The Ego

I’m struggling with Ego issues at the moment, so it seems apt to write about this topic.

The reason I’m struggling is because someone made some disparaging remarks about one of the programs I developed and in which I am deeply involved. The comments were not truthful and frankly unfair and my first response (still lingering, hence the struggle) is from my Caveman Brain, where dwells the limbic system containing all emotions. I am also experiencing some physical reactions caused by the adrenaline and other neurotransmitters that make life interesting.

My daily work as a counselor is with people who find it difficult to deal with exactly this – an external event that triggers emotional and physiological responses that in turn lead to undesirable behavior. I know that our emotions are the result of unconscious thoughts that stem from negative childhood experiences. For example, being brought up in a dysfunctional alcoholic household where my very identity was largely dismissed and ignored led to the ingrained thought “There’s something wrong with me.” That, in spite of my own therapy and my years of personal and professional growth, is still the occasional default, as happened today.

When I work with clients, we go back and uncover those negative beliefs and re-process them. I use EMDR, but other therapists utilize other interventions successfully. I know that people like the one who was mean to me today (see how easily I revert to childhood!) have their own issues and that my higher self wants to be kind and compassionate and forgiving.

It takes practice, mindfulness, true desire, and also an awareness of just how powerful that Caveman Brain can be. The limbic system is where addiction moves in and takes up residence. We get “high” off all that adrenaline, enkephalins, dopamine, etc. When my blood is thundering in my ears (ok, maybe just pulsing a bit, I’m being melodramatic) I feel powerful. I’m on high alert and damn the torpedoes! I am able to recognize this and see the paradox of power – I am, while in that state, not powerful at all. Rather, I am truly in control of myself when I can make a decision how to respond based on my values and own sense of self.

People can become addicted to anger and drama just as they do to sex, gambling, shopping, and drugs. Anger can fuel the other addictive behaviors by giving permission to act out. How easily I could have said “I really need a drink now.” There was a time when I would have smoked half a pack of cigarettes.

Instead, I made choices. First, not to act in a way I knew I would be sorry for later. Then to look for meaning and personal growth. Hence, this article. Finally, there is the possibility of Connection in this.

I started out talking about the Ego. There is another paradox, which is so common when we talk about addiction and recovery. Our Egos are how we identify ourselves, what makes each of us who we are. Our Egos are also what keep us in addiction in that we turn inwards and focus only on the “rush” that allows escape from the pain of our disconnection. Letting go of the Ego allows us to Connect to the Universe and every living thing in it, including the people who piss us off. The paradox is that each of us is Connected and so our Egos are a part of that. We don’t need to lose ourselves, deny ourselves, or act against ourselves for the greater good. Everyone’s good is my good. My compassion for that mean person is compassion for myself, because we are Connected. And of course, I need that compassion and understanding. I’ve been there and done that when it comes to being thoughtless and even mean. So in the end, my Ego brought me back to Connection. I’m calm now and ready for sleep.

Be In Light

 

A foot in both worlds!

Last month, I spent two weeks in Ecuador taking a Spanish immersion program. Ecuador got its name because it is on the equator and during an excursion to La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) I was literally standing with a foot in each hemisphere.

Standing with a foot in both worlds is a useful metaphor. When working with past trauma and exploring how it impacts the present, I will ask clients to put one foot in the past and one in the present. This promotes understanding of how those past events and our beliefs about them are influencing our current interactions. For instance, when a child is criticized for getting a “B” instead of an “A” on his report card, he takes in the message that he is inadequate. He carries this into current situations and while his adult brain tells him he is competent and successful, that little child is inside whispering “I’m not good enough.” The need to prove otherwise forms the basis of the addictive thinking and behavior I describe in my book, Addict America: The Lost Connection.

Putting a foot in both worlds is also a metaphor for empathy. We disconnect from each other when we live entirely in our own heads and expect others to conform or agree with us. Moving out of our own worlds in order to enter another person’s world is how we create a safe space for intimacy. When we have a foot in both worlds, we can truly Connect.

