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Got Shame?: Feb. 15, 2009
  • I recently had the privilege of hearing Harriet Lerner, PhD, speak at a lecture at UMKC. I attended with several of my colleagues and friends, one of whom is a personal friend of Dr. Lerner. It was so interesting to meet Dr. Lerner and listen to her lecture, as well as view it through the eyes and interpretation of someone who knows her more intimately. The topic was shame, which may not seem like a topic that would fill the room, but the lecture was indeed packed, and the content was intriguing.

    Dr. Lerner told us that shame comes from without, and that people give shame generously. I had to really sit with this idea, and take it in, and examine my own experiences with generously giving shame. It is hard to admit, but that does seem to happen often in relationships, under the guise of attempting to be helpful, to build ourselves up, or to maintain control of others.

    Another interesting point she made was that shame is about "being" and guilt is about "doing". I have often thought that guilt means "I made a mistake" and shame means "I am a mistake", which squarely fits into what Dr. Lerner was saying. She went on to tell us that there is a healthy place for guilt, in that guilt can help us to change our behaviors so they are more in line with our core values and beliefs. However, shame does not serve the function of making people better in any capacity.

    Dr. Lerner pointed out two differences in the way the sexes deal with shame. She indicated that men tend to flip shame into arrogance, contempt, or destructive behaviors, while women tend to hide out and stay silent in order to cope with shame. One of the best ways to manage shame is to increase self esteem, which is objective regard for the strengths and weaknesses of self. Dr. Lerner said that self esteem shrinks shame, and she shared four sources of self esteem.

    1. Family connectedness: showing up, being a member in good standing.
    2. Intimate relationships: be yourself, handle differences respectfully.
    3. Having an on-track life plan: display behavior congruent with short and long term goals.
    4. Having clear values, beliefs, and principles.

    To learn more check out some of Dr. Lerner's books, such as The Dance of Intimacy, The Dance of Anger, and The Dance of Connection.


The Ten Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Jan. 15, 2009
  • As 2009 is finally upon us, I find myself reflecting on the New Year and resolutions for 2009. In looking back over the past year, I have done a considerable amount of work with people with autism and their families, and in the process of working I have learned so much from them. One of the books I read this year was coauthored by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron, two well known adults who have autism.

    The name of the book is The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships. Temple and Sean outline ten specific rules that they believe every child or adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder should be taught. As I think about these unwritten social rules, I can not help but think if everyone applied them in their daily lives, what a wonderful year 2009 will turn out to be.

    1. Rules are not absolute. They are situation-based and people-based.
    2. Not everything is equally important in the grand scheme of things.
    3. Everyone in the world makes mistakes. It doesn't have to ruin your day.
    4. Honesty is different than diplomacy.
    5. Being polite is appropriate in any situation.
    6. Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend.
    7. People act differently in public than they do in private.
    8. Know when you are turning people off.
    9. "Fitting in" is often tied to looking and sounding like you fit in.
    10. People are responsible for their own behaviors.

    I invite you to reflect on these ten rules, and how they may impact positive changes in your life and relationships, and I wish you a bright, healthful, and generous New Year.

    Grandin, T., Barron, S. (2005). The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships.


Intimacy Make Over: Jan. 15, 2009
  • Come Alive in 2009 with an Intimacy Make Over

    The New Year brings a sense of opportunity and optimism. Change is in the air. People are making resolutions for improvement. What about your relationship? Make 2009 the year to invest in this important gift and give hope to a failing bond or nurture an already thriving connection. So many of my patients come to my office searching for 'intimacy' in their relationship but clueless what it REALLY is or where to find it.

    Intimacy is often absent in relationships and a real understanding is elusive to most couples, yet they yearn for this quality without fully knowing where to find it. Sometimes intimacy is an euphuism bantered between couples meaning physical closeness or a sexual experience. When I hear this in my practice I am quick to correct patients and redefine intimacy as an 'emotional connection' between people. A genuine understanding of your partner's inner beliefs, thoughts and fears is what intimacy is about. And, not all partners who yearn for intimacy are prepared to receive it.

    I operate from a place that defines intimacy as 'risk taking' between people, including friends and strangers. There are plenty of partnered couples that are sexually active, physically engaging in the sharing of their bodies that have no clue who their partner truly is or what they are about. All one needs to do is walk through any bar or nightclub in town on a Friday night to see this phenomenon in action. But this lack of emotional closeness is not merely a characteristic of some one night stands; it is rampant in many relationships.

