Thursday, October 23, 2008



BY Brian Lynch, M.D.

Good day everyone!

For a living I talk to people, a pretty nice job. I try and help people solve their problems. We sit together and just understand the problem a little better. I wish I was powerful enough to solve the problems!

What I do is called psychotherapy.

The people that come to see me often are really just coming in for a “tune up” or to check to see if what they are thinking is on course, to compare their ideas with someone else. Often I find, very importantly, that the people they live with are more in need of help then they are!

So today I want to focus on an aspect I will call “the space between us.”

The other day a patient commented on how his wife would often come to him and insist on talking to him when he was in the middle of watching a movie. You could see in his eyes how intensely this bothered him. Certainly we have all been in this situation. We might in fact all suffer such a situation in some way every day.

Last week, in this space, I introduced the concepts of “hurt” and “confusion.” Isn’t this man simply “hurt” when his wife does this? Is he not “confused” at some level? Does there not have to be at least some formulation in his mind such as “Why is she doing this at this time?” “Doesn’t she see? I am interested in this move.”

Again the man was interested and now he is “hurt” and “confused.” This happens to us all the time. This happens throughout the day many times during the day. Not, of course, in such dramatic fashion but in little ways. For example, an expected letter does not come, the Internet slows down, and an appointment does not show. That is an interest of ours is interrupted.

Now, I asked the man to stop and think for a moment and put himself in the shoes of his wife. How many times had he felt exactly the same way? He immediately seemed to understand and agreed that he had felt the same way.

I said yes, we all do it. We are “pushed” by our emotions so much that we are exploding and cannot control ourselves. We even, often, are saying to ourselves “I should not bother him/her”, but do it anyway.

Of course this is the art of being in a relationship. How do we tolerate each other and manage these situations. How do we express ourselves appropriately? How are we fair to one another?

It is the art, I say of being “listened to and listening at the same time.” Impossible but that is what is happening as each party needs to be heard and listened to!

The truth is we are just beginning to develop rules for mature adults to live in harmony as partners after hundreds of thousands of years.

Many of us know there are no easy answers and that many of our partners, if not ourselves have extreme difficulty in controlling their and our own actions and feelings. But we must start somewhere.

A beginning is to look at four guidelines proposed by the psychologist Silvan S. Tomkins.
He says that:

We want to be sure to work towards the MOST INTEREST AND JOY in our lives.
We want to be sure to work towards the LEAST NEGATIVE FEELINGS in our lives.
We achieve these goals by expressing or letting out ALL of our feelings.
But to do that we have to have some sensible rules.

First of all it has been apparent to me over the last ten years that humans amazingly do not have very good rules for expressing their emotions, especially the negative ones.

For the most part we are not supposed to express our negative emotions. This has been a big problem throughout history. So step number two in the above has been seen as meaning NOT to express negative emotion. We say “children should be seen and not heard” or that “big boys and girls don’t cry.” I say this is all wrong. From an early age we need to teach children to express themselves when they are fearful, angry, distressed or shamed.

Now, if they do I think they will grow up and will feel safe and will not be fearful of not having someone around to express themselves to and will not have to interrupt their partner in the middle of a movie.

We interrupt people because we have an “irrational” fear that they won’t be there in the next five minutes! But again this comes from not being permitted to express negative feeling, or for that matter positive feeling, interest and joy, from early in our life, and now we are continually “ahead” of ourselves, “bursting” to tell someone!

Copyright 2008


Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

How To Get Where You Want To Go Brian Lynch, M.D. 2000 PageFree