Self Help Secrets

Self Help Tips for Weight Loss, Love, Sex and Career

Dr. Gootnick on Oprah (full episode)

Posted by igootnick on October 13, 2008

If you’re interested, please click on the link below to view the full episode of Oprah and hear, in detail, what I have to say concerning parenting.

Dr. Gootnick Oprah from Presentage, Inc. on Vimeo.


Posted in abusive families, anxiety, bad relationships, childhood, emotional abuse, family experiences, guilt, parenting, parents' guilt provoking behavior, resentment, self help, self-blame, unconscious behavior, video, worthlessness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dr. Gootnick on MSNBC: Weight Woes

Posted by igootnick on October 20, 2008

This is a video of me on MSNBC. Please click on the link below to view the clip on Vimeo. Here, I talk about family issues including guilt and rebellion as mental triggers that cause weight issues. 

Gootnick MSNBC from Presentage, Inc. on Vimeo.

Posted in change, childhood, family experiences, guilt, self help, self-defeating behaviors, unconscious behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

David Duchovny, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton… sex addicts? What is Sex Addiction?

Posted by igootnick on September 16, 2008

“Sex addiction” is a term thrown around without much understanding. It catches our attention because of the famous people who receive press publicity due to their adulterous or sexually deviant behavior. For example, it was recently reported that the actor David Duchovny, who is married with children, entered rehab for sex addiction. In addition, just a few months ago, Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York got a great deal of publicity, and ultimately resigned, due to sexually “deviant” behavior with prostitutes. And we all recall the publicity that Bill Clinton received for his dalliances.

Let me start out by saying that, in my opinion, most of what is termed to be “sex addiction” is not addiction at all. It is instead a psychologically driven behavior. In English vernacular, people would say that someone who presents with a compulsive behavior is an addict. But having multiple sexual partners is different from alcoholism or drug addiction, both of which are physical / biological dependencies on substances and both of which result in withdrawal (a set of physical symptoms) in the absence of the substance. Although having multiple sexual partners looks like addiction because of the person’s repeating behavioral pattern, the underlying reason behind the behavior is usually not biological and is not always clear.

So how are we to understand this sexual behavior, especially coming from men who have so much to lose? From my practice as a Psychiatrist for over 40 years, I have learned some of the underlying hidden motivations that lead individuals to have multiple sexual partners and extramarital affairs. Here are some of the causes:

1. You grew up with a very rejecting parent – To protect against future rejection, you are likely to not become too emotionally connected with a partner. Having many affairs is one way to achieve this emotional distance and hence maintain your emotional safety.

2. You have a parent or sibling who was or is too dependent on you for fulfillment – In future relationships, you might feel an anxiety about being burdened by your partner’s needs, just as you were burdened by your parent’s needs. Again, creating distance is a way of communicating to your partner not to depend on you too much.

3. You were raised by an authoritarian controlling parent and were required to be excessively submissive and obedient – This may cause you to be fearful of being controlled by your partner. Having many affairs would protect you from being controlled and taken advantage of.

4. You have a parent or sibling who may have been excessively competitive with you for the attention of the opposite sex parent – To protect the parent or sibling from feeling envious of you, you fail in your relationships by having many partners.

5. You have a parent who lives vicariously through your sexual exploits, and you fulfill their needs by demonstrating your sexual promiscuity over and over.

6. Your parent was overly moralistic and critical of sex – You protest against this by rebelling and doing the opposite. You communicate your resentment of your parent’s Victorian morality by having as many affairs as possible.

7. In families where a parent or parents had affairs, their behavior sets an example, “a role model,” of how to behave. For example, in the Kennedy family, Joseph, the father of John, Robert and Ted was very promiscuous, and all of his sons followed suit.

8. If your parent is disdainful and contemptuous of the opposite sex, you may follow suit as a way of not feeling better off or superior.

9. Your parent excessively required you to always please or rescue him or her, and you felt that it was your responsibility to make that parent feel good – You may make it your mission to make the opposite sex feel good, and hence you may get into multiple relationships not because you care about the other person, but because it makes you feel good to make someone of the opposite sex feel good.

As you can see there are many underlying subconscious motives for having affairs. I have worked with many clients dealing with this issue, and it has been my experience that when they come in for therapy, once they identify what the underlying dynamic is, they are able to gain control over it. Please post or email me with any questions.

