‘Goodbye Daddy’

I’m sitting in a service station forecourt drinking coffee and watching motorists crawl along the neighbouring McDonald’s drive through. Other customers prefer to park and walk in.

A woman in her thirties strides towards the restaurant, pulling a small child with her. The frustrated child tugs on the woman’s rigid arm, while jogging to keep up. The roles appear reversed. Most children run ahead, while the sullen parents drag themselves across the asphalt.

Coming the other way is a grey haired man in his late 50’s holding the hand of a small boy. Beside the pair is a younger man, in his late twenties. The trio stop and talk beside a late model Ute. The young man talks to the boy and offers him a McDonalds toy. The boy ignores him, so he places the toy on the bumper of the Ute.  The younger man walks towards a motorbike parked nearby. The older man takes the boys hand and follows. The three seem intimately connected, but the young man appears distant in some way.

I imagine he is on a supervised visit with his son. My fantasy is the boy’s mother is absent because of on-going conflict with the father. This means the older man becomes a chaperone. Regardless, the scene upsets me. I recall the stories parents have shared about being apart from their children. I look across at the toy perched on the bumper. As an object that will represent the bond between father and son, it looks precarious.

The young man is making an effort to talk with the boy. He drops down on one knee, holding his arms open he asks for a hug. The boy stares at the patterns his feet are making in the pebbles of the service station garden. The young man asks again. Hearing this, the older man encourages the boy.  Suddenly, registering his father, the boy yells out “Goodbye daddy” and jumps up. For a brief moment they embrace, then, moved by invisible forces, they recoil.

The boy watches without emotion as his father stands and puts his helmet on. As he rides away the bike wobbles, as if shaken by an internal force trying to find equilibrium. The boy is distracted by something moving on the forecourt and starts to run off. The older man pounces, takes the boy’s hand and together they walk back to the Ute.



The pain and regret of playing rugby.

Uncle John* loves rugby. He played from childhood until the age of 40. While he is intelligent and articulate, his identity and social status in the past has stemmed from the prowess of his body on and off the field. This power did not come cheap. Over time he accumulated a range of physical injuries. He suffered a broken nose, the loss of four front teeth, concussions, strained muscles, damage to his spine and torn ligaments in both knees.

For as long as I can remember Uncle John tolerated the pain without complaint. His silent suffering reinforced his masculinity, while denying the expression or feeling of more vulnerable emotions.

The tension of tolerating severe pain without feeling the associated emotions means he is often irritable. This contributes to his intolerance of emotional or physical distress in others. It also makes him sensitive to comments that suggest any weakness in his character.

This sensitivity means Uncle John requires careful handling, so as not to wound the delicate ego that underlies the tough facade. I find it exhausting tiptoeing around him, while also bolstering the immature aspect of his personality. I’m left with the impression of dealing with a small boy, who requires constant attention and affirmation. This demand generates frustration in me that feels risky to communicate, which leads to stilted and tense interactions between us.

I have never had the courage to address this dynamic with Uncle John and convinced myself that now he is in his early seventies, change is even less likely. Yet on a recent visit he recounted running into an old rugby mate, whom he hadn’t seen for some time. Enquiring after each other’s health, they soon linked playing rugby with their current physical ailments. They questioned if it was all worth it, asking each other if would they do it all again. Both expressed doubts. In talking with me, Uncle John was clearer, saying, “it wasn’t worth it.”

I couldn’t believe it. This declaration seemed to shake the very foundations of his identity. His honesty forced open a portal to another world, in which proving his masculinity would be unnecessary. In this fantasy world boys would not be shamed for expressing emotion. We would encourage them to develop the feminine qualities of nurturing and empathy, and question the impulse to exercise power over others. Uncle John challenged my belief that he would never change. He also helped me realise that we can update our thinking and behaviour throughout life.

*Uncle John is a fictional character.


His Porn, Her Pain.

