Part Two: Turning the Page on Sexual Misconduct: and Other Abuse

In my recent article “Turning the Page on Sexual Misconduct”, I only focused on a most egregious and abhorrent form such behavior takes – when someone with a great deal of public power and influence uses it to manipulate, control and take sexual advantage of someone who for a variety of possible reasons in that moment does not stand up to the abuse.

My thoughts about this remain unchanged. I spoke about the character flaws in those who operate intentionally, maliciously, disrespectfully toward others with little to no sense that their behavior is damaging and totally unacceptable. They operate from a pompous, arrogant sense of entitlement and lack of conscience.

A number of responses to the article from women lead me to further the discussion and broaden it a bit. Some of the women, while appreciating what I said, also pointed out that the kind of abuse I wrote about has never happened to them. Their basic sentiment was that many of the women now in the forefront of the #metoo movement in fact wanted

Photo by TakeNews.net

something from the men they’re accusing (examples: a movie role, a job promotion), got it (regardless that the cost may have been unwanted sexual contact) and now are claiming abuse.

Further, they pointed to cases where they met with the same man alone again in such isolated and sexually charged places like a hotel room or hot tub. They asserted that they had never nor would ever do the same and that somehow these women were complicit in what happened.

As a foundation for further discussion of this topic, consider the fact that human relationships, beginning first with the one we have with ourselves, require respect, dignity and trust to qualify as healthy, mature and responsible. Our self relationship forms the basis for how we relate to and treat others.

In some cases women who lack a healthy relationship with self may contribute to being subject to abuse. However, the topic of sexuality, personal choices and interpersonal relationships is far too complex to look at from any one vantage point — the one I wrote about or those of the respondents.

There is no one size that fits all when it is about relationships!

We cannot paint with one broad brush stroke, all the men who have been publically confronted and sanctioned, as if they are identical. Some are seriously deranged – others are not! Neither are all the women involved in these stories and their experiences the same.

Human sexual instinct begins at birth. It evolves and manifests in a myriad of ways throughout life. Immature experimentation is common and normal in childhood development and beyond.

Situations occur in which two people begin playing consensually in a sexual manner; one wants unlimited and uninhibited sex and the other while not ready for that, for one reason or another lacks the assertiveness or adequate personal boundaries to clearly say “NO” refuse to continue, but lacks the fortitude to leave the situation.

“NO” when it is about personal boundaries, physical or emotional, means “STOP!” Yet absent a clear “NO”, sexual behavior of the person who wants it may continue because the passion has not been clearly interrupted by the one who wants to stop.

There are many possible reasons for this; too many to comprehensively list here.  All males or females who continue sexual behavior toward someone who wants to stop, even if the object of this behavior is unable to make it forcefully clear, are behaving unacceptably.

Learning about healthy – or unhealthy — relationships begins in childhood when personalities are forming. As stated in the title of an anonymous poem framed on my office wall, “Children Learn What They Live!”

Bullying behaviors are learned in childhood, the result of any or all experiences of  fear, disrespect, boundary violations and abuse. These experiences produces low self-esteem and the sense that one is “Not Good Enough.” Without the willingness to change this deeply ingrained belief through appropriately focused work on personal growth, that wound can last a lifetime and result in many behaviors by which such people go about altering their essential, negative sense of themselves.

Mood altering through addictive behaviors is one way. Creating situations where they may control others physically or emotionally is another.

In addition to sexual misconduct, we are also hearing from women about more brutal physical abuse. Notably, White House staffer Rob Porter resigned after his two former wives revealed their experiences of abuse at his hands as part of his FBI security clearance process.

Porter’s first wife wrote a revealing opinion piece in the Washington Post about subtle seduction and courtship by a charming man that, three years into the relationship and post-marriage, turned into emotional and physical control. While their may have been red flags along the way, they’re often very difficult to recognize given the well-honed ability of abusers to manipulate others and obscure their true natures.

This woman made the point that, while women who find themselves in abusive relationships and who may even remain in them for considerable time, exhibit enormous personal strength and courage to leave and grow beyond these situations. I agree.

The highest level personal relationships can achieve is sharing great love! That requires far more than basic respect. Getting there is not easy for most people. If it were, everyone would do it! A number of other articles available in Things To Think About, the blog page on my website address various other aspects of good relationships especially Love, which is at the heart of it all. “To Love Is To Give!”

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Turning the Page on Sexual Misconduct: Why We Must Look at What’s Behind the Behavior

Photo by TakeNews.net

We’re all aware of the parade of powerful, public figures from Today Show host Matt Lauer to hotel and casino mogul Steve Wynn to White House staffers who have fallen in the #MeToo movement. It has gained momentum as women are deciding that, “We won’t take it any more.” Mass revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse perpetrated by a who’s who of show business, industry and political titans are making headlines almost daily.

This is certainly a positive development for our society, shocking and sad as it is to recognize how pervasive this ‘bad behavior’ – as many have termed it – seems to be. The fact that even the most powerful exploiters are being toppled is a sign of maturing attitudes.

