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Last Picture Mom and My Brothers were Photographed Together

LAST Photo of Family Together Left, My deceased brother, Jeffrey (9 months before his suicide and four months before his only marriage); Ex-husband, Ric; Me, Brother, Gary; nephew, Caden (Gary’s grandson); and the matriarch and glue of the family, Edythe Mark, celebrating a remarkable run of leading her family for 90 years. The occasion was a birthday surprise party for her, planned by my devoted daughters, Nicole and Allison.

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Tonight marks three years since my sweet, younger brother gave up all hope for joy and a future. Instead, he broke all our hearts and ended his life. He struggled with the monkey on his back since he was thirteen. We were a middle class family, and Jeff was the youngest kid on a block of kids that stuck together like Gorilla Glue. He wanted desperately to fit in with his older brother, Gary, and the other cool boys who traveled together like a pack. As vulnerable to peer pressure as he was to pleasing his parents, my baby brother would cop an attitude and try to act the part of a street smart teen. In reality, the more the others made fun of him for being “Jargus” or called him pejorative names like “Blockhead,” the more determined he became to win acceptance by taking more and more risks.

Like teens everywhere, it was important to Jeff to belong. He never outgrew the need to be accepted to the point that he would sacrifice himself to do so. He took other people’s temperatures to determine how he should feel. His “selfhood” was defined not by his own ideas and values so much as by what he thought other important people expected of him or what he could do to belong and gain acceptance. The amount of energy he and his parents put into one another and into him determined how much he would depend upon relationship in later life to survive. He never grew away from a profound need to be cared for and nurtured to the same level he experienced with his parents as a child. It created in him extreme relationship dependence. If he believed, for example, that a teacher disliked him, he could not perform. Relationship environments that were warm and nurturing were crucial to his functioning.

Jeffrey entered the world of heroin addiction at thirteen. While the other boys experimented with heroin, Jeff married her. In fact, my brother took heroin as his mistress till the end of his life at 56 years old. His escapist behavior reflected a high level of anxiety, borne of unresolved emotional attachment to his parents. He remained a child in relation to both of them….never related adult to adult, even as an elderly man. It was difficult for him to know, for example, when one of his decisions was more reactive to someone telling him what to do ( an authority figure or even a girlfriend or the mother of his child) or when a decision was truly a reflective one. In other words, Jeff could not easily distinguish between his thoughts and his feelings. It was difficult for him to know when he was merely acting in reaction to being told what to do or when he truly was acting out of a thought out or reflective response.

As a very young child, Jeff had frequent petite mal seizures. His parents worried and took him to Mayo Clinic and myriad doctors to try to figure out what was going on and to alleviate the physical symptoms. They may have inadvertently created many of his emotional symptoms by allowing him to bend and break the rules, lest he become upset from the same consequences the other two received as a matter of course-and suffer another seizure! Because his well meaning but anxious mother and father believed his bad temper could create medical crisis, he held inordinate power in the home. Medical crisis was most certainly created anyway…the terminal illness, however, was not epilepsy, but addiction to opiates. Anxiety was ubiquitous in the household, passed frantically back and forth among family members like a hot potato.

Jeff enjoyed being indulged, yet resented Gary and Barbara as being favored for their academic achievement. Even at his mother’s 90th birthday, he made a toast to his beloved mother and publicly and proudly referred to himself as “your baby boy.”

Jeff was not permitted to learn from struggle. His parents meant well. But they overhelped, making it a foregone conclusion that he would underhelp himself when it came to overcoming his dependence upon heroin. If he had potential trouble with the law, they would hover, rushing in to rescue and to alleviate the very pain that motivates people to change. They believed they were doing the best by him, but, in reality, their parenting choices were made to calm themselves and, in the process, unwittingly rob their youngest son of normal growth and development. He would not mature, and heroin was the crutch that allowed him to ignore this developmental lag. His parents needed to maintain their anxious focus just as much as Jeff needed to fulfill their dark expectations. It was a reciprocal feedback loop. The same template of intensity…of neediness…would follow him in his adult romantic relationships. And theory suggests he would settle down with a woman needing about the same amount of attention as he needed.

