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Transformations Issue 12 - Winter 2015

 

TRANSFORMATIONS 

from the office of

Christopher Emerson, Ph.D
Winter 2015 Issue No. 12  

 

Welcome to the current issue of TRANSFORMATIONS. In this edition, guest contributor West Hollywood-based clinical psychologist Dr. Harel Papikian explores aspects of gay identity and the coming out process in his article Why Would One Think They No Longer Want to be Gay? Robert Linton, MFT-I discusses the connections between anxiety and choice. In TRANSFORMATIONAL VOICES, Marc Hulett shares thoughts on the process of change, illness, and acceptance. Dr. christopher Emerson, Ph.D.

I am currently accepting new patients in the Palm Springs office, with office hours on Friday afternoons, weekends, and Monday mornings. Robert Linton has openings in the Los Angeles office. Please feel free to call me on my mobile phone at 213-220-1794 to schedule an appointment. Robert can be reached at 213-422-3458.


Thanks for reading, and we look forward to hearing from you with your comments, questions, or calls.

Dr. Chris Emerson
 


  

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE?

By Robert Linton, M.A.  

Robert Linton, M.A.
 
Could anxiety that we are feeling possibly come from our having too much freedom of choice? Whether we know it or not we are constantly experiencing freedom, with the underlying responsibility it implies, and the anxiety that comes from it. That is, we are free to make choices, we are responsible for the decisions we make, and there is a normal, even undetectable, amount of anxiety that accompanies it. This happens every day to one degree or another, and is part of our being human. But the problem that can arise for people is when the anxiety becomes greater than we feel we can handle, and we avoid making the decisions we need or want to make.

Many decisions are overt (what to eat, what to wear, which lane to drive in). But running in the background is the unconscious realization that we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make because we are free to make those choices. Additionally, something that is not always as clear is that we are also responsible for the choices we do not make. As Sartre wrote, not to choose is in itself making a choice. Even in circumstances that are not in our control, we can still choose how we will be within those circumstances. In other words, we "cannot not choose." 

We are always choosing, assertively or passively, consciously or not. According to existential psychologists and philosophers, this condition can raise our anxiety and possibly lead us to avoid decisions that may be helpful or necessary to make. Clients often report feeling frustrated and even depressed when they realize they are unknowingly utilizing internal defenses to avoid making decisions, and that in avoiding the anxiety they are also avoiding the potential reward of increased goal accomplishment, fulfillment, self-actualization, and purpose.

One of the defenses we use to separate ourselves from the responsibility of decisions is looking at our circumstances as everyone else's fault. To displace onto others the responsibility for choices we have made, or not made, is to lower the anxiety by feeling absolved of the responsibility. This strategy includes an "if only" component: "I could make the decisions I need to make, and take responsibility for them, if only: I was luckier; people understood me; the world treated me better; I was encouraged; I had more money," and so on. As with other defense mechanisms, this may give an immediate reduction in anxiety, but in the long run increases it. It may even lead to depression as the person feels out of control and loses touch with their own power and agency in the world.

Sometimes people will go into slow motion in their decision-making. Procrastination is a strategy to delay a choice so long that in the end it does not have to be made at all, or perhaps even better, someone will make it for us. While this is effective in forestalling the choice and responsibility, it can create an increase in the exact anxiety the person is trying to avoid by procrastinating.
 
A particularly insidious and subtle defense is an ebb tide effect, in which a person begins unconsciously creating a waning of interest in the outcome of a given decision, thereby creating a waning interest in having to make the choice itself. This calms the anxiety because the person tells themselves that they "really didn't want it anyway." Using this strategy, one can escape the feelings of anxiety by not attempting to reach their potential in career choices, education choices, career choices, or relationship choices. But not working toward reaching our potential can increase anxiety as well as depression, particularly when it is self-imposed by choosing not to choose.

So, how does one begin to take responsibility and make choices? You already have by asking the question. The next is to increase our understanding and insight into how we are avoiding choice and responsibility. Next is perhaps the most important step: honoring those defenses and understanding that they are operating in an attempt to protect us. They are not "bad" or "wrong." They may have served us well at previous times in our life, but have never been adjusted for our current life. It is just a matter of recalibrating them if they are not operating in an effective way. Finally, alternate strategies for approaching decision-making are identified and developed, and techniques for managing the anxiety are learned and utilized. Anxiety is replaced with choosing, depression replaced by responsibility, and defenses are protective, not roadblocks.

