating is a sense of shame or a sense of you know, lack of self-worth and that’s being parlayed into their relationship with their smile.

Dr. Matt: Completely.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Lauren: So, Marilyn Monroe once said a smile is the best makeup any girl can wear. So, how does having the perception of an imperfect smile impact people’s approach in the dating world or in their sex lives? In your opinion.

Dr. Matt: So, there’s actually… I read a lot about this. There’s a lot of studies that… or surveys even that look at how desirable your teeth and your smile is to you know, the opposite sex or a date. And it’s always the top, if not one of the top three most important things, so I completely agree because when you go on a date, the goal is to meet someone that you can see yourself happy with, attracted to, living a long happy life with them. And when you smile, you actually convey all those things because studies have shown us that smiling actually makes you more attractive. If you look at same person smiling and not smiling and you ask so many people to look at it, they are always going to pick the person smiling as more attractive. And that’s actually so powerful that it goes so far as to take like an attractive face verses one that’s more neutral, and then you throw a smile on the neutral face and it’s automatically deemed more attractive because I think we are hardwired to actually be attracted to these types of things. And on your face, specifically in terms of like facial aesthetics, the smile is the number one thing that makes the difference in your appearance, it’s not the nose, the chin, the eyes, it’s the smile because it conveys so much. And when you smile, people around you smile; and it’s actually a chain reaction. So, it’s just that. I think the most important thing that you can do in the dating world, and that’s why in the surveys you see that it’s always number one, two or three.

Dr. Kate: Well, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, smiles just like yawns are pretty contagious, right? And the more intimate you feel with someone, the more likely you are to smile when they smile or yawn when they yawn.

Dr. Matt:Exactly.

Lauren: Well, I could imagine also that a smile makes one feel more comfortable. So, if you’re on a date with someone and they are smiling, I would imagine you immediately feel more at ease and you immediately feel safer.

Dr. Matt:Yeah. And you know, I can relate to that cause I have nice teeth you know, and I didn’t… I went to dental school, I came out of dental school and I noticed that I myself would not always smile as frequently as I wanted to and it was because I felt self-conscious about it. And in my case, I didn’t show much teeth, so I felt like I had to strain really hard to smile and it was kind of an awkward look for me. So, I went through treatment; I did invisalign and the results are dramatic, because I remember being on dates and you know you’re supposed to smile and you know it’s like the context tells you that this is the time to smile, be at ease and do all these things, but you kind of are so worried that your smile is going to be seen or picked apart or something about your smile is going to be working negatively against you, so you are not able to use this like very powerful tool that conveys so much to your perspective date and it’s because these negative fears are really holding you back.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: And they can really be an impediment because the non-verbal communication might come across as I’m not interested or you know I’m bored right now or I’m in some sort of discomfort, when in fact you know, the person might be very engaged, very interested and might just feel like they have to hold back because of some perceived imperfections in their smile.

Lauren: Or it may come off as I’m better than you. Like I’m snobby, when in fact they’re actually feeling less than.

Dr. Kate: Well, I think about you know, we think about how shame really seeps into our first impressions and then have such a long lasting impact, I wonder you know, Dr. Steve what are your thoughts on what we are describing right now and how it relates to what you’ve been writing about?

Dr. Stephan: I think it’s spot on. And doctor I love what you’re saying about the idea of smiling is you’re vulnerable. And like Marilyn Monroe said the best makeup is a smile, I think for a man, the best way you communicate your interest in somebody is smile at them. Cause smiling is you’re open and your present.

Lauren: Right. It’s also how we often flirt. [laugh]

Dr. Kate: [laugh]

Dr. Stephan: Right.

Dr. Matt:[laugh] Right. Right.

Dr. Stephan: But you’re present and you’re valuable. And shame is everything but vulnerable and present.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Stephan: So that’s why I think that smile is imperative.

Dr. Matt:Completely.

Dr. Kate: So, Dr. Nejad, how can people contact you or learn more about your services if you know, they are curious about taking the next step to change their relationship to their smile

Dr. Matt:Call us. Our number is 310-278-0440 or you can visit our website: its It all begins with a meeting or consultation. We do video consultations, but just making the time to address what it is you don’t like and view all the option. It’s… there’s so many different options out there that I think that there is really no reason to feel this way if you are willing to make a change.

Dr. Kate: Great. Well, thank you so much.

Lauren: Thank you.

Dr. Kate: We appreciate you coming unto the show and sharing that with us. I mean, it’s just so amazing how something so simple can change someone’s paradigm in life and changed the way they show up in relationships, in business, even with their children, with their loved ones, with their family members. So, thank you Dr. Nejad.

