Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
I am reading “The Female Brain” (2007) by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic. I had read “The Male Brain” (same author) and felt understood – now that is a compliment. But as well, a bit boxed in without the freedoms and capacities I think that men have. However, it is probably timely to understand my wife and so I have launched into her older book on “The Female Brain.”
Here are some of the things I have read, enjoyed and wrestled with:
(1) “Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty-thousand words per day.” I know that Carole often asks me, “What are you thinking” when I don’t really have any words for my thoughts. In fact, I am not sure I am thinking at all. More cognitively muttering.
(2) “Girls arrive already wired as girls and boys arrive already wired as boys.” This is certainly the case for my 2.5-year old grandson. Loves trucks, shouting his “outside voice” around the dinner table, playing pirates with a hooked finger and a mean sounding “grrr” (taught to him by his aunt) – if this is part of what it is to be a boy toddler then he seems to have been born this way.
(3) “Men are on average twenty times more aggressive than women.” Makes no sense to me at all. I have talked with lots of female client-friends who are the clear aggressors in their parenting and marriage. And their husbands / partners / kids agree. Seems more personality-driven than gender-caused.
(4) “Girls are motivated — on a molecular and neurological level — to ease and prevent social conflict.” Interesting. I am aware that men are often domesticated by women, especially in marriage and so become less competitive over time. But many men are “rescuers” in relationships equipped with a dominant fear of harming the significant other.
(5) “85% of twenty to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day – up to three or four times on fertile days.” No wonder math scores are plummeting. Actually, I have heard this so often I think it must be a suburban myth. What I do know is that men can control their thoughts and lusts however frequent and that this self-control reduces the obsessional, minute-by-minute interruptions. I don’t think that most men are victims to their sexual impulses.
(6) “Men pick up the subtle signs of sadness in a female face only 40 percent of the time, whereas women can pick up these signs 90 percent of the time.” Maybe for some men but it is not true for me. And I am aware that men can learn to discern faces and the differences between sadness and tiredness, or hurt and anger.
(7) “65 percent of divorces after the age of fifty are initiated by women.” A divorce initiation, by a man or a woman, is a response to something else, usually a hurt or a harm. Subjectively I think that men typically break covenant for another relationship, probably sexualized, while women break covenant for peace and quiet or differentiation (“find out who I am again”).
The thesis of this book is that the female brain sees the world differently and reacts differently than the male brain in every stage of life from newborn to old age. Sweeping in its generalizations, I feel like I know women less by Brizendine’s research or at least I have to think more about what I think about men and women.
(1) I think that men and women are not “opposites” but “equal others.” Opposite-thinking looks for differences, creates misunderstanding and minimizes similarities.
(2) I think that men and women have strengths and abilities based on context, culture, circumstance and that both or either can lead or submit (the latter I see as a great strength), create or appreciate, initiate or complement.
(3) I think that emotional-sexual resourcefulness is distributed to the species in a higgledy-piggledy way with men typically being the sexual initiators (80%?) and women typically being the emotional initators (80%?). This is more of a clinical guess than research. And we can learn and practice and benefit from the other’s strengths.
There is a wonderful King James description in the Bible about men and women in relationship. “Helpmate” is the ancient word. It means help appropriate to another or resourcefulness sufficient for another. I think that man is sufficient for a woman and woman is sufficient for a man and they can be more than sufficient by empowering each other. More than hormonal or biological differences.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
I grew up in a home where alcohol ingestion was done compulsively. I discovered as a child that the drinking compulsion is an equal opportunity phenomenon – both my Mom and Dad were serious imbibers. I also learned that my parents and their friends formed an alcohol-conscious community where successful parties were granted the status of “great” by the quantity imbibed and the consequent sexualization of intimacies.
My parents were trained in drinking by the Canadian Forces during WW2 when service men and women had their pleasures subsidized by the government. I am reminded of this each and every November 11th and sometimes I stop to tell the “poppy people” why I am not buying their red and black lapel flowers while I stride righteously into the liquor store.
Over the years I have had lots of addicts of various sorts in my practice. I prefer to call them “obsessive fiddlers with states of being” – it sounds less prejudicial than “addicts” though that is what some of them are. These fine folk and friends have been compulsed by all sorts of obsessions: being happy, being right, being perfect, being taken care of, being in love, being admired, and the list goes on. (Perhaps making lists is a compulsion too?) And then they act these ideas out with predictable behaviours: drinking and drugging are common but so is arguing and defending and mean-spirited criticism. I especially dislike it when addicts pretend the moral high ground (e.g. “You are a bad person and I am busy being good or right,” or “I wouldn’t drink if you didn’t criticize me so much.”).
I often hear of sexual addictions as well. These are usually requests for affirmation and attention where the behaviours involve a moving computer image and a few square inches of genital flesh. What these folk want most often is some ordinary passion and some affection directed in their way. At least that is what heals them (mostly men) more than “Just Say No” mouse pads.
Now… I think that there are factors that may increase risk of some kind of addiction. Here are a few for you to consider and I am thinking especially of online compulsions:
♦ Fear of relationships can lead to online compulsions. I mean real relationships not surface social contacts. And a consequential lack of other interests and social isolation – this can lead to compulsive behaviour.
♦ Pre-existing abuse or addiction can easily transfer: for example, online gambling or gaming, cybersex, or online shopping.
♦ Social anxiety or nervousness can make online interactions a very attractive alternative to face-to-face interaction and thus much more compelling.
♦ Low self-esteem, poor body image, or untreated sexual dysfunction can add to obsessions and compulsions.
What fixes this more than anything else is a little reality and a little thoughtfulness. Person-to-person honesty and care, also called empathy, works well. I have found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is really good in breaking the power of addictions and compulsions. I recommend people buy “Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky. It is best to work this through with a therapist and I have a copy in my office so that if you choose we can work through the harder parts together.
Friday, March 11th, 2011
One of my client-friends read my last blog about “How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex” and she commented, “There is lots of information about this topic in books and on the web. The harder one is “how to talk to your counsellor about sexual brokenness.”
My comment? “You’re on!” Here is what she wrote.
Like much else, sexual healing can begin with the decision to become well, based on the belief we are intended to be so. Once the decision is made we have a foundation. Healing can be built. Progress can be measured.
The next step can be a hard one to take — speaking.
Why is this hard? Our culture’s obsession with all things sexual creates the illusion that we are all experts. We are not. Understanding our own sexuality remains challenging. For some, the effort to speak of the sexual pain woven into personal history is daunting, even near impossible.
We may feel that as adults we should know how to speak the language of sexual confidence and identity. But when that confidence and identity is exactly what has been so deeply hurt, we find ourselves without words.
Conversations that build a language rich in affirmation of our decision to become well are initially more important than conversations disclosing the details of “what happened.” Speaking too soon about “what happened” can potentially repeat, or even increase, the hurt we carry. Having words to describe our goal of wellness for all parts of our life and being gives us hope, and hope protects us.
Once this language of sexual wellness is learned, there can be greater confidence of being seen in the light of the sexual identity we are aiming for. If I can say what I want, perhaps I can be what I want. This new language can ease the grip that sexual pain from the past has on self image. It seems a slow process, but our hunger for affirmation quickly renders words of hope familiar and we find ourselves becoming comfortable in the foreign land of healthy sexual identity long before we arrive.