According to Dr Marty Klein America is experiencing a porn panic.  This panic originated with the introduction of broadband Internet, which unleashed unlimited, free, high quality pornography on an American public that already felt ashamed and fascinated about sex. In his book His porn, Her pain  Klein traces the history of this panic and states that the public have often had a strong reaction to disruptive technologies, giving many examples, such as, how “Congress criminalized the mailing of condoms and of condom advertising” in the mid 1800’s.

Klein believes the porn panic is part of a disturbing tradition of sexual moral panics that have gripped the American public. These include; the fear that children would be kidnapped, raped and murdered; attacks on gay people, accused of ruining heterosexual marriage; the destruction and censorship of music with sexual overtones and the fear of masturbation. Klein says these ideas now seem out-dated, but at the time they could be deadly, in the case of black men deemed a sexual threat to Southern American women.

One of the key ideas in this book is the important role of fantasy in our life. Klein claims that fantasy is a fun way we get to imagine and play with different sexual possibilities. He reminds us that we must not conflate fantasy with desire, because it is the belief that our fantasies will lead to action in real life that contributes to the moral panic about pornography. Klein believes this panic leaves us feeling ashamed of our sexual fantasies, which inhibits our ability to share our fantasy world with sexual partners, because we fear judgement.

As a result Klein says men often arrive for therapy feeling guilty, confused, frustrated and hopeless about what they perceive to be a problematic relationship with pornography. The first thing Klein does is find out if they actually have a porn problem and if so, what kind of problem. He helps narrow down the origin of the concern by breaking it into three parts. They are:

  1. Someone else says you have problem; and/or
  2. You’re concerned that you might have a problem; and/or
  3. You have an actual problem.

While there is considerable overlap in these three possibilities, they allow insight into whether the problem stems from an internal or external conflict. This knowledge directs the focus of psychotherapy, for example, if someone else believes you have a problem, first you need to get clear about how you feel about using pornography. Then you must communicate this to the other person. The external problem raises issues around interpersonal relating and challenges you to stay in connection with another, while also remaining faithful to your own position.

The internal problem demands investigation into the relationship you have with yourself. The feelings of fear, anxiety, shame and guilt associated with using pornography is a result of the rules and beliefs about sexuality that have evolved over your lifetime.

In both of these scenarios Klein takes a holistic view of the client, paying attention to other aspects of life, such as: their relationship to masturbation, as distinct from pornography; how they function overall in intimate relationship; their ability to engage in work and social life; the use of alcohol and drugs and their general relationship to the internet. Klein takes this approach because he believes that problems with pornography don’t in fact revolve around pornography. He justifies this by saying that often when pornography use stops the problem still persists, or manifests in a new form.

The overarching message in His porn, Her pain is that open and honest communication resolves perceived problems with pornography. If you are able to acknowledge and accept your fantasy world, you will feel less shame and anxiety. As a result you will be more spontaneous and present with yourself and your partner.



Boys do cry.

The male voice, lets call him Robert, in the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry sounds devastated that the person he loves has left him, even though Robert admits to pushing them away. With no chance of getting them back he says it is pointless crying. For Robert tears are only shed if there is a possibility they will provide a mechanism for reconciliation. Crying has no intrinsic value for him. Rather than externalize his inner pain through tears, Robert chooses to mask his difficult feelings with laughter and lies. This adaption to suffering seems consistent with the stereotypical image of the stoic male who is out of touch with his feelings. While boys may start out in life crying more than girls, by age 11 the frequency of their crying decreases in comparison to girls. Robert’s claim that boys don’t cry is in part a command reinforced through social and cultural conditioning.

This pattern carries forward into adult life, resulting in the common observation that woman cry more often and more intensely than men. Yet, evidence suggests that men have intense feelings that move them to tears, but unlike woman they do not shed their tears due to a fear of appearing weak. Both men and woman perceive this control as a positive male virtue. When men do cry they are judged favourably if they can express intense emotions in a controlled manner. One place men achieve the fine balance of hyper masculinity and emotional vulnerability is in sports. In moments such as wins or losses it is appropriate for a player to cry, as long as they are in control of their emotion, rather than the emotion being in control of them.

