Monthly Archives: June 2017

Come Here, Go Away! (Thoughts on Intimacy & Fear)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m in the throes of final editing of the next Marcia Banks and Buddy book, and a subplot running through the whole series is Marcia’s struggle to trust her heart to love again after a disastrous marriage.

That struggle got me thinking about the two biggest obstacles to romantic partners initially getting together—intimacy phobia and commitment phobia (there are lots of other challenges re: staying together). People often assume these two fears are the same thing, but there are subtle and important differences. Today I’ll talk about the first one, which I think of as the come-here, go-away syndrome.

Human beings naturally crave connection with others. It’s part of our makeup. Survival of the species depends on pooling our efforts to benefit the group and to raise our young.

monkey and cat hugging

Everybody craves closeness, but too close can be scary. (photo by SalimVirji, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

So we crave connection, but those of us who have been hurt before by someone close to us (Show of hands? *everyone raises their hands*) also tend to carry some scar tissue around our hearts.

If we rate the thickness of that scar tissue on a scale from 1 to 10, a few people, with 9 to 10-level scar tissue, will manage to squash the urge to connect completely and they will avoid relationships.

For many of the rest of us, the scar tissue falls in the 1 to 4 range—mild to moderate thickness that we can work our way past when someone comes along who seems trustworthy and truly interested in us (friend or lover).

But those in the 5-8 range are most likely to engage in come-here, go-away behavior. They crave connection and allow a relationship to get started—maybe even actively pursue a potential partner or friend—but then the fears set in and the dance begins. They just can’t handle letting someone get too close.

There are several ways the fear of intimacy will be manifested.

  1.  The walls go up.
  2.  The person sabotages the relationship.
  3.  The person starts trying to control his/her partner.
  4.  The person starts denigrating his/her partner.

The walls – Somehow you get the gut sense that your partner is holding back. There is a part of them they keep hidden. You may be picking up on little hesitations in personal conversations, as if they are weighing how much to say. Or they may change the subject when things start getting too intimate.

(Note: by intimacy, I don’t mean sex; I mean emotional closeness, which results from disclosing your thoughts and feelings to your partner.)

Also they may pull away after a surge of intimacy. You bare your souls to each other on a date and you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about that, but then your partner cancels the next two dates.

The worst thing you can do is to try to beat down the walls by sheer force (trust me, I’ve tried). Insisting that your partner let you in will likely get the opposite response.

The best approach is patience and being as open and trustworthy as you can be. People with walls tend to assume that others also have them. If they sense that you don’t (or you at least have doors in your wall), then they may feel more comfortable reciprocating and letting you in farther.

Also, if they are telling you they need things to slow down, hear that. Acknowledge that it’s scary to let someone in and that you’re afraid too.

My husband and I had a whirlwind courtship that felt pretty much out of our control. Somewhere around the second month we started this little routine. We would look at each other and then one of us would start it.

  • “Who the heck is driving this runaway stagecoach anyway?”
  • “I thought you were.”
  • “No, I thought you were.”
  • “Aw crap, guess we’d better hold hands and hang on tight then.”

I don’t remember anymore who thought of that little exchange first, but it got us through those early, scary times.

But there are no guarantees when it comes to walls. The person’s wall may be so thick, even they don’t know how to dismantle it.

Sabotage – This can take many forms. It may be picking fights, becoming unreliable, or even being unfaithful.

The important thing here is to recognize the underlying fear. If the couple keeps fighting over the sabotaging behavior itself instead of addressing why one or both of you feel the need to sabotage, the relationship probably will come to an end.

The best way to address this is directly but gently. “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing ______ a lot lately. Is that because you’re uncomfortable with how close we’ve become?”

Keep in mind the old adage about leading a horse to water. The other person may or may not admit to you or themselves that the sabotage is coming from a fear of intimacy.

Again, trying to force the issue is likely to backfire. Let it go for now and see what seeds you may have planted. Then address it again the next time they sabotage. (This is assuming you can tolerate the sabotaging behavior.)

Controlling – Trying to control you may be another form of sabotage, but there’s another layer here too. If your partner can control you, then they feel more secure that you won’t leave them.

cartoon of couple arguing

“Why are you arguing?” the mother-in-law says. “You are newlyweds.”
“We don’t need to argue if she would just agree with me,” the husband says. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Also, some people are controlling by nature. This too comes from fear, but more from a fear of being out of control and helpless. Try to step back and ask yourself if your partner is trying to control YOU or the environment in general.

