Episode 64: Dr. Jessica Zucker #2 (Voted #2 Ep of 2012)
Dr. Jessica Zucker returns to help Paul and the listeners. Topics of course involve Moms and boundaries, but also the benefits of letting ourselves be fully known through therapy and learning to stick up for ourselves when nobody else will.
Paul: Welcome to episode 64 with my guest, Dr. Jessica Zucker. I'm Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honest about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we'll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. The show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling, it's not the doctor's office, it's more like a waiting room that hopefully doesn't suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com -- all kinds of good stuff there, go to the website, check it out. There's a forum, there's surveys you can fill out, you can see how other people filled out surveys, there's a newsletter that you can sign up for. A lot of people have been signing up for that and that makes me very happy. You can support the show financially by going to the website, and lots of other stuff that I'm not even thinking about right now. Today's show is a little bit on the long side, timewise, so I'm going to try to keep this brief. I want to share a quote that I heard -- this guy named Gene passed away recently, he was in his 90s, and he'd been sober for I think, I wanna say 40 years, and a bunch of people...this guy was very loved, and a bunch of people were gathered around his bed in his last few weeks. One of my friends was one of those people, and Gene would come in and out of consciousness, and my friend said he was there on...I think it was the day before Gene passed away. And he said to Gene, You've been on the planet for 90 years -- what advice do you have for the rest of us? And Gene, you know, his head was kind of hanging down 'cause he was going in and out of consciousness and he picked his head up and he looked at my friend and he completely said to my friend, "I would not have spent so much time worrying."
Paul: I'm here again with Dr. Jessica Zucker, who is a therapist in the Los Angeles Area. I had her on as a guest probably about a half-dozen episodes ago and I want to thank you for our last meeting and the stuff that we talked about -- you really helped lead me through a kind of a dark, confusing time and I don't think I'm necessarily out of the woods yet but the compassion and the insight that yo had really helped me kind of make an important breakthrough. After that episode, because I trusted you and still trust you so much, I sent Jessica this flurry of emails, because I didn't have a therapist at that point and all this emotion was pouring out of me. I just needed the most authoritative, objective voice that I could get feedback on, and you were very generous with your time and your responses so I want to thank you.
Jessica: Oh, it's an honor to be back with you. I'm so curious how you've been feeling and how your mom reacted to you not traveling to Chicago and...
Paul: Well, I purposely called her when I knew she wasn't there, so I could just leave a message. I've talked about this on the podcast so I apologize if I'm repeating to those who've heard this before but I basically said, 'I'm not angry at you, I don't hate you, but I'm exhausted by our relationship and I need some time away, and I hope you understand.' And she called back and left a message for me that said that she understands. It's funny because that made me feel good but it also made me feel like, 'Well, maybe I am making this up and she's this --'
Paul: I also got an email from someone after our episode, and for those of you that didn't hear the previous episode, in a nutshell, I was finally able to see for the first time in my life the way that my mother has treated me my whole life, which is not really listening to me, sexualizing me, and kind of using me as a sexual object, I guess you could say...How would you, from what I've described to you, what would you...
Jessica: It seemed like she was sort of having you as a stand-in for a male companion in her life at certain times. So she seemed to want you to be the 'man of the house,' whatever that means, and then when you described though that she would hold your face and tell you how rotten you were, or how great you were and then how rotten you were -- that stuck with me, it's incredibly disturbing. I think she's confused about who you are in her life. She's confused about her life, probably, as well.
Paul: Somebody sent me an email afterwards and, let me actually try and find it, this person wrote, Christopher wrote, "Something you said about your mother inspired me to write. You said your mother is a good person and has done wonderful things regardless of her abusive behavior towards you. I'm an attorney and I work for a federal judge. Time and time again at a change of plea or sentence hearing the defendant will say he's not a violent or bad guy and that he's a good person, father, boyfriend, regardless of the violent criminal or sexual act he's committed. What has struck me recently is that you can be both. You can be a good guy and a violent criminal. They're not mutually exclusive. The difference is the choices we make. We all have the capacity to do both good and evil. The best we can do is to choose and help others to choose to do good."
Jessica: That's interesting.
Paul: That did help me too because it's like...I felt like...Well if I paint my mother as abusive, then that negates all the good stuff that she's done. And it doesn't. It just makes her a complicated person, I guess.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, I think sometimes people long for us, as human beings, to either be black or white, because in a way, psychically, it might be easier for us to understand our parents if it were that black and white. 'Oh, she's all bad, so then I don't ever have to think about it again.' But because the nurturing person might also embody this kind of abuse in whatever form that takes, the child then grows up that much more confused and compelled to try to work it out in other friendships and maybe sexual relationships as the years unfold because it is so confusing. It's intereting that that helped you--
Paul: It did.
Jessica: That you could then hold that she's not all bad, she's not all good, she's both.
Paul: She's both.
Jessica: Or somewhere in between.
Paul: Yeah, that definitely did help me. One of the things that we talked about in our last episode together was therapy. I'd said that I was gonna go start therapy again, and one of the things that we'd talked about was -- there's a lot of low-fee therapy out there. I think we probably should have clarified that to say it's much easier in larger cities --
Jessica: Larger cities. Sure.
Paul: I got an email from a clinical social worker --
Jessica: In a small town, yeah --
Paul: I think she was a clinical social worker in southern Indiana and she was saying there can be real deserts of help out there.
Jessica: Mm-hmm, sure.
Paul: And so I think we just wanted to clarify that.
Jessica: And that might actually be, you know, for people living in those areas, online support groups might be, or online consultations, might be an option, might be a good way to go for some people so that they feel connected even though they're in places where they can't maybe be connected face to face.
Paul: Do you know how...I guess they would just type in 'online support groups'? How do they know how to find a decent one? Would it be based on the issues that they're having?
Jessica: Potentially. I'm not that well versed in the online therapy world.
Paul: I know there are online twelve-step meetings and groups and stuff like that.
Jessica: Yeah, maybe Skype situations or chat rooms or, I'm not sure exactly.
Paul: One of the things that I wanted to do when you mentioned about low-fee therapy and since I felt like I needed to go back into therapy to process the stuff that I'm going through, I thought, 'Well, why don't I test this out, and why don't I do exactly what you said?' So I went to Google and I put in 'low-fee therapy' and my town and one came up and I contacted them and they took me through the intake process and they told me it's a sliding scale down to as little as 20 dollars based on what your income is -- it's your household income -- and so I went in and I told them in a nutshell kind of what was going on with me, what the issues were, what kind of therapist I was looking for, and I felt like I needed a kind of safe, nurturing, female therapist and they found me this therapist. Her name is Jennifer and I'm going twice a week and I think I've seen her four or five times and we're making great progress.
Jessica: Wonderful! What is your experience? Have you been twice a week to therapy before, or is it --
Paul: Never twice a week. I've been to therapy probably a total of about four years, over the last 20 years, with two or three different therapists.
Jessica: My hunch is that you're going to have such a different experience at twice a week. Maybe I said this last time, but I sort of liken it to going to the gym more consistently or doing yoga or meditating or whatever people do as their practice. The more frequently you do it, the more benefits you reap and the more sort of embodied you can be about the experience rather than...When people go once a week it's often an experience of reporting the events of the week or the events of your entire life, and so, again, the consistency builds something different in the relationship and really allows you to deepen, emotionally.
Paul: All this stuff came up about my mom and it was really painful and really confusing and there was two voices in my head: the voice saying 'Congratulations, you've finally been able to see this in clear light, and that it's abusive and it's not healthy, and you were highly sexualized, and that's why your skin feels like it crawls when you hug her and you want to cover your genitals, etc.' And another voice in my head saying, 'You little fucking baby, you New Age little pussy, you're doing this for attention, you need to get over it, you need to...There are people with way worse problems, your mother didn't have sex with you, there are other people who've been raped by a parent, they are the victims. You're just a little whiner.'
