The Meadows Blog

Wednesday, 01 May 2013 20:00

Financial Porn

In an age of round-the-clock news dispatches akin to heard it before it even happened, it's any wonder that those affixed to their personal electronic BFF can appreciate what life was like before the realm of mobile devices, the internet and social media. It's also any wonder that intimacy in relationships has a fighting chance. How could it when we as a collective population are being trained to consciously and unconsciously shy away from personal connection with eye to eye contact? Advances in technology have brought tremendous advantages to those who wish to connect but are geographically or physically separated. Sifting through the endless, inbound informational torrent to focus on what we need to know or want to remember becomes a waning personal skill. So, who's minding the relationship while most of us are minding our phones, tablets, laptops, Twitter and Facebook? At greatest risk to our interpersonal connection is the ever increasing pull away from in vivo intimacy between individuals that creates and maintains affection and towards communicating via a virtual conduit.

This shift toward hearing and away from active listening poses a greater risk to deeper emotional intimacy. A diminished willingness to hold attention is typical of what I witness in my therapy sessions with couples. "You never listen" is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn't lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

This comes as no surprise to any clinician or treating therapist. I frequently find myself prompting clients during our session to silence their phone (or several) as it rings on muted vibration. If a one or two hour session cannot make it without interruption, what's to become of a couple's daily marital and relational routine?

The richness of life doesn't lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention. - Seth S. Horowitz

"Where was that photo taken?" Rob was a 37 year old trader/banker who was calmly scanning my office for distraction. Although we were sitting far from Wall Street, Rob was dressed in a smart Dolce & Gabbana, Martini suit complete with black Italian leather apron wing, Prada shoes - nothing to scoff at. Finishing off his look were knit argyle socks peeking out from under his pleated trousers. He was the epitome of influence and finesse! However, Rob wasn't trying to make a fashion statement so much as he was striving for a bid at power in this initial session. He didn't need to say, "Back off." His power attire would do this for him.

This couple had been referred by a personal friend of theirs, whose name Rob was quick to toss out as a power play. Close beside him sat his wife, Chelsea, who, however, would not look or turn in his direction. This was rather telling. By Chelsea's appearance she seemed far less interested than Rob in wrestling power from me in the session. "In Nepal, as were the others. Have you been there?" "No, but I will be retiring after I collect my bonus later this year. I'll be doing a lot of traveling...well; we'll be doing a lot of traveling." "Retire?" "Yes - I've arrived. Chelsea and I want to take off and get away - isn't that right?" I wondered if Chelsea had ever heard about this before now. "Perhaps, before you both do that we can start with why you're..." My words were interrupted by Rob's phone that was vibrating. I hadn't yet asked them to silence their phones, but Chelsea was quick to remind Rob, a request which appeared to be a daily if not more frequent appeal. Chelsea began to talk about why they came to see me.

I'm concerned about Ron's recovery from sex addiction. He's been looking at pornography which is a problem since he has supposedly been in recovery for sex addiction now 5 years. Rob sat quiet. "And, frankly, I'm not happy about how Rob controls the money." I wasn't impressed or intimidated by Rob's vying for power although truthfully, I did enjoy his fashionable taste for expensive attire. What did concern me, however, was that he made every effort to discredit his wife's concerns. Further, he ensured distance and disconnect between them by allowing his phones to ring incessantly. There is a fine line between passion and obsession, no doubt, but when a partner registers enough discontent and frustration, so as to schedule a therapy session to discuss the adverse effects of an unremitting interruption of information and technology, it is clear that the relationship needs help. For Rob and Chelsea, it remained to be seen where the line was drawn between requisite business and precarious disruption from intimacy.

If money is to Wall Street and sex is to porn - then where do the tools and tricks of their individual trades intersect

Financial Porn

Nowhere is this informational flow more prized than in the global financial arenas where information and timing is everything - timing of an (IPO) initial public offering, knowing when to bring a deal to market, being first to the bid* or at the ask**, what we know but more importantly when we knew it, and first action taken on that information. The corner office has given way to the corner cushion on the living room couch or at the local coffee shop. Keeping up isn't necessarily just with The Joneses; it begins to take on an obsessional quality. As is the case with any behavior (in this case sex, work, money and financial issues) obsession suggests a preoccupation to the exclusion of other parts of your life without care or awareness of the consequences of that behavior. The endless torrent of financial reporting can be mind-numbing for those involved in the financial arenas as well as those standing in their seats on the sidelines; partners and spouses left wondering which financial verdict will do the greatest damage to their financial health.

