Archive for February 26, 2010

Do You Masturbate Too Much?

In the olden days, or so I am led to believe, it was considered wrong for boys and men to masturbate.  No doubt heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism, this view seemed to be received wisdom throughout much of the 19th and 20th Century’s.  Then came the 60’s.  With the sexual revolution, masturbation became good, almost compulsory.  Received scientific thinking, led by the great sexologist Kinsey, ‘normalised’ masturbation, so that it became, if not immoral, then at least acceptable.
do you masturbate
Of course boys and most men masturbate, but is there any reason to think you could be masturbating too much?  I think there is.

First, masturbation results in the emission of semen from the body.  In order to achieve this, the body’s nervous and endocrine system is activated which stimulates the acetylcholine/parasympathetic nervous system.  This, in turn, creates an excess of sex hormones and neurotransmitters which alters the body’s biochemistry and nerve function.  The emission of semen itself results in many vital nutrients being released from the body.

Research is beginning to suggest that this combination of endocrine/nervous system overstimulation, and emission of semen, can have negative impact on a man’s health.  The researchers found that the more men masturbate, the more they are likely to suffer from memory and concentration problems, fatigue, back pain, hair loss, a poor erection and even premature ejaculation.

Second, men who masturbate can begin to suffer from psychological problems.  In my experience of working with men, I have seen that excessive masturbation can reduce the ability to orgasm with a partner, encourage more elaborate and sometimes unhelpful sexual fantasy, and can lead to unrealistic expectations on sexual partners.  Sometimes this can even prevent men from finding and maintaining a sexual partner.  Furthermore, masturbation, especially over internet porn, is often a participatory factor in sexual addiction.

It seems, then, that excessive masturbation is not the neutral blank cheque that some people led us to believe. But what constitutes ‘excessive’.  Depending on your habits, you might be relieved or disappointed to learn that masturbation to completion more than three times a week is the threshold at which these negative side effects start to take hold.  This is a ball park figure, as every man is different, but it is a sobering statistic … at least for me!

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How To Cope With Being In Debt

There is lots of advice on how to manage debt.  There is little help for people to understand the emotional impact of debt.  After all, debt is just a number, and you owe them the money and can’t pay it back, isn’t it they who have a problem … not you?

In my last post I offered some advice about why debt is seductive.  We can all fall into it.  In fact those that sell debt want us to be seduced – and they are very skilled at knowing how to do it.  If you are in debt and struggling with payments etc., you will probably be suffering from the emotional impact of debt.  This is what I want to write about today.

The easiest way to look at the psychology of debt is as a circular process.

1.       You default on a payment.

2.       You feel ashamed and guilty.

3.       You go into denial and stop opening your post.

4.       The problem grows in your imagination.

5.       You feel anxious, depressed and a sense of hopelessness builds.  You feel like a ‘black cloud’ has descended on your life, and start to feel resentment about working all the time to pay back loans.

6.       This leads to more denial and the pile of unopened letters starts to build.

7.       This leads to more defaults and the process repeats.

This is the viscous cycle of debt, and you need to understand it for two reasons.

First, if you understand the cycle it is easier to break out of it.  Second the debt companies know all about this vicious cycle, and will use it against you to force you to make payments you can’t afford.

When a person is in this situation, debt collection companies know it’s a matter of time before professional debt counsellors become involved.  They know that when this happens they will probably get less money from you … so they push … hard.

At this point, of course, you are emotionally vulnerable and probably frightened, but the collectors are simply set on minimising their losses.  They will exploit you if you don’t act fast.

The key to understanding the cycle above is denial.  So long as you remain in denial you will remain vulnerable.  My advice is take control … and do so as soon as you possibly can.

Often at this point, people start worrying about their credit record.  In reality it is already too late.  As soon as you start defaulting, your credit rating dives, so there is nothing to be lost (and everything to be gained) from getting expert advice.

These days there are many different ways to take control and manage your debts.  You will be amazed at the ways you can escape from this.  From a psychological perspective, however, handing your debts to a professional to manage is the start of the recovery.  The debt companies know they can no longer harass you.  You are in control … and you can start living your life again.

But who to turn to?  I suggest never paying someone to manage your debts, at least not in the first instance.  Get help from the Citizens Advice Bureau.  They should be able to help, and if they can’t, will point you in the right direction.

Do it NOW.

Good Luck!

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Do You Understand The Psychology Of Debt?

The emotional impact of debt can be crippling.  For many people, being in debt drains their energy and enthusiasm for life.  Our collective personal indebtedness is higher now than ever before.  But why do people get into debt?  And when in debt, why is it so difficult to get out of?