Jeffrey worked with his father in the multigenerational family scrap metal business and proved himself to  be a talented-nay a gifted- entrepreneur. Money was a commodity he knew how to create and to increase. Still,the intensity between father and son was as strong as the fusion between mother and son. As the child most tied in to the family system…the epileptic one, the addicted one, and the one in the family business….the baby of the family was thus less free to grow and develop.He was always the anxious focus of his parents. The anxiety has a contagion. It is never helpful.

The individuals in this family prided themselves in being ‘”close.” Yet being very close can stifle the spirit and ultimately predict emotional cutoff. Drugs are one way people cut off from one another and even from themselves. In our family, we were so undifferentiated that if one person had an itch, everyone else scratched. It was hard to know where one family member started and the  other one ended.

When people give up “self” to the group, it is normal to feel an anxiety borne of the fear that one has allowed themselves to disappear….to be incorporated into the group. It is a survival instinct then to cut off from others if one becomes too aware that there is no “self” left. Similarly, the one who cuts off creates a reactivity in the “left” one and the distancer/pursuer dance may begin.

To some extent, we all struggle to carve a bit of individuality out of all the togetherness that is part of being a family. There are many ways people cope with the anxiety borne of this fear of being incorporated or swallowed up into a system. Some people use substance to escape their fear that they are alienated from themselves, that they are broken….broken in love.

The lack of capacity to remain connected is paradoxically related to one’s inability to hold on to oneself in relationship to important others. Furthermore, the indulged grown child may lack a belief in their own personal agency and self efficacy. Often they believe they are at the mercy of the universe and there is a desperate kind of effort to escape the inner, chronic pain of disconnection and escalating ruptured relationships. Denial and defensiveness keep these people stuck and lonely.

Jeff’s life was defined by repeated efforts to overcome opiate dependence with the accompanying crisis and relationship loss. Bridges were burned beyond repair before his fiftieth year. When complete contact with his one child was severed…a beautiful, bright,thirteen year old daughter who adored him…his life took a lethal turn for the worse. Stints in prison and debilitating depression followed that emotional cutoff, which occurred, not coincidentally, the year following his father’s death in 1997.

Jeff panicked at the prospect of losing his mother to death. He had grieved inconsolably for years, for he had lost his most prized relationship-his thirteen-year-old daughter. Additionally, he had lost huge amounts of money, reputation, a beautiful home, the freedom to live near his family in California, and, sadly, the love of his life and the mother of his daughter. After his latest stint in prison, he met a random woman in a bar and invested his heart, soul, and wallet into winning her. She was a rough woman, many years his junior. He would marry her thirteen months prior to his mother’s death.

In the end, he believed the woman exploited him. Against the advice of friends and family, he had rushed to marry her , fearing he was aging and anticipating being “utterly and completely alone.” When that marriage went South, he became frightened. Humiliated. A desperado. He packed it in. By marrying her, he had tried one last time to find an adult relational home and recoup his myriad losses over his life course. But his tendency toward fusion made him too anxious to allow himself to love or be loved. So it all went from bad to worse.  This final loss was more than he could bear. Life became stripped of meaning. No relational home seemed available to Jeff. He was terrified at the prospect of being alone.

Murray Bowen, one of the foremost pioneers of marriage and family therapy, believed family members profoundly affect one another and that death is one example of this profound interdependence. Ripple effects or emotional shock waves can usually be observed in members closest to the ill or dying member. Changes such as marriages, divorces, obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, or even workaholism all provide escape from the emotional  processes swirling about the family system. Physical illness and even death may follow after the death of a spouse or child. Bowen defined the ” ‘Emotional Shock Wave’ as a network of underground aftershocks…occurring most often after the death or threatened death of a significant family member.” (1978). The connectedness of major life events following serious illness and death may stimulate vigorous denial of any connection between the death and the events. He believed that this denial and subsequent occurance of serious life events occurred most frequently in families with a high degree of fusion or emotional “oneness.”Grief and loss work in the form of family of origin research can help people become a bit more aware of these tendencies to be reactive to the “undifferentiated ego mass” of the family and to operate within the fusion.The effort can help them move through the grief process in a timely and healing manner and also gain more basic self in the process.

