Call me crazy, but…

Hey Man,

Call me crazy, but I am a little surprised you still haven’t taken me up on this:

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Talk to you soon,

-David D.

Copyright 2012, David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. David DeAngelo and Double Your Dating are trademarks and/or service marks of David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. All emails sent to David DeAngelo become the property of David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. Read my privacy policy here.

The material contained in this and any other communication from David DeAngelo is an expression of opinion and is not to be construed as legal, medical or professional advice. This material may only to be used for personal entertainment purposes.

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If you have a question about these newsletters or anything else related to Double Your Dating, chances are it has already been answered on my Frequently Asked Questions page. This is usually the quickest way to get the answers you need, so always check my FAQ’s before sending us an email. Contact us.

BOOM! That just happened…

Hey Man,

Yesterday, I sent you an email and video about my new Mega Vault offer, and I just wanted to check back in and see if you had a chance to watch it yet.

More importantly, I wanted to make sure you saw the incredible OFFER I gave you:

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This price WILL NOT be available much longer. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so I would grab your copy NOW while it’s still fresh in your mind.

Talk to you soon,

-David D.

Copyright 2012, David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. David DeAngelo and Double Your Dating are trademarks and/or service marks of David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. All emails sent to David DeAngelo become the property of David DeAngelo Marketing Inc. Read my privacy policy here.

The material contained in this and any other communication from David DeAngelo is an expression of opinion and is not to be construed as legal, medical or professional advice. This material may only to be used for personal entertainment purposes.

To ensure that you get my relationship advice newsletters each week, click here for instructions on adding me to your address book: Address Book Instructions

If you are under the age of 18, please unsubscribe from our newsletters and other communications by clicking on the link below, or by sending a written request to David DeAngelo Marketing Inc., 3960 Howard Hughes Pkwy, 5th Floor Las Vegas, NV 89169. To safely REMOVE your name and email address from our newsletter mailing, unsubscribe here.

If you have a question about these newsletters or anything else related to Double Your Dating, chances are it has already been answered on my Frequently Asked Questions page. This is usually the quickest way to get the answers you need, so always check my FAQ’s before sending us an email. Contact us.

Neuroscience Sheds Light on Why People with Asperger’s Syndrome Lack Empathy

Neuroscience Sheds Light on Why People with Asperger’s Syndrome Lack EmpathyFamilies of those with Asperger’s want to know why their Aspies act the way they do. In my psychology practice I have Neuro-typical (NT) clients repeatedly ask me regarding their Asperger spouse, “Why can’t she see what I am saying?” Or they ask, “Why can’t he connect with my feelings?”

Aspies have a huge disconnect between thinking and feeling, or cognitive empathy (CE) and emotional empathy (EE). But what is the cause of this disconnect? That’s the real “why” question.

According to the latest neuroscience research discussed in Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Evil, the cause is poorly working empathy circuits in the brain [1]. The Aspie brain has limited neurological mechanisms in place to understand or empathize with the NT. A way to understand the Aspie’s lack of empathy from a neurological perspective is “out of brain – out of mind.”

No matter how much we explain or teach or train the Aspie mind, certain neurological circuits don’t work as they do in the NT brain. The brain has a number of circuits that are all connected like Christmas lights. If one part doesn’t work right, then the rest of the circuits malfunction, too. These brain circuits are so tightly integrated that multiple circuits depend upon multiple other circuits to carry out sophisticated human behaviors and to comprehend complex thoughts and feelings. Our brains are truly amazing.

True empathy is the ability to be aware of one’s own feelings and thoughts at the same time you are aware of another person’s feelings and thoughts (or several other persons’). It means having the wherewithal to speak about this awareness. It also means creating mutual understanding and a sense of caring for one another. That is a lot of brain circuits to connect!

Let’s look at a sampling of brain parts in the empathy circuits to learn what they actually do for us. Realize that each part is not so functional by itself but needs the other circuits to carry out the complex empathy task of really stepping into the shoes of another person.

  • The medial prefrontal cortex compares your perspective to another person’s perspective.
  • The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex helps you understand your own thoughts and feelings.
  • The ventral medial prefrontal cortex stores information about how strongly you feel about a course of action.
  • The inferior frontal gyrus helps with emotion recognition.
  • The caudal anterior cingulate cortex is activated with pain, both when you feel yours and observe it in others.
  • The anterior insula is involved in bodily self-awareness, something that is tied to empathy.
  • The right temporoparietal junction helps you judge another person’s intentions and beliefs.
  • The amygdala plays a central role in empathy because of its connection to fear, thereby cueing you to look at someone’s eyes to help you gather information about that person’s emotions and intentions. People with Asperger’s Syndrome avoid eye contact unless they are specifically instructed to look someone in the eye. Think of all the information that is lost by not looking into someone’s eyes.
  • The mirror neuron system connects several parts of the brain. It responds when you engage in an action and when you observe others engage in an action. For example, these neurons fire when you gaze in a certain direction or observe another person gazing in the same direction (hence, “mirroring”). The interplay of these multiple and interacting empathy circuits is complicated. Your mirror neurons make you look in the same direction as the speaker, but you also need other empathy circuits to make meaning of why you are looking.

These are just a few regions of the brain’s empathy circuits. You can see that it’s a very complex system. If a single one of them doesn’t work, the whole network suffers, and so do our relationships.