However, the sheer frequency of allegations of misconduct is beginning to create some backlash. If we are to continue making progress beyond the present moment, we must understand what’s behind these episodes. Why do so many people behave this way and what can be done to affect pervasive change in what we’re willing to accept as ok?

The answers are not simple, yet in a few words, I feel compelled to distill down the problem and solutions from the psychotherapeutic perspective.

First, while it is common knowledge that men – and in some cases, women – at all levels of society have been engaging in sexual misconduct in the workplace and elsewhere forever, it has never been ok! This bears repeating: Sexual intimidation – for that’s what it is – has never, is not, and will never be ok!!

Why does it happen and why have we accepted it for so long? It’s about psychological dysfunction and it’s about power – or lack thereof.

Why would people who have attained great success, including reaching the pinnacles of their chosen fields, risk it all by engaging in sexual intimidation? Take Matt Lauer who was beloved by audiences and co-workers who were shocked to learn about this aspect of his personality. Also others from Steve Wynn to Harvey Weinstein who were revered or feared? Why? Why do they put it all on the line?

It’s tied to character disorders that underlie and have the ability to undermine the positive results of native talent and drive.

It’s perhaps easier to understand such dysfunction by first reviewing how emotionally healthy human beings behave. They respect themselves and, therefore, in their relationships whether professional or personal, they respect others. Respect is the underpinning of trust, positive regard and authentic love.

If you dig behind the facades of abusers, you will discover lack of genuine self respect – for any number of reasons based on their life experiences. When these individuals nonetheless achieve success, their personalities often become grandiose, which is a cover-up for unaddressed insecurities. That insecurity – a lack of a sense of genuine power – frequently results in a lack of empathy for others.

This is especially true when connected to sexuality – a drive tied to our very survival. For these individuals, fantasies can become distorted and lead to abuse of those deemed to be weak, vulnerable or subject to control. The impetus for this behavior – a form of bullying – is on a subconscious level.

The difficulty is that abusers often have no capacity for the self-awareness required to change and can continue their aberrant behaviors for decades or a lifetime without remorse.

Should we feel sorry for these individuals? Perhaps on some level. However, we are all responsible for our own lives and the choices we make. It is extremely difficult for some of these abusers to take responsibility as they see their actions as an entitlement. However, it’s not impossible.

If abusers cannot or will not recognize their own deviance and find the courage to get help to address the inevitably painful experiences that led to their behavior, then I believe it’s a positive outcome that society is taking them down. Perhaps when confronted with severe rejection of their actions and a healthier, alternate world view, they will finally recognize that they must take steps to better understand themselves, so that they can change.

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Commitment: The Gift That Keeps Giving!

Learning is Required.As we move quickly toward the season of New Year’s resolutions, I’m moved to write about commitment.

In my last very personal post, I shared my recent experience with open heart surgery as a metaphor for how, at certain points in our lives, we find opportunities to hit “reset” on various aspects of our lives, to create new beginnings. These change moments can be inspiring and feel incredibly positive. However, without commitment, new beginnings can fizzle out fast.

I also noted in the last post that pain – physical or emotional – is often the driver of tough decisions and change. However, once we decide to change something, it doesn’t mean it will be easy from that point on. In fact, often the decision to change is comparatively easy when actual, permanent change requires unwavering commitment over time – throughout the course of a lifetime!

It’s easier to commit to change long term if you recognize it as a choice! Our choices – large and small — are under our control. Then, it is our willingness to be clear, self-aware and responsible about our choices that leads to the sustainable change we want.

So, when you make your resolutions this year, consider that they are purposeful choices. Understand what they will mean to your life. Say what you mean, mean what you say, keep these promises that you make to yourself. The quality of Your life depends on it.

If you want to lose weight, if you are ready to stop killing yourself with cigarettes, if you want to be more physically fit, get training for some skill, earn an educational degree, play an instrument, improve an important relationship with a significant person in your life or any other goal, you need to make a conscious, committed choice to pursue that objective.

If you get scrupulously clear about what you really want, you’ll be positioned to make a solemn commitment. Then, find the resources or guide you need and reaffirm your choice one day at a time, one moment at a time when necessary — especially when fear, pain, frustration or laziness creep in! Everyone can do that when it’s easy, but real change happens when you keep moving ahead through the tough parts!

I’m extending my own new beginning by committing to lose the weight I gained when angina kept me inactive. I will get truly lean again – commitment has me nearly there and I’ve resumed an active lifestyle that includes exercising regularly – forever. Is it easy? Hell no! Especially in this season of endless food and drink temptations. But each day that I see the scale move down or my physical strength increase, I’m able to renew my commitment and continue pursuing my goal of a permanent healthy lifestyle change.

So can you. Keep in mind that when you commit to your choices over and over, you’re giving yourself a gift that keeps on giving back to you!!!

Happy New Year!

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A New Beginning!

