The Importance Of “Story”…Don’t Like Yours?…..Rewrite It!

William Shakespeare..perhaps the greatest storyteller of all time

William Shakespeare..perhaps the greatest storyteller of all time

I had an enlightening conversation with a friend of mine the other day about her divorce.  It seemed that she had come to a place of deeper and more expanded understanding about the meaning of this traumatic event in the overall “story” of her life…and I was interested to hear it.  As I thought about our conversation more I realized that major life traumas coming at us seemingly “out of left field”, are profoundly disruptive precisely because they force us to question our whole “story” about the way things “ought to be”. The “marriage” story, for example is told to us as a “happily ever after” story, in spite of the fact that this particular “story” turns out often to be more of a cultural myth.  We have internalized the ”fairy tale” ending to the marriage story so thoroughly, however, that our lives and identity are built around having faith in it.  When faith is shattered it can feel like the whole world is falling apart and will never be set right again. In this sense I think divorce can be actually an existential crisis…a crisis of “meaning” in a very real sense.  The divorce crisis was shattering to my friend and it was equally shattering for her two teenage children.  Thinking back on it now I can remember specifically that my friend’s daughter had the following to say immediately upon learning that her parents were separating:  “Oh no no no…this doesn’t happen in our family….not in our family!!” (Translation: It may happen in other families, but not ours…this is not our story)

So…what Is the Deeper and More Expanded Understanding Of Which I Speak? 

If you look at your life as one long story with many different chapters, then the difficult times you go through become not the “whole” of your life, but rather just discreet chapters that have a beginning and an end.  With the passage of time the traumatic chapters become a part of the overall narrative of who and where you are now…. rather than a definition of where you are still stuck.  I know my friend is no longer “stuck” in the trauma of her divorce because I hear her say that she can look back upon the chapters of her life involving her ex husband with a certain fondness. She can appreciate how those chapters informed the identity of who she is now.…as well as appreciate the “gift” of her children…who after all would not be who they are without the father they had.  In my mind…my friend has resilience in the best sense of the word.  It doesn’t mean she will ever be “best friends” with her ex…but I think it does mean that her kids are relieved of the burden of worrying that she will never really recover.  She doesn’t need their protection.

All The World Is Your Stage…You Can Write Your Script As You So Choose 

I like to think of my life as a “Play”, with myself as the central character.  People come in and out of my life in many ways.  Some stay for a long time.  Others are in and out quickly.  Some people have just a short “cameo” but they still have a profound influence on me.  Sometimes I kick my characters out, and other times they leave very quickly and painfully.  None of these details really matter at the end of the day if I can interpret everyone as somehow essential to the overall arc of my narrative.  That part is up to me…it’s my interpretation and my “play” after all.  I get to choose, and my friend gets to choose too.  I like to think that we are both choosing in the direction of growth and positivity.  Interestingly, of course, all the people we have come into contact with in our lifetime also have their own narratives.  I always think that we would be surprised to know the profound impact we have had on others in the construction of their life narrative.  We probably underestimate it…which I why I try to tell people whenever I can how important they are to me.

The Gift Of Our Long Term Relationships 

If you have friends and family that have known and loved you since childhood you know how precious these relationships are. People who have been in your life for a long time have a way of knowing you at your very core so these are the people who can remind you of your essential self when you are in the midst of a personal crisis. Actually, just being in their presence reminds you.  Equally importantly, I think, your long term “fans” can “challenge” you to be your best self and you will not experience the challenge as a threat. You will be able to see the truth in what they say.  Such people are central characters in your play, I think.  Hold them close to you like gold and know that you are also a central character in their life narrative. Friends, old and new are the best antidotes to all that ails you emotionally…(this actually is a scientifically proven fact, by the way) attention to the old song….”make new friends but keep the old….one is silver and the other gold. (hokey..but true nonetheless!)

In closing…I can only say…happy script writing!   Write yourself a vital and interesting story in which you are the hero…even if you are the only one who knows it.

By Leslie Kays MFT

The Giant “Trojan Horse” Cranes at The Port Of Oakland…A Symbol Of Global Interdependency?

Shipping Crane At The Port Of Oakland

Shipping Crane At The Port Of Oakland

Last weekend I had the great privilege of going on a Bay cruise that began in Alameda, circled through the Port Of Oakland, went under the Bay Bridge, and ended up back in Alameda. For me, by far the best part of this adventure was getting “up close and personal” to the giant shipping cranes that carefully place containerized cargo onto huge cargo ships.  On the return trip, these same cranes unload ships coming from faraway places like Hong Kong and put the containers onto trucks.  Many of the containers then end up on trains that deliver goods all over the country.  I guess it’s the fascinated kid in me that can’t get over man’s ability to achieve such great things with such ingenuity and efficiency.  I always want to know “the way things work” and I learn best by just watching.  In the case of the shipping industry though, there is something else I’m interested in.  It just strikes me, as I watch the cranes loading their cargo onto the ships, that the world has become very small indeed…. and we have increasingly become very intertwined and interdependent with one another.  For example, I was curious to see a huge pile of what looked like scrap metal out at the port. When I asked about this I learned that the United States ships this metal to China where it is melted together to make new metal “things”.  I suppose for some reason it’s cheaper to do this in China.  So…. we do this constant “trade” with other countries and all of our economies have become one big “global” economy.  We really do need each other. We are all “One” in some sense.