For example, your mirror neurons may signal you to mirror a speaker and look in the same direction he or she is looking, but they don’t tell you why to look in the same direction. Your caudal anterior cingulated cortex may signal that another person is experiencing pain, but it doesn’t signal you to speak about it—or give you a clue as to what to say. The brain’s empathy circuits must work together in a complex system, sending signals back and forth, to create an integrated and highly sophisticated “lights on” response. Remember, it is not empathy unless you respond appropriately to the other person.

“Will Aspies always be like this?” Researchers and clinicians aren’t sure. There are some promising therapies. So far we really have as little information on successful clinical interventions as we do on the genetic and neurological structure of the brain. For now the bottom line is that NTs need to turn on the lights for their Aspie mates and children. Helping Aspies through the mysterious world of nonverbal and verbal empathy is not so stressful if NTs don’t take it personally. It is equally true that Aspie family members must accept coaching by their NT spouse as well as by the family psychologist. That requires a great deal of love and acceptance on the Aspie’s part.

Both the NT and the Aspie need to look to the good intentions behind the clumsy behaviors and bad manners. Each partner needs to be respectful of, kind to, and patient with each other. The Aspie needs to recognize that he or she does indeed have zero degrees of empathy. And, the Aspie needs to stop expecting that his or her grasp of the facts should rule.

The NT needs to recognize that zero degrees of empathy can co-exist with feelings of caring. If an AS/NT couple is going to be successful, both parties need to work with the other’s systems. That provides you with a place to start creating a pattern of working together for the sake of the family, as long as you both have loving intentions.


Baron-Cohen, Simon. (2011). The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Evil. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Baron-Cohen suggests the cause of an Asperger’s sufferer’s lack of good social skills is poorly working empathy circuits in the brain.

Licensed psychologist, Kathy Marshack, Ph.D. has worked as a marriage and family therapist and business coach for 34 years. Asperger Syndrome is one of her specialties, and she has counseled hundreds of couples, families and individuals who are on the Spectrum. She has authored three books and has been interviewed in The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CNN, the Lifetime TV channel and NPR. She practices in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon. To learn more visit and download a free chapter of her new book which explores more of the science behind Asperger’s, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome.”

APA Reference
Marshack, K. (2014). Neuroscience Sheds Light on Why People with Asperger’s Syndrome Lack Empathy. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 May 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

When OCD Targets Your Relationship

When OCD Targets Your RelationshipChuck said he wasn’t sure if he really loved his fiancée. Yes, there were times, when he was certain he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. But lately, the doubts were constant and he thought he should break the engagement. The wedding was two weeks away.

He had experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder challenges since he was a teenager. He had mistakenly learned to deal with the symptoms by rationalizing and neutralizing his thoughts, thus he didn’t think his doubts about his fiancée had anything to do with OCD.

Experiencing the jitters and cold feet can be a normal reaction to this significant milestone. So, was it a big deal? On the phone he informed me his family had insisted he schedule an appointment before making his final decision. He said this would be the third time he would be calling a wedding off. It wasn’t until this session that he realized his OCD had morphed into his present dilemma.

How do you know if your doubts are legitimate and you are simply not the right match? People break up relationships. Eventually they find the right person and are able to move on with their lives. On the other hand, individuals who are challenged with OCD suffer with never-ending doubts and indecision. Quite often they are not able to recognize that OCD may be targeting their relationship. Here is a list indicating the major red flags and ways to begin tackling this type of OCD:

  • Intolerance of uncertainty. When an individual experiences OCD, the most common thinking error is the inability to tolerate even a minuscule sign of doubt.
  • Polarized thinking. When they begin to doubt their love toward their special person, they believe their relationship will fail. They can’t stand the idea of making the wrong decision.
  • Obsessive thinking. Day in and day out, individuals obsess about whether they love the person. Maybe they make lists and write the pros and cons. The results are never satisfying. They obsess about qualities such as appearance, intelligence, personality, accomplishments, morality, and social skills.
  • Seeking reassurance. The only way to feel better — at least temporarily — is to find reassurance from friends, family, or themselves. They try to go back and review the past good times to satisfy their doubts. They may begin to feel good about the relationship until the next trigger comes along.
  • Atypical behavior. For instance, people may normally not be jealous, but this feeling creeps into their lives. They may begin to question their loved one’s loyalty, fidelity, and love. Their constant questioning leads their loved one to feel irritated. They in turn see it as a sign to end the relationship.
  • Feeling able to control thoughts. The person may decide that he or she is going to enjoy the loved one and will suppress any disturbing thoughts that will ruin the moment. If a thought regarding a physical feature comes up and the person no longer finds it attractive, they look away and try to suppress the thoughts. Perhaps they notice “an attractive” person walking by and quickly look away. They don’t want to doubt and compare. Unfortunately, the loved one notices the discomfort and may ask what’s wrong. The OCD sufferer denies anything is wrong and becomes defensive, which leads to a fight. Trying to control thoughts backfires.
  • Avoidance. The person may try to stay away from situations or people that trigger doubts about the loved one. They may conclude that the best way to decrease the fights is just to stay home, away from possible triggers. The loved one may question this behavior and this leads to more disagreements.
  • Guilt. This may be a prevalent feeling in the sufferer’s life. They may say to themselves, “I should not feel this way, I should not think this way about my loved one. This is so wrong and ridiculous!” Yet, their doubts override everything and it becomes difficult to decrease the compulsions. They may just wish to have time alone to figure out the relationship.

If you suffer from these problems, what can you do?