In this post I’ll explore the seduction of debt and why it has a hold over so many of us.  In my next post I’ll talk about the psychology of indebtedness, and how to beat it.

There are two psychological processes at work which encourages us into debt.

1.       Future Discounting.

This is a general psychological principle which applies to many things including debt.  For example we are all familiar with the idea that we can plan a day and find that we underestimated the time it would take to do everything.  This is an example of what I call ‘future discounting’.  In this case we predict how much work we can do in a day and discount, i.e. underestimate, our ability to do it.

The same applies with debt.  We often take on debt and we don’t really work out in detail how we are going to deal with it.  We look to the future and discount the pain of making the repayments.  If we can’t even get tomorrows schedule right, just imagine how dangerous taking on debt can be when you are ‘future discounting’, sometimes years ahead!

Of course the companies that supply credit know this principle very well.  In fact they sell to us on the basis of future discounting, and we see it in deals that supply credit cheaply for six months, then the interest rate rises steeply.  We future discount our ability to clear the debt before the interest rate rises.  It is on the basis of the steep interest rate that these companies make their money, and they know we will fall into the trap, that’s why they set it up for us in the way that they do.

The worst culprits are the ‘buy now, don’t pay anything for a year, then pay over three years’ deals.  Psychologically it ‘feels’ like it’s something for nothing … but it very much is not.  These deals often supply the lowest quality goods’ at the highest interest rates, and tie you up in debt with nothing good to show for it.

1.       Consumption and Personal Identity.

A famous Philosopher, Rene Descartes one wrote “I think therefore I am”.  This might have been true for an academic in the 17th century.  In the 21st century, it might be better to say “I consume therefore I am”.  Never have we be so brand conscious.  Kids especially are vulnerable to this.  Perhaps because they feel their ‘needs’ so acutely, and haven’t yet learnt to keep them in check, they put enormous pressure on their parent to buy the latest gadgets and clothing.

As adults we don’t escape these pressures.  We identify with brands because we want to be a part of something bigger.  Consumption of a brand is something that, in a small way, allows us to feel connected and engaged with this bigger narrative.  Of course the narratives are powerful, they promise youth, beauty, health and endless sexual triumphs.  Who doesn’t want to live the Victoria and David Beckham lifestyle?

Allowing our self esteem to be contingent on such purchases is precarious.  In order to feel good about ourselves we need to keep buying the product.  Of course manufacturers know this, that’s why nothing is made to last these days.  From light bulbs, computer operating systems and cloths, to perfumes, furniture and even cars, everything is designed to fail, fall apart and degenerate, fuelling another wave of consumption to make us feel good about ourselves.  A more secure basis for self esteem is through our relationships to other people:  being a good father, husband, boyfriend or mate.  You can’t buy these things, but being them will make you much happier than purchasing a pair of Armani Jeans on you Barclaycard.

On their own, each of these psychological processes are dangerous, put them together, and they are toxic.  What results is people who buy on credit the lifestyle they feel they deserve but can’t afford to pay back until a later.  We all know this is nonsense, but we do it all the time.  When payback time comes, we find we can no longer afford the lifestyle we need to feel good about ourselves, and this fuels further purchases on credit.

The psychology of saving is for another post, but the benefits are obvious; by not paying interest, you can actually afford to buy more!

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How to Cure Dry Skin

Easy Home Remedies for Skin Moisture Loss

The absence of sufficient water in the skin’s top layer can make the skin dry. Dry skin is the effect of several factors such as harsh climate, strong detergents, poor diet and hot showers. Heated or air-conditioned air may cause skin to lose its moisture. The dry air, extreme cold, and harsh wind can dry the oil secreted by the sebaceous glands meant to lubricate the surface of the skin.

Dull, dry skin on face is also the effect of smoking and excessive sun tanning beds. The heat from these elements dries up the moisture that keeps skin healthy, plumped-up and youthful-looking.

Other things can rob the skin of its moisture. Temperature and humidity levels during winter can leave one with dry skin, chapped and sore because of the loss of moisture and oil. Without moisture, the skin can harden and flake. Hot water baths and spas take away important proteins from the skin. The hotter the shower water, the more skin moisture is lost.

On the other hand, some men and women simply have an outer skin that does not hold moisture well. Normally, the outer layer of the skin is kept moist by fluid from the sweat glands and from the underlying tissues. Sebum oil from the sebaceous glands helps seal the fluid. However, the oil released by the sebaceous glands lessens in volume with aging.

While one cannot keep skin away from the elements and factors that rob skin of its moisture, here are dry skin and face care treatments to help men care and cure dry skin.

