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Kevin Breel’s TED Talk on Depression

I was chatting with a client about depression just this week and then stumbled across this amazing TED Talk. As Breel says, “we are so accepting of any body part breaking down except for our brains…and that is ignorance.” All of us have people in our lives who battle this disease, and this talk helps us recognize the stigma around it. May you glean new insight!

 

Shame, Shaming and Being Shamed

Ordinarily, I bounce along in life, having a series of wild and wacky and usually embarrassing things that happen to me that I can pass onto you in the context of developing a deeper and richer sex life.

But lately life has been teaching me about something more serious.  Something that causes one to stop, to ponder, to contemplate. Something that is extraordinarily uncomfortable to acknowledge. And yet something that, I believe, is at the heart of why so many people have such pain when talking about their sex lives.

My personal journey started when I was doing that aforementioned bouncing along and I ran smack-dab into a situation wherein I had caused pain to another. To be sure, this was not intentional on my part in any way, but intent did not mitigate the fact that I hurt someone.  I did.  And I felt awful for having caused them pain.

But their reaction to me – whether or not they intended it to be – was devastating.  I was shaken to my very core.  Suddenly my emotions were all over the map.

I cried. I raged. I had dialogues in my head wherein I called upon all my debate skills from law school and trounced them in public. But when all of this subsided, I wondered, “why is this affecting me so personally?” To be completely blunt, I had apologized to them for causing pain, so I could not figure out why I was still in emotional turmoil over this situation!

So, as is my habit when I find myself in unknown waters, I researched.  And to my surprise, my research led me to the concept of shame.

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Dr. Brune Brown (a self-described researcher/story-teller), who has spent a decade researching “connection”, says that shame is the fear of disconnection. It is the silent, inner question that we all ask, “Is there something about me that if people see, I won’t be worthy of connection?” And in her brilliant book, The Artist Way, Julia Cameron defines the act of shaming as “the attempt to prevent a person from behaving in a way that embarrasses us.”

We all have things within us that we are deeply afraid to reveal to others. Dr. Brown asserts that all humans capable of empathy have shame and the less we talk about it, the more we have it. We all wear masks that hide the parts of us that we don’t want others to see.

It is my profession to poke behind the masks that people wear and peek into their innermost fears and doubts. I cannot count the number of couples I have met who appeared to all those around them to “have it together” and yet they were secretly meeting with me to discuss their sexless marriage, or the incompatibility of their sexual proclivities or the fact that they loved each other, but were no longer “in love”.

I have also met countless young couples, boasting that they would do just fine in their sex lives because they had done all the research on the quantitative and qualitative elements necessary to sustain a healthy relationship. Later, they creep back to me because, in their youthful zeal, they had failed to see that there are things that you very simply cannot anticipate through theory…only experience can truly test whether you can thrive. Relationships, simply put, are not academic.

But what happens when we say something or do something (intentionally or inadvertently) that rips the mask off of someone and exposes their shame?

Most people resort to blame. (Dr. Brown says the clinical definition of blame is “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”) For if they can turn the argument around and make you look and feel bad – if they can shame you – then they will feel safe and secure once again with their mask firmly back in place. It turns the spotlight from shining on their insecurities to redirects the light onto you.  For, as we all know, the spotlight can be extremely uncomfortable.

Here is an example from my coaching practice. I met with a woman who had been married for decades and had decided that the sex life she had lived with was not what she wanted for the rest of her relationship. She had come to the place of needing a substantial change if she was going to stick around. After a series of conversations, her husband threw up his hands in disgust and said, “What is wrong with you? Sex has always been good for me!”

This woman, after years of silence, had expressed a desire to change their sex life, and his response was to cover his own shame of being unable to satisfy his wife by telling her that she was the problem. She had embarrassed him, and he responded by shaming her.

So how do you confront shame and blame in the bedroom?

  1. It starts with you. Shift your focus from the other person and onto you. What did they say that made you feel vulnerable, exposed or insecure? Is there any truth to what they said? If so, what changes can you make in your behavior, your choices and your attitudes towards yourself and others? Once you have that figured out, get to work.
  2. Do not deny the pain. Cameron has a profound way of addressing shame and blame. Instead of saying, “It doesn’t matter”, she instead says, “I will heal.” In this way, she encourages us not to deny the feelings that resulted from the blame, but rather to allow ourselves to move past them.
  3. Be patient with others. Sometimes just understanding that we are all covering our own shame gives us patience and grace for others. Furthermore, when we refuse to accept the shame and refuse to strike back in blame, we disrupt the pattern and thereby grow in personal strength.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Because she is a teacher of the creative, Cameron suggests that the very best way to move past shame is to be creative once again. Perhaps you do not consider yourself a creative person, so you think this is not a solution for you. The point, however, stands. Do something that reminds you of who you really are: have lunch with a friend who can kindly speak truth to you, read old letters from people who love and encourage you, or write in your journal about the things you believe to be true.
  5. Move to a place of forgiveness. Eventually, when you are ready (do not rush this process just because it is the right thing to do!), begin the process of forgiveness. If you need pointers, read my article Freedom of Forgiveness.