  • Look at your mental and emotional history. If you have experienced OCD symptoms in the past, it’s possible that your relationship is now the target of your obsessions and compulsions.
  • If you have never experienced OCD symptoms and the obsessions and compulsions are atypical, find out your family history of anxiety disorders. Research indicates OCD can be a genetic predisposition and stress can trigger the symptoms.
  • Reassurance regarding your loved one is important to you. You seek reassurance from anyone who would give it to you. Unfortunately, this is a compulsion and it will only strengthen the OCD thinking patterns. Start limiting this compulsion one step at a time.
  • Remember that you cannot control your thoughts. It may appear that you can, but you may recall that when you’ve tried this in the past, it only backfires with more obsessions and compulsions.
  • What matters is what we do with our thoughts. Reacting with catastrophic thinking activates the fight-or-flight response. Try to shift your focus. Pay attention to your breathing and notice where in your body you are feeling the inner storm. Stay with that for a few minutes. Then notice where you feel most comfortable. Then stay with that. Shift back and forth slowly for about 15 minutes. Do this every day.
  • Notice your past relationships. How often have similar doubts shown up in your life? If there is a pattern, do not break off the relationship until you have consulted with an OCD specialist.
  • Invite your loved one to come to all the sessions. In therapy, you’ll learn skills to decrease your OCD symptoms. You both will learn communication skills and how to handle the OCD moments in your relationship.
  • Do your assignments and be patient. There is hope!
Annabella Hagen is a child and family therapist in private practice in Utah. She works with children, adolescents, and adults coping with anxiety disorders. Her expertise is working with obsessive-compulsive Disorder. In addition, she helps clients with trauma, depression, behavioral problems, or family issues. She enjoys writing articles for various magazines and her blog. You can find her posts at

APA Reference
Hagen, A. (2014). When OCD Targets Your Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Apr 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love & Work

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One of my earliest childhood memories is of me at three years old sitting on my mother’s lap while she read from the The Little Engine That Could. Originally published in 1930, the story is meant to inculcate children with the values of persistence. Hence the repetition: I think I can, I think I can.

It is precisely this touted virtue of not being a quitter that is challenged by Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein in Mastering the Art of Quitting, which also names my favorite childhood story in the introduction. Using clear examples and ideas, the two authors delve into the psychological milieu of exactly why humans strive for goals that ultimately compromise our psychological health and why we find it so difficult to initiate, as they put it, “goal disengagement.”

Streep and Bernstein have also peppered the book with various questionnaires, tests, and planners that are meant to help you first find out if you should quit, and then, if so, to put you on the path to recalibrating both short- and long-term goals. These helpful guides alongside vivid, albeit narrowly chosen, anecdotes of people struggling with their aspirations offer a comprehensive and mostly-pragmatic look at a topic that is typically stigmatized.

The book begins with a convincing examination of exactly how we as humans are psychologically hardwired to persist, and why we hate relinquishing our grasp of goals. Here, Streep and Bernstein offer up evidence of a fascinating phenomenon known as the “near win.”

When our proto-human ancestors almost, but didn’t quite, catch that deer for dinner they wanted, the physical actions that made up their “near win” taught them that, with persistence, the deer would eventually end up in their stomachs.

However, as Streep and Bernstein bluntly put it: “neither human beings nor their brains are uniformly good at figuring out when the near win is applicable and when it isn’t.” This strong vestigial impulse, they write, does not translate easily into the modern world of complex relationships and goals. And so, to avoid pie-in-the-sky optimism that gets us nowhere, we must regulate the instinct.

After laying this groundwork, the authors give a surprisingly detailed list of ways not to quit. This, I think, is extremely important, given that the larger project of the book actively encourages quitting. As the title suggests, quitting is an art, not something that should be flippantly practiced on a whim; there are wrong ways to “disengage,” as the authors put it. Various types of dangerous quitting include the “faux quit,” which is essentially claiming to take the steps towards disengagement but really going back to your old habit, and the “disappearing act,” where you just leave with no explanation.

What’s key here is that the book highlights the need to quit not at random, but as a conditional event. Especially today with growing economic uncertainty, it remains important to be aware of how and when to keep going.

How then are you to tell if quitting is the right thing to do?

In order to adequately reassess your current goals, a very intriguing criterion is brought into the mix: Flow. This universal concept in psychology, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, goes beyond simple happiness, and instead offers a kind of transcendence. When in a state of flow, you lose yourself in your work; you don’t even know you’re doing it. You feel a sense of mastery, as well as freedom from ordinary worries. And if you find flow, you should probably stick with it.

There is a tremendous documentary titled Jiro Dreams of Sushi that follows Jiro Ono, the elderly sushi master whose Tokyo sushi restaurant is considered the best in the world. The camera follows Jiro’s precise yet graceful movements as he goes about his work arranging the food in front of mesmerized customers. His expression is one of total concentration, total attention. He remarks, “While I’m making the sushi I feel victorious.” Jiro is obviously engaged in a kind of flow that is beautiful to watch.

Bernstein and Streep suggest that “the activities and interests you pursue for self-fulfillment and pleasure, the relationships you’re in…can be evaluated in terms of flow.” And their appropriation of Csikszentmihalyi’s idea is entirely convincing. By using the concept they argue against blind persistence in goals that can never be achieved — and show that there are states of mind that are both desirable and attainable.

Another, perhaps less successful, way the authors try to illustrate their case for reasoned quitting is through anecdotes of those who have realized the merits of effectively throwing in the towel. Most of these stories involve leaving a job, and while they do make the book’s sometimes difficult psychological concepts easier to grasp, they almost always describe people who are highly educated with careers that pay very well.

Meaning, for the people in the book, the act of quitting is much less risky than it would be for a single mother who works a minimum-wage job — or, for that matter, for many of the book’s prospective readers.

