Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Parts Psychology and Transgendered Parts

Several interesting aspects of Mario's case emerge from the transcript posted in the previous blog. The first is that the stereotypical power positions between men and women are not repeated in this case. Rather than females representing relative weakness and social worth with respect to males in American society, for Mario the reverse is the case. Women represent power, positive value, and significance, while men are viewed as weak and insignificant. Mario's case makes it pretty clear that a person's life situation can be experienced in a way that is just the opposite of our cultural or political expectations.

In work with half a dozen men who enjoy wearing women's clothing I have found that in every case these men have at least one female subpersonality who drives the impulse to cross-dress. In four of the cases the men did not even consider surgery for change into a female body. In the two cases where surgery was discussed, both men decided against it. It was sufficient for them to be able to experience some activities that gave expression to their femininity. They chose not to take the drastic action of surgical transformation; an action that they felt would submerge and disenfranchise their male characteristics. I should also note that in two additional cases I worked briefly with biological males who indicated that they were definitely going to do the male-to-female surgery. I did not include them in the group of six transvestites above because they had been dressing as, and passing as, women for more than ten years at the time I saw them.

Finally, I want to point out that the switching into executive control of the body, as we see Maria do in the transcript, is probably not typical of most men who cross-dress. More likely there is a temporary blending, something similar to what Mario feels earlier in the transcript when he talks about feeling "powerful" and "equal," but is still in executive control of the body. When an internal self state takes executive control of the body, most clinicians would consider that to be pathological, and quite similar to what happens with Dissociative Identity Disorder. However, unlike what happens with full replacement by an alter personality in DID, Mario is not amnesic for what Maria says or does when she is in control.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Parts Psychology and Transexuality

Parts Psychology is the study of the natural division of the mind into the structural units I call subpersonalities, but which can more easily just be called parts of the mind. These parts appear in our lives as we face novel situations, especially those that are challenging or even traumatic. It is the way our minds are genetically determined to behave. Our parts enable us to adapt to the countless variations life presents to us. Our parts of the self are there when we blend into the ordinary, and they are there when we act in ways that are not ordinary. Our parts also provide us with an understanding of the very unusual ways some of us experience life.

For this blog I am going to talk about transgendered, transexual and transvestite experiences. The topic is complex and controversial, even political. I am going to try to avoid the political aspects of the matter by limiting what I have to say to just the particular case I am discussing. The reader can decide if there might be broader applicability. My client was a middle-aged successful businessman who came to me with marital difficulties that were related to his desire to wear women's clothes, particularly women's underwear. Because he did not want anyone to know he was seeing a psychotherapist he drove 200 miles to see me for our Saturday sessions. At one time his wife was tolerant of his cross-dressing, but she was now no longer willing to accept it. He needed help in stopping this behavior, or he needed help in accepting a divorce by his wife. He was also considering a male-to-female transsexual operation. In the course of our work we discovered that he had several female subpersonalities who had important effects on his life. Most of his inner parts, male and female, influenced him from within. However, one of his female parts had the ability to take executive control of his body for various periods of time, generally when he was wearing women's clothing. I include part of a treatment transcript below to illustrate the complexity of the problem.

The transcript relates to the man's first voluntary experience of wearing an article of women's underwear. He was a preadolescent boy and it was the first time he put on his mother's bra. The female subpersonality was created several years previous to this event at age five when his grandfather punished him for acting "too feminine" by forcing him to wear his female cousin's perfumed panties to school. We were processing the female part's history through the use of a variation of EMDR, which involves stimulating alternately left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Processing the experience involves telling his story as it spontaneously emerges, beginning with a focus on the most powerful moment of the experience. This moment is the man's memory of putting on his mother's bra for the first time on a day he stayed home from school while feigning illness.The processing begins with the question "What do you notice now?" as the man focuses on the internal picture of the experience. As he processes the experience there is a shifting back and forth between his male identity as Mario and his female identity as Maria. The double stars (**) represent short pauses in the processing as the patient describes his inner experience.

