About My Writing
I am a columnist for Psychology Tomorrow, an online periodical that explores the creative and dynamic nature of human psychology. My articles can be found here: http://psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/author/alyssa-siegel/.
I am also a contributing author to the book “Your Brain on Sex; How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life” available at most book stores and on Amazon.
My Cheating Heart: What Causes Infidelity
To most couples, infidelity signifies a crisis, and they come in flooded with emotion and fairly deregulated. The infidelity sits in the room like another person or an object that was propelled into the scene like a bomb, ravaging lives. Life becomes polarized into before’s and after’s. Some can repair the damage done, turn an infidelity into an opportunity for growth and reconnection. And some can’t, the loss of trust being irreparable for one, the continued anger and blame intolerable for the other. My work is to help couples determine which they will be from a place of awareness and intention.
Why Women Lose Their Sex Drive
While in the past women’s sexuality was in many ways invisible and misunderstood, women’s liberation started garnering awareness in the ways in which women’s arousal and response cycles differed from men’s. In most progressive relationships today, partners will report placing high level of importance on female sexual enjoyment and satisfaction. These seem like undeniably positive improvements. But they are not coming without a price. That price is that when women now cannot achieve orgasm or have a lower than average sex drive, they are pathologized.
How Social Media Affects Our Relationships
There’s no question that something that occurs regularly on Facebook and other social media sites is to spark new or rekindle old romantic relationships and to check in on those that occupied those roles for us in the past. The past is no longer the past in the way it was previously, our ex-lovers, partners, and friends remaining an active part of our present lives.
However, all that said, there are some fairly universal themes and realizations that I have assimilated in dealing with the internal evolutions that take place with clients, with the processes that time provides, and by observing countless people discover them. Ideas that, when I share them, seem to almost always result in a lightbulb moment or sigh of relief. So this is my manifesto for twenty-somethings, offered to those who feel a little lost when it comes to relationships; who need an older sibling that they respect, or more forthcoming and psychologically inclined parents, or who have never been to therapy and had the space and support to figure some of this shit out.
Learning to Think for Ourselves
To start, despite wishful thinking, therapists are not gifted with the supernatural powers that would allow them to understand every human experience or emotional condition, nor do they know the path each individual should choose while at an impasse or where a chosen path might take them. And while there may be the illusion of normal, the truth is that we are all uniquely different, and the process of change is far too unpredictable for any of us to know what’s right about most things.
We are not a particularly think-for-yourself culture. From an early age, most of us are taught what we should do – to simply accept convention and follow it. And although that may rub up against us in uncomfortable ways at times, we usually act with complicity, allowing others to make decisions for us. We become passive participants in our own lives, uninformed in the language of self and unempowered when it comes to our ability to make choices and affect the world around us.
Addiction; A Nonlinear Path to Recovery
Every addiction starts with a healthy intention. We enact rituals in an effort to soothe pain or conflicts, to squelch or fend off discomfort. But the anarchy of those actions over time is that they lead to meaningless behavior and forms of self-deprivation that have deeper consequence. What starts as a coping mechanism, a part-time way to deal with stress or sadness or to add fun to our lives becomes a full-time distraction. Rather than serving as one of many possible ways for coping with difficult feelings, an addiction becomes the primary one, sometimes the only one. What started as a solution becomes the problem, raining tyranny over our lives. This is what finally pushes dependent or abuse behavior into an addiction.
An addiction changes the way we act towards our own and others’ lives. Our behaviors grow increasingly inconsistent with our core values and beliefs. Our relationship to work, money, friends and family gradually change in the service of feeding behavior which now seems essential to our existence. Addiction develops a life of its own, taking control of us like a too demanding parent, spouse or lover. Activities which once brought joy, relief or relaxation fail to satisfy their former purpose. No longer a payoff for doing them, they quietly disappear from our daily repertoire.
The Effects of Trauma on Caregivers
We have found ourselves in a highly divided society. Those of us who have chosen a career in caretaking end up so often being a victim’s sole support, perhaps because culturally we are so uncomfortable hearing and responding to survivors’ experiences. Instead, we avoid talking about it by redirecting the conversation, or else by simply making ourselves altogether unavailable to those in pain. The message to survivors is to keep quiet: don’t make those around you uncomfortable, don’t burden others with your pain, avoid pity. By our inability to talk openly and honestly about difficult events, we further isolate the survivor, contributing to the confusion, shame, and loneliness they are likely feeling. When trauma is unacknowledged or silenced, a survivor’s natural pain is likely to convert to shame, anger, and sometimes violence. Some may even turn to substances to manage their feelings and start on the slippery slope towards addiction. In some cases, particularly when the trauma goes unexamined, survivors may be unconsciously drawn to people, relationships, and situations that are similar to the trauma in an attempt to reenact and correct what went wrong the first time— to produce a different outcome and symbolically gain control over past events. The risk for re-traumatization in these re-enactments can be high because they are not guided by conscious intention. When locked in this battle of life or death, intimacy and vulnerability cannot be readily accessed.
We must all become caregivers.
As a society, we must not only create institutional structures to provide outlets for trauma survivors and their caretakers, but we must all—family, friends, lovers, neighbors—also learn how to respond to trauma in loving and helpful ways. Compassionate listening does not require perfection or professional training. It requires selflessness and generosity. It doesn’t require that we fix the problem or make the pain go away. Instead, we listen openly without judgment or input. We allow the survivor to talk for as long as he/she wants giving them the message that we care and will be witness to their pain. We might encourage them to pause, take breaks, or breathe. It may be hard. It may be ugly. Hearing about terrible things happening to someone you know, someone you care about, usually is. But during these conversations it is not our feelings that matter most. Later, we can rely on personal methods of self-soothing as well as practiced patience, forgiveness, and compassion towards ourselves. We too can seek out a safe and supportive community to talk about our feelings.
We all have it in us to be better partners. Every relationship can be improved. Relationships are never perfect and maintenance always necessary. With an attitude of generosity versus self-centeredness, self-responsibility versus blaming, open-mindedness versus defensiveness, intractable patterns can be broken and new, more satisfying ones formed.
There are many reasons to prefer being single. The lack of responsibility for another, the freedom in time and in choices. There are also many reasons to prefer being in relationship, such as the feeling of security that comes with knowing someone has your back, and the opportunity to grow and create memories with a partner who supports and respects you. Whatever you chose, honor yourself by asking yourself why it is that you seek out or avoid certain people or kinds of relationships, especially if it seems to be a pattern. Think about the ways in which you can be your best self, both alone or with a partner, and make sure that you are responsible for making that happen and don’t depend on anyone else to do it for you. If you want a relationship, seek out partners that inspire you, not only those that simply need you. Choose instead of waiting to be chosen.