And even though sentiments like, “There’s no question that quitting sometimes requires a huge leap of faith…and a willingness to take on the possibility of failure” are repeated throughout the book, it is abundantly clear that the leap would be much greater and the possibility of failure much more magnified for a person in a less advantageous position than those described. It seems Bernstein and Streep have a target audience in mind. But for those of us who don’t make six figures, it would have been nice to see a wider, more realistic scope.

Still, despite this selectivity of anecdotes, Bernstein and Streep have crafted a very smart tool that can provide the impetus to both disengage from unsatisfactory goals and to map out new ones.

And while the book deals primarily with the psychological underpinnings of why humans hate to quit things, especially when those things are jobs, it would pair fantastically with Joanne Ciulla’s The Working Life, a book that chronicles the historical evolution of ideas surrounding labor.

For help getting out of a rut, however, Mastering the Art of Quitting seems like it would help.

Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work
Da Capo Press, December, 2013
Hardcover, 272 pages

Psych Central’s Recommendation: Worth Your Time! +++

Your Recommendation (if you’ve read this book):

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APA Reference
Hill, A. (2014). Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love & Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Apr 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships

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Before I even opened the book, I was skeptical. Why should there be a science to love? Does love really need to be explained?

In Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, clinical psychologist and professor Sue Johnson leads readers to the conclusion that when we understand the science behind love, it is easier to understand and repair relationships in our lives. Johnson’s research-backed exploration of one of our most puzzling emotions clears away any doubt that there is more to love that meets the eye — and that it is worth finding out what our bodies and brains do when we fall for someone. 

Johnson first discusses what she believes is the key to love: attachment. “A person’s basic attachment style is formed in childhood,” Johnson writes, explaining that although the three types of attachment styles are avoidant, anxious, and secure, each style can easily change with the right kind of partner.

Some readers will already know what these styles mean, but the book is helpful in explaining why some people are distant and don’t trust others, some doubt their own value and whether their partner loves them, and some work well together with their mate. As Johnson explains, the way people attach to others is important in what kind of relationships they develop.

The book also goes over Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a model of treatment Johnson herself created for struggling couples. She explains how the method, which centers on human emotions and not on changing how each partner acts, improves relationships, and she sprinkles anecdotes about it throughout the book. EFT, as plugged in the book, can help pairs communicate better with each other, solve problems, and become closer.

While she conducts EFT with couples, Johnson writes, she tries to get them in tune with each other — to understand how the other feels. She does this through the science of emotion. In our brains, she explains, our mirror neurons help us feel what another person is feeling by “mirroring” their actions and expressions. Research on those mirror neurons, Johnson believes, can be used to help couples relate to one another.

The book also dives into one of the big questions we all tend to ponder: How does sex relate to love? Contrary to popular belief, Johnson writes, sex does not lead to connection, but follows from it.

That and many other topics Johnson covers are thought-provoking, and overall the book is informative. Through a helpful hypothetical couple, for instance, Johnson provides an excellent example of what communication should and should not look like in a relationship. There are also places in the book for personal reflection — exercises that I enjoyed working on.

But, one drawback of the book — depending on the reader — is that it is indeed, as its subtitle suggests, a very scientific text. Johnson uses data from experiments and surveys to back up her statements and to explain our brain and body’s processes when we fall in love. She makes the data as easy to understand as possible, but some explanations were still a bit of a bore for me.

If you like a science-oriented read, however, and have been wondering about your relationship issues — or, like many of us, about love in general — Love Sense might just be perfect for you.

And even for those of us who prefer a less science-heavy book, Johnson does a good job. She breaks down what we think of as the magic of love — and shows that, even after all the experiments and theories and scientific research, it’s still the same, wonderful feeling.

Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships
Little, Brown and Company, December, 2013
Hardcover, 352 pages


Psych Central’s Recommendation: Worth Your Time! +++

Your Recommendation (if you’ve read this book):

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APA Reference
Munoz, S. (2014). Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Apr 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

Substance Abuse: The Power of Acceptance

The Power of AcceptanceAccepting reality enables us to live in reality.

What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal.

We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves or we try to change things to our liking and needs.


Although in some circumstances denial is a useful coping mechanism, it doesn’t help us solve problems. Nor does blame, anger, or withdrawal.

Denial is more common than we may realize. Everyone alters reality somewhat by perceiving events in accordance with our personal biases. Yet, sometimes we unconsciously use the defense of denial to make reality more palatable. Examples are:

  • Minimizing
  • Rationalizing
  • Forgetting
  • Self-deception
  • Repression

Denial helps us cope with a potential threat or uncomfortable facts and feelings, such as our eventual death. We also deny reality when the truth would put us in conflict with someone else or ourselves.

Although denial may be helpful temporarily to cope with stress, a better defense is suppression, which is the conscious decision not to think about something. For example, a cancer patient may be served by deciding not to think all the time about dying, so that she can find the courage to undergo difficult treatment.

Denial is a core symptom of codependency and addiction. We have a distorted relationship to reality — often acting against our best interests. Addicts and codependents use denial to continue addictive behavior. Meanwhile, we endure destructive consequences and painful relationships, partly due to denial and partly due to low self-esteem.

Try to convince an attractive woman who thinks she is unattractive that she isn’t. Try to tell an anorexic that she’s too thin, an alcoholic that he or she drinks too much, or an enabler that he or she is perpetuating his or her child’s drug addiction. The last three examples illustrate how such denial can be viewed as resistance to change. Many people leave when they come to Al-Anon and learn that program is to help them change themselves, because at first, most go mainly to “help” (change) an alcoholic.

