Trump style slurs: you don’t have to get your feelings hurt.

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With the Trump administration ahead of us, many Americans will witness or receive hate-filled comments meant to devalue, belittle and shame anyone who is demographically different.  The major uptick in hate crimes dates back toward the end of 2015, which corresponds with Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.  Since the presidential election results came in, national news and social media sites have already begun documenting a new surge of confrontational hate-mongering behaviors aimed at racial/ethnic/sexual/religious minorities.  Generally speaking, the most important response to hate mongering is to ensure one’s physical safety first and foremost.  This article is not meant to provide guidance on physical or legal protection tactics, but rather outlines the most accurate and effective way to emotionally immunize yourself to this type of ignorance.  You don’t have to get your feelings hurt.  You don’t have to feel the blow of belittlement when ignorant remarks are flung at you.  You don’t have to feel insulted or devalued.  In fact, when someone says or does something racist/misogynistic/etc, it’s an instant opportunity to recognize the disposition and circumstances surrounding the offender.  You will know immediately that this person is experiencing one or more of the following:

  1. People who feel compelled to point out their categorical superiority to others based on race/gender/religion/sexual orientation differences often do so because they feel a deep sense of resentment about not feeling good enough about themselves.  (They will vehemently argue that nothing could be further from the truth, but there is something called the subconscious (part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings) and it is working furiously in overtime to correct low self-worth.)  By actively engaging in a game of “I’m better than these people” (through various verbal or behavioral acts) they can give themselves a short-lived burst of much-needed self confidence.  It quickly dissipates, so they often choose to surround themselves with like-minded people so they can commiserate and boost each other up through mutually insulting group outsiders.
  2. People need to blame and find fault in whole categories of people out of fear: when older regions of the brain dominate a person’s cognitive style, more complex intellectual processing is superseded, limiting more complex comprehension of circumstances surrounding their perceived ‘problems’.  Attempting to solve one’s problems by persecuting a whole group of people in a scapegoat fashion is usually a tell-tale sign of shortsightedness that does not result in lasting solutions.  Failed solutions often leads to increased blaming and anger.  It’s a vicious cycle which some people remain stuck in, and then pass on to others as a narrow worldview.
  3. The bottom line is, people who are effective and successful in pursuing their life goals, feel a sense of personal resourcefulness, and are benefiting from genuinely loving relationships do not need to actively engage in hate-mongering and devaluing/disrespecting whole groups of people.  There is no need to assert oneself as superior at the expense of other’s basic rights, to the contrary, they enjoy embracing a spirit of generosity because they can afford to give and share without feeling threatened.  Being chronically unhappy does not give way to hate-mongering behaviors, but there’s a good chance they are prone to certain habits that perpetuate their own unhappiness.

That said, people who feel compelled to a seek momentary boost of self-importance through hate-mongering in the name of Trump support or otherwise, are likely doing so because they don’t feel adequately important enough in the world, prefer to indulge in overly simplified, fear-based solutions to their problems (or are less intellectually equipped or compelled to grasp more a complex understanding), and see anyone different than themselves as a threat to their well-being and/or way of life.  The last thing you should feel is slighted by someone else’s irrational fears and ignorant solutions to protecting and improving their station in life.  Recognize the pattern as something that has ensnared them, not you.  

Move forward by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your own life rather than toil in the negativity that someone else is stewing in.  Stay true to your core beliefs and values.  You may feel discouraged and understandably frustrated with the influence of Trump’s hateful rhetoric that has emboldened some people to lash out against America’s longstanding value of inclusion.  The point is, you need not allow those people’s efforts to bring you down and keep you there.

 

Donald Trump: the psychological impact of toxic masculinity and how healthy, happy men diversify

I want to begin this piece by sharing how challenging it can be for me to understand the underpinnings of American masculinity as an American woman of color.  Even after 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist, coach and professor I still feel stumped sometimes in helping men navigate their career development and improve their interpersonal relationships, particularly as it relates to their masculine identity.  I have a deep sense of curiosity and motivation to understand the perspectives of all my clientele. Public figures can also also stir my intellectual curiosity, especially when similar issues are cropping up among those I’m helping in my practice.  I write as a way to synthesize the research and consultation I do with professional colleagues and members of various social groups to increase my understanding of particular clinical issues.  By improving my understanding of how men operate within their gender framework, I can more effectively support their goals for happiness and achievement while respecting their values and world view.