As the person in the family system who apparently absorbed much of the anxiety for the system and accommodated more than was healthy for him to do in life, Jeffrey dealt with his relational crises/mental health challenges through self medication. He had struggled since his early teens, becoming stuck in a cycle of addiction, subsequent relationship heartbreaks,and repeated incarcerations.Shame, rejection, and regret haunted him most days of his life. He tried and failed to kick over and over again, in expensive rehab after expensive rehab.

The stigma our society has placed upon seeking mental health services is dangerous, especially in a shrinking world of escalating changes occurring at breakneck speed. Suicide is a genuine health issue, like cancer or diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States. About 30,000 people  die by suicide every year–more people than by murder or HIV.

For sibling survivors of suicide, there is never closure–only reduced frequency and intensity over time. Sibling loss is not honored as much as parental loss; yet a sibling should be in our lives longer than anyone else. It is a profound loss to be the remainder…the surviving sibling, who shares fifty per cent of our DNA and huge amounts of life experience.

My dear brother, Jeff,  had physically left the premises on a hot July night in 2012. I found his suicide note in my mailbox upon arriving home from work after nine one night, and I remember my cry sounding less than human-more like an animal howl. I knew my mother would not be much longer for this world, because they were so close as to be like one organism. She had two more years for us to love her and cherish her.

Since Jeff died on July 19, 2012 and since Mom died in March of last year, family members close to Jeff have also experienced huge changes. There have been babies born, talk of divorce, real estate deals, major moves,weight loss, new romantic partnerships, an emotional cutoff, and returns to college. Mother’s caregiver of twenty five years has suddenly developed serious cardiac problems.

Changes in reaction to entrances and exits from the family system reflect the notion that change always is accompanied by stress. The intense emotional process that defines a family system in the face of illness and death demands that individuals closest to the deceased take especially good care of themselves in the months and even years following life threatening illness and death.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s systemic model of marriage and family therapy practice, visit her website at www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, I specialize in counseling couples for many problems, including infidelity. Recently, I had cause to reflect on the growing effects of social media on relationship functioning in today’s technologically-dominated world. In the May, 2012 issue of ATLANTIC, Stephen Marche states that “We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment…Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. ..We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”

In my practice, I often treat couples who complain of the ruptured bond between them. Some people look to escape their grief and loss instead of facing it head on. In fact, research has found that a couple waits an average of six years before seeking marriage counseling.

One of the many ways that people escape their growing sense of alienation with one another is by becoming more active on sites such as Facebook. or chatting late into the nite in internet chat rooms. Marche observes that “What Facebook has revealed about human nature…is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world.” On the internet, one can be social while still being free of the challenges inherent in relationship functioning between truly bonded people. It can be a way to feel as if one has developed an intimate relationship with someone else and yet this is a delusion. There is no need to do more than preen one’s presentation feathers and one rarely has to deal with the stuff of real relationship challenges. It is as if one is creating a flattering mirror through which to see oneself in the eyes of others who also occupy the ethernet.

Years ago, I saw a couple who came in to therapy because one of the spouses finally relinquished a “connection” which had developed over two years on the internet. The spouse involved in the internet, emotional affair had been communicating with her for years and had, in fact, never met the object of his affection. This was a key focus of the sessions. He had finally freed himself of this escape from his grief about the fracture in his primary relationship and was now ready to work on restoring a connection to his marriage. In early therapy, the wife wanted to talk about the affair and would obsess on the who, the what, and they why of how it happened and whether she could trust him ever again. This was encouraged and allowed in order to rebuild trust as the wife could observe the husband’s (encouraged) efforts at increasing his transparency, even about a subject as difficult as disclosing the details of his affair. The husband wanted to “move on” and put the affair into the past where he said “it belonged.” Such polarized efforts to deal with an affair are common. Therapy helped the husband understand the nature of healing as a process, and the import of increasing his capacity for vulnerability in front of other instead of a focus upon covering content. I allowed the couple sufficient time to process their respective thoughts, feelings, fears, and regrets.