Codependents also typically repress their feelings and needs. This denial also postpones real acceptance of a situation. Pretending to ourselves that something doesn’t bother us enables us to take constructive action, set boundaries, or find solutions the problem.

Facing Facts

Paradoxically, all change begins with acceptance of reality. Herein lies our power. Facing facts, including those that we dislike or even abhor, opens us to new possibilities. Acknowledging a painful truth is not easy for most of us, especially if we’re used to denying or controlling our feelings and our circumstances.

We often associate acceptance with submission and acquiescence. But acceptance of a situation or person can also be an active expression of our will — a conscious decision based upon knowledge that there are certain things we cannot change. This also prepares us to be effective agents of change. New options present themselves as our focus shifts from changing the impossible to changing what we can.

The Need to Control

The inability to give up control in defiance of facts to the contrary is another primary symptom of addiction and codependency. One of the early authors on codependency, psychiatrist Timmen Cermak, believes that codependents and addicts “control their lives by sheer force of will.”

We have a belief that things could and should be different than they are. This creates irritation and disappointment. However, there are always challenges in life. People are unique and behave in their unique fashion. We become frustrated when things don’t go as we expect them to or when people don’t behave the way we think they should. There is a certain amount of pride and arrogance in this assumption. Psychiatrist and author Abraham Twerski adds that the addictive thinking that underlies controlling behavior exemplifies “a delusion of omnipotence.”

In trying to change things we can’t, such as other people, we’re exerting our determination in unproductive ways, often creating more frustration and problems. It’s hard enough to change ourselves. Such fruitless efforts can be considered a defense to accepting things we don’t like about a person’s behavior and the pain it causes us. We might try to get someone to stop smoking because we’re worried about the health consequences of smoking.

The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Codependents Anonymous addresses control. It suggests that we admit we’re powerless over our addiction, which for codependents, includes people, places, and things.

Letting Go of Control

Recovery requires us to accept life on its own terms, to accept our powerlessness and our limitations and to accept those of others. Letting go is not easy. It’s a constant challenge for addicts and codependents, because of our internal anxiety and dis-ease and our illusion that we have control over more than we actually do. When we start to let go, we feel tremendous anxiety and often depression and emptiness. We begin to feel what our attempts at control have been trying to avoid, such a loneliness, anxiety about making needed changes, grief for love that is lost or dead, or fear that an addict may die from an overdose.

Changing What We Can

Change requires courage. The second line of the Serenity Prayer asks for courage to change what we can. Changing what we can is a healthy response to reality. This is how we become effective agents of change. A coach, counselor, or 12-step program can provide much-needed support.

Making a decision is the first step. Then change also requires patience, for our heart is slow to catch up with our intellect. Gathering information and resources, surveying our options, thinking through different outcomes, and talking it over are all part of the planning phase. As we take these preparatory steps, we build courage and confidence.

Earlier, I wrote that acceptance can be an act of will. It may take the form of a positive a change of attitude. Sometimes, that’s all we can do. There may be nothing on the outside that we can change, but acceptance of a situation brings peace of mind and allows us to enjoy the moment. A disability might limit us to cloud-watching or listening to music, both of which are more healing than enduring fear, anger, or self-pity. If we don’t feel ready to leave an unhappy or abusive relationship, we can find happiness in other areas of our lives, which may in fact change the relationship or enable us to leave later.

When I was a young mother and lawyer, I felt guilty about not being a stay-at-home mom and also for working late in order to climb the corporate ladder. When I accepted that I had chosen to compromise, but could also make a different choice, my guilt vanished.

Here are some exercises to think about. More are in Chapters 5 and 9 of Codependency for Dummies.

  1. Make a list of things over which you’re powerless.
  2. How do you feel about them and how do you react to the situation?
  3. What would happen if you accepted things as they are?
  4. What realistic options do you have?

©Darlene Lancer 2014

Darlene LancerDarlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in relationships, codependency, and addiction. She has a broad range of experience, working with individuals and couples for more than twenty-five years. Her focus is on helping individuals overcome obstacles to leading fuller lives, and helping couples enhance their communication, intimacy, and passion. She is a speaker, freelance writer, and maintains private practice in Santa Monica, CA. For more information, see, where you can also get the FREE ebook, “14 Tips for Letting Go.”

Find her book Codependency for Dummies at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can follow her on Facebook at

APA Reference
Lancer, D. (2014). Substance Abuse: The Power of Acceptance. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Apr 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Parents, It’s Time to Have ‘The Talk’

Talk Therapy Touted as First-Line Treatment for Youth with Psychosis RiskAttention, parents of tweens and teens: If you haven’t had “the talk,” it’s time. Kids need information about sex — both its joys and its dangers — from people they love and trust.

However uncomfortable it may be, it’s up to us to give them good information. If we don’t, they are likely to get misinformation from their friends, TV or perhaps from an adult or peer who doesn’t have their best interests in mind. In the absence of healthy information about sexuality, kids often end up with skewed ideas about relationships, consent, healthy boundaries and what healthy sex is all about.

As much as we’d like to think that our kids will find appropriate partners and experience nothing but warm and tender sex, it’s a sad fact that they are vulnerable to victimization. Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the U.S. is intended to raise people’s awareness of sexual violence and to educate people about how to take care of themselves and others.