Dr. Matt:Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

Dr. Kate: So, Dr. Steve, I wonder you know, we often see shame seep into people’s sex lives in lots of different ways. In your opinion, how does shame whether it’s toxic shame or carried shame or just really any kind of shame play out sexually for people?

Dr. Stephan: Yeah. It’s cause sex in the intimate arena is very very vulnerable. This mean we’d all agree that there’s a lot of transparency there.

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Hopefully.

Dr. Stephan: Yeah.

Lauren: [laugh]

Dr. Stephan: And shame is very much about secrets and hiding. So, it’s almost like oil and water do not mix, shame and sex many times in the intimacy do not mix. They just don’t blend.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Dr. Stephan: And therein, there is that glass wall between the two of you.

Lauren: Right. Well, they say intimacy is into-see-me. Right? So…

Dr. Kate: Into-me-see.

Lauren: Right. So, if…

Dr. Stephan: That’s great.

Dr. Kate: That is great.

Lauren: You’re having difficulty with letting people see you, then that really makes intimacy impossible.

Dr. Stephan: You know, in many times, they talk about how women, they will close their eyes during the encounter. That to me is a shame driven behavior.

Dr. Kate: Well, that’s a fascinating point. And I think a lot of people will associate closed eyes with a high peak of passion, but I think you’re right depending on the context. That could be a very shame bound reaction. You know, I can’t… if I can’t make eye contact with you during a sexual experience, why?

Lauren: I have so many clients that deal with that issue where they’re actually trying to and repeatedly come back and say I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it.

Dr. Kate: Right.

Lauren: Just brought up so much, it was too much.

Dr. Stephan: People don’t talk about it, but that is a big… I mean, in a time of the sexual intimacy arena shame is the ability to look eye contact.

Dr. Kate: Yeah.

Dr. Stephan: Cause you know, the windows of the soul are the eyes

Lauren: Right.

Dr. Kate: Right. I know in couples work, I’ll often give couples homework to make contact and I usually start them pretty moderately with maybe a thirty second timer. And that can be unbearable for some couples.

Dr. Kate: No one ever does it. You wouldn’t have thought of starting it.[laugh]

Lauren: I know. That’s like the homework assignment most commonly given and most frequently not done.

Dr. Kate: [laugh] I know. It just… it really brings up everyone’s vulnerability. And underneath that is shame. They are terrified that their partner might see right into those dark spots. So, I’m curious Dr. Steve what would you say to someone who’s just beginning to address their shame?

Dr. Stephan: I would advise them to write about it

Dr. Kate: Write about it?

Dr. Stephan: Write about it.

Dr. Kate: Why is that?

Dr. Stephan: Because I think putting it on paper will take a lot of the mystery and the mystic out of it. It’ll the de-escalate it, disempower it, and start to devaluate it cause it gets over-evaluated.

Dr. Kate: Right. Well…

Dr. Stephan: It starts to constantly decline and so it doesn’t escalate.

Dr. Kate: Takes its power away. Sure.

Lauren: One of the solutions you talked about his self-acceptance. How long does it take to master self-acceptance? Can it even be mastered?

Dr. Stephan: Ghandi says no. [laugh] It’s a lifelong process. I’m not being a…sarcastic, but it’s like, it’s an ongoing process. People think will I have self-acceptance in my late teens, early twenties? Wonderful, but it’s different in your 30s, 40s and 50s.

Dr. Kate: So, we’ve gotta wrap up in about a second or so, but Dr. Steve how can people reach you if they want to learn more about your upcoming book or your services?

Dr. Stephan: or my books that are on amazon, Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Kate: Great. Thank you. Well, thank you so much everyone. You’re listening to Behind Closed Doors with Dr. Kate and Lauren right here on Talk Radio 790 KABC. Thanks so much for joining us today. Tune in every Saturday at 6 p.m. for Behind Closed Doors. Join us next week; we’re going to be discussing betrayal and how to get out of the doghouse with well-known author and clinician Rob Weiss who is an expert on sex addiction, porn and internet addiction, intimacy and recovery.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @behindcloseddoorskabc and don’t forget to message us with your comments and questions. Or you can call us at 310-933-4088 for any clinical questions.

A big thank you to our guest Dr. Stephen Poulter and Dr. Matt Nejad for the great discussion about shame. And a big thank you of course to you our listeners. We do it’s all for you. Have a great weekend everyone.

Lauren: Thank you.

Dr. Stephan: Thank you.


