“Spilled Nuts” is where you’ll find questions I’ve answered online after the publication of my book, “MiXED NUTS or What I’ve Learned Practicing Psychotherapy.” This is the sort of material that might have been included in the Questions and Answers section of that book. I’ll add new ones regularly, so check back often.
Q. I’m organizing my life. How do I make sure I don’t develop OCD? Where does one draw the line between organization and OCD?
A. It’s OCD if it limits your normal, healthy functioning.
For example… Your organizational quirk of putting the short cups in the front of the cupboard and the taller cups behind them is not a mental health issue, nor is wanting things organized so that you can find them easily when you need them.
On the other hand… You are late for an important appointment and feel a pressing obsession to check the doors, windows, and stove, or wash your hands for 10th time today… you may well have OCD.
Lots of people have an obsessive personality. They think too much or worry a bit too much or need to organize things. That is not OCD.
Pay close attention to the “C” in OCD. Compulsive. People with OCD have compulsions. They are compelled to do things that make no sense. They may check the gas stove five times per night, or wash their hands 20 times a day, or use a tissue to touch anything to avoid germs, or count insignificant things, or do things an even or odd number of times.
To be diagnosed with OCD you must have irrational compulsions. Having an obsessive personality is not enough.
Q. How has being a therapist impacted your life outside of therapy?
A. I have always had a rich life outside of practicing psychotherapy. I’m a drummer for several bands. I write books. I build drum mallets and beaters as well as jewelry. I have more hobbies than would be considered normal.
Here’s the funny side of being a therapist outside the therapy office:
Stranger’s question at a party: “What do you do for a living ?”
Rick: “I’m a psychotherapist.”
Stranger: “Are you analyzing me now?”
Rick: “You’re a hair stylist. Are you styling my hair as we speak?”
Q. How do couples split bills?
A. Before we were married, I saw two potential problems regarding wages. I made twice the salary that she did and I spent a lot of personal income on musical instruments and recording equipment. Knowing how many marriages suffer over arguments about money and spending, I devised a plan that worked until retirement.
I divided our finances into two categories: Joint expenses and personal expenses. Each month, after I paid all the bills for joint expenses (mortgage, utilities, groceries, pizza, savings, etc.) I added them all up. Since I made twice as much as my wife, her share came to 33% of the total. Whatever each of us had remaining after joint expenses was our personal discretionary income, which could be spent on clothing, perfume, recording equipment, personal savings, whatever.
This meant no arguments about money. She would never have to listen to me say, “$50 for perfume? Are you kidding me?” and I would never have to hear, “$2000. for a synthesizer? Why do you need another synthesizer?” Birthday and Christmas gifts were purchased with our own money, not from a joint account. One of the unexpected advantages of this system was that if either of us got a raise, we both got a raise. When she was suddenly earning 40% of our total income, I only had to pay 60%. When my company closed without notice, leaving me unemployed for 10 months, her paycheck paid most of our bills and my unemployment check became the smaller percentage.
When I went to grad school to be licensed in psychotherapy, my wife’s career took off. Eventually, she would earn more than five times my salary.
There are lots of ways to handle money in a marriage. We found a way that worked for us.
Q. Is Therapy the best option?
A. Yes. Definitely. Unless you need to change a tire, get a haircut, fly to Pittsburg, or purchase tickets to a Justin Beiber concert. In those cases, therapy won’t help a bit.
Q. How important is it to have a life partner exactly opposite as you or same as you?
A. I find that having a BALANCE works for me. My wife and I have opposite personalities… I’m more social, more patient, more focused, more spontaneous, while she is more of an introvert, more analytical, more predictable. When due to be somewhere, I’m always relaxed and early while she’s usually frantic and late.
On the other hand, we’re both musicians and play well in the same band together. We enjoy many of the same movies, music, travel, hiking, and culture.
My wife adores Shakespeare. I wish he had written his plays in English so that I’d have some clue as to what is going on. I’m a drummer in three bands and host two community drum circles per month. She would never have the patience or interest to perform music as often as I do. My wife loves talking about gardening. I listen politely. I’ve been talking constantly about my latest book… My wife listens politely.
That’s balance. We are opposites, yet share a lot in common. We also have our own separate interests, but don’t require one another to share them. I’m not required to sit through Shakespeare and she’s not required to show up at every band performance of mine. I do the cooking, she cleans up afterward. She’s the better organizer, I’m the better researcher. Balance.
Q. Why is there a saying “Happy Wife, Happy Life”, but nothing similar for husbands?
A. Because nothing rhymes with “husbands.”
Q. How is visiting a psychotherapist different than getting advice from a friend?
A. The worst of us therapists are much like talking with a friend. They just listen and shake their head and sympathize or pat your hand and say “You poor, poor Dear. How on earth do you manage?”