This year, the emphasis is on ensuring that young people get the information and skills they need to keep sex safe and happy. To accomplish that, we parents need to take seriously our role in educating and supporting our kids in their sexual development. If we don’t, there are malevolent people in the world who will take advantage of our kids’ ignorance or confusion. Here are the facts:

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will experience a sexual assault before the age of 18.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • More than 25 percent of male victims of rape report that their first rape was when they were 10 years old or younger.
  • Over three-quarters of the women who reported having been raped stated that it happened before they were 25.

I don’t list these grim statistics to scare you (although they are certainly frightening). I include them to underline how important it is for adults to give our kids both sides of the story. They need to hear from us that sex is potentially a wonderful experience, but we also must give them the information they need to protect themselves from unwanted or violent sexual encounters.

We can’t leave the job to the media. Too often, what is portrayed in movies, TV and video games is steamy sex as solely recreation. Often kids have seen more scenes of exploitative sex than of tender sexual connection.

It’s crucial that we give them the tools they need to ask for and give or refuse consent. It’s important that we talk very specifically about how to assert themselves without feeling embarrassed if they don’t want to get physical. It’s equally important to teach them to take no for an answer.

The talk can’t only be about self-protection. It needs also to include the hows of healthy connection. We need to counter images of violent and manipulative sex with the message that healthy sexuality is about more than orgasms.

It’s also about developing intimacy, trust, love and caring. Yes, sex is fun. But we want our kids to know it’s also an expression of the love of two people who cherish and respect each other. When people give sexual pleasure generously and receive it openly, it can be the ultimate experience of human warmth and closeness.

If your child is a “tween” or early teen (ages 10 – 13 or 14), start at the beginning. Be prepared for the fact that many kids know far more about sex than you did at their age. However, they are sometimes seriously misinformed. Make sure they have the basics right on such things as puberty, reproductive health, what exactly happens during sex and, most importantly, what goes into a healthy relationship. Be open to talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, body image and boundary issues.

Talk about what they see in the media. Let them know how to take care of themselves if they ever feel pressured to do something they aren’t comfortable doing.

Do talk positively about sex as an outgrowth of love and caring. But don’t shy away from telling them that there are people in the world who will take advantage of them and then try to silence them with threats or bribes. Kids don’t know what’s normal and okay and what’s abusive unless we tell them.

Talk about good touch and bad touch and how to know the difference. Make sure they know they can come to you with concerns and questions. Make sure they know you will listen even if at times it’s a little uncomfortable for you.

If your child is in mid-adolescence (ages 14 – 17), continue the conversation. Many teens have already become sexually active. But active doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s happy or healthy. Sometimes kids fall victim to emotional blackmail. They’re told it’s uncool to refuse. A partner may try to manipulate or threaten them into doing things that give them little joy.

It’s likely your child is starting to explore relationships at this point and, depending on the emotional health of the kids, it can be a time of healthy exploration. Remind them that they can only have their first sexual experience once. It’s not something to just get over with. It’s a time that many people want to have as a positive memory.

It’s important that we talk to them about rights and responsibilities if they get sexually involved. Make sure that they understand that loving partners don’t pressure each other into doing things the other doesn’t feel ready for. Be clear about their right to give or not give consent. Do talk clearly about birth control and what they will do should there be a pregnancy.

The teen in late adolescence (ages 18 – 21) is turning into a young adult. Many are involved in long-term romantic and perhaps sexual relationships. But they are still young. Depending on personality and rate of development, they may still be looking to you for guidance — while at the same time denying that they need it.

This is an important time of maturing. Most young people are solidifying their ideas and values around relationships, family, love and sex. You are not irrelevant at this point. You are still an important sounding board for what is and is not a healthy relationship — including a healthy sexual relationship.

The Talk during the tween years is just the beginning. Hopefully, you are initiating an ongoing conversation that will become more sophisticated and more in-depth over time. Kids who know they can ask us questions and get straight answers are kids who will navigate their wakening sexuality with safety.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central’s Ask the Therapist feature, and has published the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2014). April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Parents, It’s Time to Have ‘The Talk’. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Apr 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Psychotherapist Susan Lager

Susan Lager

In our monthly series, clinicians share slices from both their professional and personal lives. They reveal everything from what they love about being a therapist to how they cope with stress to their insights for leading a meaningful life.

This month we’re pleased to interview Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach. She specializes in marriage counseling at The Couples Center PLLC, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She’s also the only practitioner in the state to provide Discernment Counseling for couples on the brink of divorce.

In early 2010, Lager founded Couplespeak™, the coaching division of her practice, which provides live and online programs and products for people in all kinds of partnerships.

Happily married for 29 years, Lager understands firsthand about what it takes to have a joyful, lasting marriage with reasonable concessions.

She’s also the author of two short, humorous self-help workbooks about communication and connection: I’m Talking! Are You Listening? Fix Communication Problems With Your Partner In No Time Flat! and Become Relationship Smart Without A Lifetime Of Therapy.

Since 2011, Lager has been the host of a BlogTalk Radio show, The Couplespeak™ Relationship Forum, which explores personal growth and relationship success.

Plus, she and her colleague — a collaborative lawyer and conflict coach — provide couples’ retreats on the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine.

Clinicians on the Couch

Learn more about Susan Lager, and read her blog about love, self-care, family and marriage at

1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?

The most surprising things about being a therapist for me have been:

A. The sheer amount of “sitting still” indoors required to be a therapist. Before I began this work, it never occurred to me how stationary and still I’d need to be — a foreign concept for someone who “relaxes” through movement!

B. The constant learning inherent in doing good work. You come out of graduate school and post-graduate training thinking you know a lot, then realize that you know very little relative to what will be required of you. The humbling factor has been a big discovery — thankfully, I love “school” and learning new things, so this has also been a good surprise.

