Tag Archives: acceptance

Am I a Marginalizer?

Herbie

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

What do you think of when you hear the word marginalization? People living in poverty, persons of color, those who do not share fully in the privileges some of us are enjoying these days?

I would say yes to all of the above, and would include a list that would be broader and more inclusive of groups or communities of people we ordinarily don’t think of as marginalized such as: those who suffer from mental illness, particularly those who experience extreme states of consciousness; people who live alternative lifestyles, outside the norm of heterosexual monogamy (i.e. polyamorists or kinksters); and anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA, or does not identify with any particular gender or sexual orientation. The list is actually endless — think of religious and spiritual minorities, immigrants, the elderly, people with disabilities…

In general, when we think of marginalization we think in terms of self and other — you and me, us and them. But we rarely consider that we might be marginalizing ourselves.

How is this possible? Well, I know there are parts of me — aspects, qualities, biases and dislikes, etc… — that I don’t know about, that I don’t want to admit to myself, that I disown, disavow, or deny. Consider the idea that marginalization refers to a point of view that relates self to other, as well as self to self.

Do you know marginalize, disavow or deny? For example, would you say that you are an angry or rageful person? Probably, not many. If you are like me, my preferred way of identifying myself is as a “nice” person, relatively calm, thoughtful and non-reactive. Let’s see if that holds true…

Am I a marginalizer? Last week, as I was coming out of Starbucks, a man yelling at a woman, in the park nearby, caught my attention. In hearing him, I thought, “Geez, glad I’m not a yeller like that!”  I was instantly reminded of my dad who would often yell when he was mad and sometimes for no apparent reason. I believe I made an unconscious decision when I was a child to not be a yeller, to not be like dad!

Then two days later, I was sitting in my room manicuring my nails.  My dog, Herbie, was laying contentedly at my feet.  Very nonchalantly, he stood up and heartily vomited on my bedroom rug. Inside of me a yell arose, and out of me came a hearty “oh shit!”  There was more coming but I was able to stop myself before traumatizing the poor pup who was just doing what came naturally.

I thought about the man in the street and my dad — yellers. I could imagine that the man or my dad had moments like me.  They weren’t only yellers.  They were also human beings who got upset, lost awareness and blurted out things that might sound unkind.  In recognizing a mostly unknown or marginalized part of myself, I had an experience of feeling more whole and, in addition, I found myself more connected to and understanding of that characteristic or quality in others.

All this to say that while I do not readily identify as an angry yeller, but rather as a calm, thoughtful responder, the yeller does live in me and from time to time uses it’s voice.

To marginalize is human.  Being angry or being a yeller belongs to all of us. So does the impulse is to ignore qualities in ourselves and point the finger out at some other person, group, community, country etc… We all marginalize parts of ourselves and others. It is our capacity to use our awareness in the heat of the moment that helps to soothe our inner and outer responses.

Consider how you might marginalize aspects of yourself and how that might keep you separated both from yourself and others.

My New Companions — Curiosity & Fear

imagesby Rami Henrich, LCSW

Why should you befriend experiences and things that you are afraid of? Things that unnerve you, disgust you or freak you out?  A week ago, I had a moment when my curiosity overcame my fear and I started to reflect on how curiosity can help us overcome inner as well as outer fears. 

Curiosity is what researcher, therapist and facilitator, Amy Mindell calls a “metaskill.” Amy coined the term in her 2006 book, Metaskills: The Spiritual Art of Therapy.  Metaksills are “deep feeling qualities, or attitudes that bring learned skills to life and make them useful”.  As a therapist, I know metaskills are important to my clients and my work, but as a human being, I find they are essential to acceptance, growth and change.

I’ve just returned home from my early morning walk with Herbie, my shitzu-poodle, who gives me both reason and energy to walk every morning at 6.

Looking down at the road, as we walked, I noticed an unusual looking insect — large, about 4 inches long — where I was about to step next.

I rarely examine insects of any sort. In fact, I avoid them at all cost, as they repulse me, actually freak me out. Maybe it’s their creepy crawliness, or their being-there- when-you-least-expect-them nature that I find so troubling. I hate when I find them in the sink, or coming down my bedroom wall or, heaven forbid, in my bed! Yuk!