The best of us know exactly what illness you suffer from and how to take concrete steps to treat it.
Your friend feels terrible that you are depressed or that you suffer from panic attacks, a phobia, or PTSD. A good therapist knows what you need to do to function normally again.
Good therapists don’t tell suicidal people to “Just cheer up because better days are coming.” We don’t guilt rape victims into resuming intimate relations with their significant others.
Of course, some of our clients don’t want to take any responsibility or take any steps to regain normal functioning. They prefer to process intellectually because it’s easier than adjusting their actual behavior. Some just want to complain about how their life sucks, week after week, to someone who is paid to listen. The “worried well” fall into that category. They want to explore every fleeting thought or feeling as though it was a life event of major significance. They have no mental illness of any sort. They just want to talk and be listened to. Is that therapy? No. That is being a paid friend. If you are thinking of that as therapy, then there’s no major difference.
Q. If you once struggled with failure due to depression, how did you turn your life around to become successful?
A. I went through this in my teens.
I read a lot by Fritz Perls and Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I found helpful, but it was a few years before I had an epiphany. Several things occurred to me:
I had a victim’s mentality. I blamed the world around me for my circumstance. I realized that my life would never change until I took charge and began making my own choices and taking full responsibility for those choices.
I felt like everyone else got ‘the manual’ but me. Everyone knew exactly who they were and what to do and say. I was the only one fumbling around… lost. It occurred to me that EVERYONE was ‘winging it’. Everyone was doing their best with what they had to work with.
I saw people as insincere. Phonies. Out for themselves only. This provided an excuse for me not to feel close with anyone. What I realized was that if I lived your life… If I had your upbringing and experiences… I would be like you. My life would look more like yours. Unless we are born with some handicap, we all start out pretty much the same. It’s not our skin color or our politics or religion that separate us the most… It’s our experience of life and how we learn to react to it. That realization alone helped me truly connect with other human beings.
The person I am today was born on the day of that epiphany.
Q. What could a 26-year-old man be feeling when he asks his ex-girlfriend of 6 years to have an affair with him?
Q. My wife thinks her scars are ugly and won’t let me see her without a shirt on. How do I convince her that I don’t care about that?
A. Put aside how it feels for YOU and try to understand that this is about how it feels for HER.
Don’t try to “convince” her of anything.
You want her to heal? Accept and love her exactly as she is. She needs to feel safe and loved. Manipulating her will only make things worse. If she isn’t comfortable showing you her scars… Respect that.
You say you don’t care about her scars. Try to see that you’re upset over her emotional scars.
Q. Is it disrespectful to call my therapist by his first name?
A. Definitely! Especially if it’s a silly name like Buttwiggle, Goober, or Putz.
Q. Is it okay to avoid my family of origin if they’re abusive?
A. Some people energize us… inspire us… and bring out the best in us.
Others drain us. They have negative energy that tries to make us feel bad about ourselves and the world.
Avoid the energy drainers as much as possible.
However, this is easier said than done when it comes to family. I have family members who I will always be close with and I have family members who suck the joy out of life itself. I see them at weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and at Christmas.
I use what I call “polite detachment:”
“HI! How are you?” (Smile, hug-hug, kissy-kissy) …Done.
I don’t need to be at war with evil cousin Cruella. That would force me to walk around with negative crap over someone I no longer care about. She’s got her life and I’ve got mine. So, I’m outwardly polite, and inwardly detached. My detachment keeps her at an emotional distance so that she can’t affect me in any way. I keep it polite and superficial.
So, sure… avoid anyone abusive… but when you can’t, try polite detachment.
Q. Why do the vast majority of people have biological children when there are so many kids in foster care?
A. Because sex is so much more enjoyable than paperwork.
Q. Why do abuse victims stay in abusive relationships?
A. First, you must understand that abusers first must destroy your self esteem before the real abuse can begin. That said, you have to imagine yourself in the position of the victim to understand why they stay.
1. They often believe that the abuser is the only person who will ever love them.
2. Victims often believe that the abuse is their fault… which is what the abusers always tell them.
3. Abusers commonly apologize in order to minimize the consequences of their abuse. Their victims often believe that the
abuser actually does love them, and is actually trying to change.
4. Because most abusers are self-gratifying and incapable of a healthy relationship, their non-existent “love” is dangled like a carrot in front of their victim. The victim often has such a need for the abuser’s approval and affection they stay because they feel hopeful that it’s forthcoming.
5. The victim is often not only emotionally-dependent on the abuser but financially-dependent.
6. Victims are often reluctant to tell their friends and family about the abuse, so that they become socially-isolated and without a support system.
7. In the case of physical abuse, many other factors exist.