Eventually, I suggested that a proper focus of treatment would be to get at the factors in their marriage which contributed to the affair. It was important to key in on the affair as a trauma that required healing and that each person played a part in how the marriage become susceptible to such traumatic symptomology. Questions are asked which should generate more questions. Increasing the capacity to be transparent in front of one another and to decrease defensiveness is central. A safe holding environment is created by having each partner talk through the therapist. I asked each partner to discuss what they think contributed to the affair. I wondered aloud how long there had been unspoken (and spoken) marital tension and was this a contributing factor to each person running away from facing their part in the tension as well as the reality of the broken primary bond? In what ways did the wife look to criticize and blame her spouse, in a last ditch effort to get him to connect to her? How did the other spouse accommodate and give in when it was merely to avoid “ruffling her feathers?” Could these behaviors be fertile breeding grounds for growing resentment and alienation between them? How did the cheating spouse decide to stop the affair? How long had the other spouse ignored her part in the procrastination of dealing with the growing problem of a hardened distance and rift in the marriage? How could the couple join hands to provide future immunity from affairs? What does having an affair/ignoring one’s part in criticalness, emotional distancing or blame say about the emotional maturity of each partner’s former capacity to face their relationship challenges head on? Might not coming to therapy be an opportunity to congratulate one another on their increased emotional maturity and newfound capacity to address existing problems in the maintenance and nurture of their bond? Each partner was called upon to monitor their own “automatic” tendencies to withdraw, pursue, and/or become critical and blaming. The reciprocity of accommodation and pursuit were considered as cul-de-sacs leading to growing resentment and alientation. Over time, this couple began to grow in their confidence to at once regulate themselves as individuals while at the same time maintaining connection and safety within their relationship. The work emphasized regulating self to insure the viability of the relationship connection rather than using the relationship to insure that the individual would feel like a valid human being. The rewards of therapy led them to become increasingly confident that they could continue to insure the integrity of their relationship connection .

Social media offers an ineffective and dangerous avenue of escape to people feeling the grief and loss borne of a growing disconnect from their most significant other. People who are disconnected from their primary significant other may at one time or another look to meet their connectedness needs on the internet. The avenue leads to a deadend. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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As a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, I practice couples therapy and individual therapy using an intergenerational perspective. I specialize in helping couples and individuals live more meaningfully in their most important relationships. Relationship counseling and individual counseling is better to seek sooner rather than later when one experiences chronic challenges in relational functioning. Research has shown that couples typically wait 6 years before seeking couples counseling. It is wiser to get help earlier and before problems fester, causing resentments to harden and become more resistant to treatment.

Dr. Murray Bowen was a pioneer of marriage and family therapy.   He believed that human beings live in interdependent emotional systems. His insights are profound. I am guided, in large part, by his ideas. James Framo, another early MFT leader, observed that clinically, Bowen’s ideas address the basic question of how one can deal with one’s family’s nuttiness without cutting off from the family. Just as Socrates urged people, “Know thyself,” Dr. Bowen encouraged people to “Know your family.”  Such an effort can enhance one’s ability to live in a more fulfilled way in one’s current relationships. In an early post I listed five of my favorite quotes from Murray Bowen. Below are *more quotes that typify Bowen’s deep and unique  level of understanding of the human condition:

“Family systems theory is based on the assumptions that the human is a product of evolution and that human behavior is significantly regulated by the same natural processes that regulate the behavior of all other living things….Homo sapiens are far more like other life forms than different from them.”

“One of the most important aspects of family dysfunction is an equal degree of overfunction in another part of the family system. It is factual that dysfunctioning and overfunctioning exist together. ..An example would be the dominating (overfunctioning) mother and passive father.”

“The more a therapist learns about a family, the more the family learns about itself; and the more the family learns, the more the therapist learns, in a cycle which continues.”

“The overall [clinical] goal [is] to help family members become ‘system experts’ who could know [their family system] so well that the family could readjust itself without the help of an outside expert, if and when the family system was again stressed.”

“Relationships are cyclical. There is one phase of calm, comfortable closeness. This can shift to anxious, uncomfortable overcloseness with the incorporation of the ‘self” of one by the ‘self ‘ of the other. There there is the phase of distant rejection in which the two can literally repel each other. In some families, the relationship can cycle through the phases at frequent intervals. In oher families, the cycle can stay relatively fixed for long periods.”

“The basic building block of any emotional system is the triangle. ”

“Important changes [between the couple] accompany the birth of children.”

“The problem of the ‘triangled’ child presents one of the most difficult problems in family psychotherapy.