But, on my walk this morning, for some reason, I found myself a bit interested in this insect laying in the road. As I started to bend over to look at it a bit more, it flew up almost into my face, startling me the way insects always do. And as it flew away, I noticed that it had wings like a dragonfly, and stripes like a bee.  Really unusual, something I’d never seen before. I love when something new enters my life and at this intersection, I found myself simultaneously frightened and curious.

As I walked on, I kept thinking about my experience.

    • Hmmm, what if when I experience fear, I could also be curious about the person, situation, belief  or thing causing that fear?
    • What if, in the face of unpleasant, self-condemning thoughts, where I judge myself as miserable human being, instead I could be curious about my feelings, thoughts, unkindness toward myself?
    • And what if when faced with people who I expeirnece as “other,” who I might fear — what if I got curious about them instead of turning away or judging those not like me? 

Bringing curiosity and awareness to what we fear or despise, or judge as intolerable, is an opportunity to ask questions, to be curious, to inquire into the nature of the “other” — be it an insect, a part of myself, a closely held belief, another human being, or group of people. With curiosity, we can earnestly open ourselves to an inquiry into just why it is that we need to consciously or unconsciously keep ourselves separate?

Thank you dear, unusual and a bit frightening dragonfly on my path this morning. You have awakened me to curiosity and fear — to the possibility of living a more curious life!

How has curiosity been an ally to you?  Where have you been able to use a curious attidue to over come fear or separation?  I would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment.

How Much Sex is Enough?

sex alt 1by Rami Henrich, LCSW

So often in my practice I hear complaints about differing levels of libido in partners.  One partner has more interest and desire than the other.

What to do? I have to say that frequently I don’t have the answer. That is, I think to myself, “Ok, you want to have a lot of sex and you don’t. I guess you’re at an impasse.”

However, as we know, there is more to sex than just the biological urge. Attitudes and beliefs that are formed through experiences with family, peer groups, society, religion, culture etc. have an enormous impact on our sexuality as do our lifestyle, health and the pressures and stresses that we experience day in and out.

A few months ago a couple came to see me. The wife said, “I am hypersexual. I just want to have sex all the time. What’s wrong with me?” Her husband, a gentle, warm man said, “I really never think about sex at all. I just don’t seem to have the urge to have sex. Ever. What’s wrong with me?”

How much sex is enough? Is there something “wrong” with either of them? Our culture would probably agree with this couple that something is wrong with each of them.

She is too sexual! It is still a taboo for women to want too much sex or to want sex too much! Recently, at a party, a woman confessed to loving sex, and lots of it! The mixed group (of men and women) whose conversation had meandered into this important territory, giggled and some blushed.  I thought, “Hmmm, we are still somewhat puritanical in some part of our being when we think of a woman who both wants and needs a lot of sex.”

And what about a man who isn’t interested in sex? Is there something wrong with him? Society seems to frown on men who aren’t robust, so to speak.  The alpha male type is still a widely accepted ideal of masculinity.  Men have been taught to “go for it”, that they are or should be hunters and warriors both on the battle field and in the bed. I know that these are generalizations, but I do sometimes wonder if there is a place in our society for a soft spoken man who is not so interested in sex?

From my point of view, this woman and man fall somewhere on a continuum in terms of sexual drive, interest and activity. Could it be that there isn’t anything “wrong” with either of them and that it is our expectations that they be some other way that defines them as outside the norm?

For some, identifying as living outside the norm and the process of adjusting to what that means is already a part of living a polyamorous life. There seems to be a perception both inside and out of the poly community that polyamorists have strong libidos and are constantly on the looking for the next catch. While this may be true for some, it is certainly not so for all! The poly umbrella includes a lot of diversity. It encompasses a broad array of relationship constellations and sexual identities as well as appetites that can’t be easily reduced to single dimensions.

Can we find a way to accept people for who and where they are sexually? Can we find a way to accept ourselves where we are sexually?  Expectations are like ghosts hanging around in the closet.  Can we clean out the closet and feel freer to be who we are sexually and in other ways as well?

Let me know what you think.  Your comments are welcome.