Jessica: Can you imagine talking to your own child that way?
Jessica: So if your kid had been, you know, made fun of at school or victimized in some way by other kids and they came to you and shared that with you, I highly doubt that you would respond to them in that sort of minimizing way. So it's interesting how we can do that to ourselves about our experience but we hopefully would not be inclined to do that to our children. I think it's just an interesting lens to bring when one is beating themselves up the way that you are.
Paul: Well, there's a couple of things that I fall back on when I start to get into that...When that negative voice starts to get really loud and I start to get kind of panicky and think, 'Oh my god, I've ruined the podcast because all of a sudden I'm making it about me, and I'm painting myself as a victim,' and then I remember what my wife said when I went to her and hugged her and cried and said what I'd been wanting to say for a long time about my mom: 'She tricked me, she used me, and I was a good boy and I didn't deserve it, and it really hurts.' And my wife said, "I've been waiting twenty years for you to say this." I fall back on that, I fall back on what you said, and I fall back on the dozens and dozens of emails that I've gotten from listeners who have shown me so much compassion, and shared their stories with me, and I cannot begin to tell you how much comfort that brings me. That compassion that I got from the listeners and my wife and you have made me realize -- this is when I'm in a good headspace -- has made me realize I have not sought compassion my entire life. I've settled for placing other people's needs first.
Jessica: Well, that's what you were trained to do.
Jessica: So you had to, in a way, take care of your mother, it sounds like, or privilege her experience over your own. She was a perfect training ground for you to then not look outside of the family for compassionate resources. I mean, it makes so much sense.
Paul: Well, there was always a sense that she was overwhelmed, 'cause she went from having no kids to, in the span of a couple of years, having my brother and myself and a cousin living with us. And my dad's drinking really started taking off. So I would imagine she was feeling super, super overwhelmed and I just remember...And my brother had a bunch of allergy problems and stuff like that so he was always going to the doctor, and there was always some kind of drama because he didn't trust the doctors, as most kids don't, they're afraid to be in there and they don't know what's going to happen -- so I just remember feeling like, 'I can't rock the boat. I've got to just get along and make sure that everybody gets happy.' But in doing that, you're going to...You can either be healthy-selfish, or unhealthy-selfish. You're gonna be one of both, that's my opinion. And so I started developing these coping mechanisms where I would be unhealthy-selfish. Where I would maybe be passive aggressive, or I would engage in addictive behavior and isolate into my shell and not be a good husband. That's the path I've been going down for about 20 years, not thinking about what my wife might want from the grocery store, not thinking about...I mean, really being inconsiderate in many ways.
Jessica: But again, given the context of your household, it seemed like a natural coping mechanism. A survival skill. You had to hunker down. We're not really talking about your father, but given what you just mentioned about his drinking and that it ramped up, I don't know what that entailed and how that impacted you, but that would probably end up creating even more of this, like, trying to be the perfect little boy, and 'If I just get things right, maybe he won't drink, and maybe she'll be nicer,' and all of these hopes and dreams that kids have. Because inevitably kids are blaming themselves for their parents' issues.
Paul: That's what my therapist said yesterday. She said, "It is much easier for a child to blame themselves than to look at the truth that their parent might not be able to love them in a healthy way."
Jessica: Because if a child was able to acknowledge that, what then?
Paul: It's devastating!
Jessica: They can't go live on the street! I mean, they could, but I think they'd prefer to stay with an abusive parent than to be parentless.
Jessica: Right, so...
Paul: Oh, and to answer your question about my dad...He was very secretive with his drinking -- I didn't even know he was an alcoholic until my mom told me when I was 18, he was high functioning -- but he was as emotionally absent as a human being could be. Just literally a lump at the end of the couch. You would talk to him and answers would be one or two sentences --
Jessica: One or two words? Or sentences?
Paul: Yeah. Just very brief. A couple of things might get him engaged. Sports. The only time I ever remember him showing affection to me and seeing joy was when I was in Little League and I was pitching and we beat an undefeated team. And as I threw the last pitch and got the last out, he came running out the mound, he was the third base coach, and he came running out to the mound -- I guess he actually wouldn't have been the third-base coach since weren't batting -- but he came out of the dugout and came LEAPING like a little boy and picked me up. And I just remember feeling like, 'Wow.'
Jessica: How old were you?
Paul: Probably 10 or 11.
Jessica: And that's your first memory of him being that enthusiastic and jubilant?
Paul: It's my ONLY memory of him being that enthusiastic and jubilant. To answer your question, that's kind of what my relationship with him was like, but in many ways, because my mom was so invasive, it was...I don't know if "relief" would be a nice word, but it was kind of...I didn't mind it, in that a second person wasn't barging into the bathroom --
Jessica: Right, it would have been too overwhelming, exactly, to have both of them like that. But I do wonder, again, it's all speculation, but if she in part was looking for so much more through her children because of her husband's emotional absence and sort of shut-downness. That doesn't excuse it but I just wonder, sort of, what her --
Paul: When I get angry at him, when I think, 'Why would you sit there and let your wife squeeze your son's ass and tell him how handsome he is? How the fuck do you let that happen?' And then let her tell you, 'Stop carrying him up to bed, I'm afraid you're gonna molest him.' Did I tell you that?
Jessica: Never, you didn't mention, no.
Paul: My favorite thing that my dad used to do when I was like six, seven years old is that when it would be time for bed, he would carry me up the stairs to bed and lay me down in bed and I just loved it, I loved that feeling of being in his arms and as we'd walk up the stairs, there was this one part on the ceiling...When I would pass it, I would always touch it. It was just this wonderful ritual and for some reason it stopped and my mom told me a couple of years ago that she told my father that she thought he shouldn't be showing me...She was uncomfortable with him doing that. Because of his drinking, she thought he might molest me.
Paul: I could see maybe if you were afraid he was gonna drop me down the stairs, but my dad was never a wobbling drunk. He was...I saw him slur his words once in my lifetime.
Jessica: What did you feel when she shared this with you? I mean, a lot of questions are raised in my mind about why she would share this, why now, why with such detail, and what did it do for you? I imagine that stirred so many different feelings.
Paul: I think what my mom tries to do sometimes is to apologize in tiny little pieces that don't really expose her to what she really kind of feels and knows went on. Because it would probably be just too painful to look at what she did and the way she treated me. She'll talk in general terms sometimes. She'll say, you know, "I wish I'd been a better mother" -- this is where some of the stuff was still kind of blocked down and I knew there was some inappropriate behavior but I wasn't able to look at the pattern as a whole. That's the thing that kind of broke this open for me. I stopped looking at each isolated incident and I looked at it as a pattern of a whole and was able to see, oh my god! When your child tells you 24 years ago, 'Please stop touching me that way, please stop talking to me that way, that makes me feel like I'm your husband, it makes me feel uncomfortable,' you would think that person, if they were really listening to their child, that would shock the shit out of them and they would stop anything remotely close to that. But she just kept on with a new thing that was kind of remotely sexualizing and infantilizing and that just makes me feel unheard. Unlistened-to.
Jessica: Of course. Unseen.
Jessica: As a separate human being. Right? Because she, again, I think I said this last time, she's sort of using you as a counterpart without acknowledging your lived experience in your separate body, and what you would feel as a boy, as a man, as a human being in the world having grown up around that kind of energy. You know, it just doesn't sound like she was able to respect her children.
