Uliyana Markova

Reaching for a book?

Part 1

This post lists some of the books I recommend to my clients and the ones that have remained my favorites through time. Having gone through a number of self-help books, I have experienced the hope and curiosity they trigger, the validation they offer and the discouragement that arises weeks or even days after we finish reading them. The books below withstood the test of time and produced a good wholesome effect on me. To keep this blog short, I have split the list in 2 parts and will offer only part 1 today:

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Each chapter offers one story about one client of psychotherapist S. Grosz. The author takes us into the realm of the unconscious and its effects on our behavior. Gently holding your hand, he reveals the nature and impact of psychotherapy and delights you with an expected ending.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Do we change or do we not? This question still traverses the conversation around human psychology. Written in 2007, this book will convince non-believers that adaptive changes in our brains could be seen in brain scans, including changes resulting from psychotherapy. This is scientifically-informed captivating storytelling.

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

114 small-size pages will draw you into the complex and intense world of children as they relate to their parents. The innate need for survival as well as the inherent love for mom and dad lead to astonishing adaptive changes in the psyche. This applies to all of us, almost without exception. It is the human nature.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

More than this book, I like E. Perel’s original video talks in which she explains “the secret of desire”. She caught the psychotherapists’ attention before she became a celebrity through her popular talks and interviews with the novelty of her ideas, direct and honest speech and a sense of humor.

Monogamy by Adam Phillips

Unconventionally-written and philosophical, this small book may not fit your taste but if it does, you will hang onto it. The ideas feel ahead of our time.

Which of the books you have read supported you and helped you make sustainable changes?

Talking about the difficult stuff

In intimate relationships, and especially in their early phases when people are still settling into each other’s worlds, they could find themselves surprised by how jealous, possessive, and “needy” they feel about their partner. Men and women may become equally sensitive to how their partner talks about others that interest and excite them. They may be startled by how competitive and easily angered they are by anyone who presents a perceived threat to our relationship. These strong emotions can be confusing and so hard to share that we’d rather mask them with humor or focus our criticism on the threatening person. When we reach out for a solution, the self-help literature is quick to tell us that we are not evolved sufficiently, that we need to be above these feelings and hide our fears. This presents us with a dilemma of how we should behave.

We may choose to be cool and maybe even a little revengeful and try to make our partner feel the pain of longing that we experience and return from their perceived departure to us. In working with couples, however, I have observed the power of an alternative and much simpler exchange. From attachment theory, we know that our need for a secure bond is primal and central. To have fears of losing it, especially early on in the relationship, is natural. We need reassurance from our partner that they are not going away and that we are the only one. When those fears overwhelm us, instead of blaming ourselves for being needy and possessive and trying to pretend we aren’t, we could tell our partner that this event or that person has triggered a fear in us that we might lose them, which means that we really care about them and don’t want to lose them.

The key to deciding whether to do this or not is how secure you feel in the relationship, what your past experiences around revealing your feelings have been, and what you know about your partner’s ability to appropriately respond. Even in the best relationship, however, revealing our deepest fears is difficult. The fear of getting rejected is very real and powerful and explains why we don’t tread lightly in these territories. Yet, these brief moments of honesty and vulnerability hold a great potential for deepening intimacy. When this is shared in the right moment, we are likely to get a reaction of surprise and a wave of warmth and reassurance. Our partner may even venture into a disclosure of their own.

An important distinction needs to be made between sharing our vulnerability and asking for a change in our partner’s behavior. We are not asking for a change. We are telling them we care about them and that makes us vulnerable and fearful. However, we also hold in ourselves the impermanence of love and the possibility of losing it. This will give our partner the space to find out how they feel about us and the freedom to respond from an honest place. We cannot force desire or commitment in another but we can invite them to find out where they stand.

Do This at Least Once in Your Life

Sophie is seventeen and about to make one of the most important decisions in her life – choosing a university program. Her parents are watching closely that her choice is reasonable and practical. They want to protect her from disappointment and unhappiness. Sophie has a dream which she has not shared with anyone. She tries not to think about it. It is distracting and in the way of her realistic and accessible goals.