So counter to popular belief boys do cry, but in a different way to girls. The main characteristic of this difference is the element of control. For men, one of the primary functions of this control is to separate themselves from woman who they may perceive as being emotionally out of control. But what is the cost for men in maintaining this control? For one, it becomes very difficult to stay in relationship with someone who you are attempting to not identify with. If a man’s sense of self is contingent on being different to woman, then he must devalue them. For example, “you throw like a girl” is a standard insult boys receive from other boys on the playing field. In this scenario the young boy’s identity is being formed from an external representation of what he must not be, rather than from an affirming support of how he feels inside. Also, controlling emotions takes large amounts of energy. If this energy is available we can respond to the emotional events of life in a more spontaneous and creative manner. If not, we risk becoming rigid and guarded in our attitudes, emotions and body, which restricts our capacity for loving and playful relationships.

There is conflicting evidence whether crying is emotionally, or physically beneficial. With that in mind I am not suggesting men should cry more. Rather crying is one aspect of a man’s emotional repertoire that can be affected by social conditioning that encourages us to control our emotions. We may therefore benefit from thinking about those mechanisms of control.





The pain of the absent father in Jay-Z’s song ‘December 4th’.

The Grey Album by Danger Mouse is a mix of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with samples from The Beatles LP The Beatles. Jay-Z’s birthdate, December 4th, is the title of track four. It describes his early years, including, his parents’ separation, a period of selling drugs and his eventual decision to pursue a rap career. The song begins with Jay-Z’s mother Gloria Carter describing his birth.

He was the last of my four children
The only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him
And that’s how I knew that he was a special child

Carter sounds hopeful that Jay-Z would provide salvation, from what we soon find out was a difficult marriage.

I was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adaness Revees
Who made love under the Sycamore tree

Jay-Z imagines his parents were once in love. The child part of him holds a vision of two people who cared for each other at one point. The subsequent loss of the father also signifies the loss of the couple, a union that symbolised a cohesiveness that was not yet formed in him. Jay-Z’s image of parental love is a natural idealization of the couple, something every young child feels and wants for their parents at some point. As a child Jay-Z was in the process of internalising his parents. What happens to the masculine aspect of his personality when this external representation is absent? From his lyrics we can assume there is a resulting lack of balance or harmony.

But I feel worthless cause my shirts wasn’t matching my gear

Jay-Z’s internal feeling of fragmentation manifests on the surface, expressed in his wardrobe’s lack of integration. He feels despair that his father is gone. Yet on the outside he must maintain the masculine facade that everything is okay.

Now I’m just scratching the surface cause what’s buried under there
Was a kid torn apart once his pop disappeared

To be emotionally torn apart yet for it to remain invisible is unbearable. If we suffer a massive physical injury we expect to receive the appropriate care and concern from medical professionals, family and friends. Physical pain is tolerated by society because it is clearly visible, which means we are more able to accept it. If our bones are broken we do not hide the fact. Yet this is what often happens in emotional injury. Social pressure requires Jay-Z to bury his pain. But as the pain goes underground it also leaks to the surface.

But, I noticed a change in him when me and my husband broke up

Carter notices Jay-Z’s withdrawal, but it is not acknowledged between them. It appears that while she observed her son’s behaviour shift over time she struggles to address it. Rather her beatings, which may signify her desperation to reach him, made no difference.

Now all the teachers couldn’t reach me
And my momma couldn’t beat me
Hard enough to match the pain of my pop not seeing me

While influential figures outside the family unit are significant, they cannot replace the missing father.

With that disdain in my membrane
Got on my pimp game
Fuck the world my defence came

What are Jay-Z’s options if he experiences the people around him as punishing, or incapable of reaching him? It is naive to believe he should have the capacity to communicate and pursue his needs directly. The only option then, is to turn his back on the people he needs most.