Paul: Well, that's the painful truth that you and friends of mine helped me realize. Talking to mothers really really helped me. Getting emails from mothers that would say, "Oh my god, I couldn't ever imagine taking my son's temperature rectally when he was eight years old. That's so...Or giving him a bath when he was 12 just because he had gravel in his knee." That stuff helped me get to that place where I could finally look at the pattern as a whole and not hate her but see her as sick. See her as --
Jessica: Exactly. I think that's an important point to make so that people listening or mothers or, you know, other men hearing this don't think that, 'Oh, ONCE my mom gave me a bath at 11 and so therefore she must be X, Y, and Z.' It was the whole of the experience that you felt in her presence that was so -- what would be the word? -- emasculating.
Paul: Yeah. That's a good way of putting it. Because I remember being like 30 years old and being in a grocery store and this woman saying to her kid, "Honey, let that man go first," and I remember thinking, 'I don't feel like a man! I don't...Why does that feel like it doesn't apply to me?' So, the compassion that I began to feel from my wife, from you, from the listeners, especially the female listeners, made me want more. It's like all of a sudden I realized I've been in the fucking desert for 30 years. My wife can show me compassion in many ways: cooks for me, does all kinds of stuff around the house, always makes sure I have something to eat, is interested in my career, suggests stuff. But she's very Italian in a lot of ways in that they can be kind of emotionally...I don't know what the word is...Tough, I guess, not very touchy-feely. And so that's kind of not an inherent thing to her, that really super soft touchy-feely. It's one of the reasons why I picked her! She gave me my space, she understands men, but all of a sudden I started longing for that and wanting that. So I began to express to her, "I would really like this stuff." And so she has started doing these things and it feels amazing. But it also made me realize, 'Hey, there's these other areas in my relationship that I want to improve on where my needs aren't being met,' and so I've started expressing those to her and she's started expressing those to me. Now, before this whole thing started, when all these painful feelings came up, I started looking at pornography again. The pain was so intense, it felt like literally a part of my chest had been taken out, sometimes sobbing, other times angry, at other times just feeling dead, just absolutely dead inside. I know I don't want to drink, and as much as I don't like looking at pornography -- and I was honest with my wife, I was like, "I know this isn't a healthy way to cope with this, but you go to bed at 10 o'clock, I'm up until three, I need something to take me out of myself." So I was looking at pornography. Literally, the day I shared my needs with her, and got super honest, I had no desire to look at pornography.
Jessica: So this is in such contrast with your experience of your mother, which is what you were talking about earlier, about not feeling heard at all. It's so remarkable that you chose a partner who wants to listen, who can take in what you say, who digests it and really tries to address it in a concrete and emotional way.
Paul: Yeah. It's amazing. It's amazing. Anybody out there listening that is engaging in some type of compulsive behavior...Is it fair to say that the majority of people that are engaging in compulsive behavior, it's some type of compensation because there is an emotional need not being met? Or some pain not being processed?
Jessica: Yeah, could be. I think either both, yeah, pain that one is trying to thwart off, I would guess.
Paul: Is it also possible that somebody who's engaging in compulsive behavior is that it's just genetic, and there really isn't a lot going on? Or is it usually that it's --
Jessica: I mean, something like OCD is incredibly biologically based, so in that case, yes.
Paul: It's kind of a new way of living. It feels weird in some ways, because I've never been used to really examining my gut and how I feel --
Jessica: Or trusting it.
Paul: Trusting it, yes.
Jessica: It seems to me that something, there's like a sea change for you in the way that you're kind of willing to think about it in the gray area.
Jessica: Instead of the black and white. 'So am I just making this all up, or is she evil?' No, neither. Right? And so it's more complex living in the gray, that it's not all good, it's not all bad, it's not all black, it's not all white. But that's where the richness lies.
Paul: But it's not easy to navigate!
Jessica: No! Not at all.
Paul: That's why I think therapy is so important.
Jessica: But is the black and white easy to navigate? I don't see happy people who are living in a black-and-white way. I guess it sort of makes the rules more clear to people. 'Oh, it's this.' 'She's that.' You know, you can throw people out more easily if it's that sort of clear cut. But most things aren't, and especially emotional intimacy is usually not that clear cut.
Paul: I've been blown away by how awesome emotional intimacy has been. The funny thing is, is I've had it with men, with guys that I play sports with, fellow addicts and alcoholics, but I'd never had it really deeply with women. And I realized that there's a quality to that -- for lack of a better word -- feminine energy, that kind of soft nurturing that is fucking amazing. It's just fucking amazing. And I can't believe that I've been on this earth for so long and missed out on it. But I'm glad I discovered it before my death bed!
Jessica: That's right! Yeah. I think you've found yourself probably swirling in the addictive world, you know, as a direct result of feeling so undernourished and neglected, abandoned, abused, all the things that you've described. And so because there wasn't a model for emotional intimacy within your family life, it becomes incredibly difficult to know how to yearn for that or connect in that way in the larger world.
Paul: I have...The therapist that I'm seeing now said one of the ways that you process the pain of the past is, you develop this relationship with your therapist and then dynamics play out in that. Can you talk about --
Jessica: I think I mentioned that last time, yeah. It's called transference. Oftentimes, and especially this can happen the more consistently people are coming to therapy, because it really allows for a deepening of the actual relationship within the room. But yeah, it makes so much sense for a potential patient to react to the therapist in the way, I mean eventually, not off the bat, react to them as if they're one of the parents or somebody significant in their life. When that happens, if the therapist is astute enough to be able to feel it, see it, name it, and talk about it, the growth potential is enormous. But for a lot of people, there's something extremely vulnerable about going there, because there is something so kind of contradictory for, I think a lot of patients feel this way, you know, that they're paying the therapist, so, 'Is this a real relationship? Do you really care about me? If I wasn't paying you, would you still care? If I didn't show up, then what?'
Paul: 'Are you just painting me as a victim so I'll keep coming to you?' That's the voice that keeps playing in my head.
Jessica: Why would they do that?
Paul: So that they can keep making money.
Paul: Because if you...If I tell you the truth, which is that you're just an exaggerating baby, then you're gonna go, 'Oh, well I don't need therapy, I just need to quit looking at myself as a victim. That's what my brain tells me sometimes when I'm in therapy.
Jessica: I think that's maybe connected more to your fears, I mean, again, this is a stretch possibly, but feeling used by your mom. You're feeling, in a way, used by a therapist, potentially for their income. Like, 'Oh, they'll just keep saying X, Y, and Z so that I show up and I service them.' She kind of required that of you, it seems like. I hope that people in the field are in it to help people feel better, to have more expanded lives, to have more mental health and more kind of joie de vivre. And together, they can determine when it's time to --
Paul: "Joie de vivre" means joy, zest for life?
Jessica: Yeah, exactly, just kind of being able to enjoy moments in a way that maybe one wasn't able to previously. And so I think, you know, there can be a natural ending to a therapy, or a lessening of the frequency of sessions. Some people want to be in therapy forever, you know, they like the support and there's nothing wrong with that.
Paul: I want to read...Do you have any questions?
Jessica: I actually have been thinking about something you said at the start about the negative voice that comes out for you that says, you know, you're just a baby, you just wanna be a victim, you're exaggerating, and my question to you would be: Why would one make that up?
Paul: For attention.
Jessica: From who?
Paul: Listeners. Friends.
Jessica: Does that really resonate for you, or that's a fear?
Paul: It's a fear.
Jessica: Uh-huh. So I think that's an opportune time to say to yourself, like, if those kinds of experiences come up for you again, to say, 'Wait a second. This is something else going on here. Why would I make this up? I don't think people want to suppose that their parent took advantage of them.' So, again, I think right now it seems like your authenticating so much that you've known in your body and in your psyche and, you know, in your lifestyle, that has given you information and hints about what really happened within the context of that relationship. Now, I get, again, with the paradigm that we've been talking about, that it's not black and white. So she may have been a beautiful influence in your life in a variety of ways. And then in these ways that we're talking about now, not.
Paul: She always encouraged my art. Always encouraged it and stressed, 'Do what you love,' was super supportive when I decided to go into comedy. That's one of the things that makes looking at that other stuff so hard, because you feel like you're negating that love and caring that was there in certain areas. It makes you feel like you're shitting on it.
Paul: That's what's so hard.
Jessica: Yeah. I mean, I think sometimes people assume that they will feel compelled to do something about it. Just to simply name the good stuff, the bad stuff, the in-between stuff, doesn't do anything except give you more freedom and more flexibility and the potential for more intimacy emotionally. So it doesn't mean, like we discussed last time, that you send her a letter saying, 'I will never see you in my entire life and I wish you weren't around,' you know, it doesn't have to, no action necessarily takes place, except in your being and in your behaviors.
Paul: Well, right now I'm kind of struggling with, I don't know if struggling is too strong of a word, but I'm wondering when I should contact her and my fear is that I'll contact her and then she'll start calling me again and I'm going...Cause every time I see her number come up on the phone, a feeling of dread just sweeps over me, and I don't want to get back into that. She didn't call me that often -- we would talk maybe every other week -- but even that, the thought of that kind of feels overwhelming to me. Because I know she's gonna wanna know why I cut contact off with her. And I don't know what to say.
Jessica: Oh! Well, okay, we can think through that. What would you say?
Paul: If she asked me why I cut contact off with her?
Jessica: When she does. Because you just said that you're pretty confident that she definitely will.
Paul: Yeah. Umm. 'I was feeling overwhelmed, and can often feel overwhelmed by our relationship, because there's an inappropriateness to the way you address me that makes me feel like a surrogate husband or infantilized.'
Jessica: Okay, wait. In those few sentences that you just shared, you are being so vulnerable, so heartfelt, so raw. Has she historically responded to you in a loving, kind, reflective way when you've opened up?
Paul: Maybe briefly.
Jessica: And then...
Paul: But it doesn't seem to sink in.
Jessica: Okay. So I think that's really important information, for you, about how to traverse territory with her moving forward.
Paul: Yeah. Sometimes stuff has sunk in. But it seems like...Almost like Wack-a-Mole, where something else comes up and it's just...The way I described it to somebody one time, and they had the exact same experience with a parent, is that I said "It's like an octopus. Every time I grab one arm, there's seven more, and it just feels overwhelming."
Jessica: Well, you shared with me that she denies your feelings or cavities or something about your dental work?
Paul: Oh yeah, I had cavities replaced, and [she] told me it had never happened. Which makes no sense to me why that...And she ferociously was...And it's like, 'You weren't even in the room!'
Jessica: But, so I think that's sort of a very important anchor. Because that is a dental health situation that has nothing to do with emotions and she's denying THAT, that which you know is true. A fact. So if you're telling her, 'We have this inappropriate relationship, I feel sexualized by you,' it seems to me incredibly unlikely -- I would LOVE to be wrong -- that she would respond with an openness, reflexivity, 'Oh, let me think about that, maybe that's true,' I don't see how that's possible. So I guess if you were to share with her in this open a way, I would just say, 'Be prepared to have her respond like the dentist conversation, if not a lot worse or more defensively, because you're talking about an ongoing way of her being with you that, you know, she may deny her whole life. So if you're looking to her to validate in any --
Paul: I'm not.
Jessica: You're going to be so hurt.
Paul: I'm not. I want to avoid that. But I know she's gonna wanna know, so how do I express my truth?
Jessica: Well, I think this is a great exercise, because what do you do, let's say, in other situations where you wanna keep yourself safe but need to get your point across?
Paul: I shut down and play a video game for eight days without showering.
Paul: ...That's not healthy?
Jessica: Can you do that all the time?
Paul: ...That's not healthy?
Jessica: Oh, wow, okay, well, I don't think you want to do...Your listeners would miss you too much if you went silent for eight days. And the shower! I wouldn't let you in here. Well, okay.
Paul: Shut down, basically, is what I do. And then just pray to God to hear that sentence where she says that sentence, 'Well, I have to go,' or wait until the moment in her 15-minute monologue or rant when I can inject the phrase 'I have to go,' because I could literally set the phone down, go cook a meal, eat it, and come back, and she would still be talking.
Jessica: About, you mean in response --
Jessica: Like --
Paul: No. Whatever. Just, whatever.
Jessica: Okay. So, clearly, I mean, again, we may have gone over this last time a bit, but the boundarylessness is part of what makes you unclear about how to negotiate these kinds of conversations with her or maybe anybody, and then you sort of hide out and don't treat yourself well because you lose your health when people overwhelm you. Which makes a lot of sense, however, I would suggest trying out, you know, kind of, trying on a different way of being with her. I mean, you have nothing to lose, I don't think, at this point. So, you know, roleplaying with yourself or whoever ahead of time might be wise so that you feel armed through and through, inside and out, to be able to just take good care of yourself and so that it doesn't have to be, you know, a volcano erupting in you after you talk with her. And you might have one initially but hopefully subsequent interactions this will lessen in time.
Paul: So if I didn't want to open myself up to that vulnerability, to be hurt again, when she says, "I want to talk about why you needed time away," I mean, the last time that I visited her, I'd, you know, she was doing her kind of emotional burrowing in and I told her, and it's, you know, mixed in with her criticisms and this and that, and I told her, "I don't feel safe around you. I know you want to be more intimate with me, you want to know more about my life, but I don't feel safe because your personality is volatile."
Jessica: And how does she respond to that?
Paul: She didn't really respond. I know she heard the words but there was no reflection on her part. There was just a moving forward.
Jessica: I'm going to make an analogy that couldn't be more different than what we're talking about in a certain way, but...Would you, let's say you got mugged -- would you say to the person that's about to attack you, "I'm afraid of you, I have lots of money in my wallet, I really don't want you to take it, you know, I feel so vulnerable, I don't have a weapon, and you do," I mean, so --
Paul: Maybe it's a sweet homeless guy!
Jessica: [laughs] So you'll just give it to him?
Jessica: Yeah. You get what I'm trying to say? That it's like, when we tell the perpetrator, when we continue to reveal our hearts, hoping that there's gonna be a shift, we're carving out, I think, more divots in our own hearts, like, there's just no --
Paul: So I have to be prepared to feel the feelings of her being hurt and disappointed, and to sit with them and be okay with that. And for her to --
Jessica: If she does! We don't even know. See, if you feel like she doesn't have the capacity to reflect and sort of truly digest a lot of the emotions that you've shared with her over the years, it may be your own fear and projection of your own sensitivity and compassionate way of being, that she's "gonna be so hurt." She will survive. She HAS survived. So, again, you know, it's sort of a matter of like, do you want to thrive? Or would you prefer that she feel good about the relationship and therefore you stymie your own development possibly through trying to finesse things in a way that make her feel better, make you feel worse, make her feel better, make you feel worse? You've been doing that a long time. Seems to me it's expired. And because of what we've been talking about, the black and whiteness, there's a gray. So you might be able to describe to her --
Paul: That's her hunting ground.
Jessica: What, the gray?
Paul: The gray. That's --
Jessica: But you can have firm boundaries like you might with a toddler, for example, and that's it. 'We're talking about this, I'm telling you this much, and I need to go.' She can have a tantrum. She'll survive. Toddlers survive. They need to feel their limits in order for htem to feel safe, and it doesn't feel good, but they need to, you know, be kept safe, even though they don't know it. So in this case, keeping yourself safe, she's not going to sign off on that or give you a compliment of any kind for doing so, but you're going to feel better, way better, in some ways. And yes, as you described --
Paul: I will not be able to avoid feeling guilty.
Jessica: Okay, right.
Paul: So I guess I should just prepare for that and know that that's one of the parts of operating in a gray area and sticking up for your emotional needs.