Ask the experts

Often, when anger is the first response, it’s considered impolite, crazy, bitchy or dismissed as overly emotional. Yet, there are many instances in which one’s anger is stirred, and the key is putting it to good use. For instance, when a loved one is unfaithful, or when insensitive remarks are made concerning one’s ambitions or dreams, when feelings are questioned or when a woman is told to be more vulnerable and subservient. Though family and social expectations place unnecessary burdens on women (and men too), they can channel their anger-filled responses into action by going against the grain, pursuing their own interests or business, going to graduate school and much more. In turn, they’re encouraged to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, committed to supporting and cheering on one another, and ultimately helping the other discover their true potential. This system of support will continue to help individuals convert their anger into action, and perhaps enjoy a few laughs, too.

Yes. One hundred percent. Women are socialized to put relationships before themselves, and this often leads to stifling anger or any feeling that might compromise the bond between two people. This is especially the case in their relationships with men, or in competition for men, and over time, women’s anger and aggression has become more user wraps, or covert. Passive aggression seems to be both the only “acceptable” means of communicating anger, but women are also labeled “manipulative” when they attempt to express themselves indirectly. It becomes a vicious circle of anger, denial or minimization of anger, and then make ourselves smaller just to avoid being a “problem.”

While it is becoming more acceptable for women to show anger, progress is slow. Most of the time, female anger is couched in comedy or parody, and only accepted in small soundbites. Those invested in a patriarchal perspective, men and women, hold firm in their beliefs that women ought to act a certain way, or not make waves. The vary act of saying “we’re angry!” is a bold and pioneering move. Further, some women hold more internalized oppressive views, and refuse to participate in a movement that is labeled feminist or angry. For some women, to do so would compromise their social standing, romantic relationships, financial security, etc. It is scary, because the backlash is real. To take a stand is mark of bravery, and not everyone is ready to avail themselves to the fiery response of those in opposition. My opinion is that over time, the backlash will subside and change will take place. Cultural growth is a slow moving process, and with every voice heard, the collective voice of a paradigm shift grows louder and more effective. I don’t think women (or men) should care about acceptability. The more those who are angry attempt to hustle for the approval of their oppressors, the more power is given away. From my perspective, those who are angry a well suited to unite and establish new norms, refusing to tolerate mistreatment any further.

There are so many way to channel one’s anger constructively. I do not condone any violence (unless in self-defense) and instead think about using anger as a collaborating force within and with others. Being of service to others is one way to channel anger. This is especially relevant because so many women today do not have strong female role models, who they can turn to for advice. Get engaged. Mentor younger women, get a mentor, get creative. How can you pass along the resources (i.e., emotional, financial, logistic, etc) that were not available to you and resulted in your marginalization? What do you wish existed that could have helped you through a particularly challenging experience? Create it. I did, and it changed my relationship with anger and helped me take it for what it is a healthy emotion that lets us know when we feel disrespected or mistreated. This is key information that keeps us psychologically and rationally healthy. Anger is invaluable and an essential part of the human experience. When we embrace that, we can make it work for us in myriad ways.

As a psychologist, patients, friends and family are always asking me advice on their relationships and, let’s be real, everyone else’s relationships. One of the biggest questions they have, is why are there no good men or no good women out there? There are good people out there, I reassure them, but they inevitably come back with some retort about having to settle or face being single forever; for some, a fate worse than death. So herein lies the conundrum stay single forever or settle. Well, let’s back out of the black and white thinking that keeps us stuck for a moment and think about what it means to settle. Most of us have arbitrary ideas or checklists we drag around to assess our swiping situation. Does he make a certain amount of money? Is she pretty enough to take around my friends? Is she/he tall enough/too tall? Is she/he fit enough? What kind of car does he/she drive? Do they like dogs? All-important questions, but what do they really mean about a person’s character or how well you’ll get along? When considering the question of settling, it is important to ask what we:

  1. need in relationships
  2. want in relationships and
  3. won’t tolerate in relationships?

