Articles and Essays

Mother’s Day – A day of conflicting emotions

Despite what Hallmark would like us to believe, Mother’s Day is a day filled with conflicting, difficult emotions for many adults.  The day is a reminder of the love we didn’t receive or didn’t give enough of.  Adults who seek treatment for their addictive relationship pattern suffer from early attachment injuries that are painful to feel, and Mother’s day stirs them up into a simmering pot of guilt, shame, and pain.

As we approach Mother’s Day, statements like these come up in session with my patients:

“Do I have to call my mother this year?”…

”We are going to Mom’s house and both my wife and I are dreading it…she wears me out” 

“My mother is no longer alive, and I wish I missed her.  Mother’s day makes me sad, but not because she is gone…but because I never really felt like I had a mother”

 

Mother’s Day is complicated regardless of gender.  Whether you are a man or a woman feeling bound by duty to a greedy mother, or perhaps an adult child of a mean, abusive mother, this day looms over you like an unwelcome visitor.  Here are some strategies for surviving Mother’s Day:

1.    Remember that you’re a good person whether you want to acknowledge your mother or not.

2.    If you don’t feel like celebrating your mother on this day, most likely that’s not your fault.  Honor the reason you feel dread, even if you aren’t sure why.

3.    Be gentle with yourself…our culture does not like people who harbor negative feelings about their mothers.  Don’t allow this cultural shame to penetrate your heart.

4.    If you’re heavy with guilt or shame, treat yourself like a kind mother would treat her small child.  Take a walk, read a book, or get a therapeutic massage.  Take a nap curled up with a pet or favorite blanket.  Play your favorite golf course or take a hike! Lastly, immerse yourself in water…the body will feel “held” in the womblike atmosphere of warm water and this allows a new sense of love and safety into your heart.

Mother’s Day can be a chance for renewal…a new relationship with yourself.  Be the mother that you wish you had on this day, and see how it feels.

With deep compassion,

Kelly

Navigating the need for love

When clinicians talk of Love addiction or Relationship addiction, we are referring to individuals who are struggling with relationships much as someone can be addicted to alcohol, drugs, or food. For love addicts, the need to acquire approval, affection, and sometimes sex (as a sign of love) is insatiable. Phones, computers, and calendars revolve around the time and attention from/for a lover. To friends and family, a person struggling with love addiction may seem unavailable and preoccupied. Careers suffer as the addiction grows stronger. Physical health is often compromised.

If you have ever felt the overwhelming need for love from a person who just can’t seem to give it to you, you know the feeling of hunger that I’m illustrating. No matter what you try, you can’t seem to get enough from the person who matters the most to you.

You may find yourself feeling rage, or fear. Sometimes shame. How can this be happening? You never imagined the depth of ache you could feel.

Love addiction is a very painful issue born from developmentally unmet needs. The void left by early childhood lack of attachment distorts your ability to navigate intimacy. This makes finding a partner risky. For many, the search becomes addictive. As addiction takes hold, attempts to fill the void can become alarming to yourself and others. Deep inside you may feel hopeless and small, yet on the outside your behavior grows manipulative, controlling, even aggressive giving others the idea that you are strong. As you navigate your way to getting the love you so desperately crave, the true you is hiding deep within your soul.

Beneath the need for love (which is a healthy human need) is an empty void that turns your search into a frustrating, defeating path of pain. As you grow increasingly lonely, deprivation turns into frustration and rage. To the outside world, you seem greedy and demanding. But inside your soul, you know the truth. You’re a good person, in a lot of pain. You have a broken heart.

When does need become greed? Only you can decide when this distortion takes place. Listen to the people you trust. Search for help. You don’t have to be alone anymore.

“The Atlantic” focuses on women and addiction

Though it may not be officially recognized as a disorder, hypersexuality or sex addiction—is typically portrayed in the realm of men. The disparity is striking and important. Fictional female sex addicts, like those seen on the show Desperate Housewives, do a disservice to the issue…..

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Grandma’s experience leaves a mark on your genes

Dan Hurley’s article, originally Trait vs. Fate, examines epigenetic imprinting, which speaks to “Mother Hunger™”In Ready to Heal, McDaniel asserts that the original bond, or lack of bond, with Mom is the underpinning to intimacy challenges.  A troubled relationship with Mom creates a hunger that weaves its way into each and every relationship a daughter has.  To assist women with this concept, McDaniel asks workshop attendees to remember their mothers and maternal grandmothers, how they felt about their lives, their bodies, their relationships as a starting point for understanding current self image.