Jessica: Mm-hmm. And, you know, you can look at it like, 'Well, would I rather feel guilty or re-injured, re-criticized, re-exposed -- '
Paul: But then I get to play videogames.
Jessica: [laughs] Well, I give you permission to go do that for a week wherever without this in your head. Be good. Maybe you should create a video game for your website.
Paul: It's like Ms. Pac-Man but it's my mom chasing me around trying to get me to marry her.
Jessica: I'll play it.
Paul: Well, thank you for helping me with that stuff, and right now the negative voice in my brain is going, 'Oh, Jesus, what a fucking tedious episode, you made it all about you, you're dredging this bullshit up again, and, uh -- '
Jessica: This is what your listeners benefit from! This is exactly why they come.
Paul: I believe that it's that for other people's stories, but for mine, there's a part of it that feels self-indulgent and that is afraid that it's just exhibitionistic. But it feels good to say that out loud.
Paul: Yeah. Let's switch gears and go through some of the emails or surveys that you have looked at or received and talk about some of those things. This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, and if you guys are listening and you haven't taken any of the surveys, go to the website and there's a couple of different surveys there, and this is from the Shame and Secrets survey, and it's from Tori. She's straight, she's in her 20s, was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment, says she's never been sexually abused. "What are your deepest darkest thoughts, not things you would act on but things you're ashamed to think about?" She writes, "My shame comes from the fact that I am 28 years old and have never had anything close to sexual contact. Not even a kiss or a hand hold. That makes me so sad. I am so broken that I can't get remotely close to a man emotionally or even physically. Compliments or come-ons make me uncomfortable and I choose to run, sometimes literally. I've been in therapy for two years but feel like I've made little progress. I've given up hope that I can give or receive love, even with my male friends. I find myself wishing that I had the daddy issues that caused me to be slutty just so I could have human physical interaction. Instead, my daddy issues caused me to hate myself, withdraw, and isolate." Most powerful sexual fantasies, she writes, "This doesn't apply." Would you ever tell a partner or close friend your fantasies? She writes, "I don't tell anyone. I am good at coming off as put together." I don't know why telling somebody your fantasies -- not telling somebody your fantasies -- would make you put together. Deepest darkest secrets? She writes, "This doesn't apply," which seems odd to me, it seems to me...She sounds very shut down, to me, and it seems like it would be all about secrets.
Jessica: Or shame, yeah.
Paul: And do these thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself? She writes, "I feel so ashamed and worthless. I always feel anxious, like a spaz, in social situations." What's your take on this?
Jessica: Well, she reflects on having daddy issues but then doesn't go on to expose them so I don't know what that means to her and what man be infusing her current life with so much anxiety and so much fear around connecting physically and emotionally with men.
Paul: It seems like something is...Like a memory, or an experience, is being repressed.
Jessica: Could be.
Paul: I mean, I'm not a therapist, but I was on Comedy Central, and my half-hour special runs like every three years. So there's a certain amount of gravitas.
Jessica: [laughs] And you should get an honorary degree for that.
Paul: But one of the reasons why I wanted to read that email was, she's been in therapy for two years! And --
Jessica: I think we addressed this last time, that some people don't share everything in therapy for the fear of being known in the deepest, widest, most thorough way. 'Cause there's so much to lose.
Paul: To those people, I would tell you, in a therapeutic environment there's...You have nothing to lose by...If you're with a decent therapist. And it's awesome. It is awesome. Feeling like you've put everything out there and then feeling that it's okay and somebody cares about you and is rooting for you and is helping you is just one of the greatest feelings. There's a cleansing feeling to letting all that stuff out, especially when that person starts to help you make breakthroughs. So, you're robbing yourself of that. What feels safe by not exposing those things about yourself, you're also robbing yourself of the ability to feel that purity of being known.
Jessica: Well, and the practice of emotional intimacy. That's what can be so remarkable about the therapy process as well. You're practicing what you hope to then bring to the outside world. So if the therapist can respond in a loving way and an understanding way and help you make sense of it, you may...One might then translate that to other relationships with the hope that people can respond in a more open way than they would expect.
Paul: I heard somebody a couple of days ago talking about expressing through words your story, what happened to you, what you're feeling, allows for a healing that is impossible when you are just examining the thoughts by yourself in your own brain.
Jessica: Yes. Healing doesn't take place singularly, I think.
Paul: I completely agree.
Jessica: Yeah. It's a relational process and so self-help books and other types of resources that are more intellectual can really support the process of therapy but they can't take the place of it.
Paul: No, there's something really special in it. That, to me, is one of the things that makes...When you look at the six o'clock news and you just think, 'Ugh, fucking humanity has just going...A guy ate another guy's face, the Mayans were right.' You know, the counter to that is when you connect with somebody on a really deep level -- and you still have your face.
Paul: I don't know how else to put it. Pretty sure that was the worst way I could have put it. [laughs]
Jessica: You have to pay more if the therapist has to eat your face.
Paul: Oh my goddd, that story -- I'm sorry that we're making jokes around that. It's terrible, terrible, terrible. But there you have it. [pause] They just came in and took Jessica's license. This email is...Did you want to have anything more to added, to add to that last one? This next one is from Ryan and he writes, "Paul, been a big fan of your podcast for a while and believe it has helped me through some of my issues. As your friend I feel strongly enough about the recent issues you have raised about your mother to write you. I write to tell you to stop what you are doing in making things that seem small and benign into major crimes. Your assertion about emotional incest was totally absurd. Any child would have been able to tick many of the boxes in the pop psychology book you read from." He's talking about, the book I was referencing was called ///The Emotional Incest Syndrome/// by Pat Love. "You should listen to the doubts in your head that tell you you are creating this sexual abuse out of almost thin air. You are doing a disservice to yourself, your mother, and anyone who has suffered sexual abuse. I think you have a need to justify some of your feelings and this has resulted in you overanalyzing your situation. Perhaps I am wrong and there is more to your side of the story but I'm getting these feelings from the information you have disclosed. I, as a member of the listening jury, am pretty sure that I am not alone in my conclusion. Go to your mother and apologize and help her move." Well, it's too late for that. "Your mother may have acted clumsily and approached boundaries but it seems she never crossed the boundaries. Do not wait until you have children and finally begin to understand your mother better before you forgive her. Forgive her now. I hope you find my comments constructive because I am really doing this in an effort to help you and your mother. I've seen the pain a son who rejects his mother can cause and I want to help repair that hurt if I can. Thank you again for your help which you have given me unknowingly. I hope I have returned the favor." Obviously that one fucked me up when I read it --
Jessica: I can imagine.
Paul: Because it agreed with the voice in my head that tells me those things, but I have to say, after consulting all the people that I've talked to and working through this, I disagree with his letter. Because I am definitely convinced that boundaries were crossed. I don't...I agree that it may be an exaggeration to call what my mother did "sexual abuse," because there was no sex, but squeezing your child's ass till he was 24 years old, and, you know, the other stuff that I've mentioned -- there was a sexual quality to it that was...So I don't really know what else to call it. Sexualizing, I guess.
Jessica: Exactly. Slippery boundaries.
Paul: And I feel like it doesn't really matter what you call it as long as I identify how it makes me feel and what the boundaries are that I want to set.
Paul: What would you say to --
Jessica: I agree with you --
Paul: I guess I know what you're gonna say, but --
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, you emailed me at the time. I think that it's not a matter of definition here, whether or not your experience falls into, you know, a definition that one could find about sexual abuse...I mean, if somebody has a feeling, this icky feeling you describe, that says everything. That you feel gross when she hugs you and that you want to hide and you don't even...When you see her number come up on your phone and feel sick. There's an ickiness and boundarylessness and a sexualization that happened, it sounds like, through your boyhood into manhood. That, to me, you know, counts for, again, I don't know what you call it, if you're calling it sexual abuse, then that's what it is for you.