Then Dahaven introduced me to the game
Spanish Jose introduced me to cane
I’m a hustler now
My gear is in and I’m in the in crowd

Alone and hurting Jay-Z turns to his peers. In doing so he descends into the underworld of drugs and crime. Soon Jay-Z’s pain is soothed by the superficial pleasures that sex and money provide.

And then I bought him a boom box
And his sisters and brothers said that he would drive them nuts
But that was my way to keep him close to me and out of trouble

Carter finds a way to reach out and protect Jay-Z. She does this by recognising his passion for music. She encourages this creative outlet by buying him a boom box. By doing this she attempts to support Jay-Z on his own terms, instead of enforcing her own beliefs and values onto him.

And “trust” is a word you seldom hear from us
Hustlers we don’t sleep we rest one eye up

While there is a feeling of containment within the gang culture, there is no possibility of relaxing. There is an absence of a reassuring figure in Jay-Z’s life that could allow him to let his guard down. Is this the missing father? The presence of the older male, who allows the young man to release the burden of maintaining a front.

Jay-Z’s story communicates the pain a young man experiences when his father is absent. Even though Carter struggled to stay connected with her son, she attempted to identify and support what was important to him. In doing this she was able to keep him close, which I imagine gave Jay-Z a feeling of safety when everything around him felt like it was fragmenting.







Fire building in the outdoors.

Recently I find myself watching YouTube videos on how to make fires in the outdoors. I have no sense of why this activity currently interests me, but I am aware that my early experience of fire making made a lasting impression. I remember spending parts of my primary school holidays working with my father who was a hunter. When we stopped for lunch we would often start a fire to make a cup of tea, or dry wet clothing. Later in my teens I would make fires with driftwood on the beaches of the Manawatu-Wanganui region.

My YouTube searches could be seen as a longing for a  past that was more closely connected to the classical elements of the outdoors.  I also begin to wonder about my work as a psychotherapist, and the associations it may have with making fires.

Shelter from the elements is important in building a fire. We could visualise the psychotherapy room as a warm, dry, and protected space, in which there can be some reprieve from the turbulence of external events. If we come to therapy in a depressed state – which is often associated with dampness – it may be hard to imagine getting our internal fire started. To make a fire in the wild you must first gather a small amount of very light and dry material. Perhaps initially it is the job of the therapist to gather the tinder, or what I imagine as identifying the parts of the patient that are still animated; the tiny gestures, expressions, and actions that indicate the presence of hope. The spark that pre-heats this tinder may originate from the therapist as they hold this hope for the patient, or it may come from the inevitable friction felt between the patient and therapist as they come together.

The fire maker gently blows on the pre-igniting tinder until it combusts into flame. Then very small dry twigs are added. In this way the foundation of the fire slowly builds. As the fire builds bigger sticks can be added. In psychotherapy the working alliance between patient and therapist strengthens in a similar way. As trust and safety increases heat is generated in the relationship, and consequently the capacity to approach bigger issues is slowly increased.

In the video below Kap describes how gentle you have to be in starting a fire

“When you tap on it the gathering of the little particles start to move, and the finest one falls into the fire pot, and also allows the air in there… don’t over do it.”

In this video Survival Lilly shows her technique for building fires in the forest.

I’m alone. I am not lonely.


Eady: You travel a lot?

Neil: Yeah.

Eady: Travelling makes you lonely?

Neil: I’m alone. I am not lonely.

This conversation is from the 1995 crime film Heat[1]. In this scene criminal ringleader Neil McCauley is spending the night with Eady, at her home on the hills overlooking Los Angeles.