If it’s the latter, you’re not likely to get them to change readily, so then you need to ask yourself how willing you are to deal with their controlling behavior.

If it’s truly you they are trying to control, then again gentle confrontation is in order, but this time couple it with reassurances. “First, let me assure you that I’m not going anywhere. I care about you. But I feel lately like you keep trying to control me and I don’t like that. Is that just because you’re afraid I might leave?”

Denigration – This one is perhaps the hardest to deal with. Your partner starts putting you down, criticizing what you wear, how you talk, etc. This is often another form of control.

It can come from two possible motives. One is “if I tear you down, you won’t feel confident enough to leave me.” This is a sign of an abuser and you probably need to get away from this behavior and this person sooner instead of later.

The other can be a byproduct of their own poor self-esteem. I actually had a boyfriend tell me one time, “I know I’m a little pile of [crap] so I figure if you love me, then you must be a little pile of [crap] too.”

I kicked his pile of crap out the door.

But if you don’t want to do that, you can try confronting the behavior. Point out what they are doing and how it makes you feel, then go a step farther and ask them how they would feel if you said those things to them. If you can get some empathy going, you might just get them to change this behavior.

It can also help to point out that if they are doing this to tear you down so you won’t leave them, the behavior is about to backfire. It is driving you away.

Never, ever stay with someone who continues to put you down. You will not please them (because they don’t want to be pleased) and your self-esteem will be harmed, and it could be the first step to more serious abuse.

I’m sure there are other, more creative ways that people sometimes deal with their fear of intimacy, but these are the ones I saw most often during my 20 years as a therapist.

What about you? How thick is the scar tissue around your heart? Have you seen other ways that people exhibit intimacy phobia?

And here is the wonderful cover for my new book! I think my cover designer, Melinda VanLone outdid herself on this one.

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

I hope to have the book available for Preorder by July 10th. Release day is July 20th.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Think About What You’re Doing! (Part 3: Critical Thinking and Action)

by Kassandra Lamb

We have an interim pastor at my church. The previous pastor left a few months ago and this gentleman is filling in while we search for a new permanent pastor. This interim pastor has made several small changes in the order of worship. I’m sure they seem important to him, but honestly I don’t get how having the ushers bring the alms basins all the way to the altar (instead of being met at the steps by an acolyte) really makes any significant difference in the state of the world.

inside of churchWhen someone steps into a new position of authority it is human nature to want to change things, whether those changes are truly needed or not. This may be due simply to discomfort because things are not being done the way the new leader is used to (I suspect this is the case with our new interim pastor). Or it can be about leaving his/her mark on new territory, to feel important or to assert one’s authority.

So they make changes, which may range from little tweaks to drastically reversing the previous leader’s procedures and policies. The consequences of these changes may not be thoroughly assessed, and sometimes, maybe even often, there wasn’t really anything all that wrong with the original way of doing things.

Which brings us to another reality of human nature. People don’t like change, especially if they didn’t initiate it.

As far as I can tell, the only thing these small changes in the church service have accomplished is confusion on the part of the ushers (of which I am one) and a mild sense of unease in the congregation every time something happens in a slightly different way than they are used to.

This chap is a nice guy, an intelligent and kind man of the cloth who means well. But he is temporary. And yet he couldn’t resist changing things to the way he is most comfortable with, even though it’s making everyone else vaguely uncomfortable.

This is what can happen when one fails to apply critical thinking to one’s actions.

(See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of the natural biases in thinking that make critical thinking difficult and Part 2 for how to evaluate information critically.)

Yoda meme: Broken Is Not, Not Fix It, You Must

meme created on imgflip.com

So how do we apply critical thinking to our actions…

Step 1: Evaluate the situation. Is there really a problem that needs action?

Or are we making changes for the sake of change, or to thwart those whom we see as opponents.

Step 2: Look for actions that might solve the problem (if there is indeed a problem) and then evaluate if those actions will truly make things better.

In 1920, many Americans deemed the excessive consumption of alcohol to be a serious problem in our country. The U.S. Congress voted for and the majority of state legislatures ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.

But this action did not solve the problem. Only casual drinkers gave up alcohol because of this law. Within a few years, alcohol consumption was back up to 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels as bootlegging and speakeasies became common.

membership card for a speakeasy

A membership card for the Stork Club speakeasy in New York (U.S. public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

When assessing the virtues of a potential action, we need to make sure it’s really a true solution to the problem. And that it doesn’t cause other problems.

Which brings us to…

Step 3: Apply critical thinking to evaluate what other consequences might result from the actions taken to solve a problem.