["What do you notice now?"] A lot of pain ** For her [Maria] it's a complete takeover of the situation—it's the opposite of what Mario feels—for Mario its extreme pain, sadness, anxiety and retreat from day to day life. ** Maria is kind of like a savior in that she literally takes over mind and body. ** The bra itself is almost like the source of Maria's power. ** Although there is no sexual thought at that time, there is the thought of wishing to be a girl and be treated equally, get equal attention and equal discipline. ** The adrenaline I get is not like anything else I've ever experienced. ** I feel equal to myself—I don't feel subjugated and beaten down. ** I can feel myself gaining strength—confidence, confidence—I'm legitimate and I have a voice. ** It's sad that I have to resort to this means to survive the daily pressure I experience. ** As I grow up, initially I'm not there, but in the background. ** The clothes trigger a reaction that makes me want to go to them to get a blast of energy. ** My cousin brought back a batch of clothes from Denver in a plastic bag and that's where I got a lot of my [female] clothes.** As I got older and began to like girls I was too terrified to ask them out. ** At 14 I went on a date and at the end I gave her a kiss, but I was so shy I didn't ask her out again. ** I retreated and although I tried to hang out with the guys, I never went out on Friday night with a girl.

[Refocus on the internal picture] It was great. ** It feels liberating, it feels right, it feels confidence building, essential, necessary. ** I like the way it feels on me—the way the straps go around me and bind me. ** It looks good and feels good. ** Because I can't be beaten; I can't be put down. ** I am as strong as my mother; maybe I'm even stronger now; I can rise up and tell people what to do. ** I can be like my mother and the nuns in the school. ** I'm tired of crying and being pushed around and told I'm no good. ** And I won't give it up, because it puts me in a place I've never been before, and I like it. ** I like the way it feels, the way it takes over me. ** I put on the bra and I act out my mother: "You shouldn't do this or that," and I act out the nuns punishing kids at school. ** I am nothing like Mario.** Mario is always in trouble—he teases his sister a lot—his pain is in his retaliation on his sister—I hated her, made up names and songs about her, insulting and cruel, and whenever she cried the first reaction of my mother was "Why are you picking on your sister?" ** A lot of torment I regret today. ** My mother dumped on me and I dumped on her [the sister]. ** I wanted the special treatment she gave my sister. ** Being her son didn't work out well for me. ** I loved wearing my mother's clothes; it made me feel close to her. ** And in some ways I hated my mother—a lot of pain in my chest, a lot of sorrow. ** Somehow I've evolved into this woman who secretly wants a woman as a partner. ** As Mario I've made love to so many women. ** I keep looking for something, searching for a way to be Maria, being made love to in the female position. ** As Mario I'm so tired.

[Refocus on the internal picture] The happiest day of my life [when I put on the bra]. ** I've overcome the pain. ** The answer to my problems. ** It takes away my cowardice, my shame and fear. ** It feels so good, it feels so safe. ** I love lying in bed with my pajamas on top. ** I love fooling my mother and sister—they don't know I have it on. ** There was a song, "I am woman!" ** It made me feel powerful when I dressed in my mother's clothes; it made me feel I was a woman—I listened to the song.

[Refocus on the internal picture] I told my mother I was sick and didn't want to go to school [that day]—I was afraid of my teacher and I wasn't prepared in schoolwork. ** Right now I feel my head is pounding—I have to get out! ** All the pressure and there's the pressure of Maria wanting to get out.

[It is near the end of the session and Maria is in control of the body. I asked her to allow Mario to return]. It's hard to let go. You and other people don't give me enough time; I don't mind that Mario has thrown away the clothes [i.e., women's underwear]—I'm too powerful.

[Again, the therapist requests that Mario resume executive control of the body, and over the course of about 10 minutes of centering and grounding exercises, he does.] End.

I may write more about this case, later. There is a lot of complexity in it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Demon Parts and Alter Personalities

Today's blog is about "devil," "demon," and "Satan" parts. These parts are found at all positions on the dissociative continuum. They can be found among those with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and among very normal persons as well. I once worked with another psychotherapist who came to do some work on her marital relationship. When we did the internal work to differentiate and talk with her internal self states, she discovered that one of them presented itself as a demon. It was a delightful child part, a mischievous part who brought a lot of joy to her life and to those who were close to her. It was the part of her who was willing to be silly, to tease, and play simple practical jokes. Its costume was that of a four foot tall, bald, red, round demon with stubby legs, hardly any neck, and a pointed tail. It is important to remember that the visual image a part presents of itself is just a metaphor. Although the woman was a religious person, she did not view her demon part as a religious figure, merely a mischievous child.

Demon parts are especially prevalent among persons who had early childhood experiences with religious belief systems that emphasize Satan or the devil as a real force in our lives. Another client had a devil part which she visualized as a voluptuous female, with horns, and a pointed tail. However, she did not view this part as a religious part of herself. She did not see the part as "not-self." She acknowledged this part as her sexual self with the costume having its origin in the conservative religious teachings of her childhood. As an adult she understood this part as a healthy aspect of who she was, but she also understood that she could only accept her normal sexuality by accepting in a symbolic way that the Church of her childhood, and her parents, viewed sexuality as "devilish."