Saturday morning Ellie and I went for a long walk along the Hudson River. We used to enjoy these morning excursions as a regular part of our weekends. The operative phrase here is ‘used to’, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Later in the day we went into Manhattan and walked from 83rd St. and Madison Avenue all the way down to 64th Street and, after a heathy anMatthew - We become what we think about.d delicious Nicoise salad at a delightful French bistro, walked all the way back to 83rd Street. This included some uphill stretches. Our day of walking made both of us quite happy!!

So, what’s the big deal about Ellie and me enjoying long walks? Until this past Saturday, our walks had become a thing of the past. How did that happen considering the pleasure it brought us? I’ll tell you now:

Some time ago, I began to suffer occasional angina – chest pain — during physical exertion. Over time it became chronic and had me avoiding a variety of physical activities that had been a source of pleasure. A few months ago, the pain in my heart and the impact it was having on my life became intolerable!

How did I let it get that far? There were distractions and rationalizations that made it possible to put off dealing with what was obviously a serious health issue. For a while I put it off because I had elderly, ill parents who required a great deal of my time, attention and care. Even after the deaths of both my parents, there was always another event, circumstance or responsibility for me to focus on.

Once we humans – even trained psychotherapists — begin to avoid something, we create a “comfort zone” around the problem, comfortable because it is familiar – a known – something we have learned to tolerate even when it causes pain and suffering! Easier to deal with emotionally, than the “unknown” with all its perceived risks.

Yes, I allowed distractions and denial to get in the way of taking proper care of my physical wellbeing. But at last, the physical pain, limitations and restrictions on my life, and the fear it caused Ellie, demanded proper attention!

I realized I could no longer postpone getting a thorough evaluation of my cardiac condition and recognized the scary truth that I might very well need bypass surgery. I finally accepted the undeniable fact that treatment was required and whatever that meant, it had to be done now!!!

Once I took control of the situation, I was careful to select a hospital that specializes in heart and lung surgery. However, once that choice was made, I also had to accept the risks involved and trust my life to the character and skill of those who would treat me.
As it turned out, my condition did require open heart surgery. I was most fortunate that my surgeon was highly trained and experienced and is the hospital’s Chief of Surgery. On September 28th, he performed a quintuple bypass and an aortic valve replacement!!!

The reality of that procedure was that my surgeon cut my breast bone, spread it apart and literally had my heart in his hands. As accepting as I was of my choice to undergo the procedure and as trusting as I was of my medical professionals, it is by its nature a traumatic intervention.

As my breastbone and my body have healed and strengthened over the past couple of months, I have been reflecting deeply on the experience. I’ve concluded that there is an unmistakable metaphor between the underlying physical pain and suffering that had restricted my life and led to surgery, and the emotional pain that restricts the lives of those I treat through psychotherapy.

While I don’t literally take the hearts of those who seek my help into my hands, I most certainly do figuratively. I understand – even more viscerally now – the avoidance of seeking help that continues until a marriage is breaking up, or a child is acting out dangerously, or someone has turned to substance abuse to quell their pain – or a decades long acceptance of misery has finally become too much.

Just as a heart patient like me must face the pain and risk of a surgical procedure, those people suffering from emotional pain and dysfunction have to reach a place on their path where the known pain and suffering gets to a point where the unknown pain and risk of correcting the problem becomes preferable.

Then it’s a question of making some new choices. Finding a skilled therapist to help you change your journey to a more life-enhancing direction and then staying the course and doing whatever it takes to maintain health.

I’m in the process of doing so with my physical health. I’ve changed my diet, shed more than 20 pounds so far with another 12 or so to go to reach my goal. I’ve already resumed physical exercise as you know. These must be life-long choices if I and my restored heart are to remain healthy.

Same is true for psychotherapy. As we make changes that will ensure happier lives and better relationships, we must find ways to make them permanent.

Sure, there will be pain as part of the process. I’ll never forget the horrific few seconds when one of the surgeons removed the chest tubes that had been placed during surgery to assure that fluids didn’t build up around my heart. Would I trade my choice to undergo surgery to avoid that excruciating moment? No way!

If you who are reading this – or anyone you care about – are avoiding getting help for your emotional wounds, please consider the consequences of not pursuing help. Going back to my metaphor, if I had not sought help, the alternative would have likely been death from a massive heart attack and probably in the not-too-distant future. Failing to address emotional dysfunction may not be tantamount to physical death, but in reality, it is a failure to live life to its fullest.

This includes the opportunity to experience unconditional love and to become your authentic, lovable self. You just must be ready to change whatever needs changing and willing to accept the help you need. Then your life, like mine, can have “A New Beginning!” It’s worth it.

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Interesting Update To Last Post

Yesterday – in light of millions taking to the highways for Memorial Day weekend – CBS Sunday Morning mirrored my concern about road rage as a symptom of mental dysfunction. CBS does not share links to its full segments. Here’s a link to the page where you can read a transcript and access component video.

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