Prohibition not only didn’t solve the problem but it caused several others. Taxes went up as the costs for law enforcement and prisons rose dramatically. Illegal distribution of alcohol became a boon for organized crime. And thousands of people became ill or died from tainted “bathtub gin.”

In 1933, the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the Constitution ended the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.

Bottom line: it’s important to think (critically) before we act!

Your thoughts? Have you been in a situation where someone changed things for the sake of change and it backfired?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Resolving Conflict Effectively (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m up to my eyeballs in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post from two years ago that seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor and conflict in our society these days, it would behoove us to learn how to dig beneath the surface to find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can do that effectively…

I first learned of this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a boyfriend like that once upon a time).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with conflict?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Re-story-a-tion: Reviving An Old Creation

by Vinnie Hansen

If February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in an airplane crash, is The Day the Music Died, then 2016 is The Year The Music Died. Consider this partial list: David Bowie, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and George Michael.

The deaths hit music lovers of a certain age hard. And, for me, 2016 went out with a bang—four deaths in my broader circle of friends, all people in their sixties and seventies.

My novel Lostart Street rose from these ashes.

The deaths prompted my husband and me to make a living trust. During the grueling process, I reviewed my old will in which I’d left money and directions for the publication of my file-cabinet novel Love on Lostart Street.

Over the years, a couple of publishers had nibbled at the novel, so I knew it contained tempting morsels. But what a task to leave to someone! I was the one best equipped to bring the novel to fruition, especially if the ladies at misterio press gave the project a nod.

One of the best parts of working with a small, collaborative press is the flexibility and freedom in what we can try. The ladies agreed to the publication although the title quickly changed to Lostart Street, because, as Kassandra Lamb pointed out, we don’t want readers to think the book is a romance.

But Lostart Street is not our usual mystery fare, either. It’s a cross-genre mash-up that I call “a novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. “

Even though the novel was already written and I had seven mysteries and numerous short stories under my belt, preparing Lostart Street for publication proved to be the toughest writing task I’ve faced.

First, the novel is personal. The protagonist is a twenty-eight-year-old would-be writer who abandons her life in San Francisco to accept a teaching position in a small California coast town.  This is my background, and the struggles of a first-year teacher certainly figure in the book.

A cartoon drawn for me by one of my first-year students. Bless his heart.

So I  worried myself into sleepless nights that readers would think the main character is me.

I reminded myself that when I created Carol Sabala, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went out of my way to make her different than I am. She’s half-Mexican American and a baker who becomes a P.I. She’s younger, taller, and more athletic with long wavy auburn hair. She grew up in California, came from a small family . . . .

It didn’t matter. Readers told me that they imagined Carol Sabala as me! Me—investigating murders, breaking and entering, propelling from rooftops? We can’t control what goes on in the minds of our readers, so why worry about it.

Nonetheless, in the front of Lostart Street I added to the usual disclaimer “not a single occurrence actually happened, or if it did, not at the time or in the context or with the people or in the manner depicted.”

But I faced another, much tougher issue. Lostart Street is set in 1982. I didn’t write it in 1982, but I started it much closer to 1982 than I am now. So when I pulled the book out of the file cabinet to rework it, I realized I’d become a better writer than I was then. The problem became how to apply my developed skills to this older work without erasing what made it unique and charming in the first place.

Twenty-eight-year-old self.

My sixty-year-old self.

Back in 1987, I was lucky enough to see the Sistine Chapel while the restoration of its ceiling was in progress. This project was, and remains, controversial. People had grown accustomed to the look of the art covered with hundreds of years of grime. Some art critics even argued that the change over the years was the natural evolution of the frescoes and cleaning them was a travesty.

Now, not to compare myself to Michelangelo, but the process of restoration, or re-story-a-tion, of Lostart Street, created a similar dilemma. How did I apply the cleaner—scrubbing at adverbs and metaphors and multiple points of view—without losing the book’s original appeal? How did I apply my 63-year-old wisdom to the 28-year-old voice? Yes, the story brightened and sharpened, but what was being lost?

The process was painstaking! But now I present the new and improved Lostart Street, available at Amazon. The launch party will be June 8th, 7 p.m. at Bookshop Santa Cruz.  For those of you farther away, I will be interviewed about Lostart Street tonight (June 6) at 7 p.m. on Universal Grapevine, KZSC 88.1 fm. Please tune in.

Have you ever tried to rework an older piece of writing or art? What challenges did you encounter?

Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Like Lostart Street, her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California, where Vinnie lives with her husband and requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )