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Relationship 2.0

Relationship 2.0
by Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist

It’s July, and yet summer weather has not quite made a committed appearance in Seattle. My Twitter feed and Facebook updates are full of potshots and comments about the sun’s absence from the Pacific Northwest during a time when the rest of the country is experiencing a heat wave. Still, summer is the time when people think about rest and relaxation, summer vacations,  family time, travel, and — of course! — summer love and romance. Relationships are what make our lives feel full and rich, and in spite of our efforts to be busy and active, the absence of meaningful relationships and connected sex makes those efforts feel lonely and empty.  In honor of summer and relationships, this short blog post includes a few items to chew on about fanning the flames of relationship, improving your love life, and getting it on in bed: a Relationship 2.0 guide for my readers.

RELATIONSHIP 2.0: Modern Love

Why call it Relationship 2.0? Aren’t good old fashioned relationship skills and romance cutting it anymore? Relationship 2.0 is what I’m calling the addition of an undeniable feature of the modern landscape of relationships: the Digital World. We already know that technology affects the way we relate to one another. For all the devices we have, access to the Internet, and demand to use the technology to connect more often, we share more data but communicate meaningfully far less. While the world obsesses over the latest viral video about Henri the French cat going to the vet, the amount of face-to-face conversation decreases. If we are to experience the benefits of the digital age on communication, we must understand what is gained and what is lost.

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The Center of Relational Psychology

Oftentimes, I am introduced by a friend to a new group of people with the titles, “friend”, “psychotherapist”, “nurse”, or “artist.” Frankly, I like all these descriptors, for no single word describes who I am. But of course, the one I enjoy the most is “friend”, for in that title denotes our connection to each other, and there are very few titles I could prize higher than that of friend. If I’ve been a friend to someone, I’m honored! Yet it says something else: to be a friend, I must have learned to be a friend to myself. This is the heart of the psychology of relationships: learning to be a friend to oneself, and then one can be a friend to nearly anyone.

photo placeholder. Original ink drawing by Imei Hsu.
photo placeholder. Original ink drawing by Imei Hsu.

We often joke in psychological circles that the traditional psychotherapeutic session starts with questions about the client’s family of origin, particularly about the client’s relationship with his mother and father. Was Mother a smothering presence that never let her son do anything for himself? Was Father a critical man, or worse — absent — from his daughter’s primary growing-up years? By all means, these are important pieces of data that influence the therapist’s understanding of her client’s world, but THIS is not the the start of the therapy session.

Are You My Friend?
I often have this thought about the client as s/he talks to me on the phone for the first time: “Does this client know how to help himself?” In other words, is this client able to be the kind of friend to himself that he often called upon to be to others? I listen to how the client thinks of himself, talks about himself, and makes arrangement for the first visit. I observe for the presence of kindness, cruel language, apologies, flat affect, listlessness, or impatience.

Most people seeking services from Seattle Direct Counseling are willing to admit that not all is well in this department. It doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill. It can mean that you’ve forgotten how to really address your own needs, care for yourself, or be “in your own corner” as an advocate for your best interests. Sometimes, people are so caught up in trying to change someone else that they forget that the only person to be changed is the one seeking it — you! Changing oneself, then, can be true act of friendship, with long-term ramifications with the restructuring of deeply entrenched patterns of negative and hurtful behavior with others: children, spouse, lovers, friends, co-workers, bosses, and whole communities. I have literally watched the light go on for someone, and then that person’s household literally brighten with that person’s new understanding and changed attitude.

The Golden Rule in Modern Day Psychology

I am not a big fan of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In an age of great selfishness, poor introspection, narcissism, and heightened anxiety, many of us realize that the “others” out there might not treat you all that well as you could imagine.  Secondly, many of you have stumbled on a key ingredient that sounds as crazy as it is:

not everyone wants your kindness, and sometimes, neither do you. 