Donald Trump’s entire public life provides a rich opportunity to examine how male gender expression, at it’s extreme, can lead to a toxic psychological crisis in masculine identity.  In this article I’d like to set aside drawing conclusions about his potential to effectively lead as President of The United States of America.  Why?  Just imagine for a moment, what it would be like to be Donald Trump’s therapist.  You see, as difficult as it may be, therapists must aim to reserve judgment in order to understand and assess how to be helpful in creating healthy change and growth.  If we can we understand Donald Trump’s psychological make-up as it relates to masculinity, surely we can learn something about the gender confines that men face in getting their psychological needs met as they strive for fulfillment and achievement.  Why is this important?  Trump reflects the toxic side of American masculinity, and if we don’t take a close look at how and why toxicity develops and festers within male culture, we can’t begin to stop it from infecting others in small or large ways in men everywhere.

Imagine for a moment, a four way street intersection, where gas fueling stations are housed on each of the four corners.  At each fueling station, you can ‘fill up your tank’ on:

  1. Physical Aggression/Strength/Athleticism
  2. Money/Influence of Financial Wealth
  3. Control/Influence Upon Others (at work or in personal relationships)
  4. Sexual Prowess and Virility/Sexual Satisfaction

These four fueling stations can be seen as representing the most traditional, socially acceptable, even socially celebrated opportunities for men to fuel their sense of masculinity.  Whether or not you personally agree with this, the vast majority of American men are measured by others against these four standards of traditional masculinity at various points in their life.  While men also aim for other forms of achievement (e.g. intellectual development, family life development, practice of religious faith) those strivings aren’t typically seen as embodying strength of masculinity in and of themselves.  Traditional masculine-affirming pursuits do not have to be at the expense of other’s rights, take on a quality of malicious manipulation and oppression, or require a man to rely on them as his sole means for fulfillment.  Masculine identity serves men best when it allows space for them to thrive in these traditional areas should they choose, but also allows them ample space to enrich their lives through other areas of fulfillment and connectivity.

Some men whom I’ve worked with appear to be ‘stuck‘ in the relentless pursuit of boosting one or more of these traditional areas of masculinity in the hopes of achieving lasting happiness.  The theory of masculine overcompensation dates back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of ‘reaction formation‘ and ‘defense mechanisms‘. Some men respond to having their masculinity questioned by emphasizing their expression of traditional masculine traits.  In 2013, a group of sociologists put this theory to the test.  In Overdoing Gender,” a study for the American Journal of Sociology, men were given feedback suggesting they were ‘feminine’, which led to an increased support for war, homophobic attitudes, interest in purchasing an SUV, support for, and desire to advance in dominance hierarchies, and belief in male superiority.  Research from The American Journal of Men’s Health and a host of other studies conclude that the expression of traditional masculine traits can be hazardous for men’s health functioning.  William Ming Liu, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity  describes toxic masculinity as providing a very limited way for men to relate to each other- when boys are socialized to avoid feelings and weakness it increases their overall psychological stress.

As a woman and mental health professional, it can be tempting to say “hmmm…have you considered seeking fulfillment from OTHER areas?  You’ve already experienced objectively high levels of achievement through these traditional areas, and you’re telling me you’re still unhappy/unsatisfied.  Why not pivot and diversify?  See if some other areas of personal development could help you feel better/more fulfilled for the long term?”  In my professional experience, toxicity can take root in a man’s masculine identity when he gets stuck searching for fulfillment from these 4 traditional areas of masculinity only.  Without diversification, it can lead to toxic overdose!  In Donald Trump’s case, he keeps going back for more and more like an addict- all of his accomplishments are no longer getting him that desired high, so he keeps upping the ante.  Overdosed on orange self-tanner and sporting a shellacked comb over, surrounding himself with garish gold interiors, aggressively forcing himself sexually upon countless women, accruing more debt in the relentless pursuit of financial return, publicly decrying ideas of racial superiority that benefit himself at the expense of others, and finally, seeking political office as the world’s most powerfully influential men.  He is feeding his own internal beast and he does not appear to be slowing down.  I suspect there is a deep, empty abyss inside his sense of identity that is always starving for increasingly grandiose, self-serving displays of ‘success’.  This particular phenomenon of toxic masculinity is not only psychologically unhealthy, but socially destructive when public figures like  Donald Trump effectively normalize misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia.