Financial Porn is a savvy catch phrase for the ever expanding filler in media and financial coverage. The phrase refers to the "short-term focus by the media on a financial topic that can create excitement but does little to help investors make smart, long-term financial decisions, and in many cases clouds investors decision-making ability." Financial porn exemplifies the constant advertisements for easy-access trading-strategy software, the hyped front page proclamations extolling funds large fortunes resulting from minimal investments, and never-before-seen sector trends and mutual funds of tomorrow. It's what the advertising guys and gals have known all along: sell the sizzle; not the steak. For the uninitiated, knowing what to ignore and what to pay attention to (much less having the self-control to do so) amidst the blitzkrieg of newsworthy and not-so-worthy financial news can be easily forgotten in the haze of a mind-numbing trance. Compare the definition of financial porn to the Oxford Dictionary definition of pornography: "Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement." Amidst this deluge of financial, monetary and sexual distraction is a relationship most likely relegated to the proverbial back seat.

In The Headlines

If money is to Wall Street and sex is to porn - then where do the tools and tricks of their individual trades intersect? Wall Street has long been characterized by high risk, high stakes gambits. The mostly men and the fewer women who take their daily place in the money machine are undoubtedly not the same people who seek serenity for their daily payload. My years in finance and on Wall Street have taught me many things but of particular note, I've learned that money and sex not only make for addictive bedfellows but they also make for great headlines, titillating scandals (in and out of the office), and auctioned movie rights.

To most of us, the names and significance of Jordon Belfort or Howie Hubler are meaningless. Back in the 1990s, when Belfort scammed his brokerage clients out of $US100 million, it was marginally news worthy. That's because the years of financial largesse, greed, sex, drugs, and junk bonds were still reaching their blinding zenith. Howie Hubler had yet to be blamed for deceiving his clients at Morgan Stanley out of almost $US9 billion in 2007 (yes, that's a "b" as in billion folks!) and retreated to his financial man cave only to reorganize and restructure outside of the authority of the Security and Exchange Commission's reach. For whatever reason, Mr. Hubler's multi-billion dollar meteoric rise and fall didn't garner enough attention to catch Hollywood's eye. No matter because at the time of this writing (and perhaps prior to release) Mr. Belfort's story is being told in a movie directed by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo Dicaprio playing Belfort himself. Belfort's notorious drug addiction and high stakes money game was replete with sexual escapades. Escorts and prostitutes do make for great screen fodder. Unfortunately, they also make for real life disasters.

If the tools of a financier's trade include investment derivatives, models of risk and uncertainty, and financial instruments then the tools for many neuropsychologists and researchers now include fMRI and PET scans.

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

In a matter of speaking, if there was ever a time to be alive, now is it! The therapist in me says this from the perspective of evolving research into the undiscovered synapses and crevices of the brain and the current advances in understanding human behavior. The financial trader in me says this from the perspective of advances in economic science, commodity pricing and business cycles.

Back when I was actively trading commodity options I often wondered (although similar thoughts still cross my mind) what those traders were thinking as they go about their trading day, in between their wielding of hands in an array of chaotic yet carefully choreographed signals? Aside from the cacophony of noise and undulating intensity on the commodity trading floor, I wondered; what lurked deeper within their brain mass? Are they driven by primal emotions of the market or was there more to it? After all, if the conversation on the floor wasn't about money, it tended to be about sex. And, if it wasn't about sex, then the trading day must have been over. Between the forty or so male traders and myself in the sugar pit there wasn't much more conversation beyond this range of discussion. So what does sex, you may ask, have to do with any of this? Well, as far as my male trading counterparts were concerned and what science now has to disclose - it appears, a lot! But we'll get there in a minute.

If the tools of a financier's trade include investment derivatives, models of risk and uncertainty, and financial instruments then the tools for many neuropsychologists and researchers now include fMRI and PET scans. Gone are the days of hypotheticals and theories. Brain scans today are replete with the ability to observe real-time activation of our pleasure and reward centers in our brains. Many authors who have written on the subject of pornography addiction have emphasized the rise in compulsivity and addiction due to the internet's relative ease of access, affordability, and anonymity - that Triple A engine as it is known. So it makes perfect sense that the two worlds of financial risk and sex could be brought together. Those fMRIs can watch us watching porn and suffice it to say that the area of our body's activation is no longer just detected between our legs!

