The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Leslie Becker-Phelps
EM: You’re the author of Insecure in Love. Can you tell us a little bit about its major points or findings?
LBP: My book was written for people who have difficulty in their intimate relationships, struggling with issues such as feeling a great deal of self-doubt, a sense of neediness, a fear of rejection, and a feeling of jealousy. Most of these readers can relate to having a sense that they are inadequate, and so they expect others will not love them when they are just being themselves. Instead, they feel that they need to earn love from their partner. They are driven to please their partner and will often inhibit their own interests or not express their opinions as they focus on making their partner happy. Not only does the book describe this style of connecting with others, but it also explains how people develop it, helping them to understand themselves and their partners better.
Readers are walked through steps for developing compassionate self-awareness, which is a combination of self-awareness and self-compassion. By developing greater self-awareness, they can begin to look at their struggles from a new perspective, opening up to a new way of understanding themselves and experiencing relationships. By nurturing self-compassion, they develop a healthier, more positive way of relating to themselves, especially when they are hurting or upset. Importantly, Insecure in Love functions as a kind of guidebook to creating more secure relationships.
EM: You take a special interest in the issues and challenges of individuals with a history of being abused. What do you see as helpful or healing for a person with that history?
LBP: People with a history of neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse are especially at risk for feeling essentially flawed and for not trusting that others can be relied upon to be emotionally supportive. This is entirely understandable. Unfortunately, it also means that their earlier experiences rob them of being able to enjoy loving, mutually satisfying relationships. They frequently cannot fully discern emotionally harmful from truly loving relationships. Even when they can intellectually recognize that a particular person is trust-worthy, they often can’t allow themselves to trust. Also, they were taught during their formative years that they are unworthy of healthy love. Too often, they accept this message as truth and live with an expectation of “deserving” to be treated poorly.
When I talk in therapy with these people, my heart goes out to them. I hurt for their pain and naturally feel compassion, wanting to help them experience the goodness in themselves. Though such compassion from others can be healing, it is also essential that they develop compassion for themselves. By nurturing compassionate self-awareness, they can get to know themselves better and see themselves in a caring way. Learning to have positive self-perceptions and open up to feeling valued by others are a healing combination.
LBP: Childbearing and menopause are developmental experiences in a woman’s life. The changes that come with them require that woman adapt to their new experiences both emotionally and physiologically. Sometimes this goes more smoothly than others. Changing hormones can make these periods of time difficult, as can adjusting to accompanying changes in roles and self-perceptions.
Education is often helpful for women with postpartum depression and issues related to menopause. In fact, this can be so powerful that I’ve personally found that women with uncomplicated experiences of postpartum depression feel better after approximately just 8 weeks of therapy that focuses on support and education. Gaining a better understanding of their experiences and learning that they are not alone in those experiences helps them to feel more “normal.”
It allows them to relax their worries and focus their energy on more productive ways of coping. With specific regard to hormonal changes, understanding their effects can also be a big relief. Women can see their problems less as a measure of something wrong with them individually and more as part of the female experience. This knowledge can be like a lifesaver to hold onto as they wait for the stormy waters of change to settle down.
As with other struggles, these women can benefit greatly from nurturing compassionate self-awareness. Greater understanding of their own inner experiences provides an opportunity to relate to them with self-compassion. This compassion helps to soothe their distress and offers support for them to find ways to help themselves. It motivates women to do things like improve their self-care, take in support offered by others, and ask for support.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
LBP: I would suggest that they open themselves up to the resources available to them. This means that they pursue whatever has helped them feel better in the past. People benefit a lot from engaging in activities that offer enjoyment, meaning and/or fulfillment. This could include anything from taking long, hot baths to starting a nonprofit agency to help a personally important cause.
I would also recommend that they pay special attention to reaching out for social support. This is essential because people are fundamentally social creatures. When they feel truly connected with a community greater than themselves, they generally feel better. Social connections offer a sense of meaning and purpose, emotional support, and practical help. They increase opportunities to learn more about various topics and can be an enjoyable distraction (such as enjoying an evening out at the movies together).
If all of the above fail or my loved one was still in significant distress, I would help them to find a therapist. While I would certainly look for a respected and capable professional, I would also encourage them to find someone who they could truly relate to. Therapy is a very personal adventure and so people must be comfortable with the therapist they pick.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a well-respected psychologist, author and speaker. Her book, Insecure in Love, is available online. She is also available as a speaker for lay and professional audiences. You can learn more about her and connect with her at www.drbecker-phelps.com.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here
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