Dr. Murray Bowen was one of the important pioneers in marriage and family therapy. As a clinician who specializes in relationship counseling, I am guided, in large part, by his ideas. To learn more about my model of practice, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

* Quotes are cited from FAMILY THERAPY IN CLINICAL PRACTICE by Murray Bowen (1978)

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At San Diego Relationship Counseling, Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers affordable rates and evening hours to busy professionals who are looking to address their impairment from a  systems perspective. Dr. Cunningham is the author of a chapter in an academic textbook edited by Gary W. Lawson and Ann w. Lawson entitled ALCOHOLISM AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN DIVERSE POPULATIONS. The chapter is entitled “A Family Systems Treatment for the Impaired Physician.” Physicians and other people in the helping professions seem to have a high risk of using coping skills that encourage escapism rather than skills that develop the capacity to “bend in” to problems, especially problems interfering with their most important relationships. The books listed below are resources for those people looking to understand the dynamics behind such escapist solutions to the exigencies of life.

Bowen, M. (1978) Family therapy in clinical practice. Northvale, NJ, Jason  Aronson.

Cunningham, B. (2006). A resiliency-based, Bowen family systems approach to treating a sibling survivor of homicide: A case study. Doctoral dissertation, Alliant International University, San Diego, CA.

Ellis, J.J. & Inbody, D.R. (1988). Psychotherapy with physician’s families: When attributes in medical practice become liabilities in family life. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 42, 380-88.

Gabbard, G.O., & Menninger, R. W. (1989). The psychology of postponement in the medical marriage. Journal of the American Medical Association, 261, 2378-2381.

Lawson, A.W., & Lawson, G.W. (1998). Alcoholism and the family: A guide to treatment and prevention. (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Mansky, P.A. (1999). Issues in the recovery of physicians from addictive illnesses. Psychiatric Quarterly, 70, 107-122.

McGovern, M.P. Angres, D. H., & Leon, S. (1998). DIfferential therapeutics and the impaired physician: Patient-treatment matching by specificity and intensity. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 17 (2), 93-107.

Robb, N. (1998). Teaching on addiction issues lacking in medical school, specialists told. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 158, 640-642.

Sotile, W.M., & Sotile, M.O. (2000). The medical marriage: Sustaining healthy relationships for physicians and their families. Chicago: American Medical Association.

Talbott, G.D. (1987). The impaired physician: The role of the spouse in recovery. Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, 76, 190-92.

Talbott, G.D. & Gallegos, K.V. (1990, September). Intervention with health professionals. Addiction and Recovery, pp. 13-16.

Talbott, G.D., & Martin, C.A. (1986, February). Treating impaired physicians: Fourteen keys to success. Virginia Medical, 113, 95-99.

Twerski, A.J. (1982). It happens to doctors, too. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Vaillant, G.E., Sobowale, N.C., & McArthur, C. (1972). Some psychological vulnerabilities of physicians. New England Journal of Medicine, 287, 372-375.

To learn more about Dr.  Barbara Cunningham‘s treatment model, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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  In my private practice in San Diego, I work to provide quality services for marriage counseIing, relationship counseling, and individual psychotherapy. Oftentimes, I listen to young girls and women of all ages obsess about their weight, their appearance and their disappearing youth. I try to provide a safe holding environment as they work to relieve themselves of the overwhelming social pressures to be the prettiest, the skinniest, and the sexiest version of themselves they can create. I coach them to practice self care and take pride in themselves. However, I also coach them to make their life purpose revolve around what they can accomplish rather than merely upon a superficial and dangerous emphasis upon appearance and youth.

After talking at lunch with a close friend and colleague about the troubles of Demi Moore, I had a moment to reflect upon society’s demands to value appearance over substance. Magazines, movies, tv shows, and internet blogs seem to scream that “youth” trumps wisdom-that what we wear matters more than what we think. Some young women and many older women buy into this message so passionately that they kill themselves trying to meet these youthful, botoxed, skinny standards.

This week,  ABC News reported on Demi Moore’s downward spiral as reflecting her obsession with losing weight and battling against the clock as she approaches the big 5-0.  After public humiliation in the face of her estranged younger husband, Ashton Kutcher, betraying her with gorgeous, younger women, she seemingly dropped off her own psychological cliff. Demi appeared so emaciated in this week’s photos that she could have been mistaken for a cancer patient. Sad. Really sad. As she moves into a new decade, her refusal to eat seemed to say symbolically that she just could not swallow it. That she simply wants to disappear. 