No two relational blue prints will look the same, and there are no right or wrong answers. Let’s look at needs first. We all have intimacy needs, like support, trust, security, communication, touch, respect, etc. They may change over time. That’s okay. Its hardwired in us. We also have relationship wants, the qualities that might ignite our fire a little more intensely. Physical appearance, fitness level, similar hobbies, values, job, financial standing, etc. are examples of wants. There is nothing wrong with wanting whatever you want in a partner. But many times, we mistake our wants for needs and then we feel like we’re settling if the want boxes are not checked, because we’re ignoring the meaning we assign to these traits. For example, consider meeting someone who is two inches shorter than your preferred height in a partner. He or she is funny, witty, charming, consistent, honest, and generous with their time, all of the other wants and needs you’ve identified. They just happen to be a little short-changed in the height department. What does height mean to you? Does it represent strength? Safety? Protection? Status? What does it mean about you if you date this person anyway? Whose judgment do you hear in your head? Why is their judgment so important? Asking these tough questions can help you decide if this is a want or a need, and if the underlying meaning is a need, can that need be met in other ways by this partner or other people in your circle? We often expect our partner to meet all of our needs, and overlook the inevitable disappointment in that expectation. Many people do not know what they need or want in relationships, because they are so eager to be in a relationship that they haven’t stopped to consider what they are looking for in their other half. They accept what is available, to avoid being alone. One day, they wake up and think, “Hey, I think I want more than this. I wish my partner would….” and realize that they might be settling but are afraid to leave. This brings me back to the last point, knowing what you won’t tolerate in relationships. It is just as important to know what doesn’t work for you when considering whether to start, stay in or leave a relationship. For some, deal breakers might include violence or infidelity. For others, perhaps smoking or liking heavy metal is the end of the line. Knowing yourself is key in defining your needs, wants, and deal breakers for relationships. If you don’t know some answers to these three factors, perhaps you’ve been neglectful (and settling!) in the most relationship of all, the relationship you have with yourself. Only when you set intentions and cultivate a relationship with yourself can you invite in the kind of love you are seeking and deserve to have. Until then, you’ll be running in circles, chasing ideas and looking to define yourself in the reflection of another.

Obsession, a thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind, is often what drives addiction. Obsession is about hypervigilance. When we feel the object of our affection (whether real or in fantasy) may not feel the same way, we perseverate about them, ourselves and the relationship. This rumination and over-focus is an emotional survival strategy that keeps our brain playing out all of the what-ifs and looking for answers to the sometimes unconscious ques- tion, “How can I make sure my partner doesn’t leave me?” A milder version of obsession can look like ruminating thoughts. “What if he likes her more than me?” “Did she talk to her ex-boy- friend last night?” “If only I lost those last 10 pounds…” Perhaps you find yourself checking their social media accounts for proof they are with you, or have moved on. Maybe you enlist your friends or family to investigate or check on your desired. At the extremes, obsession can morph into stalking and domestic violence. If we feel threatened at the loss of someone, and re- taliate with this level of possession, it can be dangerous for everyone involved. Contrary to what may be glamorized in movies, extreme jealously and stalking are not healthy courtship behaviors, and can lead to emotional and physical trouble.

Obsession with another person may be a symptom of love addiction, which is essentially an ad- diction to the experience or “high” of being in love, and generally appears on the form of putting another person on a pedestal, creating the fantasy that they are perfect or the one, ignoring their faults or certain red flags that point to the contrary. Love addicts often expect their partners to care for all of their needs. Love addicts often neglect to care for or value themselves while they in the relationship. There often exists a toxic bond or an obsessive attachment in love addicted relationships. Love addicts often continue to engage in the relationship, trying desperately to connect as they search for their self-worth in the relationship, even if the object of their desire is pejorative, hurtful, or abusive. Inappropriate boundaries, abuse, neglect, intimacy issues, chaos, drama are some of the deleterious characteristics of these relationships. Love addicts suffer from profound feelings of shame, anguish, and fear of abandonment.

Since love addicts typically suffer from an anxious or preoccupied attachment (hypervigilance about their partner or the relationship), some signs to watch out for would be someone who is wanting speedy closeness, says “I love you before the first argument, has poor boundaries, is constantly expressing insecurities and worrying about rejection, is often very unhappy when not in a relationship, plays games to keep your attention, has difficulty with direct communication, struggles to effectively express their wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings, expecting you to guess or read his or her mind, acts out, tries to make you jealous, always makes things about him/her- self in the relationship, lets you set the tone of the relationship, seems preoccupied with the relationship, calls or texts excessively, stops by your home or work unexpectedly, fears that the small acts will ruin the relationship, seems to be trying too hard to keep your interest, and is extremely jealous.

If you suspect that the person you are getting to know has obsessive or love addicted tendencies, this does not mean you have to cut them out of your life completely. However, it is important to take things slowly, establish very clear boundaries, assess what works for you and get consulta- tion from friends and loved ones about your experience, pay attention to any attempts to get you to change or disregard your boundaries or needs, use direct, clear communication, and effectively verbalize your wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings. – Dr. Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., CSAT-S, Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and Lauren Dummit-Schock, LMFT, CSAT, CoFounder

The first step to getting help from this type of toxic relationship is to recognize narcissism in your partner or spouse. This involves identifying the traits and warning signs of this disorder, which you may have been living with for quite some time. At Triune Therapy Group, we have skilled clinicians who are highly trained to treat those that are in a relationship with a narcissist.