Paul: Well, a therapist that I had gone to -- I decided to mix it up and go see somebody else -- but a therapist I did go to, an old therapist, when all this stuff came to a head, pulled out the DSM and one of the definitions of it is "when a child is used for sexual gratification." And she said, "So, that, to me, would classify that as sexual abuse, even though the parent may not be...Where it appears to be that the person is doing it for their sexual gratification." So, what her motives were, I'll never know, but I guess the feeling I got is that there was a using.
Jessica: Right. It's like women reporting that they felt molested or raped if somebody touched them without them wanting them to, but didn't feel they could say no, but they weren't penetrated. Then they might go on and on in their minds like, 'Was it rape? But really they didn't...It wasn't actual sex, and -- " But they didn't feel safe, and their boundaries weren't respected, and their own sort of bodies and personhood as separate beings from whoever the perpetrator is, they weren't feeling respected, and that's what you're describing.
Paul: Yeah. It would be nice if there was like a word for that, you know? 'He touched my gray area.'
Paul: You know? That's what --
Jessica: Well, I guess you say that in your older age.
Jessica: No time soon.
Paul: Yeah. The gray...And that, to me, is the most fertile kind of ground that I hope to cover with this podcast is the gray area. Because I think that's what most people struggle with is the back and forth, the back and forth, the back and forth.
Jessica: Yes. Well, again, it's so hard for people to trust and validate their own experience when no one else is doing so, particularly when it happens in the context of the family.
Paul: I mean, the therapist that I started seeing, that last visit I had with her, she said that if I were that 10-year-old boy or 12-year-old boy and came and told her the things that was happening in my home, she said she would go to Protective Services and have me removed from the home. She said that yesterday, and I was like, 'What?!'
Jessica: Did it help?
Paul: It did help, but then I went, 'She wants my money.' You know? That's immediately where my brain went to.
Jessica: So when somebody validates you, you feel taken advantage of?
Paul: Part of me feels taken advantage of.
Paul: Part of me feels vindicated and seen and heard, but part of me goes, 'Oh, she's a horrible therapist.' You know? That's the first thing I --
Jessica: Did you tell her that?
Paul: It's like two voices at the same time going, 'Yay!' and 'Ugh!'
Jessica: Have you verbalized that to her?
Paul: I did a little bit, yeah, I did a little bit.
Jessica: Mm-hmm. That'll be great. That'll be really helpful to get into together.
Paul: And I said to her, "Do you have any idea how many children would be removed from homes?" It's SO common what happened to me! And she said, 'Yeah, sadly, it is.'
Jessica: Mm-hmm. Yeah, sadly, though, in foster care, kids are being molested at extreme rates, so, you know, it's like...I don't know what's safer.
Paul: Yeah. [pause] And let's end on that note! How would that be? And then we just play a song by the band America.
Paul: [sings] ///This is for all the lonely people...///This email is from Theadra. "Paul, I'm listening to the episode with Dr. Jessica and you're sharing your recent breakthrough in your relationship with your mother. I'm looking to you for advice. I have a seven-month-old boy and I love him more than anything on the planet. He's the most amazing baby that has ever been born. Okay, maybe I'm biased, but it's true. I want to ask something fairly specific. You mentioned that your mom would cross a boundary by saying you were handsome. Of course, there was a ton of other stuff too, I know. I don't want to be inappropriate to my beautiful, loving angel of a little boy, ever. Would you suggest that I don't call him handsome? And by the way, when you mentioned your mom would hold your face and then say that you were rotten to the core, I wanted to beat the shit out of her. If anyone spoke to my boy that way I would rip their heart out. Anyone. So if you say the word, I'll go yell at your mom, old lady or not. I know that I'll make mistakes with my baby boy, but my objective is that the mistakes will cause minimal damage, and if calling him handsome or complimenting him that way would hurt him as an adult, I would rather die than hurt him. Please advise." Well, I love where she's coming from, 'cause it sounds like she's coming from a good place. I don't know, it sounds to me like she's experiencing that awesome thing that parents get, which is just pure joy, but I guess there is that danger that it can spill, if her needs aren't being met maybe by her spouse or in some other area of her life? I don't know, what do you think?
Jessica: Mm-maybe. Seven months, right?
Paul: Seven months, yeah. Obviously the kid's not going to remember anything you do.
Jessica: I think ideally, with the oxytocin flowing if she's breastfeeding, and the newness of being a parent, and...It sounds like she's actually just happy and in love, and that's beautiful. I mean, who knows what will happen seven years from now, but I think it's completely within the realm of this kind of...I mean, that's the hope is that people do experience sometimes falling in love with their babies. And unfortunately there's so many postpartum mood disorders that thwart that process, but --
Paul: Now, when you use the phrase "falling in love with your babies" --
Paul: I don't know, that phrase just makes me uncomfortable.
Jessica: Oh! Why?
Paul: 'Cause it sounds sexual.
Jessica: Hmm. Well, can you imagine, though, the importance of -- I don't know why I just thought of, like, an animal or something -- to keep one's baby safe, you almost need to feel that protective, that loving, that, you know...So "in love with," what I mean by that, you know, incredibly connected and just, like, oohing and aahing over this being that's come out of your body. But falling in love can happen with adoptive parents, of course, as well, so, you know, but just that gazing and all the attachment research talks about the need for these kind of consistent, predictable, conscious behaviors that take place through the day, through the week, through the months, while the child's brain is developing and they're kind of getting a real sense. There's an imprinting process where they're kind of seeing, 'Oh, when I cry, Mommy responds,' and that, to them, can be solidified in their minds as love or trust or connection.
Paul: So, to go back to her email, it sounds to me like she's in a great position because she's got all of that love flowing for her child yet she's also aware that there is a boundary, that there is a ceiling to it that can cross into something else.
Jessica: Right. I think if somebody is telling their 17-year-old boy, 'You're so handsome, I wish your father looked like you,' or something, you know...I think it seems so natural for parents to go on and on about so many different parts of the love for them. So if it's physical or if it's talking about how smart they are or creative...
Paul: I think that's great. Telling your kid, 'You're so smart, and you look handsome in that suit,' I don't see anything wrong with that. But when it becomes this lavishing that feels like that person is drinking you in with your eyes. That's --
Paul: And I think that's the distinction that I want to make to her.
Paul: A child feels the difference between being mirrored and appreciated, and being drunk in by somebody who's needy.
Jessica: Great. That's a wonderful way to put it. I think that's so important. Yep.
Paul: And, again, the gray are. The fuckin' gray area. Goddamnit. That's what I should call this podcast.
Jessica: [laughs] Sure!
Paul: ///That Fuckin' Gray Area./// Our next one is from Lola, and she says, "My question may be too specific, but here it goes. My mother was a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression. I know my mother saved many women and whole families from a kind of hell I could not imagine, but it was at the cost of being present in her own children's lives. For a very long time I thought that we were just casualties for a greater good -- if you fucked up kids in exchange for many lives saved. I'm having trouble with this as I get older, and I don't understand how she could go to such great lengths for others and then just drop us off on the planet and wish us well. I'm trying to forgive her, but it feels more like forgetting her. I guess my question to Dr. Zucker is, how does she balance helping so many people emotionally and still have enough care and emotion leftover for the people closest to her in her life?" That's a good question.
Paul: Excellent question.
Jessica: I think it's a really important question for so many people in the world, so many women in the world, who are trying to gracefully juggle homelife and worklife and --
Paul: And this question would be so much easier to answer if you knew your child's name.
Jessica: [laughs] It would. You know, I think there's also something, there's a term called ///compassionate fatigue///, where people in the field of helping professions often do become just so drained, so tired, through and through.