Neil’s life up to this point is mirrored in his residence. He has a modernist beachfront home that is devoid of any signs of domesticity. In one scene that takes place in this space Neil comes home to find fellow crew member Chris, hung-over and sleeping on the floor, following a fight with his wife Charlene. The two men have a conversation in which Neil voices his concerns about Chris’s relationship by reminding him of a former prison inmates life philosophy that you must “have no attachments, allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.”  Chris in contrast openly declares his attachment to Charlene by saying “for me the sun rises and sets with her”. Unlike Neil Chris is able to acknowledge the conflicting demands of crime and intimate relationship.

For Neil the criminal code of non-attachment is a reflection of his discipline and professionalism. But the unconscious aspect of this demand appears in Neil’s dream in which he is drowning. Neil interprets this dream as a fear of not having enough time to complete his crimes. Another interpretation may be that he will drown in his desire for connection if he acknowledges its existence.

Neil is a phantom figure that survives by remaining invisible. Eady represents a normal life that exists in the open above ground.  In response to his idealisation of Eady Neil constructs an equally fantastic escape plan. After only two encounters he asks Eady to move with him to New Zealand. Eady is an independent, educated, and creative woman. She understandably raises concerns about having only just met, and also wonders about Neil’s marital status. To this Neil replies, “ I’m a needle starting at zero, going the other way, a double blank.” Neil’s internal blankness leaves him terrified, and unable to face it alone. He becomes childlike, pleading with Eady to come with him, saying  “All I know is there’s no point me going anywhere anymore…if it’s going to be alone…without you.” Neil’s emptiness somehow reassures Eady, and she responds by becoming a vacuous object into which Neil can project the unconscious aspects of his loneliness.

Vincent Hannah is the detective hunting Neil and his crew. Vincent is superficially on the side of light and relationship. He is the ringmaster of his own gang of police officers. Unlike Neil he is not alone, and appears to not be lonely. Yet at every opportunity of connection with his wife Vincent distances himself with work. He justifies his non-commitment by telling her that he must “ hold onto my angst, I preserve it, cause I need it, it keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.”  This distance in part signifies an inability in Vincent to commit to intimate relationship, fearful it would soften him, make him weak, and impact his capacity to deal with the daily horror of his work.

Vincent’s reluctance to engage with his wife, and his preoccupation with work, results in his libidinal energy being redirected towards Neil.  Vincent admires Neil’s ability to endure the suffering and isolation of time spent in the “hole” during his prison sentence. This capacity in Neil has an ascetic quality, as evidenced by Vincent’s question to him in the cafe scene where he asks if he is a “monk.” It also has associations to the feminine, and perhaps fits with Neil’s subterranean habitation within the prison, and the city. Vincent on the other hand resides in the masculine realm of the mind, best symbolised by his use of a helicopter to pursue Neil who is driving on the freeway.

Both men are completely devoted to their work, which Lindstrom[2] suggests, “excludes any emotional life outside the demands of the job.” Yet it also appears that each man endeavours to meet his emotional needs through work. They find in the other a mirror of the disavowed aspects of their personalities. While Neil attempts to bond with Eady, he is ultimately attached to Vincent, who understands his life, and attends to his death wish in the manner of a good parent, even going so far as to hold his hand when he is dying.

Neil’s preference for death over the demands of a relationship is the ultimate gesture of loneliness, but one that makes sense if we follow the thinking of Fromm-Reichmann[3], who claims that we will do almost anything to avoid the frightening and painful experience of loneliness. The origins of this terror according to Fromm-Reichmann begin early in life, during which time the child’s instinctive need for human contact is prematurely frustrated by their primary caregiver. We can see this in Neil’s parental history, when he tells Eady – perhaps to limit her questioning – that his mother died long ago, his father’s whereabouts is unknown, and he has a brother somewhere. While this story is most likely a ruse, there is a good chance that Neil experienced a family system that was fractured, violent, and emotionally inconsistent. Neil’s capacity to tolerate isolation and deprivation may ensure his survival in the present, but it owes a substantial debt, which he paid for in the trauma of his childhood.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_(1995_film).

[2] https://libcom.org/library/heat-work-genre-ja-lindstrom.