Demon parts often present themselves as adversaries of the Self, as parts whose function it is to provide punishment to the Self because of presumed evil acts in childhood. A demon part can even be unaware that it is a part of the Self. It can believe that it comes from outside the Self and that it will leave the Self once its job of punishment is finished. It may double as a suicidal part, urging the person to kill himself or herself. Over the years I have probably worked with 25 or 30 demon parts. They have always proven to be just alternate parts of the Self who need to be unburdened of their pain the same as other parts. Most often these parts changed their appearance to that of children once they were unburdened of their intense negative emotional load. They never required any sort of exorcism. In fact, exorcism is almost always harmful to the person mistakenly believed to be possessed. Satan, devils, and demons do not possess people. They are creations of our unconscious minds that represent aspects of problems we struggled with as we grew up. Even when apparently evil, they are just confused aspects of the self that need to be healed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pornography and Parts Psychology

Addiction to pornography is a frequent issue in psychotherapy. Like other addictions it differs from most other problems in psychotherapy because of the pleasure, the positive energy, that is attached to the activity. It often leads to serious issues in committed relationships. Pornography addictions are overwhelmingly a problem with males. In a minority of cases a female partner can join her male partner in viewing pornography and the experience can enhance their sex life. In most cases, however, a man's compulsion to view pornography is a problem for the female partner, if not at the beginning of the relationship, then once the relationship is established and ongoing. Healing the problem requires neutralization of the energy invested in the activity. Twelve-step programs are not necessary for success. Like work with jealousy and rage, healing of a pornography addiction requires work with the memories that are the foundation for the problem. The problem memories are frequently laid down in early adolescence, and sometimes in preadolescence. Once the energy of the problem memories is neutalized there is no longer a pornography addiction. A man may choose to involve himself with pornography, and will continue to have the ability to enjoy it, but it is a choice rather than a compulsion.

Through the method I call Parts Psychology the treatment of pornography addiction is straightforward and directly related to the memories that serve as the foundation for the addiction. Treatment can be quite rapid with almost immediate success. Sometimes, depending upon how complex is the case, and depending upon how powerful is the addiction, treatment can take a significantly longer period of time. I have worked for as long as nine months with once-a-week sessions to achieve successs in breaking the power of the pornography addiction. In the case I am going to briefly describe here treatment took only three sessions. It was a mild case.

Larry was married, 27 years old, and a successful businessman living in an upscale gated community.Because of his addiction his wife hardly spoke to him and refused to be physically intimate with him.This is what brought him to therapy. He said that he only viewed pornography once or twice a week for an hour or two at time. My guess is that this was an underestimate but that is not important to the success of the work. Treatment consisted of interviewing Larry is such a way that all of his most powerful pornographic experiences were recalled. Then, one by one, we neutralized each of them. By neutralized I mean that the sexual energy attached to each of these memories was detached from the memories so that Larry could think about each of them and feel no emotional or sexual arousal. There were a total of only six memories significant enough to retain powerful sexual energy over time. The first was the memory of discovering someone's stash of pornographic magazines at age 13. Larry and his best friend would look at the magazines in their hideout in the woods for a year, until Larry's family moved to another city. A second memory was that of visiting a pornographic video store in high school and indulging himself in one of the video booths.. A third was dating a girl after high school and finding that her father had a large pornographic video collection which Larry could secretly access. The last three memories were of particularly powerful sexual images Larry found on the internet after his young married family bought their first computer. All of these memories provided sexually exciting memories which Larry could recall and use to enhance his pleasure with masturbation. After each of these memories was neutralized Larry no longer found them of sexual interest, and his visitation of internet porn sites ceased.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jealousy and Rage

Another emotion which, like anger, can overwhelm people to the point that they act in irrational ways is jealousy. It is frequently linked with anger so that a jealous person can be consumed with rage over real or imagined threats to a relationship.We often think of jealousy in relation to sexuality. But jealousy is not really about sexuality; it is about fear of loss. Every case of extreme jealousy with which I have worked can be linked to one or more of three foundation events: loss of a close relationship during childhood, infidelity issues between one's parents while growing up, or a history of infidelity by a person's own romantic partners. Surprisingly, the first of these sources is probably the most common among my patients. Examples include loss of a parent or sibling to death during childhood, loss of a parent due to abandonment after divorce, and moving to a new city or neighborhood with a new school while leaving behind old friends and familiar faces. All of these are traumatic for the persons who experience them at a critical age.