For individuals interested in learning more about epigenetic imprinting, the Discovery article, although lengthy, is helpful. Hurley claims “Your ancestors’ lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain”.

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An Essay on Female Friendships from Kelly McDaniel, author Ready to Heal

 Female Friendships: A Complicated Terrain 

Scientists, sociologists, and psychologists agree that women are wired for relationships. The female brain is finely tuned to human faces, voice tone, and body language.  Even as infants, baby girls are tuned into the emotions of their caregivers. Neurological fine tuning allows women to understand people in depth and feel the joy or pain others are experiencing. A female brain is a machine designed for empathy and connection with others.

If this is true, why are so many women struggling in relationships? Why are relationships between women so complicated? Sadly, we live in a world that does not always recognize the unique gifts of a female brain. In a world that values autonomy over connection, independence over community, and man over nature, the natural contributions women bring to culture have been marginalized, trivialized, minimized, and pathologized. Women have been labeled weak, needy or dependent. In this system, female friendship is much more complicated than one might think.

Isn’t friendship natural?

Bonds that form between women can be strong and enduring. Research speculates that the female life span is longer than male life span in part due to their ability to form close attachments with other women.  According to psychologist and author Barbara Hunter, Phd, “Friendship is one of the things women do best.  We are better at making friends than many of the things we put our minds to because it comes naturally.”  While this statement is true neurologically, my experience suggests it’s not true psychologically. As a practicing psychotherapist, I regularly see women struggle in their relationships with other women. Women face competition and jealously between women. Many women prefer the company of men and find women uninteresting.

Hollywood romanticizes female relationships in movies and television such as Sex and the City, contributing to an environment where a woman who struggles making friends feels alone and defective. In reality, many women are strangers to the benefits of female friendship.

Why is something natural so complicated?

In patriarchal culture, women unconsciously internalize cultural norms about themselves and other women. Sexualized images of femininity pervade western culture, normalizing a “male gaze”. Too often, women unconsciously learn to filter and judge themselves by this gaze. Forming a healthy self-image is almost impossible by western standards of beauty, sexuality, and femininity. Yet, liking one’s own “femaleness” is essential to enjoying another’s. Consequently, “friendship” between women is not simply neurological. Forging connection between women is sociological and psychological.

What does a healthy friendship feel like?

 

Many women are unfamiliar with the benefits of connection. Settling for relationships that don’t feel good is socially encouraged for women, both overtly and covertly. Correcting this painful reality begins with identifying what a healthy relationship feels like. Researchers at the Wellesley Stone Center for Relational Therapy identified the characteristics of healthy relationships. Women in healthy relationships experience the following benefits:

  • Zest, increased energy
  • Increased self awareness and sensitivity to others
  • Clarity and ability to act (decision making feels easy/less burdensome and fearful)
  • Desire for more connection (isolating/hiding parts of the self becomes less necessary)

When relationships are unhealthy, women will experience the following:

  • Decreased energy and vitality
  • Confusion (which is often generated by shame/decisions are difficult)
  • Withdrawal from human connection (and hobbies/self care)
  • Turning toward addiction (relief from pain of disconnection)

For many women, friendship does not come “naturally” so the increased energy that comes from mutual connection is foreign. Increased self- awareness that assists decision-making is rarely a by-product of relationships. Living in a culture that values masculine traits over feminine traits distorts the “natural” abilities women have to bond and connect with women. As a result, many women find themselves lonely and ashamed. Shame comes with loneliness because the underlying belief is that “something must be wrong with me.”

What do I do?

If you’re like many women who struggle in relationships with women, shame makes it difficult to acknowledge the truth. Be gentle with yourself as you explore loneliness. Loneliness often manifests as depression or addiction, so may not be obvious at first. Consider your current social landscape. Think about the women in your life, and the quality of your friendships. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are you trustworthy, (does your behavior match your words?)
  • Are you available, and interested in your friends?
  • Which friend(s) make your life feel more full (your life is better for her presence)?
  • Which friend(s) support your best self (genuinely want good things for you)?
  • Which friend(s) leave you feeling lonely or depleted (drain your energy)?
  • Which friends stir up a feeling of being less than?
  • Which friend(s) feel worth the time to work through these issues?

If you’re unsatisfied with your answers to these questions, finding healthy female support is essential. Living in disconnection alters brain chemistry. Consider beginning a relationship with a female therapist. Finding a safe, nurturing person to connect with supports your optimal brain chemistry. As your brain heals, relationships become easier and more fluid, and addictive cravings diminish. Connection, the natural anti-depressant, brings relief from confusion, shame, and the pain of isolation.