Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Need for Connection Trumps Authenticity






As a baby, you were an authentic being. Your laughter and tears were real. You were also helpless and depended on your caregivers for survival. Your caregivers had an important role in helping you feel securely connected to and loved by them. The depth and genuineness of your current connection with others stems from how successfully your caregivers managed their role as an attachment figure. This complex interplay between the quality of attachment formed between a child and a caregiver and one’s current ability to form significant connections with others has been discussed extensively by many experts in psychology, including Dr. Gabor Mate. In one of his talks, Mate has discussed how the need for attachment can trump authenticity. When as a small child, your survival depended on your caregivers, you were more likely to do whatever it took to stay connected to them even if it meant hiding your true feelings. For example, if your caregivers did not approve of your genuine expressions of anger or sadness, most likely you hid them in favor of pleasing or staying connected to your caregivers. In other words, for the sake of survival you had to choose attachment over authenticity.

The impasse of being real versus the need for survival continues into adolescence and creates a unique challenge for gay youth and others who did not flow with the mainstream. As a LGBTQ youngster, if you felt unsafe to express your real essence, you probably had to create a fake or “straight acting” identity to protect yourself from homophobic mistreatment. The need to hide contributed to the dilemma of choosing survival over authenticity. It is important to have empathy for your struggle of growing up in a heterosexist and homophobic environment that made it scary for you to express your true essence. It is important for many LGBTQ people to learn how to honor their true essence and work on healing years of oppressive homophobic mistreatment. The price of not individuating is summed up by a quote by Oscar Wilde, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

Being real and authentic can be a struggle if you spent most of your childhood finding expression of authenticity as a threat to your survival. What helped you to survive as a child may not serve you today. Relying on the old survival mechanism of pleasing others has become a barrier to be fully present in your significant relationships with others. The process of letting go of such a survival mechanism in favor of honoring your true self involves psychological labor of reaching out to your younger self. The inner child is the part of you that was forced to hide and not show his or her genuine feelings. This part of you needs help to connect with others without the mask of pretending or people pleasing.

In summary, since your ability to be authentic with yourself and others has a lot to do with how you were treated growing up, it makes sense to examine how your past impacts your life today. Psychotherapy can help you not only to heal from childhood mistreatment that can hinder building healthy relationships with others, but also other major life events that contributes to such problems.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2017/03/when-need-for-connection-trumps_28.html


 

© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com



Monday, January 23, 2017

Personal Myth


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/11/personal-myth.html


For over twenty years, I have been listening to life stories of many incredible people. It is part of my job.  Many people might think I am listening to their problems, but I hear stories. People who come to me are brave storytellers. It is a privilege to hear a personal mythology that has never been shared before. There are times when someone’s story is a mixture of broken pieces of tragedies and losses. No matter how fragmented and tragic a person’s story, I know there is a hero somewhere in it, waiting to be validated. I view psychotherapy as a place of storytelling where a fragmented tale can be weaved into a hero’s journey, and help people feel proud of their resiliency and courage to survive. This is how people become mythical beings. Often the emotional wounds begin to heal once the personal narrative finds a voice.

Sometimes the stories are forgotten, or filled with emotional intensity that is too painful to share. It is not easy to share narratives that have been captive by fear and shame in the dark corner of one’s memory. I empathized with how hard it must be to liberate a personal story that is filled with tragedies. Perhaps, the story was shared once before, and the storyteller did not receive the empathy she or he deserved. With the help of a caring listener, private life stories can see the light of consciousness. Sometimes a person’s sense of wellbeing depends on transforming painful untold stories into to healing narratives.

What happens to those banned stories that don’t break away from the basement of one’s repression? It is not uncommon for emotionally injurious life events to get pushed out of the realm of awareness. But they do find a back door to escape. Those forbidden tales find expression through reenactment which is unconscious compulsion to repeat the traumatic past. I sometimes notice an unhealthy pattern of behaviors in people’s lives correlates with their unexamined past histories.  Once the tale of mistreatment is empathized with, reflected upon, and understood, it often leads to insight and behavioral change. People do not have to recreate their history of mistreatment. It is hopeful to know that illuminating significant life events to gain insight, and find meaning in them can be a liberating experience.

There are times that one’s personal story is filled with so many atrocities that sharing them can feel re-traumatizing. Sharing one’s traumatic tale needs to be done with the help of a trained counselor. It takes special clinical skills to help someone not only find a channel to release the untold story but reveal the truth of what one endured. During one’s psychotherapy process, the untold or forgotten personal story can be conveyed through dream analysis, bodily sensations (somatic psychotherapy), dance movements, psychodrama, drawings, sand tray images, paintings, journaling, and other channels of expression. We are living in an exciting time in which healing counseling tools are available to people.

