Eric Hoffer, the social writer and philosopher, once said "the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness." Similarly, John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher and social theorist said, "ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so."
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Sara, a person who has consulted me frequently for help for many years, has been a harsh self-critic; essentially, picking up where both her parents left off. While therapy has helped her to become more accepting of her shortcomings and occasional failures, Sara still, at times, can berate or belittle herself for an occasional error in judgment, a social gaffe, or even a disappointing experience on a blind date.
One of the major issues confronting so many couples is what is commonly referred to as "communication problems." This can mean many things and may cover a wide variety of interactive difficulties between any two people in a relationship.
"Stop being so defensive!" is a phrase known to have begun or to have escalated many a battle between people in a relationship. The person told to stop being defensive usually responds by stating that he or she is not being defensive. The accuser then uses that response as evidence to prove his point and an argument ensues. The issue that was the subject of the exchange gets lost in the anger-storm and not reopened for some time, if ever.
This intriguing question – in so many variations – has been asked by many people who are struggling with both the joys and the consequences of being involved in a serious romantic partnership. For some, being single is a most desirable state and valued for the many freedoms and opportunities it affords. There are many who choose to be single and resist serious romantic involvements because they do not wish to complicate their independent and autonomous lives. For others, being single is a time of waiting; waiting to be partnered so that they can, as one client remarked, "feel whole again." For them, being single is just unacceptable; or, worse, a possible indication that they are 'undesirable', as in "nobody wants me."
Many clients have spoken to me about their experiences with people in their lives wishing that they would – or, worse – telling them that they must "get over" some emotional condition or disorder from which they are suffering. This could be a state of depression, a grief reaction to the loss of a loved one, or something else that requires time – and maybe professional help – in order to overcome.
Some people, it seems, need to be 'right' more than they need almost anything else. I am frequently struck by the verbal lengths a person will go when they are very sure of themselves and someone challenges their belief, their memory, or their knowledge about something. This need takes many forms and is an interpersonal transaction often observed in the context of my work with couples.
It is distressing when a client tells me that they have never observed – or themselves, experienced – what they would define as a successful romantic relationship. Statements like "maybe good relationships just don't exist" or "no one in my family ever had a good relationship," usually follow. Many clients enter psychotherapy because of relationship-based difficulties and some of them eventually feel that they are doomed to continuously have trouble or fail in their efforts to enjoy a successful romantic partnership.
There are many people who seem to live their lives in a way that appears to take into consideration the needs, feelings, and vulnerabilities of an important other person. At first glance, this appears to reflect caring and sensitivity to that other person; something we value and consider a necessary requirement for a successful relationship.
Jack, a 43 year old insurance executive, was referred to me by his family doctor for help with his "severe panic attacks" that had a sudden onset for reasons that were completely unclear to both of them. Jack's symptoms were disabling and resulted in his missing work for several days before his initial appointment with me.