[3] Fromm-Reichmann, F. (1990). Loneliness. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26(2), 305-330. doi:10.1080/00107530.1990.10746661


Married at first sight.

The woman who rang me said she was from a television production company that was creating a programme in which participants get married at first sight. She then explained they needed experts to match the participants, and considering a female psychologist had already signed on, they felt a male therapist would add the needed balance to the show. She wondered if that was something I might be interested in. I remember telling her two things. The first, in a playful tone was that psychotherapists don’t get on very well with psychologists. I realised as soon as I said this that any potential conflict between experts would only ignite the fire of reality television.

I then told her I was an introvert, and suggested while this personality style suited my work as a therapist, I wasn’t sure it would suit television. She ignored me, and said they only wanted to have a conversation with me, and if it felt right we could then record a screen test.

Throughout this brief conversation my reservations left me feeling like I was being ungrateful. The young woman’s voice seemed to mirror something of my resistance. Her sentences became clipped, and the upbeat energy of the first minutes of the call seemed to fade. She suggested that I check out the Australian version of the show online. I said I would give some thought to her offer, and asked if she could send me a link to the show. She agreed to do this. I haven’t heard back from her.

While the narcissistic parts of my personality received a momentary boost, my overwhelming instinct was clear that going on national television was not a smart move. A few days later when I attended a psychotherapy meeting I relayed this story to one of my peers, whose face responded with a look of mild repulsion, like they were witnessing something pristine being soiled. That expression somehow affirmed that I had avoided a humiliating experience. It’s not that psychotherapy is somehow above mainstream television programming, but there were issues that arose in thinking about being a part of a programme like Married at First Sight.

As a psychotherapist I start my work with a new patient by taking a   comprehensive history. This process takes at least two or three sessions, and is often revisited as the work develops.  This diagnostic process begins to reveal the development of the personality over time, and gives some insight into the adaptive processes the individual uses in relationship to others. So in that sense psychotherapists are well suited to the psychological profiling that is part of Married at First Sight.

The problem then may be one of matching. Matching partners implies that if you have diagnosed two people thoroughly, you have some chance of creating a successful match. But while we know something of the substances of the two individuals, we never know how they will react when mixed. So any sort of prediction appears doomed, and this is how it should be. Why? Because prediction is magical in nature, and indicates that we are looking for a way of bypassing, and short tracking the fear we experience when coming into relationship with someone new.

A part of the work of psychotherapy is learning to tolerate fear, so that its grip is no longer so fierce and debilitating. This process takes time, and this time is a key tension between reality television and psychotherapy.  The manic staccato of television requires a narrative certainty even when one does not exist, whereas psychotherapy incorporates periods of uncertainty, and moments where questions are contemplated without immediate answer. While this generates a space in which new awareness can emerge, I imagine the slow pace would make viewers switch off.

The deliberation of psychological experts in reality shows like Married at First Sight is of little consequence to their ratings. My brief look at the history of the Australian version of this programme  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_at_First_Sight_(Australian_TV_series)) revealed that over four seasons, out of the 24 couples that participated only two couples have remained together. But this is the point of the programme. The real fascination lies in the fact that it won’t work. Arranged marriages in other cultures are created for a myriad of reasons, one of which is the alleviation of poverty. Financial poverty is not a motivational factor in programmes like Married at First Sight, but instead what this sort of entertainment reflects is an attempt to commodify the emotional poverty that we all share in common with the contestants.


Ending Nightmares. An audio interview with Margaret Bowater.

In this interview I talk to counsellor Margaret Bowater about nightmares, why we have them, and what we can do to change them. Throughout the interview Margaret shares stories from her clinical work that clearly demonstrate the power of the imagination to transform nightmares.
If you would like to find out more about Margaret’s dream work, including her published books, go to http://www.dreamwork.co.nz/

Alternatively if you are curious about exploring your dreams within the framework of psychotherapy please contact me through the email form on this website, or call me on 0273053511