Not all personal stories involve devastation. Life stories that involve joy, accomplishments, and overcoming obstacles need to be embraced as well. Such uplifting legends can be life affirming and lead to feelings of gratitude. Having a balanced view on life experiences can add harmony to one’s life. We all carry special stories that once acknowledged and understood can add meaning to our lives and inspire others. Everyone deserves to be heard and deeply understood.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/11/personal-myth.html


© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com










Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice


Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice

By


There are number of ways to conduct psychotherapy sessions that can be helpful in meeting the client’s needs and matches the therapist’s style. A goal oriented psychotherapy practice which utilizes a goal setting method is one way to practice psychotherapy. This is a collaborative process that clarifies what the client would like to accomplish during his or her psychotherapy process. Goal setting also helps with constructing a vision of life as it relates to each person’s unique circumstances. Some goals relate to the betterment of one’s external life such as career, finances, education, relationship, and health. Other goals can be about exploring one’s inner world and working toward inner balance, deepening the relationship with the Self, accessing one’s creativity, healing from trauma, and improving mood. These are small examples of common goals clients bring to their psychotherapist which can add clarity to the process.

 In general, working on establishing decisive goals for one’s life can help increase motivation and avoid getting lost. People often feel more motivated in life when they have a sense of purpose, and goal setting can give them such a sense. In addition to helping with motivation, goal setting can improve self-confidence. It affirms the fact that one’s life is worthy to have goals, and the attainment of them helps believing in oneself. I find it extremely rewarding when my clients express joy for progressing toward their goals or attaining them.

Writing down goals in positive language, practicing patience in achieving them, and keeping them manageable for the client are part of the goal setting process. Establishing goals in an affirmative manner can help generate positive emotion to support their attainment. Also, while practicing patience avoids unrealistic expectations in attainment of one’s goals, the process needs to be time-bound. Since every client’s circumstances are unique, it is important to respect people’s time table while collaborating with them in creating target dates. Moreover, goals need to be manageable to avoid making the client feel overwhelmed. The more specific the goal the more manageable it becomes. In some cases, it is important to help the client prioritize their objectives and work on one goal at the time.

Therapists can help clients feel less alone in achieving their goals. This can be done by working with them to identify resources in their lives and in their communities. I often find it helpful to provide a list of community resources to clients who have difficulty obtaining them. For example, a client who is unemployed and can’t afford accessing the internet might find it useful to know about the free internet access at the West Hollywood library.

Finally, those individuals who have difficulty setting decisive goals can benefit from depth oriented psychotherapy which tends to look for unconscious elements that can get in the way of having a clear direction in life. I find helping people to understand their life challenges on a deeper level very useful. No one deserves to feel shame for his or her difficulty in establishing clear goals and having empathy for such struggle is essential. When it comes to practicing psychotherapy, one size does not fit all. Therapists can be flexible in offering modalities that meet the client where they are.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2017/02/goal-oriented-psychotherapy-practice.html


© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Boredom from a Gay Perspective