This month, imagine yourself being in two places at once. Let yourself experience another point of view, another way of being, or, as Jimmy Buffett put it, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”

Intimacy by the Numbers

Couples come together out of an equal fear of intimacy.

This is the answer to many questions about how people end up with each other.

“I want to be in an intimate relationship, so why do I keep choosing emotionally unavailable partners?”

“Why do I keep finding great guys who live somewhere else?”

“Why do all the women I meet want me only for my money?”

“Why do all the partners I meet turn out to be addicts?”

So how does it happen that a person who says he or she wants to be in an intimate relationship has such difficulty? Part of the answer to that is in my book, Addict America: The Lost Connection. Here is an excerpt:

They both have that inner child who holds on to the messages of “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,” “I’m a bad person,” “I’m worthless,” and so on. Each person subliminally recognizes that the other will come so close and no closer, matching each other’s comfort level. They will unconsciously strive to keep that distance. For instance, when they are close sexually, they will be emotionally distant. As they become emotionally close, they will pull apart sexually. They will employ any number of mechanisms to maintain the status quo.

When we are children, we personalize everything, which is where those messages come from. Whether it’s from something obvious, like being abused, that leads to the belief of being a bad person or being worthless; or something more subtle, like bringing home a B instead of an A on a report card, which leads to the belief of not being good enough; we grow up with that sense of having to maintain a certain distance from others. If they get too close, they will see our inner selves and run away.

Of course, this is happening on an unconscious level. The Limbic System (what I call the Caveman Brain), where our emotions reside, is motivating much of our behavior without us even realizing it. Our Prefrontal Cortex (Enlightened Brain) is where the thinking takes place. This is also the part of the brain that says “I want to be close, intimate, and Connected!” Meanwhile, the Caveman Brain is pulling back in fear.

So let’s give this fear of intimacy a number. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the farthest away you can be emotionally and 10 being completely Connected, let’s say you are a 5. Maybe your parents got divorced and you hardly saw your father after that. You waited in vain for him to show up but he never did. You took in the message that you are not important. You say you want to be in an intimate relationship with a man, but you don’t trust that any man will really be there for you. If you meet a man who is a 7, he will be trying to get closer than you feel comfortable and you will be (unconsciously) pushing him away. If you meet a 3, you will be trying to get closer to him and he’ll be pulling away until one of you gives up. Generally, when numbers are mismatched, they won’t even get together. The vibe just isn’t there.

So what happens when you meet another 5? It will work for a while. You will both feel comfortable with being so close and no closer. The problem is, we are spiritual beings who are innately Connected to each other and the Universe and our Enlightened Brains want us to be as close as we can get, so we are always striving for real Connection. We want to be known and accepted fully as we are and yet we are scared to death of that. We engage in the dance of Power and Control as we try to maintain the status quo even while growing and evolving.

We need to recognize our fears and then take responsibility for them. We can make that decision to not bring the past into the present. Therapy can help with this. We can take the scary risk of being open to intimacy. We can believe that we are lovable. We can each choose to be a 10!

Be In Light,

Carol

Dr. Carol Clark, author of Addict America: The Lost Connection

Addict America
I work with sex addicts.

I’m a Board Certified Sex Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Addictions Professional. I’ve been in the field of psychotherapy for more than 20 years. I’ve written a book – Addict America: The Lost Connection – in which I discuss how addictive thinking and behavior affects our brains and leads to a disconnection from each other and our spiritual Connections. So far, my book has resonated with everyone who read it and my therapy practice is full. I also have my own training programs so I can pass along the knowledge and expertise I have gathered over the years.

In short, I’m a competent and experienced professional.

I therefore do not take it well when I read that use of the term “sex addiction” is an excuse to get away with bad behavior, that sex addiction is a way to promote bigotry and sex-negative beliefs, or that sex addiction lacks any credence among the psychotherapeutic community.

