May 28, 2014

Initiating sex: How a loving touch can mean more than you know

I was reminded recently how powerful and healing a loving touch can be. One of my clients,  Jimmy (not his real name) was talking about the feelings of insecurity, loneliness, resentment, and self-doubt he felt after having sex with his girlfriend. Jimmy had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and has felt conflicted about sex for most of his life. The perpetrator of the abuse had coerced Jimmy into performing oral sex repeatedly and would yell for him to do it again and again. Jimmy felt he was never good enough to please her. He carried this need to perform into all of his sexual relationships throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

It is particularly difficult for Jimmy to feel wanted if the woman he is with does not initiate physical contact. In his current relationship, his girlfriend has expressed a preference and a need for him to "be the man" and initiate sex. He feels further pressure to play the role of leader/initiator that he thinks is expected of him by our society. Ultimately, this puts him in a role where he does not feel wanted by his girlfriend, but used.

Jimmy trembled when he shared how important this need to feel wanted was for him. His words were poignant and beautiful. "Feeling wanted would make me feel like I exist. I'm a living breathing person. Sometimes I just don't feel human. I am floating around in life (like the feather in Forest Gump), with no connection to anyone or anything. I could fall in love with anyone who made me feel human. The simple touch means so much. The whole world could be falling apart around me and it would not matter."

I think we often overlook how the small things we do either tear people down or build them up. For Jimmy, small, gentle loving touches initiated by someone who loves him would mean so much. In your life, consider the things you can do that can meet the unmet needs of the people you love. If you are in a relationship, talk to your partner. Ask them what you can do that helps them feel loved, and  then do it frequently and with a willing heart. It may mean more to them than you will ever know.

May 8, 2014

The secret to feeling loved, connected and supported

The title of this post may sound very dramatic, but I think it is important to get the word out.  If you are feeling lonely, left out, unimportant, or even ashamed, there is way you can change all of that. This change, however, will come at a cost.

One of my clients, Brooke (not her real name), tearfully shared with me how dumb she felt about her choice to keep going back to her ex-boyfriend over and over for the last 6 years. Her friends had told her a hundred times to leave him, but it had been too difficult to completely sever ties. Now her ex had moved on and was dating a much younger girl. Brooke felt old and rejected. She wondered if any man would ever want her, and she felt too ashamed to open up to her friends who she thought must be tired of listening to her. As a result, she felt completely isolated.

I encouraged Brooke to open up to a trusted friend. It takes great courage to be open about our vulnerabilities, but it is the best way I have found to start letting go of the shame and start feeling loved. 

Brene Brown has a wonderful TED talk about this topic. Check it out if you want to hear more about how to live whole heartedly. In the talk, Brown says that "vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, and love." In other words, if you want to be creative, have joy, and feel a sense of belonging and love, you must first have the courage to be real and vulnerable with those around you. 

Brooke came back the following week and told me that she had opened up with her girlfriends over dinner. She was surprised to find out that her girlfriends did not express judgment. They listened attentively, spoke kindly, and supported her in her pain. "I guess I do have support in my life" she said. Brooke's courage to be open about her struggle allowed her to feel loved by her friends.  

Brene Brown suggests some ways that you can start to feel this sense of joy and connection in your life. 
  1. Let yourself be seen.  Be open about who you are and what you are struggling with.
  2. Love with your whole heart. Even though there is no guarantee you will receive love in return.
  3. Practice gratitude and lean into joy even when life is difficult and you feel like catastrophizing.
Being vulnerable  seems counterintuitive to what our culture has taught us about not showing weakness and presenting a perfect facade. Don't believe the lie. Your vulnerability is often what makes you beautiful.