According to Debbie Millman, one of the  most established contemporary creative designers and successful entrepreneurs, before Sophie proceeds with her choices, she can benefit from a ‘dream’ exercise. For the last 12 years, Debbie has asked her students at the School of Visual Arts in New York City to take 30 minutes to describe the day exactly ten years from now. In the dream, everything they wish to have, do, be with is possible. It is exactly as they want it to be. From the morning to evening, every detail that they can imagine is to be laid out on paper.

I come across this exercise through Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with Debbie Millman. As soon as it is finished, I sit down and put on paper what my mind has to offer. The result surprises me. I have not thought or envisioned what I describe in my half-page essay.

I take this fantasy very seriously. But why, it is just a fantasy? We know what happens with fantasies. And who fantasizes anyway? It is silly.

Debbie’s students found that what they described on paper, they achieved. ‘It is magic,’ she laughs in the interview. She achieved her own goals that she listed in a bullet form as part of this exercise years ago. As a psychotherapist, I found my own explanation of the ‘magic’. What we dream of is what will unconsciously influence us in the important decisions we make in our lives. If what we really want is not made conscious, recognized and thought through, it will remain a powerful force, albeit unknown to us. If we ignore it and proceed with reasonable, realistic goals, when we achieve them we may still feel discontent. Even more, we may not be able to achieve those goals because that is not what we really, really wanted, in other words what our deep intelligence wanted for us.

The exercise gets this narrative out of the depths of our unconsciousness on page for us to read it and see it. If you do it today, you will be fascinated with what you find. It may trigger some fears and the need to dismiss it. But if you work through those fears and allow yourself to consider your dream, you will be moving one step closer to aligning with your inner self and becoming successful in the deeper sense of the word.

 

One-Thought Post: On Love

On Love blog post imageIn love, it seems that often incongruity, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and triggered trauma are what engage us day-to-day and minute-to-minute. However, if you take a breath and submerge under all this, you are likely to discover the powerful and unwavering simplicity of indisputable, unforgiving love. When love is at work, everything else submits to it. We try to deal with it in all ways we can imagine and with all tools that we have acquired to this point.  It might anger and frustrate us. It could scare or upset us. We will attempt to kick and push, protest, whine or pretend that we don’t notice. Our attempts to move away from these states, however, should not be considered as anything more than that. For we have no power to stop love when it has settled in our bodies and our minds.

On Motherhood

Children are endearing to watch. They are funny. Cute. Delightful. Other people’s kids.

Three-year-old is Max playing in the sand. He dashes towards the road and looks back at his mother laughing. She sprints to catch him. Her face is tense. No trace of delight.

Charming smiles, tight hugs and sudden kisses, heartwarming love admissions. Squeals, loud cries. Expressions of misery and hate, grabs for the face and hair. A mix of pleasure, love and fear. Richness. Exhaustion. What was it like before – when she was just a child and not a mother? A distant memory she grasps on in brief off-duty moments.

Homework, backpacks, lunches, sports, play-dates, negotiations. Her eyes are no longer locked on her child. Her mind still follows him. The possibilities of future form, hopes of success and happiness…

She stands before the mirror and sees a woman who has nurtured, worried, and sat in the car for hours chauffeuring. Things are no longer the same. She heads toward her son’s room to remind him of something she has just remembered. A gentle knock. A loud yell in response, “Go away! Leave me alone! And you know what? I don’t like you.” She sits down. Waves of disbelief and rage sweep over her. Her knees feel weak. Her mind is empty. She stares in the dark space.

So, this is what it feels like to be a mother? Her soul aches. She is confused and grasps for answers. She tries to push back and revert the past. She wants to add control, to attack or even belittle just like her mother did to her. Or maybe she could just check out of motherhood?

She suffers yet she chooses to stay…close to her son’s experience. She feels theforce of growing up and changing. Her own self-hood is called to find answers, strengthen and expand. She must find a way to be that makes her happy.

Mother and son sit in the kitchen. Her son puts his arm around her shoulders. She looks up. Their eyes meet. He smiles so very innocently. “Sorry.”