 

 

Why Would One Think They No Longer Want to be Gay?
By Harel Papikian, MFT
 
It was a casual Sunday morning. As I was working up a sweat on an elliptical my fingers scrolled through the Facebook feed and I stumbled across a blog post, title of which made me pause. Part of me wanted to click on the link and read the article, while another voice in my head impatiently urged me to keep scrolling. The topic was too heavy to face first thing in the morning. Mixed feelings of frustration and sadness were rising in my chest. My kneejerk reaction was to lash out at the author. Somehow it hit too close to home. The article was titled "Why I No Longer Want to Be Gay," by Luis Pablon.

 

Dismissing the post would be an easy way out. Besides, the psychologist in me was curious to see how someone can rationalize the disowning of parts of his core self. After all, it is not like saying "I no longer want to eat meat" or "I no longer want to sport a beard." Our sexual desires and erotic attractions are well formed by the time of adulthood. Although sexual fluidity is possible, the full range of our potential sexual expression is likely to be defined by the time of our sexual maturity. When we reject our own sexuality as being wrong or bad, where does it leave us?

 

So here I am, with sweat running down my face, trying to make sense of Pablon's piece. As my eyes run through the text, the picture of one of my acutely delusional clients comes to my mind. I recall the intrinsic logic with which my client used misinterpreted facts to weave together an elaborate persecutory delusion in which he was the victim of an intricate and vicious conspiracy specifically against him. The unexplained noise in TV became the evidence of surveillance. The encounters with strangers were "timed" to spy on his daily activities, etc.

 

This is not to say that Luis Pablon suffers from a delusion. Not as far as I can tell. However, the way he pieces together his experiences as a gay man and arrives to the conclusion that the gay community created "a life that lives outside of morality and goodness," is, if not delusional, definitely un-insightful.

 

Alan Downs, in his brilliant book "The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World," describes three key stages gay men go through in forming an integrated and empowered identity. He talks about the uniform starting point which only very few fortunate ones are able to escape - The Closet.  The first stage of identity development is called "Overwhelmed by Shame" and describes living life with the "big dark secret," in the closet, hiding from the world the truth we are no longer able to hide from ourselves.

 

The second stage of "Compensating for Shame" delineates many ways gay men numb the feeling of inadequacy, wrongness, and shame through being uber-successful, super-fabulous, hyper-masculine, very popular, outrageous, and, of course, sexually desirable. This is the stage where drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll serve to distract us from our inner struggle to accept and love ourselves just the way we are. The final stage Downs talks about is "Cultivating Authenticity." He clarifies: "Not all gay men progress out of the previous two stages, but those who do begin to build a life based upon their own passions and values rather than proving to themselves that they are desirable and lovable."

 

In "Why I No Longer Want to Be Gay" Luis Pablon states: "The self-loathing in this community forces you to encounter a series of broken men who are self-destructive, hurtful, cruel and vindictive towards one another." He is right. Unfortunately, we have plenty of gay men who have internalized the negative cultural messages surrounding us. They accepted the beliefs that gay men are inadequate, are not "real" men, and are in some way inappropriate. These men project their sense of inadequacy and brokenness onto the people around them and see the gay community through the prism of inadequacy and brokenness. It is much easier to reject someone else, than to face one's own self-rejection. Mr. Pablon fell into this old trap.

 

Luis Pablon chose to denounce the "gay community" instead of looking for the beautiful aspects of it. He chose to blame the victim and join the ranks of the oppressors, proclaiming the "gays" to be bad and inappropriate. Without realizing it, he saw in the gay community a mere reflection of himself. He struggled to find acceptance and love for himself, and identified the community of gay men as the culprit. He was called to rise to a challenge facing every man - gay or straight. The challenge of finding the inner truth and standing by who we truly are, the challenge of defending our innermost freedom to be true to ourselves, and living an authentic life.