2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He’s not only a lovely writer, but he demystifies the whole process of loving in ways which truly resonate for partners. I read it at the recommendation of several couples I’d been working with, and now I always recommend it myself.

I see it as helping partners line up their loving intentions with behaviors and attitudes, which will speak fluently to their partners. That way, committed relationships don’t become an arena of well-intentioned rumination.

3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

The first biggest myth about therapy is that the therapist will know what they’re doing, be helpful, or have all the answers. Unfortunately, some clinicians are kindhearted blockheads who happen to have degrees and fancy offices.

Also, “the answers” are internal and subjective to each client, who, with help, need to discover their own authentic path. A competent therapist doesn’t have the right “answers,” but instead asks the right questions.

Another myth is that “communication problems” are the root of the problem — very often not so. It’s an oversimplified, benign, popular soundbite explanation which resonates with people, but often belies the deeper issues.

4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?

The biggest obstacles for clients in therapy as I see it are: They may not be sufficiently motivated to do the work and may be ambivalent about what they “want to fix,” so getting prematurely busy with them on action plans and tools may miss the mark.

They may not know this consciously, so they may be working at cross-purposes.

They come into treatment too late. In couples work, sometimes the relationship no longer has a pulse, yet they have a magical wish for reconciliation and renewal. Or they know the “body” has “flatlined,” yet they come in needing to feel that they’ve done all they could to rescue the relationship.

5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?

A. The indoor sitting and stillness required.

B. Dealing with certain financial issues. There was no formal training for this piece in my graduate or later work, so I’ve had to rely on consultation with peers who are often themselves befuddled about how to set appropriate boundaries regarding fees, cancellations, etc. I learn more as I go about where to draw lines with clients, where to be flexible, and how it all relates to clinical issues they may be presenting. When clients act out financially, I remind myself that this may not be personal to me, but may be more emblematic of their internal struggles, which we might need to confront.

C. Certain clients habitually taking my time for granted — not giving me the courtesy of sufficient notice regarding canceling sessions, or others wanting lots of free phone or in person consultation before we “start.” Although I understand that clients need to get a sense of a comfortable “fit,” I dislike the notion of auditioning to be someone’s therapist and the objectification inherent in that.

D. Maintaining a posture which simultaneously allows me to be empathic, while not over-identifying with clients. It’s a critical tension between enough closeness, allowing for bonding and a working alliance, versus enough distance, allowing clients to feel emotionally safe. It’s often a fine line.

6. What do you love about being a therapist?

Everything except Question 5a and 5b! I feel blessed every day to be in a position to be so intimate in this way with people who are often so courageous, to be trusted, and to facilitate a process of transformation for so many people.

It’s important, meaningful, loving work which requires that I be open, always learning and growing.

7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?

What a great question! I’d probably say: “Be true to yourself, stand up for yourself, honor your head and heart, be open, be humble, be curious, be honest, and be loving, respectful and compassionate in all your relationships. Set an intention to treat your life and everyone in it as a precious gift, each and every day.”

8. If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?

I’d still be a psychotherapist, but I’d train for subspecialties which would allow me to travel and be more active physically with clients, like special needs skiing instruction, or animal-assisted therapy.

Or I might have taken a path toward more consultation/workshops with groups related to their teamwork (preferably in warm, beautiful places I’d get to see).

So, I guess I would have trained to work more holistically with clients in their own environments, so I’d have a broader context, and wouldn’t be glued to my therapy chair so much. (Luckily, I have a beautiful view!)

9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?

I wish that more clients understood that everyone has “issues,” and that the challenge for each of us is to know our own demons and to find appropriate tools to work with ourselves so that the demons don’t define us.

I also wish clients would understand that there are many paths to wholeness, that there are many daily ways besides being in the therapy chair that they can nourish and heal themselves psychologically, and that self-esteem and joy are really daily action words.

I wish that clients would more fully appreciate the impact of their own role in shaping their lives, and more often would ask themselves, “Where am I in this problem, and where am I in the solution?”

All we can really change is ourselves.

Finally, I wish clients would recognize the value of daily gratitude practice toward a joyful life. What we pay attention to shapes everything.

10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?

Here are the ways I cope with stress:

  • I work out daily either outside or in my own home gym. (Yes, I have a gym so that, living in New England with a 7-month winter, I don’t go bananas indoors when it’s 10 degrees outdoors).
  • I practice meditative strategies, like deep breathing and visualization, to calm down when I get hyped up.
  • I stay in connection with the people I care about, not only because it brings me joy, but because it centers me, can offset a foul mood, and gets me out of preoccupation with my own problems. Love is the best medicine for stress.
  • I write blogs, articles, books, etc, because the creative process shifts my experience from stress to something stimulating, exciting or soothing.
  • I practice good self-talk when I’m stressed, so I’m treating myself like a loving family member or friend would.
  • I make lists to get the endless “garbage” tasks out of my head. I also make daily action plans to deal with stressful situations, so I amplify my own sense of “agency” and personal power, and reduce feelings of helplessness or frustration.
  • I read whatever and whenever I can, usually late at night.
  • I occasionally play my guitar (when I allow myself to do more sitting) and I sing.
  • I engage in Retail Therapy to treat myself to beautiful or functional things. T.J. Maxx is part of my self-care routine. Like many women, (some men too), I often go into a lovely trance when I’m there. The trick is to limit the time, and not ever do it on a gorgeous day, because then I’d feel bad, and that undermines the point of it.
  • I go kayaking, skiing and boating with my husband and our son and daughter-in-law when they’re here. We love the time together, and make a pact to not bring any “work” with us. This is another vehicle for being fully “in the moment,” an antidote to stress.
  • I listen to comedy radio on the way home from work to “decompress” after the tensions of the day. It changes the frequency in my brain so much that I arrive home most nights laughing!
  • I limit my exposure to the news on TV — too much horror and crime as the focus.
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor at Psych Central and blogs regularly about eating and self-image issues on her own blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Psychotherapist Susan Lager. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Mar 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

I Love You — Now Change

I Love You -- Now ChangeThis is not the article you might have thought it was. This is not the one about the fact that people don’t change and why you’d better learn to just accept everything about your partner. No. This is about healthy requests for change in marriage.