When one reviews the history of addiction just over the past 100 years, it can be seen that alcoholism was not perceived as an addiction but rather a moral failing until the middle of the last century, give or take. In the 80s, cocaine was all the rage because it did not have the physiological withdrawal effects that alcohol and heroin did, so was not believed to be addictive. Now sex addiction is in the news thanks to the internet and the ways in which our personal and societal buttons get pushed around anything to do with sex.

Several years ago, I worked with a sex addict and his wife. The couple were Orthodox Jews, which was relevant in that their community was stringently opposed to homosexuality. This man’s addictive behavior involved acting out with other men, although he maintained that he was heterosexual. He also happened to be a licensed psychologist. He had also made a name for himself by treating sex addicts. When his wife shared with me that he was behaving unethically and was being sued, I decided to Google him. I was incredibly dismayed to see that he had a whole program for men who had sex with men and wanted to stop because they did not want to identify as homosexual. He was basically promoting reparation therapy. By the way, although he was himself in therapy, he was still acting out. He was denying his addictive behavior, denying his homosexual behavior (whatever its origin) and also denying the effects on his wife.

So I get it. I get that people use sex addiction to try to weasel out of bad behavior. I get that religion can get tied up in the process -both with causing shame for the addict and also in being used as a way to miraculously stop the behavior. I get that people can twist up the concept of sex addiction to suit whatever agenda they are promoting, as when some anti-sex addiction psychologists and others jump on the Duchovny/Woods/Weiner bandwagon to get their names in the media.

But here’s my real problem: Every time a sex addict reads that sex addiction is a myth, or that sex addiction is just an excuse because he/she cannot control themselves or make good decisions, that sex addict is harmed. Just as in medicine, we are ethically bound to cause no harm. That is why the American Psychological Association and now some states have prohibited orientation reparation programs. They cause harm.

The short definition of addiction, any addiction, is “obsessive, compulsive, out-of-control behavior done in spite of negative consequences to self or others.” It doesn’t matter the behavior. It can be using alcohol or drugs or it can be gambling, shopping or sex. This definition sums up the definition for addictive disorders in the DSM 5, which although it specifies particular substances, is still specifying behavior, not physiological effects of any drug.

So sex addiction isn’t even about sex. It is about particular behaviors that have become associated in the brain with heightened pleasure and, more importantly, relief of emotional pain. It is about the immense power of the limbic system to overrule the executive functioning of the cortex, making a mockery of the idea of sound decision-making. Just as the law admits that an intoxicated individual cannot consent to sexual relations, so can we acknowledge that an individual under the influence of dopamine, endorphins, and other brain chemicals is not able to make good decisions.

A person who is able to stand up and say “Hi, I’m John and I’m a sex addict” is not taking the easy way out or making excuses for his behavior. He is taking responsibility for his life and his recovery and beginning the most difficult journey of his life. Recovery is a long and arduous process made up of daily decisions that require changes in every aspect of the person’s life.

When I work with sex addicts, our goals are for the addicts to live fulfilling lives, to learn to be present and Connected, which includes healthy sexual intimacy in whatever form that takes for the individual. There is no condemnation of any sexual behavior and no imposition of any religious dogma. There is only healing from past trauma, self exploration, and answering the question “Is this for my addiction or is this for my recovery” when making choices throughout the day.

I applaud everyone who struggles with addiction and finds the courage to take that first step, whether it is calling a therapist, going to a meeting, or picking up a book. I can promise that one day you will thank your Higher Power for your addiction, because it brought you to where you are and you would not have gotten there without it. To get there, you made the tough choices and chose your priorities. You discovered the meaning of life. For those who are in that place, you are beacons for us all.

Be In Light

Dr. Carol Clark, Author of Addict America: The Lost Connection

WHY CAN’T YOU JUST..........?

I am a bit driven. Private practice, teaching at a university, teaching my own sex therapy and addictions programs, supervising students and trying to have a personal life. My husband takes care of everything at home and would get an outside job, but then I would have to do some of what he does and I don't want to, so it works out. Except that I have to make a certain amount of money to pay for everything. I'm generally okay with my life and enjoy what I do and so overall give the impression that I have it all together. My assistant was therefore taken very much aback when I had a complete meltdown after she said "Why can't you just......?" I don't even remember what she was suggesting, I just know that at that moment, to do anything more would have been the proverbial last straw. I couldn't do another thing, no matter how seemingly minor, and I was unfairly angry at her for even thinking I could. Why can't I? Because I can't.