Financial and Sexual Superconductors

When the likes of sexual and financial pornography collide, the fundamentals fuse to convert into a superconductor of pleasure and escape. How does this happen and what are the components of brain and behavior that drive this engine? What affects our decision making process under an onslaught of continual doses of sexual and financial porn? A new and growing field called Neuroeconomics is attempting to bring the science of brain biology together with psychology and economics to explore exactly why and how we make the decisions we make certainly.

Let’s revisit my male counterparts in the sugar pit. A recent study has helped determine what exactly is going on in the minds of financiers (and I suppose male sugar traders, too) when they take risky monetary gambles - it's sex. A group of researchers at Stanford University conducted a study that involved 15 heterosexual young men. "It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shaped nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain that plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure. What they found was when these young men were shown erotic pictures they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown an image of something scary or neutral. The brain's reward area lit up at about the same time as risky decision-making." In a matter of speaking the increased activation in the reward area induced a feedback loop of higher risk-taking. Higher activation fed higher risk-taking which tended to act much like a self-perpetuating feedback loop.

Back in my office with Rob and Chelsea, their relational shift away from active listening and toward disengagement clearly posed a significant risk to their intimacy. Rob's unwillingness to relinquish his attachment to an endless torrent of financial information (and apparently to pornography as well) was just the tip of the iceberg for this couple. Shortly into the session, Chelsea risked Rob's silent rage by admitting her disdain of his addiction to pornography. She also voiced her discontent for how Rob used money to control vulnerable family members. I allowed Chelsea to talk freely while keeping an eye on Rob's posturing. It takes a sex addict to know one and I was aware that Rob’s wry affect served as a brazen attempt to deter Chelsea from confronting his sex addiction. For that day in my office I cannot say that Rob and Chelsea made any successful inroads toward emotional reconnection and resolution. In fact, I never saw them again, but I can only hope that they chose to address their issues with another therapist. Sometimes, that's just the way it is.


* Bid - an offer made by an investor, a trader or a dealer to buy a security. The bid will stipulate both the price at which the buyer is willing to purchase the security and the quantity to be purchased.

**Ask - the price a seller is willing to accept for a security, also known as the offer price. Along with the price, the ask quote will generally also stipulate the amount of the security willing to be sold at that price. This is sometimes called “the ask.”

1 Seth S. Horowitz is an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University and the author of "The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind." NY Times, September 9, 2012

2 Jane Bryant Quinn an American personal-finance writer who has been teaching and writing on financial well-being and disseminating personal finance advice in person, columns, and book.



Published in Blog
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 20:00

A Look Back to the Future: 9/11 Revisited

I spent many years on Wall Street - before my years in recovery and before I became the therapist I am today. I worked in international banking, traded physical commodities for conglomerates and later worked for a large brokerage firm on the trading desk in the High Yield "Junk Bond" department. That was back before October 1987, when global financial markets were delivered their first financial and political wake-up call.

In the world of finance, Monday, October 19, 1987 is known as "Black Monday," a reference given to the day that stock markets around the world crashed. The U.S. stock market had begun to falter three days earlier precipitated perhaps by global concerns over strategic monetary policy; perhaps by the ensuing uncertainty in the Middle East. On October 16, Iran had waged an unprovoked missile attack on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and the United States retaliated on October 19, by shelling an Iranian oil platform.

Already jittery markets began to topple and in time-step panic the decline that originated in Europe picked up steam in the Asian markets and reached its fever-pitch plunge on the morning of October 19, 1987. At the close of business the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA-stock market) fell by 508 points and lost 22.61% of its value. This was the stock market's most precipitous drop ever since the infamy of October 24, 1929.

In a perfect storm scenario, the die was cast. These United States had yet to know about a Gulf War and the various Desert Campaigns that followed. Solemnly, we never anticipated the tragedy that would be delivered on September 11, 2001.

Immediately following "Black Monday" the fixed income department in the firm that I worked was laid off. I quickly secured a potential trading opportunity that led me to the guys up at Cantor.