It is true that it is unlikely that your partner will have a personality transplant, or that a chronically disappointing relationship or cyclically abusive relationship will become satisfying and healthy. Not impossible, but unlikely.

If the love is there, however, and the relationship is, overall, good enough most of the time, then you would be wise to accept that it is highly likely that you are going to want your partner’s behaviors to change — a lot, and your partner is going to want your behaviors to change — a lot.

Modern marriage, for most, means high expectations for regular progress toward mutual fulfillment and efficient teamwork. Unless the marriage is continually getting better, in other words, one or both partners is likely to feel seriously upset and dissatisfied. These days, marriages are expected to follow a path of evolution.

And who could object to evolution? Yea for growth, right? Well, actually, evolution in a marriage is often neither pretty nor pleasant. In practical terms, change and evolution means listening as your partner asks you to behave differently and then trying to adapt to his or her requests while still being true to your own needs and limitations. It also means communicating to your partner about the changes you want from him or her, and then accepting a compromise or sometimes a flat-out ‘no.’

At worst, these desires for change can either turn into excruciatingly painful fights that go nowhere or go unspoken and manifest as an undercurrent of resentment and disappointment in the marriage. At best, they can be relatively calm but difficult discussions that can propel positive change.

Here are 11 keys to optimizing your chance for calm and productive negotiations about change:

  1. Recognize that changing your behaviors in response to each other’s needs and preferences is part of marriage. It does not mean that you are nags or that you are controlling or mean. Asking for changes and receiving requests to change also does not mean that you do not love or accept each other as is – it just means you both want a marriage that grows and evolves.
  2. If you are the one who wants a change, identify what you want before you begin the conversation.If you are upset that your partner has been putting wet towels on the bed, for example, figure out what behavior you do want. (I want him or her to hang up the wet towels.)
  3. Be respectful that your partner may not agree that what you are asking for is simply compliance with the ‘right’ behavior.Avoid trying to get inside your partner’s head and ‘help’ him or her to ‘see the light’ so that he or she will make a change in behavior. (‘Doesn’t it make sense to hang up the towels? Don’t you see that putting the towels on the bed just creates more of a mess?’)
  4. Don’t assume that your partner’s behaviors have anything to do with you.Avoid using guilt-inducing comments such as ‘why would you put the wet towel on the bed when you know how much it annoys me?’
  5. Avoid indirect, blame-laden comments such as ‘why do you insist on throwing wet towels on the bed?’
  6. Ask directly and specifically for the changes you would like from your partner, and own the fact that you are asking for a change.‘I would like you to hang up the towels when they are wet. Would you be willing and able to do that?’ While it may sound cold or robotic, a simple statement and question combo like that can be more productive than a ‘please, honey, could you try to hang up the towels?’ The direct and plain version actually allows for an answer of yes or no. The seemingly more polite version is basically saying ‘Do it.’ And, ‘aren’t I so sweet for asking nicely, how could you say no to this reasonable request?’
  7. Do not argue against the answer you receive.There may be times when a quick, ‘I want you to know that this is a 9 on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of importance to me’ (but do not overuse this option) is appropriate, but that is it. Learning to let go when you do not get the answer you want is a challenge, but remember you will get the same respect back when you say no.
  8. If you are the one being asked for a change in behavior, and your partner is asking in a way that is not respectful or direct, ask for a direct request.
  9. Once there is a direct request, be respectful back to your partner by not becoming angry or defensive or deflecting the request. Reflect on whether you are able and willing to make the change. ‘Is hanging up the wet towel something I am willing to do? Will I be able to remember?’ Be honest and realistic with yourself.
  10. Avoid responding based on whether or not you see the request as reasonable or valid.It’s not your job to pass judgment on your partner’s requests.
  11. Communicate to your partner if you are willing and able to make the change.Or, offer a compromise or try to develop a plan together. ‘I will hang up the towels if you put a reminder note in the bathroom.’

The example of the wet towels may seem simplistic, but you can work to apply the same principles to more serious or vulnerable issues such as substance abuse, sex, needs for verbal attention from your partner, concerns about finances or employment, or major life decisions about having children or choosing where to live. ‘I want you to go to AA meetings, would you be willing and able to do that?’ ‘I would like you to initiate sex’. ‘I would like you to read this self-help book and reflect on your own issues.’ ‘I would like you to call your boss about the late paycheck.’

‘I Love You — Now Change’ may sound like the example of ‘what not to do in relationships’ but in fact it is the definition of an evolving and thriving marriage. I love you, I accept you, and I have needs and preferences. Let’s make this work for both of us.

Danielle B. Grossman, California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializes in relationships, loss, anxiety, codependence, and addiction. She works in private practice and consults by phone. Contact her at (530) 470-2233 or

APA Reference
Grossman, D. (2014). I Love You — Now Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2014, from

Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Mar 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.