I just spent a weekend in St. Augustine with my mother. She has wanted this trip for years and here we were. Only she wasn't able to walk around the shops or on the beach or do the things I thought she "should" do in order to have a good time. I found myself thinking "Why can't you just....?" Because she can't. Because she's 84 years old and has a dicey stomach and she doesn't necessarily enjoy the same things I do.

We all see the world and other people from an egocentric place. We start out life that way and easily default to that when we feel emotional or helpless about something. My assistant wanted to help me with my marketing. I wanted to help my mother have a good time. It's just not that easy.

What's the deeper issue here? Saying "Why can't you just....?" carries the implication that I'm not good enough and that there is inherently something wrong with me if "I can't just...."

Families and friends of addicts bring that kind of judgment and accusation into conversations out of their own frustration and powerlessness. "Why can't you just stop using?" "Why can't you just love me enough?" "Why can't you just choose to live differently?"

What the addict hears is "What's wrong with you?" "I think you're weak." "You're not good enough." What's more is that the addict has probably asked those same questions, made those same statements, which leads to shame and despair and more addictive behavior.

All of this is disconnecting for everyone. To turn it around and embrace recovery, we need to accept the other person's experience. We need to accept that when someone "just can't," it's not because they are being lazy or weak-willed or selfish or don't care about us, it's because they can't. We have a choice to step outside our own worlds and ask "What is this like for you? Help me understand your world."

We can choose to Connect

Be In Light,

Carol

Dr. Carol Clark, author of Addict America: The Lost Connection

I Lost My Voice

There are so many meanings to these words: I lost my voice. In my case, I caught a bad cold and had three days of laryngitis, so I actually lost my voice. It’s a scary feeling to open one’s mouth and have no sound come out. There was literally an emptiness in my throat. I’m talking total loss – no croaking, no hoarseness, no squeaks. Nothing, no voice at all.

I had never really thought about what it would mean to lose my voice. I couldn’t answer the phone, I couldn’t call my dog, and I couldn’t do my job. I am a counselor and a professor. I talk for a living. I’ve often thought that I’m fortunate in that if I ever became disabled, perhaps in a wheelchair or blind, I could still do my job. No voice, though, how can I teach or counsel?

So here I am writing. I can do that. It is a different medium and the words are comprehended in a different manner entirely. I hear in my head what I’m typing but you will be giving my words different inflections and intonation. There is so much meaning conveyed when we use our voice to emphasize, to convey humor or gravity.

The new technology is grasping this and we use emoticons to try to convey more accurate meanings with our words. Smiley faces, “lol,” and winks help to fill the gap of not hearing a voice. There is still a disconnect though.

Losing one’s voice has deeper meanings than just not being able to talk. It can mean that I have lost my identity, lost my equality, and lost my power. If I am in a group of people discussing the topic of the day and I cannot talk, then I have lost my voice insofar as even being a part of the conversation. I am an outsider – listening, nodding, smiling or frowning – there, but not there, physically in the circle, but not a part of it. Can I write my opinions or gesticulate my thoughts? That would not last long. People would grow tired and bored and move away. The biggest motivator of human behavior is belonging to the group and I would lose that belonging without my voice.

Minorities, disenfranchised groups, and individuals who do not have equal rights in society have lost their voices. They form their own groups not just for a sense of belonging, but so they can strengthen their collective voice and be heard by the dominant group. We often think of people who are using loud voices as wanting to dominate and control, but maybe they just want to be part of the conversation and have been excluded. They are crying out to be heard and to assert their identity. They want to Connect.

My voice is back and I now have a new understanding of what it means to lose it. I have a deeper compassion for those without a voice. My challenge is to listen through different senses and allow the Connection that needs no voice.

Be In Light

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