 

Gay community is no different from any other community. We have the full spectrum of the good and the bad. The examples of generosity, love, compassion, and selflessness are at the very least as plentiful as the examples of prejudice, superficiality, and self-loathing. Out of the full spectrum of experiences available to us on the playground of the "gay community," we find those experiences that match our current beliefs about the world and ourselves. If we feel inadequate, inappropriate and bad, we are likely to encounter experiences that will support our current perspective. However, if we find the compassion to look at ourselves with a softer eye and see the beauty within us, we will see the beauty around us as well.

 

To summarize, I have a personal message for Luis. Life is very simple, my friend. We get what we give. Our attitudes and beliefs, along with our choices and actions have the power to create. Your experience is not uncommon. We were never promised a rose garden. Coming out can be tough; finding your voice as a gay man can be tough; seeing your worth and loving yourself despite the hostile culture around us can be tough.

 

However, as tough as it might be, it is our only chance to find freedom to be our true selves, to love wholeheartedly, and to live fully.  It is worth fighting for.  Do not give up. To use the wise words of Winston Churchill: "If you are going through hell, keep going." Things get better.

 

Dr. Harel Papikian
Clinical Psychologist with a private practice in Los Angeles 
www.WestHollywoodCouples.com
 

IN THIS ISSUE:
-Who's Responsible?
-Why Would One Think...?
-TRANSFORMATIVE VOICES

 

 TRANSFORMATIVE VOICES  

  

I talk often with friends about that day before your life changed forever . . .  I was listening to NPR awhile back and there was a story about "An Improbable Journey" and it caught my attention. The story defined "An Improbable Journey" as a "journey that was not likely to happen, occur or be true," but in my case, it did and here we are.

 

I'd always lived in "grateful" or so I thought. So many early dreams of mine became a reality . . . beautiful life, dream job, loving family . . .

 

And then after a routine physical, and follow-up with different doctors and biopsies, I got the call: "Sorry Marc, you have an aggressive form of Prostate Cancer and we have an appointment with a great surgeon at USC for you on Monday, and there is a room for you in the OR on Wednesday to take care of this..."

 

"WHAT THE . . . !"

 

I immediately panicked and called my late great psychologist Beverly Dennis, with a mix of panic, fear, anger and disbelief that this was happening to me!"

 

And then Beverly transformed my life forever in that moment as she began to calmly tell me how wonderful it

was that I get to know that I have this problem so I can deal with it... 

how great that I know now so that I can research and be proactive in my health care... 

how great it is to have this issue in this decade instead of the last...

how great that there are researchers that we'll never know who work tirelessly to crack the cancer code, and that I am the grateful recipient of these peoples' work . . .

 

She was brilliant and helped position and flip my feelings of despair into grateful, she slapped me out of my

"moment" and helped me find a deeper grateful than I could have ever imagined . . . and I've lived in that deeper "grateful" for the past 11 years.

 

That week I had my prostate out. That was 11 years ago. I was only 47... I'm 58 now . . . and I'm still living with active prostate cancer (as I had lymph node involvement) but doing great, and still go get checkups and blood work every 3 months. I welcome these appointments. I love seeing my nurses and my great oncologist Dr. David Agus,

 

because I know this team of Doctors and Scientists and Researchers are saving and prolonging my life and the lives of countless others every day they wake up and go to work.

 

Did I need to experience cancer to experience my life on a deeper gratitude level? I think not, but it certainly opened my eyes and I've learned so much from it ...

 

Words cannot describe my depth of gratitude for this lifetime, and with the constant love and support of my

friends and family, my grateful list grows and gets deeper each and every day.

 

 

Marc Hulett

Music Executive
Los Angeles, CA

 

 

 
This concludes the twelfth issue of our seasonal newsletter, TRANSFORMATIONS.
Feel free to forward TRANSFORMATIONS to friends and colleagues, and take a moment to check out our archive of past issues at www.drchrisemerson.com. As always, we create our newsletter for YOU, our friends and colleagues, and we welcome feedback, comments, questions, or a simple "Hello". We look forward to our next encounter - Thank you for reading! 
 

Best, 
 
 
Chris, Robert, and Dylan
 

 

Contact Us...

for appointments and comments

Dr. Chris Emerson: 
(310) 550-4560
Robert Linton, M.A., MFT-I: 
(213) 422-3458


Dylan Maddalena, Editor:

[email protected]

(310) 550-4560

www.drchrisemerson.com

 

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Los Angeles, CA 90035 

 

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