Paul: Do you ever find yourself getting to that place?
Jessica: I think if I don't kind of take my emotional pulse for too many months without taking even just a couple of days off, then yeah, I get a little bit kind of, you know, fuzzy. I think I'm just not as astute, all the way around, as I'd like to be. Because I don't leave...I leave work sort of enlivened by the development of people and the bravery and courage that people reveal by showing up each week. So I don't leave feeling drained, but it is a lot to try to do everything well. Yeah, but I do think in the helping professions that it's important that people be really conscious of how much they're working and what's filling them up and what's taking a lot and...
Paul: You made an excellent point with...Often it's not draining, it's enlivening. And people that are afraid to reach out for help, if you do it in a manner that respects other people's boundaries, you know, if you don't abuse their time calling them five times a day and, you konw, going into a one-hour monologue about your issues, if you approach people and reach out in a healthy way to people who are safe, you are doing both of yourselves a favor. Because you give them a chance to feel of use and of purpose, and most people that feel stuck believe that reaching out for help is...You're the only person who's going to get anything out of it, and that you are burdening somebody, but you're not. Part of what makes being a human being so exciting and gratifying is when you connect to somebody on that deep level with vulnerability and sharing your pain and having somebody else say, 'I hear you.'
Jessica: Precisely. And I think sharing pain as well as sharing joy. I mean, there's something so wonderful about connecting with a therapist, somebody other than maybe a family member if those people have disappointed you, I guess, along the way. To have somebody else who is so interested in the joys, the highs and the lows, and is able to sort of act as a cheerleader in a truly genuine way.
Paul: Yeah. Right. This is a survey from Nora. She's straight, she's in her 30s, was raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. Have you ever been the victim of sexual abuse? She checked the box that says, "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse." Then she writes, "When I was 12, I was fingered by a 16 year old on a church trip." By the way, the best place to finger is on a church trip. I'm sorry, I had [coughs] Just those, 'fingering' and 'church trip' in the same sentence, I cannot not comment on that and I'm not trying to make fun of her situation -- but I just did. She writes, "I didn't stop him but didn't really know what was going on. Also got drunk and passed out and my 'boyfriend' at the time had sex with me. I was molested in high school but didn't try to stop him and didn't report it." I had to print this survey out because how somebody could check the box "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse" when, boyfriend or not, when somebody has sex with you when you are passed out, that is rape. There's no other two ways about it. Am I wrong?
Jessica: Is that what she's commenting on or is she talking about --
Paul: There's three things that happened. Fingered on the church trip --
Jessica: But which thing is she saying she doesn't know if it was --
Paul: All three --
Paul: -- are under that heading that "I don't know if this stuff counts as sexual abuse." And then molested in high school, didn't try to stop him.
Jessica: Okay. Hmm!
Paul: I mean, the...Somebody...
Jessica: There's somebody --
Paul: ...Having sex with you when you're passed out, I don't understand how that could be anything --
Jessica: Well, that's unequivocally, yeah, right.
Paul: -- anything ///but/// rape. And I hope that...She didn't fill out any more on the survey, she quit at that point, but I hope she goes into therapy and addresses that.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, I think this is a real sort of, a really poignant example of not knowing what we know and not validating our own lived experience, and just maybe feeling so riddled with shame to the point where it's hard to tack on a label or, you know, get somebody -- have somebody accountable for what happened, have somebody accountable for what happened. Maybe she feels somehow like she was complicit or, you know, maybe she puts a lot of the blame on herself somehow.
Paul: The other thing that she described that I find to be very common with people that fill the survey out and women I've talked to is a freezing when something, some type of sexual activity that they don't necessarily want...And males, actually, as well -- the Mike Schmidt interview talked about that happening. I mean, this is a guy that got in bar fights, and his package was grabbed at a baseball game, and he froze. Like a --
Jessica: Like a deer in headlights, yeah.
Paul: Almost like a little child would. What is that about? Why...Is there anything that you can do or say for somebody out there that, in the future, maybe a young woman who's listening to this and...If she starts to get that feeling of unable to find the words to say 'I don't want to do this'? Because guys can be so worked up that they're...Unless you're saying, 'No, stop, take your hands off me,' they're gonna keep going!
Jessica: Mm-hmm. But it's so confusing, probably, because she's in the situation, or he was in that case -- I mean, maybe she doesn't feel entitled to have those kinds of boundaries or would feel maybe like a tease somehow if she suddenly decided she didn't want to take that next step. Maybe she's had previous experiences of not feeling respected, not even specifically sexually but just in general.
Paul: And not being listened to, and so maybe it was just, 'Well, I'm just gonna get shot down again here, so I might as well just wait and get it over with.'
Paul: And this goes back to...To me, this goes back to the importance of being able to express your emotional needs, 'cause when you get used to doing that -- and it's new for me, but I'm finding myself, like, able to, you know, in a restaurant, being able to say, 'This isn't cooked well, can you please take this back,' and not feeling apologetic or like, 'Oh, they're gonna spit in my food.'
Jessica: Is that how you felt before?
Paul: Yes! And my wife would always say, "Tell them! Tell them!" And I have done it in the past but I'm -- there's no hesitation now. I shared on an earlier podcast that when we were having hardwood floors put in, like ten years ago, I caught one of the workers stealing CDs from me and I couldn't confront him. I was so worried that he was gonna feel embarrassment that I pretended I didn't see him. And I know he saw me see him, and the previous time they'd done work, CDs went missing. So I know that's what was happening. But I couldn't, literally, valued myself so little and my needs, and I know today if that happened I would say, 'Pack your shit, get the fuck out of here, you're fired, I'm calling your boss.'
Jessica: 'The CD jail police.'
Paul: And I should go to jail too for still having CDs.
Jessica: They’re so old-school.
Paul: But that is one of the many benefits I’m discovering of getting comfortable expressing your needs and realizing that you're worth it. But it's easier said than done, much easier said than done, it is fucking hard.
Jessica: What is so hard for you about that?
Paul: I'm gonna appear selfish, I'm gonna be rejected, I'm gonna be told that I'm wrong, and there's a vulnerability in asking for something because you're saying, 'I need something.'
Jessica: 'I need you to stop stealing from me'?
Paul: Yeah. It's . . . Well, in that case, it wasn't that, because I wouldn't necessarily be expressing my own needs, I would just be standing up for myself. I was so -- I hate confrontation so much, I was avoiding confrontation, that's what that was about.
Jessica: Well, and so, that might be applicable, then, to this email, or this survey. Maybe that is part of what's happening for many people when they're sexually uncomfortable and not kind of standing up for themselves, as you put it. Because maybe they're afraid of the confrontation that could result.
Paul: I bet that's what it is!
Paul: And if there's gonna be more pleading on the guy's part, and more bargaining, and that whole area that makes them uncomfortable because it involves them being an advocate for themselves, which in their previous experience in life has been not good.
Jessica: Right, right.
Paul: So it's like, 'Well, I'm going to have ten minutes of discomfort either way, so I -- this person might as well get their way.' That's the only thing that I can think must be . . . I mean, when my neighbor molested me, I didn't . . . Something about it felt weird to me, I didn't want to do it, but I wanted him to pay attention to me, I wanted that friendship, and it, even though I stopped it, there was still like ten minutes of me going through with this touching and inappropriate stuff that -- why else would you do that? Why else would you do --
Jessica: Well, at that age, you don't know what's going on probably.
Paul: You also don't know what's normal for adults.
Jessica: Right. Oh, how, though, this person was a lot older?
Paul: No, well, he was older than me, he was like 15 and I was like 10, maybe 11.