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While many American men aspire to experience some degree of his accomplishments in the areas of wealth, power, influence, access and opportunity with beautiful women, it’s important to underscore that these gains alone may very well NOT lead to the level of fulfillment and happiness one might imagine.  Encouraging a more well-rounded sense of masculine identity, one that allows room for pursuits that go beyond the traditional male gender constructs will increase men’s opportunity for lasting and balanced happiness.  Research by Levant and other psychologists reveal healthy aspects of masculinity might actually protect  and improve men’s health. These healthy aspects of masculinity include:

Aiming to grow and diversify oneself in these key areas can help men achieve lasting personal fulfillment beyond traditional masculine pursuits for success.  Each are common treatment goals I work on with the high-achieving men in my executive coaching practice.  Many have shared with me how rewarding it feels to build upon what they’ve already mastered and thrive in these important life aspirations.

Sex rehab for sexual addiction: What is it, and how does it work?

Jesse James and Sandra Bullock during happier times.

With all the celebrities that have admitted themselves into ‘sex rehab’ centers recently, you might be curious about what goes on there. How does sex rehab work? Is it effective, or is this just an excuse to ask others for forgiveness? You might even scoff at the idea that someone needs to enter a sex rehab center. Perhaps you believe all they really need to do is come clean and stop cheating on their significant other, or choose to live a single life so as to not hurt others with lies and increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. This article serves to explain what sexual rehabilitation or ‘sex rehab’ is, and how a person with a sexual addiction might benefit from this form of treatment.

Treatment for sexual addiction tends to focus on two main areas:

1) Separating the addict from opportunities to continue harmful sexual patterns of behavior, much in the same way drug addicts need to be separated from their drug-filled lifestyle. This is why inpatient or residential treatment is often the suggested setting. An inpatient setting provides a controlled setting, which aims to eliminate opportunities for compulsive behavior.

2) Utilization of a safe, therapeutic setting with trained professionals to help individuals begin to face the guilt, shame and depression that is common amongst sexual addicts.

Sexual rehabilitation centers may vary in the variety of psychological treatment modalities they provide, but this list contains a broad overview of therapeutic strategies that have proven to be effective at helping people overcome sexual addiction.

12-Step Programs. Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is a 12 step program which utilizes principles similar to those used in other addiction programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA.) However, unlike AA, where the goal is complete abstinence from all alcohol, SA pursues abstinence only from compulsive, destructive sexual behavior. By admitting powerlessness over their addiction, seeking the help of God or a higher power, working the 12 different steps, seeking a sponsor and attending meetings consistently, many addicts have been able to regain intimacy in their personal relationships.

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT).

This form of therapy helps people to examine the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors as they relate to their addictive patterns. By targeting the triggers and reinforcers that perpetuate the addictive pattern, people can begin to short-circuit the process and make healthy changes. Treatment can include teaching addicts therapeutic tools such as thought stopping, behavioral substitution, and thought record keeping, as a means to prevent the relapse of addictive patterns.

Interpersonal Therapy.
Traditional “talk therapy” or counseling with an individual therapist can be helpful in providing a space for individuals to sort through past experiences that shaped addictive behavior, as well as manage mood symptoms, increase the ability to cope with stressors, and learn healthier lifestyle patterns and behaviors.

Group Therapy.
Group therapy typically consists mental health professional(s) facilitating a group of people that engage in dialogue around addiction issues, and learn from related psychoeducational materials. A group environment is thought to enable people to learn from others’ experiences, strengths and relapses. It is also an ideal setting for people to learn through the confrontation of denial and rationalizations common among addicts in various stages of their rehabilitation.

Medication.
Recent developments in the literature suggest that certain psychotropic medications (antidepressants) may prove to be useful for many people in managing sexual addiction. In addition to treating mood symptoms common among sex addicts, these medications may have some benefit in reducing sexual obsessions and ruminations.

This article was composed by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in Oakland, CA

References

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_addiction_
2 The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity – http://www.ncsac.org and http://www.sash.net
3 Defense Security Services – http://www.dss.mil
4 Patrick Carnes (1991). Don’t call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction, (New York: Bantam, pp. 22-23, 30-34).
5 Michael Herkov, Ph.D., Mark S. Gold, M.D., and Drew W. Edwards, M.S., Feb 2001