Moisturize, and Moisturize Especially When Skin is Chapped and Parched

When the face feels tight after washing, one has dry skin. The basic cure to dry skin is moisturizing, as moisturizers supply the lubrication the skin needs fast. Apply moisturizer right after a bath, while skin is still damp. Apply again whenever the skin feels dry and especially before bed.

Which moisturizers should one use to cure dry skin overnight? Moisturizers with organic oil content offer more protection. The thicker the product, the more it seals in skin moisture. Rose hip oil is one efficient ingredient for skin dryness. This biological substance is rich in vitamin C and A, nutrients that are known to alleviate dry and cracked skin.

Dr. Margaret Robertson, a dermatologist at St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center in Portland advises using a thick unscented moisturizer on the skin. Products like Vaseline petroleum are made for treating dry skin. Put a coat of Vaseline on the soles at night before wearing socks and wake up to softer feet.

Easy Home Remedies to Fight Skin Moisture Loss

There are factors that dries out the outer layer of the skin. Over time, the damage can cause skin to wrinkle. Here are tips to avoid having dry, wrinkle skin.

  • Cool it off. Hot temperature from wood stoves or forced air-heating systems dries out the skin. Keep the air temperature a few degrees lower to keep your skin moist. One way to keep moisture from being drawn from the skin into the air is to raise the humidity level in one’s living space. Sixty percent humidity is perfect for the skin. Use a humidifier if humidity level in one’s office or home is lower than the ideal level.
  • Cover up. Wear a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt when under the sun. Use a sunscreen with a higher sun protection factor for greater sun protection. When sunbathing, apply cream lotion and occasionally spray skin with mineral water to keep it moist.
  • Dump the alcohol. Each time one drinks alcohol, the skin loses moisture. Therefore, do not use alcohol-based products on the skin. Likewise, every time one cleanses his face with alcohol-based cosmetics and wipes, the skin cells lose fluids and essential minerals. Use skin care cosmetics with substances that hold in moisture to the skin such as vegetable glycerin, vitamin E, and panthenol. Increase water intake to cure cracked and dry skin naturally.
  • End the abrasives. Dry skin is most common on parts of the body that are often exposed to household products such as cleansers and detergents. Work with vinyl gloves and long-handled brushes to protect the skin. Also, use washcloths on the body sparingly. Sometimes these can do more harm to do skin than good. Opt for organic bath soaps rich with shea and cocoa butters to help cure dry skin. Organic bath soap draws in moisture to the skin, keeping skin hydrated and soft. Aloe Vera applied on the skin overnight also soothes and heals dry and chapped skin fast.
  • Oil after bath. Organic bath oils can help replace natural moisture lost. Bath oils relieve chapped skin and soothe irritated, damaged skin. Apply oil to wet skin after bathing to seal in moisture. Use oil like that contains vitamins A, D, and E to help restore skin lost moisture. Likewise, virgin coconut oil has been proven to restore level of water loss or pH of skin.

A good balance of oil and moisture is crucial for a healthy, youthful skin. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the factors that are causing moisture loss and skin dryness, and the best home remedies for dry skin face and body.

Poor lifestyle and diet also make skin health poor. Eat a balanced diet to cure dry skin naturally. Foods high in sulfur can keep the skin smooth and youthful. Drink at least two quarts of good clean water to keep skin well hydrated. Do not forget that a regular exercise can help cure dry skin from the inside by promoting better blood flow.

Are you feeling cracked, chalky and stretched? Cure dry skin.

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About Happiness

“Happiness is an imaginary condition formerly often attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and children to adults.”

Thomas Szasz cited by Lorie, P. and Mascetti, M.N. (1986)  The Quotable Spirit – Divine, mystical and inspirational quotations.  Macmillan Publishers Ltd.: London.  p.26.

In therapy, clients often present because, in one way or another, they consider themselves to be ‘unhappy’.  When asked what they want from therapy, they often say they want to ‘be happy’.

What the quote above highlights, however, is that happiness is a slippery concept.  Rarely, if ever, can we declare our current felling state as one of ‘being happy’.  Perhaps the nearest we can achieve is to look back over our lives and attribute particular periods as being ‘happy’ ones.

But were those times really ‘happy’?  If we were to examine our happy experiences of the past more closely, we would find those periods to include other emotions like disappointment, frustration, anger or sadness.

Even when looking to our past, then, our periods of happiness seem to evaporate with closer examination.

Why, then, is happiness so illusive?

One reason, I think, is we look towards happiness as a destination … something we need to work towards, a way of being with the world that we need to achieve … something that is marked by the absence of other, less pleasant emotions.  We want to be rid of our anxiety, depressions and disappointments, and replace them with something different.

