Never Growing Up

His name was Peter. Age 25. He talked a lot. In session, he liked to monologue. Joke away. But he’s not really saying much that matters. His feelings were often exaggerated, easily provoked, even silly.

When asked what he’d do now after having graduated from college, he paused a little. Then, he said he’d go back to college and take another bachelor’s degree.

Totally unrelated to the first one he took, he said in jest of his next college course, “I’d like to make a difference in the world by studying the oceans and underneath them!”

Then, he sipped his coffee and ate a lot of cake in front of him. At 5’8″ and almost 300 lbs., he professed his love for food.

My years of counseling teenagers, university students, young adults, middle-aged or senior men, and couples revealed to me a widespread psychological affliction in our society. It’s a syndrome in our society that’s causing a lot of problems in all walks of life.

Clinicians call it the “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

You remember the happy-go-lucky character of Disney’s Peter Pan, right? That’s where the psychological syndrome was named after.

Peter Pan symbolizes everlasting fun and youthfulness. He rejects all things Adult. He avoids growing up vehemently. He wants to remain a boy forever.

Unknown to many of my patients (including their parents, spouses, or friends who care for them) is a chilling reality. They are unwittingly following in the footsteps of Peter Pan.

We have a mental health problem of a man-child caught between the adult man he doesn’t want to become and the child or boy he could no longer be.

As Peter Pan himself said in the play, “No one is going to catch me, lady, and make me a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun.”

Forgive me for hyping a psychological claw to unearth this often hidden Disorder. Reversing the process of this syndrome is crucial to the stability of our families and society.

It’s never too late for an adult man to grow up and for his loved ones to offer aid to make that happen.

Knowledge is Never Enough

In my practice of therapy and counseling, I’ve always found one thing: knowledge is never enough.

At best, I helped my counselees see and know the psychodynamics of their emotional or mental disturbances.

But, I’ve always realized that their knowing is not the same as their capacity to change their thinking, their emoting, and their behaving.

Their knowing has always been inadequate to stop them from self-sabotaging.

One counselee I had recently gained insight. Her rage or uncontrollable anger is traceable to her unconscious hatred of her mother.

In her work and social relationships, she realized how she has been “transferring” that feeling into other females who have similar traits to her mother.

Surely, she understands how she got the ways they are — but not what to do. Not the ability to apply what she already knows.

Insight and expression of repressed feelings alone don’t work in my sessions. Something needs to be incorporated in order for a broken person to heal.

That sets me to do some tall thinking about psychotherapy. I went back to tools of therapy and started giving application assignments, among others.

Data alone is not enough for deep and lasting personal change. The truth is, most of us are very good at identifying what’s wrong with us and our experiences.

Yet that knowledge in and of itself rarely produces deep level personal healing and recovery.

In fact, without the appropriate steps and frames, insight may result in “re-traumatizing” a hurting person.

So, make sure you have insights plus the experiential aspects in your recovery journey.

Psychological “False Self”

Psychology speaks of the existence of the “false self.” This part of the self hides secrets, which leads to an accommodating exterior or mask.

All work on psychotherapy involves this concept of “false self.” This often-hidden part of self lives a life of not following the truest and deepest inclinations of one’s core being.

The “false self” is basically dependent or non-autonomous. It’s unable to disengage from social, cultural, and instinctual conditioning. It can not make choices that reflect one’s true self, identity, and personal mission.

Nora is a 50 year old patient who sought therapy for her low self esteem. In our sessions, she continually anguished over her health, the approval of her husband and children, and what people say about her physical appearance.

She suffered from depression, anxiety attacks, and exaggerated concern of other people’s opinions. Hypersensitive, she bordered a lot toward hypochondria and eating disorders. As a result, she caused her self unnecessary trouble and wounding in her relationships.

Upon deeper probing, I found out how much Nora was hurt and traumatized during the normal formation of her self since childhood. Her mother treated her as if she’s one of the house maids when she was a little girl onwards.

She received verbal, physical, and emotional abuse from her mother for so many years. Her mother definitely failed to respond to her basic needs. To survive, Nora’s only choice was to hide who she is and use defensive, rigid adaptation defenses.

Nora is not alone. Countless individuals develop a pathological “false self” due to ancient false efforts for adaptation caused by parental mistakes or abuse. So disturbed in a primary relationship by numerous frustrations and hurts, a child learns to build a protective defense wall.

Instead of presenting a healthy persona, the wounded child tries to ward off the outside world which is experienced as hostile and rejecting. Far from being conscious, the unhealthy adaptation only leads to deeper alienation of the true self.

Distance is Dead!

Once, I had an emotionally-charged session with a foreign couple. Suddenly, the woman partner told me she’s moving back to her home country. She said she could not bear the infidelity of her man.

We were both disappointed. Sessions had been going well, but incomplete. No significant momentum yet.

Then, a few days after, she phoned me. She thought of a practical alternative – session via Skype. This provided her hope and continuity, which she needed a lot during that time. It’s like face to face too such as in traditional sessions.

The medium of video and voice conferencing through Skype then became instrumental for her eventual healing and stabilization – personally and relationally.

We do live in a different time now.

With the fast rise of Internet and technology, psychotherapy and other mental health services have been moving in with the times.

For the final sessions with this hurting couple, we did meet in person again, which felt like a more appropriate way to end the sessions.

Both the couple and myself felt “upbeat” and at ease. Such seemed to be a reflection of our Skype sessions at processing issues and maintaining therapist-patient relationship.

We commented that our face to face sessions did not feel that much different from our previous Skype sessions.

Overall, I think that being able to continue our sessions via Skype was incredibly useful for both the patient and me.

Distance was no longer an obstacle to heal. In both my and the couple patient’s opinion the therapy had been successful. Skype played a role in this.

The use Skype and other modern forms of distance communication technologies could improve access to psychotherapies for people living in remote areas or foreign countries.

It’s helpful to those who are busy traveling or working, those housebound, disabled, or bedridden.

In my observation and opinion, the role of online therapy delivery is going to expand and is likely to continue to do so due to people’s needs and our changing times.

Moments of Being or Non-Being?

Noted therapist/author, Virginia Woolf, speaks of how much of our life is lived in the haze of “non-being.” She describes what she means:

“A great part of every day is not lived consciously. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; writing orders to Mabel; washing; cooking dinner; bookbinding. When it is a bad day, the proportion of non-being is much larger.”

In my work as a psychotherapist, it’s inescapable for me that I catch glimpses of people going about their lives. And I always notice that it’s easy enough for most of us to live without really looking. We can get things done or interact with others and not bothering to pay attention.

I once knew a 50 year old man stricken with colon cancer who was always out, day after day, walking in the mall despite his frailty. He liked to get out. According to him, it made him feel alive. Even just looking at people going by or conversing with them in the coffee shop gave him “moments of being.” He rejoiced with them, sharing each other’s stories.

Illness, accident, or death can teach us that all can be taken away in one swift moment. So, for the first time in our lives, we may find learning to reject “moments of non-being” that characterize much of our days. We search for what really matters given the shortness of time to enjoy “moments of being.”

When Alexander Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, he wrote:

“You have the right to arrange your own life under the blue sky and the hot sun, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to travel wherever you like … Do not pursue what is illusory — property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night …”

Sex Addiction As An Illness

Sexual addiction is an illness. It’s solitary, dehumanizing, and satisfies only itself. Contrary to love, it’s fleeting. It causes people to abuse their bodies. It distances us from our emotions, destroys good feelings about ourselves. It therefore causes people to be broken and alone.

Dr. Patrick Carnes, sex therapist and author of “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction,” provides an operational definition of sexual addiction: “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.” Contrary to real love, the sex addict obsesses over and depends on sex for comfort from inner pain. He or she uses it for nurturing, relief from stress etc.

Once, I heard a married man saying that he has sex with multiple women because “God is love.” Indeed, the notion of sexual addiction can be confused like that! It’s also confused with what is positive and legitimately pleasurable in married love enjoyed by the “normal” population. As life unravels, the sex addict despairs, helplessly stucked in the cycle of shame, degradation, and danger. Like a broken car, the sex addict needs a mechanic!

Nowadays, people need education and a clearer perspective about sexual addiction as an illness. Often this is obscured by media and by our reluctance to face sexual issues – personally, professionally, and publicly. The illness is further masked by secrecy and shame that inherently characterizes it.

The world is full of helpless sexual addicts in need of help.

The Love Mechanic

Kevin is a “love mechanic.” He had picked up over 50 women so far and had sex with almost all of them. His expertise is wooing women, sweet-talking, and touching to “be close.” He talks about his feelings too and makes an effort to listen. Mechanically, he can show he loves or cares about women.

After getting what he wants from a woman, he breaks up and moves readily to the next. Immediately, with the next woman, he appears to be just as “intimate” and “loving” there. He knows the moves, the “right” places to touch a woman sexually. He works hard to make a woman feel good and loved in bed. He uses “love” language constantly. “I miss you a lot,” “I’m feeling so close to you now,” or “I want to share with you how I feel.”

The “love mechanic” is a fake. He believes his “love” is coming from inside him. However, it is actually psychologically or intellectually monitored. His “love” is mechanical, disconnected from his very core or his own feelings. Yes, he knows and does all the appealing intimate, “loving” behaviors. But his way of connecting is profoundly shallow, distanced, automatic, and therefore manipulative. His way of “love” exists apart from himself — a psychological disguise for disconnection.

Let this insight be a step towards making efforts to recognize, analyze, and heal a “love mechanic,” especially if you’re married or romantically linked to one. The ramifications of such type of “unconscious” psychological deception in relationships are enormously hurtful. I hope this realization narrows the gap between what seems to be and what is actually going on underneath psychologically.