In the late fall of 1987 I made my way to the corporate headquarters of Cantor Fitzgerald, a global services firm that specialized in U.S. government securities. In the business, at least back then, they were known as the 'dealer's dealer' - the go-to-guys on the street if you were looking for a market in U.S. Institutional bonds, equities or convertible securities.

"High Up in the Clouds"

"What the '#$*' do you do up here in a fire - because you ain't gettin out' were the exact words I uttered when I stepped off the elevator on the 103rd floor and stared out over the Hudson Bay into the Atlantic. In 1987 Cantor Fitzgerald's legendary corporate headquarters occupied the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center. That remained their prestigious address until September 11, 2001 when Cantor ultimately lost 658 employees - all that were present for that fateful day.

My interview lasted all of 30 minutes. It was enough time to discuss formalities and employment goals. I was offered a position that day; however, I declined the offer on the spot. My decision was not based on fear or a premonition of things to come for Cantor. It was based on my realization that what I really wanted was to trade commodity options on the New York Board of Trade which happened to be located in the Fourth tower of the World Trade Center.

I left the interview and rode the elevator down to ground level but not before I took one last glance back over the water and out beyond the bridges.

Ten years later I am reminded of my experience way up on the 103rd floor. I am reminded of how small and seemingly inconsequential decisions can irrevocably impact our life.

September 11, 2011 as with the yearly anniversaries before it, is a time that I reflect on life. I reflect on how life unfolds and the twists and turns that become our own story. I lost acquaintances and colleagues on September 11. I am grateful that I did not lose family but I am ever so mindful for those that did.

Debra L. Kaplan, M.A., LAC, LISAC, EMDR-II, CMAT, CSAT-S, is a licensed experiential therapist in Tucson, Arizona. Ms. Kaplan works extensively with attachment, complex traumatic stress, and associated intimacy and sexual compulsivities. She integrates her work with Dr. Patrick Carnes and Pia Mellody; both recognized pioneers in the field of sexual and love addiction and family recovery, into her work with individuals, couples and groups. Debra is a national lecturer and writer on trauma and sex addiction. She is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), the International Society for Traumatic Stress (ISTSS), and EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). Debra is a faculty member for the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). You can find Debra on the web at

Published in Blog
Sunday, 28 August 2011 20:00

Sex Addiction and Sex Offending

In the world this past week the curtain was pulled back to reveal an International sting identifying 72 individuals (all of whom are men) charged with the sharing and distribution of website images depicting physical and sexual abuse on infants and children. The private networking site called Dreamboard consists of over 600 members.

More illuminating is that Dreamboard is a part of a larger more sophisticated online child abuse network promoting pedophilia, called Dreamland. Dreamland is a private, online bulletin board in which as many as 600 members could file share upwards of ten thousand videos or images of sexually abused infants and children.

A member's level of contribution defined the member's level of access. Those members who "merely" swapped and exchanged images (file sharing) had more limited access as compared to other members "prestige" access that photographed, uploaded and swapped newer more violent images of their personal physical and sexual assaults on young children. Those members ranked in what was termed, "Super VIP." What was revealed this past week speaks to those horrors and atrocities that humans are capable of inflicting on the smallest and most vulnerable among us - children and infants.

But, no sooner were the Dreamboard events splashed across global media venues they became eclipsed by and buried under other fast breaking, news worthy expos the kind that speak to downgrades in a national credit rating, global war crimes and credit concerns.

I suspect that while the Dreamboard fallout is far from over, the collective and visceral disgust that was felt when learning of the multinational sting operation was too horrific to remain "on the front pages."

As a licensed therapist who works with trauma and sexual addiction, I see people, behavior and associated definitions as being along a continuum. People (clients) and their behaviors (either collectively or individually) will ultimately come up against my defined continuum of behavior that may be healthy, traumatic expression, addicted, compulsive, morally void or outright sociopathic.

Further, my personal definitions or consideration for my clients' sexual behavior may be seen as acceptable or offensive to some.  Simply because what I define as acceptable or not, may not coalesce with another. I don't think there is a clear cut understanding or explanation for the clients I see or the behaviors of humanity.