Of course, putting several bullet points on paper makes the process seem simple. Let me to assure you that it is not. But it is a starting place. If you want to research a bit more, take 20 minutes and watch Dr. Brown’s presentation at TED here.

So what do you think?  Have you ever been shamed…have you ever reacted to someone by shaming them?  Your thought are always welcome!

Relational Eroticism

One of the most profound talks I have ever seen took place when JJ Abrams spoke at the TED Conference. If you are not yet familiar with TED, you really should be. It is a conference held each year on topics which relate to Technology, Entertainment and Design. Experts from all around the world are invited to speak about their field of study in 18 minutes or less. God himself would only be allotted 18 minutes to speak at TED. And while it costs about $6,000 to buy a ticket to the conference – if you can get one at all – you can watch the talks online for free.

Back in March 2007, JJ Abrams spoke on mystery. When he was a young boy, his grandfather was the instrumental person in his life that encouraged both his love of mysteries and as well as his exploration into how things work. One of his grandfather’s gifts to him was a box of magic tricks advertised to have $50 worth of magic for only $15. Abrams has carried that box around with him for years, never opening it, as a reminder of his grandfather and the wonder of what the box might actually hold. As long as he keeps it closed, there is mystery. Abrams contends that “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination” and “there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.”

If you want to watch his TED talk in its entire 18 minutes, click here – JJ Abrams – Magic Box .

The reason, he continues, that mystery trumps knowledge is that we crave “mystery boxes” in our stories. They are the lifeblood of entertainment.   Take Star Wars for example:

You got the droids; they meet the mysterious woman. Who’s that? We don’t know. Mystery box! Then you meet Luke Skywalker. He gets the droids, you see the holographic image. You learn, Oh, it’s a message. She wants to, you know, find Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s her only hope. But who’s Obi Wan Kenobi? Mystery box!  So he goes to Old Ben Kenobi and it turns out he is Obi Wan Kenobi and he knew Luke’s father.  But who is Luke’s father?  Mystery box!

It is these mystery boxes which draw us into the story. They stimulate our imagination. They are the great unknown. They bond us to the characters. They are the twists and turns which we do not expect but utterly delight us. That is our attitude…at least when they are happening on screen.

But what happens when we encounter mystery boxes in our own lives? Typically, we get very annoyed. They are inconvenient. They deter us from easy and fun things in our lives. They don’t fit into our neat and tidy version of a picture-perfect life.

However, if we were to translate our lives into a movie script, they would look like this:

  • My 13 month old daughter was just diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness. We don’t know what is coming next. Mystery box.
  • There is a world-wide economic downturn. How are we going to make it financially? Mystery box.
  • My husband has just been put on anti-depressants which are killing his libido. How do we manage that? Mystery box.

In our personal lives, we want to – in fact we demand to – rip open the mystery box to see what is inside. The very circumstances that would make our life’s story a block-buster hit on screen are what we want to immediately eradicate. We want all the answers right here, right now. But the irony of the mystery box is that once you rip it open, all the possibilities are gone. Suddenly the anticipation of $50 worth of magic is replaced by the fact that you actually only got a bunch of cheap tricks.

And yet, if you are going to experience eroticism in your relationship, you are going to have to endure a bit of mystery.

How on earth do eroticism and mystery have anything to do with each other?

They have everything to do with each other. Think about it – when did you have the most passion and eroticism with your lover? I would put money on the earlier days of your relationship. Those were the days when we would kiss for hours; we would talk until 4 in the morning; we could not wait to get a phone call during the day from each other. To quote the band, The Police, it was the period in our relationship when “Every little thing she does is magic.”

Ironically, those were also the days when we knew very little about each other. Our hunger to become more knowledgeable of each other drove our passions. The very mystery of this new person sparked eroticism. But as we began to understand each other, as we began to grow deeper in love, and as we melded our worlds together, the eroticism faded.

In his book The Kosher Sutra, Shmuley Boteach describes it as such: “[Eroticism] is much like a secret that you long to hear. As soon as its contents are revealed, it has ceased to be a secret and in the process it has ceased to be interesting or erotic.”

If I had to wager a guess right now, I would bet that you have a lot of knowledge about your spouse but not a lot of mystery. I would further guess that you miss the passion that you once had in your relationship. Those two circumstances are intrinsically entwined.

So how do we nurture a relationship of intimacy over decades with our spouse and still experience mystery?

This is the topic I am going to be discussing over my next few blogs. Together, we will explore how the Age of Enlightenment and the accompanying deification of reason threatens to destroy the passion in our relationships. We will look at the annoyances of dealing with ambiguity and the importance of seeing our lovers through fresh eyes. We will brainstorm about ways to increase the erotic in our marriages. And somewhere, in the midst of all of this, I hope that we will begin once again feel the flames of passion. Perhaps we will even want to rip the clothes off of our lovers once again. Stay tuned.