The politics of “Trade”

 I realize of course that a case can be made for who the “power” players are in the business of world trade.  I’m not an expert in this area, so I won’t even go there.  It just seems to me that there is a universal “truth” that transcends current political realities.  The truth is that we all just share this one earth and we have great examples of how to cooperate and collaborate with one another in such a way that everyone can benefit.  I like to think of the shipping industry as being an example of that human ability.  I like to imagine Chinese dock workers…the equivalent of our longshoremen and teamsters…. unloading goods and transporting stuff where it needs to go.  I imagine it works much the same there as here.

Am I Naive?

Ok…Ok…. I’m totally aware of oversimplifying the flow of energy and goods all over the world.  I’m guilty of this belief that there is some kind of magnanimous force for good at work that is moving us all closer to each other…albeit not always smoothly and “fairly”.  For me, the evidence is all around that this is so… maybe I’m just choosing to see what I choose to see because it gives me a sense of peace and faith to so choose.

We all have our worldview.  And this is part of mine.




What Is The “Balance Of Power” In Your Most Intimate Relationship?

Balance Of Power

Balance Of Power

According to relationship expert Hara Marano of “Psychology Today”, equally shared power is the passport to lasting relationship satisfaction and true intimacy

In the February 2014 edition of “Psychology Today”, relationship expert Hara Marano tackles the provocative issue of power and how power dynamics play out in our most important and intimate relationships. As Dr. Marano points out “Power is not limited to leaders or organizations: it doesn’t require outright acts of domination.  It’s a basic force in every social interaction.  Power defines the way we relate to each other.  It dictates weather you get listened to.  It determines weather your needs take priority or get any attention at all”

Dr. Marano’s definition of social power dynamics really spoke to me.  I thought about my own feelings of “powerlessness” in certain relationships over my lifetime.  I thought about the times I have felt discounted, not listened to, or simply “bulldozed” by the needs and priorities of others.  Sometimes the feeling is really subtle…so subtle in fact that it doesn’t hit me for days. Often in the more subtle cases I am mostly aware of a feeling of resentment toward the other party, and it takes me awhile to work out where the feeling comes from.  My initial feeling can best be described as one of defeat.

So…What About Romantic Relationships And Power?

Dr. Marano’s central point in this article is that true intimacy is impossible when either party feels dominated or controlled in some way by the other.  The fine art of relationship is, after all, the ability to be fully you while also being fully present to the other. In any given interaction…the person who is wielding more power at the moment is not really listening…not being fully “attuned” and “present” to the other… Viewed from another perspective, the party who feels controlled or dominated is not really “speaking up” and  “expressing him/herself fully…so this person is also not being fully present.  To be fully present and available to another while also speaking up for yourself is a tricky balancing act when you think about it.  Each partner has to risk the vulnerability of presenting his/her true self-warts and all…knowing that exposing the “whole package” may invite rejection. If you don’t expose yourself though, you are ultimately giving up too much “self”.  You are denying ownership of all that you are.  Bottom Line… You have to take the risk.

The Paradox Of Risking Relationship Loss

Paradoxically, points out Dr. Hara,  “You have to know you can survive without a relationship if need be, to really be empowered within it”.  You have to “go for broke”, in a sense, and let the chips fall where they may. Harriet Lerner, another well known relationship expert, puts it this way:  “The only way for intimacy to grow is when both people have the capacity to both listen and speak up…and when both people have the courage to bring more and more of their true selves to the relationship each day.

Power Struggles

In the stereotypical abused spouse situation, the Abuser is thought to be the more powerful member of the couple…. the one who dominates, often physically and emotionally…and forces his partner to submit. In reality the power struggles I have seen in most couples are much more subtle than this. Often, each partner feels dominated and controlled by the other at different times and in different ways. The power can in fact “seesaw” back and forth…with one partner using for example, the threat of cutting the other off financially…while the other partner uses more subtle “passive aggressive” or other emotional “power grab” manipulations.  These are often “no win” competitive situations that entrench into well-worn and destructive patterns.

There is a new paradigm, where shared Power Is the Only Power

Amongst many modern couples therapists, a new paradigm for power has emerged. Fueled by the reality that women are increasingly more empowered in the workplace, (and now make their own money), women are also more empowered generally in intimate relationships.  In the shared power paradigm, power is seen as “the capacity of an individual to influence the emotional state of the other, as well as the necessity that each partner is just as committed to advancing the goals of his partner as he/she is to advancing his/her own goals.  This means “goals” in all senses of the word…career goals…. life goals…emotional/relational goals.  The paradigm is one of collaboration, rather than force, and it presupposes that each partner takes equal responsibility for the “relationship” as a whole.  No longer can relationship maintenance be the purview of women.  The distinction between influence and force is an important one. In the shared power paradigm, no bullying is allowed, and anyone can be called out on emotional manipulation at any time.  Each partner has to feel a sense of “fairness”…and this doesn’t really mean just equal distribution of family tasks…it’s a much more subtle and “felt” sense of fairness I’m talking about. Hara Manara  states that “interlocking influence processes are at the heart of balance of power.”  When another has influenced someone positively, this is a good thing.  You are not the same person as you were when you met your beloved…they have changed you…and you have changed them.  This is what I see as intimacy.  You see me.  You love me You have allowed me in to your most vulnerable places and I have allowed you into mine.  We are both forever changed by this experience.

By Leslie Kays MFT