Trained and experienced therapists among us who treat organic, sexual disorders and sexual compulsivity grapple with the theoretical and real-life meaning and definition of human behavior. While no two therapists may see eye to eye on what constitutes a clinical description for sex addiction - an issue currently debated before the American Psychiatric Association. The next and fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the controversial "go-to manual" for clinical designation and classification of mental disorders, is currently in planning and preparation. The publication date is revised for May 2013 - we are likely to agree on this: all sex offenders are not addicts and some sex addicts may become sexual offenders. Nonetheless, sex addiction is no more considered sociopathic than drug addiction, gambling, eating disorders and alcoholism.

While individuals who struggle with addiction may also exhibit and indulge in sociopathic behavior the definition of addiction as defined by The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) does not include the word sociopath in its definition no more than sexual compulsivity. More often than not, the words addiction, like sex addiction and sociopath are mutually exclusive.

It is important to delineate that sex offenders may engage in sexually compulsive behavior; however not all sexually compulsive behavior involves sexual abuse to minors and therefore, deemed sex offending. Before an individual is classified as a sexual offender and branded by society as sociopathic, a psychosexual evaluation and other mental status examinations are administered by a trained professional.

I see my role as a human practicing in the capacity of caregiver, to be as open and accepting of behaviors in which my clients engage, until such point that I can no longer be objective or open to empathic understanding. At times, and not as of yet, I may come up against my own biases and for reasons of self-care, draw the line in my own defined continuum of unacceptable. Trauma, sex and humanity will for sure never cease to confound, dismay or even disgust.

The sex addict who struggles is worthy of the same compassion as the alcoholic, eating disordered woman and medical provider who abuses prescription pills. Sexual offending behavior along the lines of Dreamboard are deemed illegal and by most societal norms - repulsing. I suspect that events such as Dreamboard's recent detection, while news worthy, is too incomprehensible for most individuals to absorb let alone read in sordid detail.

As I explain the world to myself, there are times that sociopath and sex addict may not be mutually exclusive. Neither, by comparison may a sociopath and medical care provider. Extrapolating along that trajectory neither may a sociopath and a parent. Unfortunately, the two descriptors can and at times do co-exist with devastating results. History has shown us that time and time again. We humans are capable of horrors and atrocities beyond imagination and I suspect until science intervenes, the collective "we" always will.

Debra L. Kaplan, MA, LAC, LISAC, CMAT, CSAT-S is a licensed therapist in Tucson, Arizona. Ms. Kaplan specializes in the treatment of sexual addiction/compulsivity,

Complex traumatic stress and dissociative and attachment disorders. Debra publishes and presents nationally on trauma and sex addiction. She maintains active memberships in the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), the International Society for Traumatic Stress (ISTSS), International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals
(IITAP), and EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).

Published in Blog

The fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy are peppered with uninformed beliefs and misjudgments. For instance, individuals can be pejoratively diagnosed as borderline or, perhaps more accurately, viewed as exhibiting symptoms of complex traumatic stress. In cases of the latter, old unresolved traumas are reenacted in the here and now and, to say the least, are difficult to clinically modulate.

Betrayal is not Borderline

Nowhere is the borderline label less fitting but more frequently appended than in the case of a betrayed spouse. The label is applied to individuals who present in therapy as "help-me-no-don't," chronically angry, scared, defensive, and reactive. Unfortunately, the label is all too frequently applied by uninformed clinicians dealing with an angry, emotional, scared, "leave me-now-no-don't" spouse who has learned of a partner's sexual indiscretions, compulsivity, or addiction. Few spouses comport themselves with grace in the face of betrayal, yet the insinuation or diagnosis of borderline disorder is all too readily affixed. And by brandishing the borderline label, the clinical community serves to reactivate the emotional wounding and reinjure the person already reeling from betrayal and violation.

It's currently debated - not-so-nicely at times - whether sex addiction is an addiction at all. Is it merely a hall pass for out-of-control behavior, or is it an addiction warranting legitimate attention? The psychiatric and psychological camps contend that it's objectionable to label a behavior as an addictive disorder without rigorous scientific support. Assessment, diagnosis, and practice based solely on anecdotal experience may not be legitimate, yet the field of psychotherapy often treats issues and behaviors with modalities and techniques that have yet to be invited to the scientific table of clinical legitimacy.

