Most people yearn to have loving, healthy and successful relationships with family and friends. For those who are looking for a romantic love relationship, most people can tell you in great detail exactly what they want or don’t want in a partner. However, the reality is that unless each of us is in a good place emotionally and psychologically, we will simply not be able to find and maintain a loving and truly satisfying relationship with anyone. Are you prepared to ask yourself some difficult, but necessary questions?
1. Are you satisfied with yourself and the quality of your life and your relationships?
2. What do you feel stands in the way of your happiness and personal goals?
3. If you’re unsure, are you willing to find out?
4. And if and when you discover the challenges facing you, are you willing to acknowledge, address and resolve your issues — understanding, of course, that we can’t change history?
I’ve discovered that the majority of people who are genuinely happy with their lives are not rich and famous and beautiful — nor are they people who are immune from life’s traumas and tragedies. In treating thousands of people over the past 35 years at every age and stage in life, and from every socioeconomic background, gender and sexual orientation, I’ve discovered there is only one primary difference between those who wake up every morning thankful to be alive and those who are embittered about life and who are caught in a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, substance abuse of various kinds or other psychiatric problems.
The embittered group tends to complain incessantly about their difficulties and disappointments — blaming everyone from their parents and friends to their lovers and spouses for their unhappiness. The happier group has had their share of disappointments and trauma, too, but made a decision to take whatever steps are necessary to emotionally process what did and didn’t happen in their lives that may have contributed to their problems. They are committed to NOT becoming victims of their circumstances. They are the people who seek professional help when necessary and are committed to tackling their problems head on.
They are the mentally and emotionally healthy ones who I see in my office every day. They’re my heroes for their courage and integrity. They’re men and women from every walk of life — young and old, single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, bi and trans — determined to finally put their skeletons in the closet (past and present) to rest. With determination and commitment to the therapeutic process, most succeed beyond their wildest dreams and expectations.
Life inevitably confronts us with a variety of problems and challenges. A baby is stillborn. A parent or loved one dies. A marriage is dissolved. A friend or lover betrays us. An illness strikes. We lose our jobs and face a financial upheaval. It’s how well or poorly that we emotionally deal with our sorrows that will determine whether we get through them or whether we will remain stuck.
We all know people who, regardless of their pain and suffering, will tell us that everything is just fine. Whether it is to convince others or themselves, these people never emotionally deal with their pain, frustrations, disappointments, loneliness, anger, feeling of alienation, angst and fears. They mask their feelings or escape experiencing their true emotions. Instead they use any number of defense mechanisms that may include avoidance, denial, blame, suppression, sublimation, projection and defensiveness.
Work, alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, extra-marital affairs or other self-destructive behaviors and activities are frequently used as yet another means of escape. Many wealthy women and men that I’ve treated spend their days acquiring more and more designer clothes, jewelry, cars and luxury properties in hopes that these purchases will dull their psychic pain. The high they experience usually lasts for only a short period of time.
What are the consequences of not stepping up to the plate to deal with one’s demons? People pay a price physically, mentally and spiritually. The majority of people, upon entering therapy with me, had a variety of physical problems including insomnia, depression high blood pressure, panic attacks, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, high cholesterol, back pain, ulcers, colitis an other aches and pains. They almost all had relationship problems, as well. But when they began to give themselves permission to finally deal with their psychic pain, the majority began to feel much better not only emotionally but physically as well.
Keeping a stiff upper lip is a sure recipe for disaster. If we continually stuff our emotions, these unexpressed feelings will surely find a place to lodge somewhere within our body.
If we are hoping to have a happy and joyful life, we all need to be willing to face our pain and unhappiness, so that it can finally be put to rest. It is only then that we are truly free to embrace life. It’s only then that we are ready and able to have successful and loving relationships.
Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, columnist, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of “The Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network. She has a private practice in New York City and East Hampton.