To help you understand the condition and how you may or may not have been affected, please explore the following Frequently Asked Questions and Answers provided by Licensed Psychologist Dr. Kate Balestrieri: Read More FAQs About Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Perhaps the greatest hope surrounding the #MeToo movement and other similar movements is that it will generate an awareness of the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace. In doing so, maybe it will initiate and rebirth conversations regarding equality that have since gone underground. This is important, because many people fail to see the ways in which others misuse power and privilege, and how this leads them to engage in predatory behaviors. In another sense, the #MeToo movement could educate people on how to avoid being exploitative, while enlightening them on affirmative consent, power imbalances and how to classify and pursue intimacy and happiness in a authentic, healthy manner.

I work with new mothers and I have on multiple occasions worked with mothers who have experienced a the loss of a pregnancy close to becoming a mother. It is indeed a double whammy. There is so much that gets stirred up, and it intensifies the transition into motherhood and the processing of these loss, exacerbating common life-cycle events, and resulting in undue pressure on new moms, emotionally, physically, spiritually. When we’re trying to understand how motherhood and losses affect us, it is imperative to remember that the transition into motherhood and assimilation of loss are multi-dimensional and encompass physical, social, emotional, spiritual aspects of humanity. Although we mostly associate motherhood with new beginnings and joy, the questions of loss and death and endings actually also come up. Becoming mothers is a definite end to our earlier self, our pre-motherhood bodies and relationships, and mothers must mourn how the idealized fantasy of motherhood is never matched with the reality of the day to day. This is all considered “normal” to go through unless it gets complicated with trauma or major stressors. But if the transition to motherhood coincides with a loss, mothers get all of this thrown at them at the speed of light. It’s like existential pressure overload. – Helena Vissing, M.S., Psy.D. Clinical Associate, Psychological Assistant

The mental health of mothers is a major public health concern. Research demonstrates that depression and anxiety in mothers impact their children. The exact ways children are impacted by their mothers’ mental health involves a complex interplay of factors. We always have to look at the unique combination of risk factors and protective factors for each mother-child couple. If you grew up with a mother who suffered from postpartum depression, you are not necessarily determined to suffer. But we know that on a large public health scale, there is a clear connection between mothers’ mental health and lifelong mental health of their children. The immediate effects of mothers’ depression is that babies become withdrawn and irritable. This is happening at a sensitive time when babies are beginning their lifelong development of emotion regulation. Development is layered and scaffolding throughout life, so a baby who is experiencing these challenges already during their first years will be What we often experience in the consulting room is adults who struggle with feelings of shame and inadequacy or “never being enough”, even when they are normally functioning. They might describe a vague sense of unworthiness that has always “haunted” them. Although it’s widely acknowledged now that our sense of ourselves is rooted in our earliest relationships, it is still overlooked how issues in this area can stem from the emotional pain the child of a depressed mother experienced. This pain does not just disappear as the child grows or if the mother’s mental health improves, as it has influences the very core of the child’s sense of self. Infants and children are developmentally unable to make sense of the intensity of their mother’s depression, but they still feel it. This is because our earliest sense of self is built from our early nonverbal and physical experiences of being cared for. The only way and infant can interpret the signals from a depressed mother is to internalize it, which manifest as a sense of never being enough. Even when the child grows up to be an adult who can rationally separate their mother’s emotions from their own self-worth, the early experiences can still linger and manifest as issues with unworthiness. For each person, it’s a unique story of with all the risk factors and the negative impact on one hand, and then all the mitigating factors and strengths on the other hand. The adult who describes feeling shame and unworthiness might struggle to pinpoint the root of their issues, especially if their mother’s emotional issues were hidden, denied in the family, or minimized. The mother’s emotional state during the crucial early years is often that missing piece to help an adult fully understand their development and life story. Often they are not in a position to communicate about sensitive material with their mothers. This is why it’s crucial that maternal mental health is addressed clearly at all levels of society. The taboo still surrounding motherhood and postpartum emotional issue has devasting consequences for the entire family. I know this is a lot. Feel free to use what makes sense, and let me know if I should clarify things? I tried to use language for laypeople. – Helena Vissing, M.S., Psy.D.