Moore’s reported erratic behavior and alleged drug abuse sends a loud message to her daughters that adulthood is not fun and that aging gracefully must be for fools. She makes it appear that it is devastating to cross from youth to middle age. This woman’s daughters are learning deep lessons by watching their mother. Partying with their mother. Suffering as they watch their mother suffer. Wondering if growing older is really as devastating as Mom would have them believe. Moore reportedly gave an interview to Harper’s Bazaar and said, “What scares me is that I am ultimately going to find out at the end of my life that I am not really loveable, that I’m not worthy of being loved…that there is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

When daughters watch their mothers obsess about weight, worry about their changing appearances, be more ambitious about choosing their wardrobes than they are about the enduring consequences of their life choices and try to “hang” with and/or marry much younger men in an effort to cling to their own youth, they are receiving a devastating message. As mothers, we must realize that we are always modeling something–but what? In fact, the deepest lessons our daughters learn is by watching what we do, not what we say. So what are the lessons that we teach our daughters by our own actions?

Little girls learn at an early age if Mom is more concerned with style over substance. Sadly, Rumor, Scout and Talullah may have learned that their mother believes that her greatest value is in her appearance–that her validity as a human being is wrapped up in what she weighs, how she looks, and whether she is still “hot.” In a mad effort to deny her own mortality, she hangs with young people and seemingly tries to deny she is turning fifty with erratic behavior and recreational drugs. If Demi’s daughters are fortunate, they will look at life and their own intrinsic value differently than their mother. They will try to make meaning out of their life in a way that honors experience and wisdom over youth and appearance. Instead of survival of the prettiest, they will see their survival as being rooted in resilience-in the lessons they can discover that are present, but must be uncovered, in each of their life challenges.  Hopefully, Ms. Moore will benefit from professional help so that she can turn her life around. As a woman and as a mother who is facing myriad challenges, she now has an opportunity to teach her children more about the meaning of life by giving new meaning to her own. She has the opportunity to show that there is no shame in stumbling if one picks themselves up from the fall. She can model the joy of recovery from all of the Sturm and Drang so publically displayed. She has the opportunity to review and perhaps modify her values that have privileged vanity over inner substance gained from a life well lived. She has the opportunity to bounce forward, not just back-because of, not in spite of, her recent adversities.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s strength-based practice, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA, Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers a resiliency or strength-based approach to counseling, whether she is treating individuals, couples, and marital partners. She views challenges as a natural and an expected part of what it means to live a life. When we expect life to be nothing but rainbows, smooth seas, and laughter, we set ourselves up for bitter disappointment. Life is a fabric, a woven tapestry of good with bad, difficult with easy, happy with sad, sickness and health. Having realistic expectations going in to life transitions, such as marriage, parenting, and career changes, is part of the ability to function well. Some people become so paralyzed by change, transitions, and challenges that they never move forward–they are frozen in whatever place they were emotionally before the onset of the change, transition, or challenge. Others merely “get through it.” And then there are those who seem to thrive and prosper as they sail from navigating stormy sea after stormy sea. Who are these thrivers and how did they get that way? Differences in the way one thinks about life and the way one lives in one’s relationships can make one’s life look very different. How we think about things affects how things come out in many cases.

So what about those people who thrive as opposed to merely surviving through their life challenges? Wolin and Wolin (1993) discuss such resilient people in their book entitled THE RESILIENT SELF: HOW SURVIVORS OF TROUBLED FAMILIES RISE ABOUT ADVERSITY. How is it that some people have the capacity to rebound from hardship in a way that they bounce FORWARD (as opposed to merely bouncing back)? This is the book to read if you are interested in resilience and a useful synthesis of research and clinical experiences on the subject. The book will help the reader abandon the notion that they are not captains of their own ship. After completing this book, the reader will appreciate that they can shape their life rather than being shaped by childhood experiences beyond their control. The Wolins call their approach the “Challenge Model” as opposed to the “Damage Model,” as used by movements such as Adult Children of Alcoholics. People, for example, who overcome childhood trauma may view their experiences as giving them a badge of courage, a kind of Survivor’s Pride.  Strategies are discussed, case examples are provided, and insights are offered as a result of conceptualizing cases from this Challenge Model perspective.