Judge Not the Name

So it makes sense that borderline personality disorder and sex addiction find their way into the same scrape. An individual who exhibits reactivity and another who exhibits out-of-control sexual behavior tend to face negative public reception, while the pain and wounding that drive the behaviors are overlooked. By brandishing a label, the professionals with whom the pain can be shared reinforce disapproval of the behavior and invalidate the pain.

The American Psychological Association determines what is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the fifth edition of which is to be released any year now. The term "borderline personality disorder" is currently under reconsideration; it is quickly becoming a term of old to describe a cluster of symptoms driven by trauma-induced stress.

A more appropriate term is "complex traumatic stress," which speaks to abuse inflicted by an attachment figure, the loss of the authentic self due to repeated trauma and abuse, or problems in regulating emotion. Whether that description finds its way into the upcoming DSM remains to be seen. So far the jury is out, and confusion still rules. Clearly, this is not an exact science.

We must realize that an individual who struggles with a behavior by any name is an individual who suffers. As clinicians, we are at the forefront of healing and facilitating growth. Whether addictive behavior centers around sex, drugs, or rock-and-roll, it involves pain and suffering. To label the pain or question its legitimacy is to shut down an opportunity for growth and healing - for both the clinician and the client.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 20:00

Would You Marry Yourself or Someone Like You?

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of MeadowLark, the alumni magazine of The Meadows.

Would You Marry Yourself or Someone Like You?
By Debra L. Kaplan, MA, LAC, LISAC

Many magazines today offer practical advice and "how-to" strategies to pursue the man or woman of our dreams. Let's face it: Sexy taglines and catchy subtitles make for good print copy, but they do little to help us build healthy, sound relationships. By projecting our wants, expectations or intentions onto our partners-to-be, we serve only to foreshadow the inevitable relational demise. It is as if we incorporate our obsolescence from the very start.

"How is that possible," you may ask, "when I'm doing all the right things, paying close attention to selecting my partner, and looking at what he or she has to offer the relationship?" While I admit that these words sound counterintuitive, first consider this proposition:

Would you marry yourself or someone like you? Do you like the person you are - and that which you have to offer - enough to marry yourself?

Some time ago, I put this question to a client. In his plunge toward self-pity, he began to lament the state of his personal affairs, citing one futile relationship after another. "I don&'t know what else to do," he said with exasperation. He cynically sneered, "Just when I think I've found someone 'special' and things are going 'swell,' she leaves me. How does this happen that I pick women who cheat on me, time after time?"

That's when I asked him to humor me, as I was about to ask a question that might sound strange. "Geez, no," he answered. "I wouldn't marry anyone like me!" He went on to state that he was amazed that anyone liked him at all. That response, or a variation of it, often followed when I posed the question to clients.

Courage to look at our own fallibility and dark sides goes a long way in building healthy relationships - not just in romance, but in all of our personal interactions. Knowing our dark sides involves embracing those aspects of ourselves that cause us shame or guilt. While our tendency might be to bury or dismiss the parts that we don't want to acknowledge, this undermines the positive changes and inner strength we strive toward.

Initially, our tendency might be to assess what our partners bring to the proverbial party - without assessing what we have to offer. Are we emotionally available? Do we remain open to constructive criticism and risk being known, or do we defend ourselves into isolation, staunchly committed to our self-righteous deception? Is it okay to be lonely just as long as we are not "wrong"?

These are hard yet essential questions. Only when we like ourselves will we attract the same positive energy in others. The journey to know spiritual peace and fulfillment is an inside-out endeavor.

The first step begins with defining what we want to change about ourselves - and being honest about who we are. If we are too close for honest introspection, we can start by observing others' behaviors. Those behaviors we find uncomfortable or unpleasant reflect our internal barometers. Essentially, by noting unlikable behaviors in others, we face reflections of our true selves.

Defining what we want to change takes an honest assessment of what we reject in ourselves. How often are we drawn to attractive people while believing, deep down, that we are not equally attractive? When we accept and love our own qualities, we form the strongest foundation for intimacy.

By taking that simple but profound step, we begin the enlightened journey toward inner peace and fulfillment. As propositions go, there is no better partner with whom to say "I do!"

Debra L. Kaplan is a practicing licensed therapist in Tucson, Arizona. She integrates her training with Pia Mellody into her work with CPTSD and co-occurring addictions.

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