Boredom from a Gay Perspective


By

Gay people are naturally creative and industrious. They are often a small percentage of any population and yet their societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. This short article mostly focuses on gay men and the issue of boredom. Many points being made here do apply to lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queers as well.
Despite growing up gay in a homophobic world which can discourage artistic expression, gay people’s creative spirit continues to shine. Given their rich imagination, the experience of chronic boredom and a sense of inertia is contrary to a gay person’s true essence. Whether boredom is momentary or a long lasting experience, it stops people from living a full life. In order to deal with boredom, it is important to understand and learn how to transform it. Examining and understanding your emotions is an opportunity for personal growth. One of the places to examine your emotions as a pathway toward knowing yourself is in a therapeutic setting with a licensed psychotherapist. Working with emotions can be intense, and you need a trained professional to help you navigate through the sea of emotions. In my work as a psychotherapist (licensed MFT), I work collaboratively with my clients. I explore their somatic experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to support them on their journey of self-discovery to alleviate their boredom.
What is boredom? From a psychological perspective boredom is an emotion, and like any emotion, it can carry important information and messages about your current needs and sometimes unmet needs from the past. It can also reveal something about your current state of mind which becomes an opportunity for deeper analysis. People who are bored often experience life as monotonous. Sometimes boredom can accompany another emotion such as frustration or a feeling of emptiness. When a person gets overwhelmed by ongoing feelings of boredom he can asks himself, “What is boredom trying to reveal to me about my relationship to my psyche, my soul, and the world around me?” or “How can boredom become an opportunity to add meaning and purpose to my life?” The answers to these questions require personal reflection which can become a doorway to a deeper connection to oneself.
An important approach toward understanding boredom needs to involve evaluating your relationship to your sense of curiosity. Curiosity is an emotion that plays a vital role in motivating you to show interest in yourself and the world around you. When fully in effect, curiosity can neutralize your sense of boredom and help you to passionately engage with the mystery of life. When curiosity is embraced, boredom disappears.
When you show curiosity toward your experience of boredom, you are less dominated by it. In general, becoming curiously conscious of your emotions help you to be less controlled by them. By becoming aware of any particular feelings in the moment, you can choose to either embrace the emotion and fully experience it or let it go. “Empathic witnessing” of an emotion such as boredom in the moment without judgment gives you more choices on how to deal with your emotions. 
Sometimes boredom, like a habit, stays with people and it takes willpower to try to change it. Your willpower can be used as a determination muscle to focus on making positive changes in your inner and outer life. You can use your willpower to direct your attention away from boredom and use your curiosity to explore uplifting experiences. For example, when feeling bored you can make an effort to get out of your “comfort zone” and explore healthy activities that you never tried before. Eventually, being curious becomes a personal habit that replaces boredom and enriches your life.
It is important to note that embracing curiosity might be challenging for many gay people because of a homophobic upbringing.  Many gay individuals as a youngster felt too ashamed to show curiosity toward their homoerotic feelings which caused them to find curiosity too threatening to embrace. The habit of embracing curiosity needs to take place at a young age with support of caring adults. The absence of such support makes curiosity less accessible and difficult to embrace.
As you engage with your boredom through your curiosity, you can notice where in your body you sense your boredom. Locating bodily sensations that correspond to how you feel in the moment is another important way of managing your emotions. I often hear clients share with me about experiencing boredom as a sense of dread and emptiness in their chest area. Individuals that I work with in a therapeutic setting often find it helpful when I invite them to curiously scan their bodies and look for sensations of strength. Focusing on a sensation of strength anywhere in their bodies which might include places like the upper arms or legs can lessen their sense of inertia. For others who can’t notice any sensation of strength, they might benefit from making a pleasant or neutral sensation as their focus. For example, neutral or pleasant sensations can be experienced by inviting clients to notice the support of their upper back against the couch. In general, tracking the neutral or pleasant sensations in your body can add harmony and balance to your inner world.
Your curiosity can also be directed toward examining your thinking patterns and belief system. You might discover a link between your beliefs, thoughts and boredom. Many gay people were raised to believe that they were sinners for their same sex attraction.  As such, they have developed a belief system that does not leave much room for feeling deserving of happiness. Thought patterns based on such a negative core belief system can lead to a life void of joy and pleasure. By using the muscle of determination with an attitude of empathy and kindness, we all can change our negative beliefs and thinking. By developing a belief system based on love and acceptance of ourselves, we can feel deserving of joy and vitality instead of boredom and inertia.
From a spiritual perspective, chronic boredom might reveal a lack of relationship to one’s soul and the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). Given that gay history has been often intertwined with shamanism and mysticism, getting bored and living a dull life reveals disconnection from one’s gay essence. From a spiritual perspective, the remedies for such condition can involve not only connecting to one’s gay soul but also connecting to a sacred place within one’s heart through meditation and other spiritual practices that correspond to one’s chosen path. Recognizing a divine spark within one’s heart can be enough to transform boredom and sense of emptiness to feeling of aliveness.
Boredom affects everyone, and it becomes a reason for concern when it turns to an ongoing psychological state. Boredom like any challenging emotion can become an opportunity for deep psychological work. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help when boredom turns to a painful psychological state.


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/09/boredom-from-gay-perspective_25.html


© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com



Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gays in Search of Meaning



http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/07/gays-in-search-of-meaning_94.html

By



Many gay people are acknowledging a need for a more meaningful way of living to avoid a motionless and purposeless existence. Lack of depth and meaning has caused many gay people to experience feelings of boredom and emptiness. Such feelings have forced many to look for something outside of themselves in order to feel content. Some indulge in drug use, excessive drinking, or brief romantic affairs, while others might engage in excessive shopping, traveling, or overeating in order to cope with their negative emotional states. Even though such activities might feel pleasurable and provide a momentary sense of euphoria, they do not lead to a real experience of vitality and aliveness. There is a different kind of intoxication that involves the experience of the soul. Such experience is beyond the ego’s need for cheap thrills. By embracing what is inherently sacred about our gayness, we can start to live a soulful life.