No one escapes life without scars. Rather than incapacite us, painful feelings can sharpen our sense of joy and gratitude.  How one can rise from adversity and rise like a phoenix out of the ashes is at the core of this book. Read it and be inspired!

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation. Dr. Cunningham specializes in couples counseling and marriage counseling. She also is expert at counseling individuals looking to make sense of their part in relationship challenges.

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See full size image Relationship counseling and marriage counseling are offered with both daytime and evening hours in the heart of San Diego by Dr. Barbara Cunningham, a licensed marriage and family therapist with her doctorate in marriage and family therapy. In her practice with couples and individuals, she offers people the opportunity to maximize their potential in the context of their relationships. Following is a list of ten tips to improve your relationship functioning:

1. See if you can identify a repetitive cycle that is not useful in your relationship. For example, you may be a pursuer while your partner distances. Of you may overfunction while your partner underfunctions.

2. Try to see if you can identify your part in how this stuck dynamic continues and change it up!

3. Keep your eye on what IS working in the relationship and notice it, both internally and in vocalizing it to your partner.

4. Go on regular and, at least, weekly date nights. Take turns planning and executing the date night–making “surprise” a key element for your partner.

5. In the words of Ghandi, be the change you wish to see.

6. Choose your words carefully, taking special care to avoid blame, criticalness, contemptuousness, or stonewalling (Thanks, John Gottman).

7. Practice self care. The more you model that you love yourself, the more loveable you become!

8. Be a self. Know where you stop and he/she begins. Be willing to risk disapproval in the service of keeping connected and engaged. Just choose your words in a way that will minimize a defensive reaction in your partner. Make your statements from an “I” perspective instead of “You should/shouldn’t” perspective.

9. Play with your partner!

10. Work WITH your partner. Be more interested in being connected rather than in being right!

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice and how relationship counseling can be useful, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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One of my clients complains that it is almost predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariably start a fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems contradictory that problems would develop right after good times. Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?

I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going after her partner for “more.” He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a further move “toward” or the other partner makes a further move “away.” In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being “left,” of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, “Many of our problems…occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.”

There is hope for couples who get “stuck” in this unhelpful sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relationship dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between sessions. Please visit me at my website to learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go to http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you to see if it makes sense to book an initial appointment to begin a counseling experience!

 

 

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Technology has allowed us to connect with more people who live farther away than ever before in history. Is this a blessing or is it a problem? Is technology a way that we can maintain the appropriate amount of distance that we need emotionally before we begin to feel emotionally crowded and then have to cut off? Can technology like Facebook actually wreck a relationship? Has technology ruined a relationship for you? While these questions are not addressed in the movie SOCIAL NETWORK, this is what came to mind for me as I watched the film unfold. I have had clients come to my practice with the misery of discovering something about their relationship with an important other by reading about it on Facebook. 

As the youngest billionnaire, Zuckerman has already become an icon in the 21st century world of communication. Facebook is an amazing social tool. The genius of its creators will long be honored as a marker of the early part of this century. Nevertheless, I wonder if your participation on Facebook has allowed you more than the mere ability to stay connected with old friends and make new ones. Think about it. Is it easier to be friends on a screen? Would you connect with “all” your friends on your list if given the choice and if you had the time? Do you have some Facebook friends that are fine for “The Wall,” but who you could never spend an afternoon chilling with?  Did you change your status to single on Facebook before you informed your former partner that you were doing so? Have you posted pictures of yourself with someone who was already attached and/or married?

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, which addresses the emotional connections most important in your lives and how to manage our competing needs for connectedness and distance, go to http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call for a complimentary phone consultation.

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One of my clients complains that it is almost predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariable start a fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems contradictory that problems would develop right after good times. Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?

I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going after her partner for “more.” He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a further move “toward” or the other partner makes a further move “away.” In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being “left,” of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, “Many of our problems…occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.”

There is hope for couples who get “stuck” in this unhelpful sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relational dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between sessions. Please visit me at my web site to learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go to http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com/ and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you!

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