    Intimacy is the conscious decision 'to be known' by another. It is the sharing of our hopes, and dreams, but also the sharing of our doubts, frustrations and anger. Some partners who ask for intimacy expect warm, cozy share-time that looks like puppy dog tails and all things nice, forgetting that intimacy is the deep, rich essence of who we are including the negative aspects of life. Examples of intimacy can be sharing your dissatisfaction in bed, not liking your partner's parents, and not wanting children.

    True intimacy is the fertile ground for thriving relationships. My patients often hunger for intimacy, but this rough terrain can be scary as hell for most people. That's why we avoid it, opting to skate along the surface. We either lack the skill sets or fear the consequences. We play nice instead of risk. However, the easier path does not always deliver the most fruit for relationships. Relationships can be starved for the fullness of really knowing your partner.

    I am reminded of my father and his passion for gardening. As a kid I would watch him work the ground with a tiller each spring. For those who may not know what a tiller is, it is cumbersome motorized set of blades with handlebars. My dad would struggle methodically to break down the huge clumps of earth into a fine bed of soil. He spent hours preparing the garden for planting. I got to follow behind with planting. Wanting what I assumed was an easier job or at least more fun I would beg to run the tiller – this monster of blades cutting through the ground. One day my dad gestured for me to take the tiller and I stepped up to the handle with pride. I took a hold only to be dragged across the row shaking and bouncing across the surface. I was miserable and sore. This was work! And, I wasn't so good at it as my pointed out. He told me that I would have to go back over the row, keep the tiller steady and allow it to work slowly into the ground. After reining the beast into one section to unearth the rich dark soil, I could take a baby step to the next patch and so forth and so forth. Not the fun, nor ease that I had hoped for or expected. However, that was exactly what was needed for a garden to take shape, young plants to take root and a successful harvest to be expected. Intimacy in many ways is like planting that spring garden.

    When a couple asks for me to help them increase their intimacy, my first question is, "Are you sure you want this? My second question is, "Do you have what it takes to stay the course?" Intimacy will most likely be strenuous work, dirty and raw. But, ohhhhh the fruit of your work... that is a real treat and better than any surface relationship, truly a rewarding and delicious harvest can await those who learn the art and skill of real intimacy.


Holiday Stress Kit: Dec. 15, 2008
  • The holidays are a joyous time of year for many but for a growing number of people they are a dreaded time of increased stress. Seasonal stressors include everything from, "Do I tell them we are getting a divorce?" "Can I stay sober?" "Will I finally come out as gay to grandma?" "Can I pull off another office party?" "Do I tolerate another year of lewd and condescending comments from Uncle Jim?" We need handy tips to remove or reduce the seasonal sabotages to our serenity, happiness and well being. Below are my 12 Days of XMAS Stress Tips --- easy and effective ways to deal with your family, co-workers and friends. Reclaim the joy of the holidays by minimizing your stress level with some useful strategies.

    Some simple and practical ideas include:

    1. Take a "Best" friend home to your family gathering to help keep you grounded, make you laugh and to allow you to vent.

    2. Phone a Friend. Purchase a phone card/ cell phone so you can call keep in touch with friends. Keep your BFF (best friend forever) on speed dial! If you are in recovery, don't forget to take along your sponsors contact info.

    3. Build a temporary support system when traveling. Find out where the local AA/NA meetings are in the area; research a good local therapist in case a visit is needed. Schedule the session in advance of your travels in preparation of your need to process your anxiety or grief. Most therapist allow you to cancel with notice, so its better to get on their calendar ahead of time. Anticipate stress and have a plan!

    4. Pack a 'Goodie Bag' include a favorite book, candles, bubble bath. Make sure to carve out time to for you. Take time to relax in the midst of all the chaos so that you can be fresh for an upcoming anxiety filled event or caustic person.

    5. Plan for Cuddle Time. If you have to be separated from your 'sweetie' during the holidays, take a picture of them or an article of clothing sprayed with their favorite scent. Having these items during a phone chat with them or just before bed can be comforting.

    6. Fight Smart. Pick and choose your battles. Learn to smile and walk away. Don't get pulled into bitterness during the festivities. Remain calm and if needed confront the person on your terms after the egg nog has worn off.

    7. Work out. Find a local gym and get a 'day pass'. Ask about the local yoga studio or hiking trail... go for a walk around the block.

    8. Be alone. Announce to your family that you will need some time to refresh.This is NOT rude, but an investment in quality family time. This may mean skipping some family visits so that you can meditate or get a massage. Be sure to research a local spa before traveling and have something scheduled ahead of time. Then it's just a matter of following through.

    9. Give Yourself Permission. ...permission not to visit every family member, permission not to go home, permission to relax, permission to cry and grieve, permission to enjoy the holidays.