While we, as a community, fight against discrimination and progress toward equality, we need to take time to embrace the numinous qualities inherent in being gay. We need to honor the spirit that exists within our gay souls. For the most part, our current culture places a great deal of emphasis on maximizing one’s pleasure through consumerism and minimizing one’s need for a deeper purpose in life.  Couple that with internalized homophobia, which prevents gay people from gaining a deeper understanding of gayness. Internalized homophobia is the internalization of shame that many gay people have been forced to experience growing up in a heterosexist society. By working through this internalized homophobia, a path toward an understanding of the deeper meaning of gayness can become more accessible.



The essence of being gay is love. We come out in order to love freely. Many gay people experience love in the form of romantic relationships. A conscious participation in a romantic relationship—which includes working through what we project onto each other—can serve as preparation for a different experience of love. Beneath our gay love affairs, there is an empty space waiting to be ignited with mystical love, waiting to be known for the sake of a deeper love affair—the kind of love affair that takes place at the level of the soul. This is expressed in one of Rumi’s poems:



 “The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

they’re in each other all along.”



A love that begins in a romantic relationship needs wings to fly beyond the field of personal connections and into the realm of the transpersonal. We help such love to grow wings by attending to our inner garden and weeding out toxic shame. The more we embrace our gayness with a sense of pride, the more room we can make to love and approve of ourselves.


On our journey inward toward our true essence, we need to deal with the mind. Our mind can be like a wild horse that, through meditation, needs to be tamed and taught to bow down to our heart. The heart is where the flowers of Divine love bloom and the fragrance of such love fills our inner emptiness. We can connect with the sacred place in our heart by gently closing our eyes and concentrating on anything in the universe that helps to generate feelings of love in our heart. Neuroscience tells us whatever we focus on becomes our reality. In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to.” So why not energize the feelings of love in your heart? This is how we can embrace our true essence and add more love to the world.



Humanity is facing difficult choices pertaining to our future survival on the planet. Given the threats of climate change, war, poverty, racism, homophobia, and mass shootings, we as gay people more than ever need to participate in the healing of the world. We can make a difference. Triumphs like the way we took care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are as a community. Our courage can continue, and we can advocate for issues that can make this world a better place. By honoring our gayness and letting it become a strong foundation to stand on, we can “love the world back to health.” Our involvement in helping the world can also add meaning and purpose to our own individual lives.



By focusing on the love in our heart and cultivating an awareness of the world soul (Anima Mundi), we can trigger an awakening of healing energy that could transform our current civilization. LGBT people are only a small percentage of the population, but our contributions to helping solve our current global problems can be enormous. When we connect our gay soul with the soul of the world, not only do we start tapping into a deeper purpose for our existence, but we also begin to experience the oneness of life.


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/07/gays-in-search-of-meaning_94.html






© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com




Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journey Toward Self-Discovery




In the cycle of our everyday lives, we are busy taking care of our needs like shelter, food, safety, emotional support, health care, human connection, and many other basics. Many years of our lives can be devoted to meeting goals like graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, rearing children, having a successful career, and staying healthy. This cycle of everyday life, our daily routine, is the plane of existence that most people are familiar with. It is the outermost circle enclosing the inner circles in the continuity of existence. People who are not awake to anything beyond such day-to-day existence can let life happen to them as if they are in a trance. To be in the trance is to live life in such a way that one is completely identified with her or his social role and status. This kind of over-identification can prevent people from living an authentic life and going beyond the mundane. It can also lead to a life devoid of depth and meaning.

Life in a trance gets shaken up when an unexpected loss happens. For example, a number of individuals who lost their high profile jobs in the recent US economic recession became seriously depressed. Since they completely relied on external circumstances like wealth, privilege, and class to define their personal identity, the humiliation of losing this status made them feel worthless.

Most people want to live a prosperous life, and the pathway to successful life is often presented to them as a ladder to climb. In fact, a pathway to success is not a ladder to climb, but a circular journey toward the core of one’s true essence. We can embark on this journey of self-discovery through deeper psychological and spiritual work, which will enable us to experience the numinous in everyday life and transform our challenges into the gold of consciousness. When we work on knowing ourselves and bringing this consciousness to our day-to-day living, we are transforming our lives. We no longer obsessed with our personal goals, and we can develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of success.

One need not abandon the business of navigating the cycle of everyday life in order to participate in the journey of self-discovery, but we need to navigate with a quality of consciousness that not only helps fulfill our responsibilities, but also get closer to our “True Essence.” There is nothing wrong with making money and enjoying the fruits of our labors—as long as we are not doing it for the purpose of covering up our inferior feelings or falling into a trance of over-identification with status.