Jessica: Yeah, and I think we mentioned last time, I mean, being sexually stimulated at most ages feels good, so to have a pleasure reaction is incredibly confusing for a lot of people, especially kids, when they don't know if this is right, if this is good or bad, or who is this person, am I, you know --
Paul: I suppose I was lucky in that respect because there wasn't any . . . I didn't get excited by it. It was, I mean, we might as well have been, you know, playing basketball. That's like how it felt to me.
Jessica: How many balls?
Paul: So, but, like I shared with you, the time my mom was giving me the bath, I was excited and felt dirty and shameful and perverted and all that other stuff. But I guess what I want to say is, to the person out there that is having trouble standing up for themselves: it's not the end of the world, confrontation is not the end of the world, and being an advocate for yourself, it's a really difficult thing to get used to doing but it will clear up so many other problems in your life that are seemingly unrelated. Because when your emotional needs start getting met, other feelings, negative feelings, begin to, if not disappear, certainly greatly lessen.
Jessica: Mm-hmm! Exactly. Again, that's easier said than done.
Paul: Yeah. Easier said than done. It's a process, and that's where therapy can absolutely help you with. This is a survey, from Shame and Secrets, filled out by a woman who calls herself, interestingly enough, calls herself "Deer in the Headlights." It's always weird how these coincidences happen when we're doing the podcast. She's straight, she's in her 30s, dysfunctional -- slightly dysfunctional environment she was raised in. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? She writes, "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse." She writes, "A game of doctor in preschool winded up with a little boy sticking his fingers in my vagina. I don't think either of us knew what was going on, just curiosity. But I wish I'd known at a younger age to tell someone to quit it. I guess I can't blame myself as a five or six year old, and I guess I can't blame my parents, because 30 years ago, sexual abuse wasn't so open." A couple of things strike me as I read that one. Yes, I think it's normal for a kid your age, for you to pull your pants down and look at each other, I think that's totally normal, but the sticking the fingers in --
Jessica: How old was he? How old were they?
Paul: Five or six.
Jessica: They were both that age?
Jessica: Huh. Yeah. When I hear stuff like that, it's hard for me not to wonder if something has been shown to him or where has he seen something like that to even know that that would be something that happens.
Paul: I mean, I --
Jessica: I guess it could be TV as well, I just don't know what kids are exposed to that way.
Paul: As much as I loved having girls take their pants down and doing that and I was obsessed with it as a little kid, I never, ever wanted to touch them. It just seemed so foreign and so, I don't know, just that was never even a thought of doing something. And I don't know if that's normal on my behalf. I get the feeling that it probably is, because that just seems like an adult behavior, going that far.
Jessica: Yeah. And you think you knew that, even then?
Paul: I don't know. I'd just never seen it done.
Jessica: Yeah. Right.
Paul: So why would I do it, because I don't think a child has a natural impulse for penetration with another child, I think that's something that comes from someplace else. "What are your deepest, darkest thoughts?" She writes, "I can look at anything and find a way to kill myself with it. I think it stems from the fact that my dad was a federal agent, and when I went to college, he never said 'Study hard' -- instead he took out a lollipop, a Dum-Dum to be specific, and said, 'Know that anything can be a weapon.' I guess he thought I was going to be roofied at any moment. I also use humor to deflect pain, by the way." Thoughts?
Jessica: It makes sense that she would use humor to deflect pain because it doesn't sound like he was able, I mean, there wasn't an openness of talking about a variety of feelings that may have been stirred by her going off to college. Is that what -- she was about to leave the home, right?
Paul: Yeah. It sounds like the form that love took was in a very rigid protection. Which I would imagine a lot of parents, that's the only way they can express their love is through kind of --
Jessica: Or their sadness about the kid leaving. I mean, they may be overwhelmed by their own experience of having their kid leave the house, they may not really know how to express it.
Paul: “Most powerful sexual fantasies?” She writes, “My fantasies are usually me being lazy and letting a dude go down on me and that’s it, and then hopefully he goes away.”
Paul: I like her.
Jessica: She needs to be holding a beer in that picture she just painted, for sure.
Paul: While there’s a sadness to that, because obviously she sounds like she’s afraid of any kind of emotional intimacy, she makes me laugh.
Jessica: She’s into pleasure.
Paul: “Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies?” She writes, “I would but I don’t think they want to tell me theirs, so I won’t tell them mine in order to keep them comfortable.” “Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself?” She writes, “I feel like I have no control over my thoughts sometimes. I feel like a broken person. I bet you’ve never heard that line before.” I so relate to -- maybe that’s why I like that email so much, because it feels like the 20-year-old me in female form.
Jessica: Well, she’ll be happy to hear that.
Paul: [laughs] You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you!
Jessica: It’s interesting that people use the expression ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’ or ‘damaged goods’ and stuff and it’s just such an interesting way to think about it. When patients seem to be sort of hard on themselves using that terminology, I look at it more like, ‘Everyone has their bruises through living life,’ but the word ‘damaged’ just feels sort of irreparable to me.
Paul: It does. It does. ‘Damaged,’ I like to think of it as ‘injured’ and ‘healing’ are the two dynamics that I think are healthy ways of looking at things.
Jessica: Yeah. It’s more hopeful, because it means there’s something that can be done about it or addressed.
Paul: So anybody out there, if you’re feeling like you’re broken, I’ve met very few people -- dare I say nobody, really -- who has put in effort to heal who would ever be classifed as broken. And I’ve made friends with some people who’ve been through awful, awful shit. So there is hope if you’re willing to get into the solution and take that uncomfortable step of opening up to somebody. That’s the bad news is you’re gonna have to learn a new way of living to heal. You’re not going to heal by staying in that place you find to be safe. Because that safe place, your life gets smaller and smaller and smaller and you get lonelier and lonelier --
Jessica: There is no safety there.
Paul: There is no -- it’s a false safety. It’s predictable.
Jessica: It’s familiar.
Paul: It’s familiar. Yes.
Jessica: But it’s deadening.
Paul: It is. It’s absolutely deadening and connecting to human beings is the opposite of that. I want to thank you for being my guest again and helping guide me and just be a great shoulder to lean on.
Jessica: Great! I’m so happy to be here with you.
Paul: And if people want to contact you, you can follow her on Twitter @doctorzucker, and your website is jessicazucker.com?
Jessica: D-R. I think it’s drjessicazucker.com.
Paul: Obviously we’ll have you back in the future again with more questions, and emails. But thank you so much.
Jessica: Thank you!
Paul: Many thanks to Dr. Jessica Zucker and just want to remind you guys, if you care to support the show, there’s a couple of different ways you can do it, you can go to the website and support us financially by making a PayPal donation -- that can be either a one-time or a recurring donation -- we’ve had some people sign up for the recurring donation and it brings me tremendous joy to see people doing that, bringing me a little closer to my dream of being able to do this for a full-time job. You can also support us by buying a t-shirt at the website and you can support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating. That boosts our ranking and brings more people to the show so that would be really cool! So many people to thank for the show, the people who keep the spammers out of the forum, Steve Greve? who does the website, my wife Carla, all the listeners who’ve sent me awesome emails -- keep those emails coming, I love reading them -- and I really want to thank Matt, who is spearheading the audio collection team now, and I want to thank Jennifer, who’s spearheading the transcribing team. And obviously I want to thank all the people who are also working with those two. Thank you, thank you so much. I hope this has been a good episode for you guys. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and for those of you that are parents out there and you’re worried your children are gonna be sent out into the world and get taken advantage of, if there’s anything that you can do to help with them, I would say listen to their emotional needs and try to know what their emotional needs are, because if they can realize they have emotional needs, then there’s a chance that they’ll be able to stand up for themselves and protect them. so I think you can help with that. Like my friend Gene said, Worry less -- try to worry less. Have more joie de vivre, which means having joy because you’re spending time with the French. If you’re out there and you’re stuck, don’t give up. You’re not alone -- there’s hope. And thanks for listening.