Depending on where you’re at, you may have discovered people around you who reject kindness, mistreat you after you’ve shown kindness, or act out of obligation or guilt when you’ve shown kindness. While I’m not asking you to stop being kind to others, it may be time to understand how you withhold it from yourself in ways that cause others to be aware of your resentment, your fatigue, or your poor time management skills.

An example may be the teacher who spends hours instructing children in English, only to recognize she is resentful of not having the time to read books, educate herself, or develop her own character. Arriving to school exhausted and haggard, in three year’s time she has gained weight, suffered several damaging bouts of upper respiratory infections that have damaged her immune system, and left her vulnerable to feelings of anger with depressive withdrawal. For this teacher to learn to be kind to herself, she may need to learn when to say yes and when to say no, and for this, she will lose the support of some. If she is not a strong friend to herself, she will cave into the demands of others; if she is a strong friend to herself, she can become a powerful model and change agent of a healthy person in the midst of chaotic people or an unsupportive environment.

Finding My “Other”

Many single people talk about wanting to find that special someone, and that search is a wonderful adventure. Yet I find that when the talk turns to wanting to find that someone who “completes” you, I cringe. If you’re religious, you might turn to quotes such as God being the only One who fills your God-shaped vacuum, and if that is the case, you won’t need to find a person to complete you. If you’re not religious, you may realize the futility of trying to find someone to complete you because you simply don’t need completing; that is, you are good, complete, and whole as you are. Whichever orientation, religious or not, the quest is not about finding someone to complete you, but to realize who you are already.

When you are ready to press into this reality — being all that you are without trying to stuff someone into your sense of completeness — you are simply magnificent. This is easier said than done! Over time, you’ve learned other stories, other falsehoods, other brilliant fabrications to keep you from growing, succeeding, and changing. You may need to do some reading, temporarily take some emotional space away from those who are choking your thinking, or hire a professional counselor, coach, or other kind of advisor to help you reconstruct a new pathway of relational health, starting with you.

Now, it’s your turn. Do you know the elements friendship? Do you extend them to yourself first? When you do, are you drained when you extend them to yourself? How about when your needs are taken care of? Do you feel drained when you extend friendship to others? To your co-workers? To your spouse? To your children? To your in-laws?

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New Year Un-Resolutions

If you are not ready to make a change, to take responsibility for your life, or to get yourself unstuck from the patterns of behavior you repeat day in and day out, a New Year’s resolution is a practice of futility.

However, if you reframe the usual pointless resolution into a decision to change your lifestyle and the way you behave because you have already concluded that what you have been doing is not working for you, you might just be ready to make an un-resolution. An un-resolution is not about a temporary fix to stop your emotional bleeding, your out-of-control spending or attitude of consumerism, or a resistance to the aches and complaints of the people around you. An un-resolution is a decision to act upon and engage that which is, in the moment, with all of yourself.

Here are some examples of resistance and avoidance:
shutting down your partner when s/he’s upset
eating until you can’t feel hunger or fullness
watching TV to dissociate every evening before bed
compulsive masturbation without care for the body and emotions
not answering an important phone call
piling up the bills after spending without thought
lecturing others to change for your convenience
ridiculing your spouse when s/he wishes to be close or intimate with you

Any of these sound familiar? If so, and you don’t like it, a New Year resolution will not likely change you. You are the change agent. Your thinking and your attitude about yourself and your life are the key ingredients to a shift in your attitude.

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be back to full-time in the office (and Internet sessions) again, and ready to help those who are truly interested in that shift. Call it an attitude adjustment. Call it whatever you want. But it will originate from you even if it is encouraged or sparked by myself or someone else close to you. It is an un-resolution. And it is coming, if you make the choice to take it on.

January and February 2012 are busy months at Seattle Direct Counseling. I highly recommend booking your sessions a month at a time, especially as I prepare to speak at Creativity and Madness in Santa Fe, New Mexico next month. Use my contact form, or leave a message at my email address for inquiries about booking appointments or a consultation.