As stated earlier, on the journey of self-discovery, the progression into the core of the circle, our True Essence, is a circular motion, not a ladder. We go around and around the circle of existence, and we can get stuck in one track if we don’t do the inner work of understanding ourselves. It is like walking a labyrinth only a short ways and staying on the periphery, not going to the middle to receive the spiritual and psychological gifts on offer there. To move to the next track and journey toward the core of the circle, we must make a commitment to knowing ourselves. Each moment of growth and insight can help us journey closer. The more evolved we become, the closer we get to the truth of who we really are.


To know ourselves, we need to encounter the unconscious. Having a guide in this process is essential. We need support when attempting to understand what we might encounter. There are parts of us of which we are not completely conscious. We could think of them as layers of our personality that impact our interaction with ourselves and the world. How these layers impact us depends on our relationship with them. Progress toward our True Essence is difficult if we don’t have a conscious relationship with different parts of ourselves. Also, working with the unconscious is important, since within our unconscious resides creative potential and the answers to many of our life’s mysteries.

Writing is one of the simple yet valuable tools we can use for self-discovery and to build relationships with different aspects of our personality. I find it very helpful to write in my journal about the way I handled certain life challenges without being hard on myself. Journaling helps me learn more about myself and become more aware. Also, journaling can be a place where we record our dreams. In working with our unconscious, we are helped by paying attention to the images that manifest in our dreams. By analyzing our dreams with the help of a trained person, we can learn about the content of our unconscious.

On our journey toward our True Essence, we need to develop a quality of attention that focuses on the present moment, despite all distractions. One way we develop such presence is by paying attention to our breathing. Awareness of breath is a simple practice that helps us to be in the moment and develop a deeper relationship with ourselves. We can also bring our awareness to the present moment by paying attention to our bodily sensations. For example, sitting on my office chair, I can notice the comfortable experience of having my back supported by the chair. Such a sensation of comfort can only be noticed in the present moment.

Reflecting on our life experiences and discovering their meaning not only gives our lives a sense of purpose but also enriches our life journey. The journey of knowing oneself is a very personal experience for each traveler. The goal is to have an ongoing connection to our True Essence. Everyone can find her or his own unique approach to a meaningful existence. My initiation to this journey happened at a young age with the realization that my sexuality made me different. My attempt to understand the meaning and purpose of my gayness pushed me out of the collective into a journey of self-reflection and self-understanding. At the same time, this journey empowered me to stand up to homophobia. For others, this change can happen when they turn losses and tragedies into transcendent experiences and, as a result, become evolved human beings.

Connection to our True Essence is not the end of the journey. It can be a doorway to an even stronger, more conscious connection to something greater than ourselves. It can be imagined as a drop of water merging with an Ocean, wherein one can experience Oneness. Each traveler can experience her or his unique merger with the Ocean of Oneness. There is no end to the journey of knowing oneself for the sake of forging a union with a power greater than oneself. The path is infinite, and it starts with a willingness to wake up, depart from the periphery, and step inside.



http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/06/journey-toward-self-discovery.html


© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.   www.DrPayam.com






Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Inspirational Quotes by Payam Ghassemlou


"A pathway to success is not a ladder to climb, but a circular journey toward the core of one's truth."


"Being gay is not a choice. It's a gift. We unwrap this gift by loving."








"Feeling secure in life depends on how well we embrace our vulnerability."









http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/11/personal-myth.html



http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/07/gays-in-search-of-meaning_94.html





"Life without art is like a blank canvas."





http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2015/09/embrace-your-inner-stories-to-build.html



"The world is a living being, endowed with a soul and intelligence, in need of love."




"The choice to grow deeper is accessible to those who are willing to look into the mirror of introspection."













"The essence of being gay is love. We come out in order to love freely."










Lack of Communication + Making Assumptions = Conflict





"When curiosity is embraced, boredom disappears. Love your curiosity."


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/09/boredom-from-gay-perspective_25.html


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-brief-reflection-on-climate-change.html




"Everyone's pain is unique, and no one deserves to suffer in silence. Reaching out and asking for help is a courageous act that people can do in response to their emotional pain." 

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2012/10/invisible-wounds-by-payam-ghassemlou.html

"Awareness of our breathing is the most accessible path to the present moment. Each breath combined with acceptance of our moment-to-moment experience can allow us to have serenity."



"Violence occurs when revenge is dressed up as the need for justice."



"Your life is like a garden that needs love, care, and patience."