How soul likes our imperfections

Part of allowing soul into our lives is accepting the imperfections in others, and ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’re complacent and that ‘anything goes’, but that a soulful approach to therapy (and life) is to hold our judgments a little more lightly.

Many of us seem quick to take offence and this tendency is exaggerated by social media. When we read about something controversial that someone has said or done, it can be easy to react from a place of judgment. 

Hieronymus Bosch – The Last Judgment

Judgment is not necessarily ‘bad’ or wrong, and people need to be accountable for their actions. At the same time it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the complexity of human beings and of how most of us are a mixture of different qualities, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

It’s good also to be aware of our own history and how certain behaviours in others can trigger our judgment.

Jung described the parts of us that we hide, repress or deny as the Shadow. The Shadow is often constellated by how we perceive ourselves. For example, the more I like to see myself as helping others the more the opposite of that quality gets put into my Shadow. I may then find myself acting out the Shadow in an unconscious way by being unkind but in an indirect or covert way.

Psychologist Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul applies this in his writing on the family. While many people, especially conservative politicians, present the family in an idealised way, it is in reality a whole mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

“In my own family the uncle who was my ideal source of wisdom and morality was also the one who drank excessively and who scandalised the rest by refusing to go to church…when we encounter the family from the point of view of the soul, accepting its shadows and its failure to meet our idealistic expectations, we are faced with mysteries.”

I think one of the attractions of judging others is that it’s so pleasurable. When I think of how superior I am to those stupid/bad people who hold the wrong views I get a self-satisfied hit of pleasure. It’s even better if I’m with others who share my view and we can validate each other’s judgments.

This highlights the dangers when we strongly identify with a particular group because we can then, without realising it, seek to defend our ‘in group’ against an ‘out group’. We can project all the ‘bad’ onto the out group, while preserving our membership of the in group.

What’s needed is for us to bring consciousness to these beliefs and behaviours, so that we are able to recognise the parts of ourselves that we criticise others for. We can also learn that we, other people, and the world are imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to improve the world but that we let go of an idealised image of how things ‘should’ be.

For more information visit http://www.patrickmccurrycounselling.co.uk

Love’s disappointments

“In promoting expectations of unending bliss and security, the dream of love sets us up for shock and disillusionment.”

John Welwood

 This is a blog post about the other side of love. This is not the ‘heart skipping a beat’ of early passion or the merging of lovers in the belief that they are ‘soul mates’.

It is, rather, those feelings we may have after the honeymoon period and in the years following. The times when we feel unappreciated or misunderstood by our partner. The times when we may question if we’re with the right person at all. They seem more interested in their work, the kids, their friends, the TV, than in us!

I think feelings of disappointment in our partner are almost inevitable. This is because it is impossible for them to carry all the expectations, conscious and unconscious, that we bring to intimate relationships.

But it is in dealing with these disappointments that we can, potentially, grow and develop. It gives us the opportunity to create a love that is more realistic and authentic.

As psychologist Thomas Moore says in Care of the Soul*, “Many of the problems people bring to therapy involve the high expectations and the rock bottom experiences of love.”

When we embark on our intimate relationship we feel passionate and excited. This person seems to love us for who we are and we find them delightful. They make us feel complete.

Of course, both partners are probably showing their best side, or what they think is their best side, in the early stages of love. Sooner or later, usually within a couple of years, things begin to change – perhaps accelerated by moving in together or having children.

No longer charming

Those qualities that we first found so charming may begin to irritate us. They leave their socks on the bedroom floor, they love that awful TV show that we disdain, they’re more interested in football/shopping than in us. 

When kids arrive these tendencies may continue, especially if the couple have different parenting styles and new frictions emerge.

But I think it is important that our early expectations of being uniquely understood and accepted by our partner are punctured. This puncturing may lead to feelings of disappointment, anger or depression. We can become critical of our partner or withdraw.

As Moore says: “Our love of love and our high expectations  that it will somehow make life complete seem to be an integral part of the experience.”

Without meaning to sound glib, however, through pain can come learning. 

There is the chance for us to come to terms with these disappointments and see them not as an indictment of our partner but rather as a natural process in relationships. It is the recognition that our partner is an individual with their own qualities and flaws, like the rest of us.

The question is can we learn to let go of the expectation that our partner is going to look after us and heal those wounds we suffered as children? Can we let go of the idea – often unconsciously held – that they are the perfect parent we never had?

* Moore, Thomas, Care of the Soul, 1992, Piatkus, London.

Image Creative Commons from pixels.com, https://tinyurl.com/46yrphh7

For more details about my psychotherapy practice visit www.patrickmccurrycounselling.co.uk

What are men unconsciously seeking in internet porn?

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“The soul often manifests itself in the sexual areas of life.”

Thomas Moore

Internet porn is an increasing issue among the male, heterosexual clients I see, and one that can cause a lot of shame as well as impacting on intimate relationships.

Some couples and individuals may have a comfortable relationship with porn and it may be something they enjoy making a part of their sex lives. But for many men it can become something secretive and taboo, which they turn to not simply because of the pleasure it offers but also as a way of escaping difficult feelings.

The easy and free accessibility of internet porn (and the range of sexual activity one can view) means that it can quickly become an instant hit for men who are not feeling good about themselves.

When the need for that ‘hit’, for that escape, becomes a regular way of handling difficult feelings internet porn use can become a problem both for the individual and his partner if he is in a relationship.

For me the interesting part is not just what a man may be escaping by using internet porn, but what he may, unconsciously, be seeking.

To explore this one must ask the individual what he is drawn to in the experience, how he actually feels in the midst of it. Male clients tell me they feel excitement and passion when they are lost in internet porn, that they enjoy the secretive and rule-breaking atmosphere.

Some also feel they are giving themselves a treat or reward and even that they feel somehow nurtured by or attended to by the women they watch engaging in sex.

For some men there is also a pleasure in seeing women treated in a dominating, or even humiliating, way sexually and this may be tapping into unresolved angry feelings towards women that go back to childhood.

Part of the work with these clients is about exploring with them what the porn gives them and whether that is a sign that there is something missing from the rest of their lives and relationships. If they feel excitement and passion using porn, is there a boredom or flatness in the rest of their life or relationships? If so, how can they bring some excitement into other areas of their life?

I would be interested in what might be holding the man back from bringing these energies into his life. Did he grow up with the message that it was somehow not ok for him to express excitement or passion, for example?

If the man feels somehow looked after or attended to by the women in porn videos, does this mean he feels that is lacking in his other relationships with women? Can he ask for these needs to be met in other relationships and can he begin to look after or attend to himself in healthier ways?

For the man who is aroused by women being dominated or treated in a humiliating way I would be interested in how he felt his childhood excitement, anger and sexuality were treated by women. Did he feel those parts were not acceptable and did he feel humiliated by his mother or other females when he showed those energies and emotions?

What I’m aware when I hear the stories of men who have problematic relationships with porn is how the activity, as well as an escape is also a movement towards something.  This ‘something’ is often about feeling alive, connected to one’s excitement, feeling connected to and accepted by a woman.

Even the man who is drawn to porn that demeans women is, in a distorted way, trying to establish a connection with the feminine. If those feelings of anger and powerlessness, with regard to women, can be made more conscious they can then be worked with.

As psychotherapist and author Thomas Moore says, in his book The Soul of Sex, many of the people who came to see him had sexual concerns, “which eventually were revealed as containers of the central mysteries of the person’s life.”