    10. Freedom. Allow yourself some freedom by renting a car or opting to stay at an area hotel. The small expense could save you major headaches.

    11. Set time frames and standards: Decide on a reasonable time frame to attend family functions or office parties. You may want to mention your departure time early in your arrival to give the host a "heads up". And, don't be afraid to excuse yourself from the party if it becomes too contentious or uncomfortable.

    12. Use refusal skills: It's OK to say "no thank you!"
    Bonus Tips for when a day can stretch into what seems like 48 hours!!!

    13. Grieve. Along with the joy of the holidays, many of us are reminded of loved ones who have passed, former traditions, and missed opportunities. Set aside time to mourn these losses. Ask family members to honor deceased relatives with a time of prayer or story telling. Make a special dish that was enjoyed by your departed family member. Don't be afraid to acknowledge the absence and allow for crying. This is a healthy part of healing and far better than pretending everything is perfect or that you are not sad.

    14. Remind your family. This might be your first year in sobriety, so you may need to remind your host that it would be helpful if alcohol was not served. Take control of your destiny and be patient with a family who is re-casting you into a new framework. For example, you may be recently separated from your spouse, you may have started a new diet or exercise program, perhaps this is your first family holiday as an out gay man or lesbian... all of which may require a gentle reminder to the party goers.

    15. Practice, Practice, Practice... the new YOU! Imagine uncomfortable conversations or scenarios and practice your response, preferably live in front of your spouse, or a mirror. Prepare notes ...or a script and take them with you for that anticipated awkward moment or prepare a letter addressing the topic or question and then when it is brought up you have the luxury of handing over the letter and walking away. The most important thing to remember is to make your response conscious. By preparing you can deliver an articulate well thought out response.

    Finally, remember you can restructure the holidays, creating new traditions and family expectations. While there is a beautiful nostalgia with the holidays, they are meant to be alive, vibrant and ever-changing as our lives grow and expand into new hopes and dreams. With a little creative planning you can remove or reduce stress from your holiday celebrations. Keep in mind, its okay NOT to go home. If its healthier to stay at home or to miss an office party...then by all means follow your best intentions and take care of you.


Holiday Coping: Nov. 15, 2008
  • Tis the Season ...for Holiday Stress

    Yes, the holidays are here! Fun, family and joyous celebrations for many, but some wince in anticipation of the starting pistol firing off and a season of stress overtaking them like a fog from some horror movie. There are tricks to, not only surviving the holidays, but enjoying them along with everyone else.

    The holidays bring an abundance of parties and family gatherings. It's a time to reflect with friends and hope for the future. However, the festive season is not without its tension. Some typical holiday stressors to watch out for include the 'Martha Stewart Syndrome' where everything has to be perfect and grandiose. If you are subject to perfectionism or control it is easy to get caught up in this whirlwind of anxiety. Also, be aware of slipping into old family roles, such as the 'rebel' or the 'caretaker'. Recognize that people are more complex than a mere label and you do not need to reduce yourself to a one-dimensional character. Often when individual family members do this it initiates a domino effect for others in the family to take up their masks for the family drama.

    Old family arguments or reliving childhood rivalries can be another seasonal sabotage on your holidays. Let's face it families members can know just the right buttons to push. Some people have learned to love the person, but refuse to support bad behavior. For example, walking away when Uncle Joe begins to tell his recycled racist or sexists' jokes might be a good strategy. If you have the luxury, think how to stop this cycle, maybe invite your uncle to coffee to discuss your uncomfortableness before the family get-together or perhaps a letter explaining your position might help. The bottom line you only have control of your behaviors so game plan your reactions.

    It's important to note that just because they are family doesn't mean you have to give them free-reign on your mental health. Families can be cruel and it's alright to separate yourself from verbal or mental abuse. Passive or guilt filled communication is not healthy and should be tolerated in only small doses. Set your limit and don't be afraid to remove yourself from toxic family rituals, shame or attacks.

    So before running blindly into the holiday season...Take Charge! Before visiting family, friends, or other holiday parties, take some time to prepare. I suggest to patients that they build a Holiday Survival Kit, customizing it so that they maximize their happiness, serenity and well-being.

    Next month Ill explore some practical tools for your Holiday Survival Kit. Till then, I'd like to hear from you. Tell me your ideas for reducing stress and increasing your festive sprit during the season. Email me at george@turnerprofessionalgroup.com


She Bops, He Bops: The Joys (and Benefits) of Self Pleasuring: Oct. 15, 2008
  • Recently a reporter from INK magazine wanted to know how 'sex for one' impacts a couple's relationship. I was reminded of the 80s hit (She Bop) by Cindy Lauper, on the taboo subject of self pleasuring.

    I recall thinking, how provocative to have the topic of masturbation play on the airwaves, but that was over twenty years ago. Id like to think that we have progressed to recognize the value and need for genital stimulation, a cornerstone of sexual health.

    Yet, after my interview, hearing the 'questions on the street' 'from the average Joe (or JoAnne) I was left a bit saddened that people seemingly are still struggling with this issue. I found myself searching for that old Cindy Lauper cassette, quietly reflecting on the topic and thinking maybe we still need to work on bringing this conversation out of the shadows of shame.

    Listening to the lyrics I sat wondering: Are we still shackled by senseless sexual guilt? Are folks really concerned that 'double clicking the mouse' is the gateway 'drug' to freewheeling hedonism? Do people view this as sexual rule breaking...cheating? Surely those outdated myths of our youth have faded! Do couples argue about this? Let's start with one of my favorite quotes to set the record straight on the topic. "90% of people masturbate and the other 10% are lying".

    Masturbation is healthy and allows us to explore our erotic potential. Many of my students and patients are often shocked to learn that research has found that masturbation occurs in utero. It is the cultural messages that we receive after birth that often derails this very natural and hugely beneficial self care.

    As a clinician I often prescribe for couples to engage in masturbation for numerous benefits but especially to increase their physical intimacy. This can lead to increased emotional intimacy by opening a rich discussion on how partners view their sexuality and their ability to receive pleasure. Women especially are often taught in our culture to give to others first or worst deny self for others. While men usually have a long history of 'sex with the one they love', women are often deprived of this exploration of self through excessive messages and images of 'good girls'.

    Solo sex can also be viewed as immature placing a hierarchical priority on intercourse. Likewise some see 'diddling' as selfish, reinforcing the message that our sexuality is somehow 'owned' by our partner and we must save it for him or her. Rather than viewing self pleasuring as competing with a couples sex life, I suggest that couples explore two very important ideas: one, does your partner deserve body time alone, and two, can mutual masturbation be an integrated part of the couples sexual buffet.

    Sex for a couple is adult play and should be in tune with pleasure and that does not have to come from only one activity. So whether you are 'jacking' or 'jilling off' there are some very tangible benefits. Here are a few.

    1. Self Discovery and Self Knowledge
    Masturbation allows a person to get to know their body, explore their limits and needs. By exploring one's body a person is better equipped to share with a partner and coach them in providing optimal pleasure.

    2. Sleep Aid
    Whether it's the hormonal release, the mental vacation or the mini-workout, 'playing with yourself' can help people sleep faster and more soundly. So long to your Ambian prescription!

    3. Reduce Stress
    This is all about 'you time' which so many of us are in desperate need of in our busy lives. Best of all this is a free, non-pharmaceutical tool at your fingertips (or toy if that is your preference).

    4. Gets the Juices Flowing
    Sexual pleasuring the body allows partners to prepare for vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse. Masturbation aids in lubrication, muscle relaxation and heightens sexual pleasure, preparing the body to more fully enjoy other sexual play alone or with a partner.

    5. Sexual Buffet
    A pleasure model of sex accommodates for a sexual smorgasbord of fun-filled activities, providing variety to the sexual menu. Couples can expand from a linear model that says 'our sex life is a lackluster routine of rehearsed steps.... Kiss, fondle and get on top of me'. Masturbation can be but one of many 'sexually dishes' on the table that couples can come back to for a second helping during sex.

    6. Safe Sex is Smart Sex
    Touching yourself 'down there' provides a 'safer sex' option that reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancy. Plus its fun!

    7. Sex 4 One
    Provides sexual outlet for individuals without partners including the elderly, people with mental retardation, individuals choosing abstinence, long distant relationships or partners who are away.

    8. A Natural Midol
    Alleviates premenstrual tension for many women.

    9. Holistic Medicine
    Increase flow of white blood cells and rejuvenate the circulation of hormones, indirectly helping to prevent disease. Recent studies have linked the number of times a man ejaculates and the likelihood of getting prostate cancer. And, there has been studies showing that oxytocin released at orgasm my offer some protective effect against breast cancer.

    10. Toning
    Strengthen muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas, reducing the chances of involuntary urine leakage and uterine prolapse.

    11. Ahhhhh!
    Create a sense of well-being

    So whether you call it 'choking the chicken', 'buttering the biscuit', 'spankin' the monkey' or 'the five knuckle shuffle', you can rest in the knowledge that you are engaging in some very important self care. Maybe we can re-think masturbation in terms of a wellness program, like exercise, eating your vegetables and getting plenty of sleep? Then we could worry less and just enjoy ourselves. Plus it feels good!

    Sources:
    1. Cornog, M. The Big Book of Masturbation San Francisco: Down There Press, 2003.
    2. Komisaruk, B., Beyer-Flores, C., and Whipple, B. The Science of Orgasm Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
    3. Giorgi, Giorgio, & Siccardi, Marco. (Sept. 1996, part 1). Ultrasonographic observation of a female fetus' sexual behavior in utero. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 175 (3).


Your Chance to Make History: Oct. 15, 2008
  • Do you want to make history?Then you better be registered to vote! By casting a vote in the November Presidential Election, you can be a part of writing history by electing either the first African American President or the first female Vice President. What an exciting opportunity!

    Question: What is the largest voting block in America?

    A. African Americans
    B. 18 to 35 year olds
    C. Women
    D. Developmental Disabilities
    E. None of the above

    If you thought anything but "D" then you would be wrong. People with developmental disabilities, their families, their friends, and workers in the disability field represent the largest voting block in our country; however, they wield the least power. How can this be? Consistently, we fail to assist people with developmental disabilities with registering to vote and providing support to exercise this right of citizenship. To back up further, we make assumptions about their abilities (or lack thereof) and do not even ask if they have an interest in casting a vote.

    This can change, and it MUST change. Start the dialogue with every person you know who either has or knows someone with a developmental disability. Do not assume that they are not capable of participating in the process. If he/she has a guardian and wants to vote, check into restoring the right to vote. Prior to seeking guardianship (when necessary), talk about retaining this right thoughout the guardianship process. Educate people about the polling station, paper and electronic ballots, absentee ballots, and other reasonable accommodations. Go to the polling station prior to election day to increase comfort with the environment prior to election day.

    Think about it...if everyone who has a stake in the disability world who COULD vote DID vote, we could be a deciding factor in who ends up in the White House. What an awesome privilege!

    The final day to register to vote in the Presidential Election is the fourth Wednesday prior to election day. This year it is October 8. You can register at many convenient locations, like your public library or Department of Motor Vehicles Office. You will also notice people out in the community helping people to register, like in front of the grocery store.


Hot Summer Romance: Aug 31, 2008
  • Are you longing for some steamy lovin'?... are you aching for it to be HOT in the City with your honey? The dog days of summer are almost a memory, but if you have allowed the flames of desire to flicker to a mere pilot light, there is still hope to find some passion. Step one: Take the lead. Instead of wishing for some sexy fun, create it! Don't wait around for your sweetie to take the lead. He or she might be doing the same.

    You can't expect to have a roaring inferno of passion if you haven't been fanning the flames all along. Keep the embers warm and toasty with these great dating treats:

    1. Be Naughty....go see Sex and the City, the Movie... and make out in the back row.
    2. Savor the City's Delights....indulge in Chocolate tasting at Christopher Elbow in the Crossroads. (www.elbowchocolates.com)
    3. Classic KC Romance....wander the Plaza art fair hand in hand. (www.countryclubplaza.com)
    4. Laugh and Live on the edge...catch a drag show at Missy B's, one of Kansas City's favorite gay bars. (www.missiebs.com)
    5. With pen in hand... write a quick note detailing to your lover, 'Why you fell in love with him/her".
    6. Romance in our back yard.... spend a night at Parkville's Bed and Breakfast, the Porch Swing Inn and get a relaxing massage, facial and manicure at Rio Salon and Spa (www.theporchswinginn.com & www.riosalonandspa.com)
    7. Red is for lovers...pack the cooler and head over to check out the Chiefs.
    8. Kinky Adventure....be brave and try skinny dipping in a kiddie pool in your own backyard.
    9. Sunday Serenade....savor a wine and cheese picnic on the lawn at the Nelson Atkins Museum.
    10. Tour de Fountains... grab your bikes, Google the history on some of KC's famous fountains and plan a day teaching your amour about some of our architectural landmarks. Begin on Ward Parkway, coast down to the Plaza and get your hearts-a-pumpin' as you pedal downtown.

    Finally, don't forget to have FUN! Use your imagination...We'd love to hear from you. E-mail us your favorite ways to keep the mojo in motion. Maybe we'll use your idea in the next newsletter list.

    Remember, relationships take work. Don't be fooled by the myth, "real love should be easy". Don't be lulled into complacency. Good relationships do not happen by accident. Take the time and effort to nurture your relationship with the one that you love, and it will continue to grow and change as you grow and change. Be purposeful in planning for romance by trying one or all of these simple suggestions.




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