Viewed in this way, however, happiness just becomes something that, like Szasz points out above, is attributed to other people, or times and places in our lives, but never now.

If we examine our experience closely, however, our feeling states are always mixed.  We feel fear and anger and upset and resentment etc., at all times of our lives.  There are few, if ever, truly ‘happy’ moments.

What does this teach us?  My view is that happiness is way to travel, it is not a destination.  Our experience will always be filled with ‘negative’ emotions.  Simply turning away from them … or worse, wishing them away to a future without them, is ultimately futile.

It is only in accepting, feeling and experiencing our world as it is, can we come to live ‘happy’ lives.  Happiness, in other words, is not somewhere we have been, or plan to go, but it is something we do  … furthermore, it is something we do despite our difficult circumstances.

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Absent Fathers and their Children’s Sexual Behaviour

Conventional opinion has held that children of absent fathers are more likely to sexually mature earlier, and have their first sexual experience earlier, than children of fathers who remain in the family. The conclusion has always been that it is the absence of the fathers that cause the early sexual maturation and activity. New research is suggesting that this might not be the case.

Jane Mendle examined data from the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and compared the age of first intercourse with genetically related individuals such as twins, sisters and cousins. What the researcher found was that the more closely related the children were, the more likely they were to be close in terms of first intercourse, and this was the most important factor regardless of absent fathers.

What this research demonstrates is that correlation (fathers presence/absence with age of sexual maturity/first intercourse) does not necessarily imply causation. It also shows that researchers in the past have been too quick to ‘blame’ absent fathers for their children’s sexual behaviour.

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Homosexuality Can’t Be ‘Cured’ – But Can We Accept It?

Over the last 200 years or so, there has been ongoing debate about the relative role of psychology and biology in a range of human behaviours.  Autism and homosexuality are two good examples that research has placed firmly on the side of biology.  For many years professionals tried talking therapies to help people with autism and homosexuality overcome their ‘afflictions’.  In both cases all they served to do was increase the distress of the patient, and their families, by making them feel responsible for their behaviour.
With respect to homosexuality, the psychiatric profession for many years held it to be an illness.  This is no longer the case.  Although the causes of homosexuality are still debated in nuance, there is increasing consensus that it is biology that determines a person’s sexuality, not psychology, upbringing or indeed, personal choice.  Interestingly there are different biological reasons for male homosexuality and female homosexuality, rather than a unified reason that accounts for both.

Furthermore, a survey of all published research about therapies that have tried to change a person’s sexuality has shown that it has always failed to do so, and often causes harm.  This has recently led to the American Psychological Society issuing a declaration that therapy to change a person’s sexuality does not work, with the implication that it is unethical to try to do so.  Pressure is being put on the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatry to issue a similar statement.

Given this backdrop it is alarming that a recent study in MBC Psychiatry found that as many as 1 in 6 therapists have attempted to change at least one person’s sexual orientation  in their professional career.  On the face of it this seems to go against the evidence.  I wonder, though, if something more subtle is going on – namely a difficulty knowing how to deal with gay clients who are unhappy about their sexuality.

In the life history of most gay men there is likely to be a period when they couldn’t accept their sexuality, and therefore really didn’t want to be gay.  The pressures of family and society to conform to a heterosexual norm seem insurmountable for many men.  It is clear that many gay clients have a lot of soul searching to do before they form an acceptance of their sexuality.  Indeed, it could be argued that many gay men, though superficially accepting and adopting a gay lifestyle, still suffer from a hangover of ‘internalised homophobia’ that continues to impact on their emotional wellbeing and ability to form meaningful relationships.

Given the very real unhappiness that finding oneself gay can bring to a person, it seems understandable, if ill advised, to try and help the person to lead a straight lifestyle.  I suspect this, rather than a real belief in its possibility, that has led so many of my colleagues to try and change a persons sexuality.

It is within this backdrop, however, that the real danger to gay men’s well-being lies – namely in those religious organisations that still offer ‘treatments’ for homosexuality. Against the grain of science but in the name of God, such organisations can only serve to enhance gay men’s unhappiness with their sexuality, and not in fact offer any real solution to it.  At best all they can hope to achieve is an asexual life where sex and relationships are sacrificed for a supposed ‘greater’ ideal of ‘what God wants’.  I can’t see this being beneficial to the individual, or, indeed, society.

Homosexuality will continue to be a contentious issue, not least because it raises tensions between individual behaviour and social and religious mores. All I can do as a therapist is help everybody, gay or straight alike, to be more accepting of homosexuality.  It is in accepting others how they really are, that we are best able to learn to accept ourselves as we really are.  Psychological health, after all, starts by seeing the world as it really is, rather than how we think it should be.

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