Posted in childhood, family experiences, love and sex, mimicking, parenting, rebellion, self help, self-defeating behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, sex addiction, unconscious behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How Irrational Guilt May Hinder Forgiveness

Posted by igootnick on September 4, 2008

CNN recently wrote an article, “Choosing to Forgive – or Not,” in which they presented the case studies of Bob Livingstone and Ellen Girt. Bob lived with his physically and emotionally abusive father, who stopped talking to him after he hit back. For 25 years, after his father’s death Bob was unable to forgive him. Ellen witnessed her father physically abuse her mother and has not been able to let go of her anger towards her father for his abuse, nor at her mother for taking it. As a result of her situation, Ellen has suffered from stomach problems and has difficulty trusting people.

Although both individuals were able to achieve forgiveness, as a psychiatrist, I wanted to analyze what might have hindered their ability to forgive in the first place. For 25 years, Bob blamed himself for his father’s misery and stroke. Lack of awareness over the amount of guilt he felt could have hindered forgiveness.

Although Ellen expressed anger at both her parents, I got the sense that she was angrier with her mother than her father. Many women who witness abuse are bothered by the fact that their mothers tolerated abuse and seemed helpless. Since children take cues from their parents, ironically, Ellen may have learned that it is wrong to stand up for herself. What is unclear in Ellen’s case is whether or not her father treated her better than he treated her mother. If she was treated better, Ellen would likely feel even worse about her mother’s mistreatment. She certainly seems to carry a great deal of guilt over her inability to protect her mother from her father. This is quite common among children from abusive families. Though the article does not go into detail, given her experiences, I suspect Ellen may have a history of difficult relationships with men. I wonder if all of her relationships fail because she sabotages them out of guilt for being better off than her mother.

The similarity I see between Bob Livingstone and Ellen Girt is that they both seem to feel irrationally responsible for their parent’s pain and suffering, leading to irrational guilt. It is very common for children to feel that they have “caused” their parents or siblings terrible pain just by being themselves and doing the normal things that children do. Very often children deal with this irrational feeling by attempting to rescue the parent or by becoming a victim themselves. As may be the case with Ellen’s relationships, children from abusive backgrounds may feel that they deserve to suffer as payback for having “made” their parent or sibling suffer or for not having stopped the abuse.

It is much easier to forgive a person’s actions than to forgive the feelings that those actions caused you to have about yourself. For adult survivors of abusive environments, guilt from blaming themselves for being the cause of their parents’ suffering, or for being unable to stop their parents’ suffering, makes them feel terrible about themselves. They carry this particular guilt and the negative feelings about themselves into adulthood. In such cases, an unwillingness to continue feeling guilty over having contributed to their parents’ pain, real or perceived, can hinder forgiveness. As in the case of O.J. Simpson, tremendous guilt over behavior, in his case cheating on his wife, Nicole, gets turned around and focused on the flaws and misdeeds of the other person. When, after their divorce, Nicole starts having relationships with other men, O.J. seems to turn the intense guilt he felt over betraying her into an intense hurt over her betraying him. In the same way, children who survive abusive environments may turn the guilt they feel over their irrational thoughts of hurting their parents into an intense hurt over their parents hurting them. Even though this is done in an effort to protect themselves from feeling intense guilt, this unconscious behavior makes it tremendously difficult for them to let go of this hurt and forgive their parents.

In these scenarios, to achieve forgiveness, Livingstone and Girt would need to identify the roots of their irrational guilt and release themselves from feeling responsible for their parents’ pain. Once they do this they would be able to forgive themselves for being unable to “save” their parents. After forgiving themselves, hopefully forgiveness of their parents would follow.

Posted in abusive families, bad relationships, change, childhood, emotional abuse, family experiences, forgiveness, guilt, physical abuse, self help, self-blame, self-destructive behaviors, Uncategorized, unconscious behavior, victim behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Susan – Cycling Between Guilt and Resentment

Posted by igootnick on August 27, 2008

The following is the analysis to my last blog post “Susan – Parent Pleasing to her own Detriment.”

Upon analysis of her behavior, Susan slowly realized that her relationship with her parents all these years was greatly affected by guilt. Her mother played the role of the victim and blamed both Susan and her father for having been the causes of her victimization. As a result, Susan felt an obligation to always make her mother happy, either by taking an adult role and getting involved in parental arguments that were impossible for her to solve, trying to act unrealistically “grown up” to set a “good” example for her siblings or stressing herself out about always getting that perfect 100%. When these things did not work out the way she ideally would want them to, her mother would become upset at her, and Susan would become depressed and feel like a complete failure.

Susan began to realize that she carried these childhood experiences forward into her adult life. She still felt like anything less than 100% was a complete failure and that if she was not perfect she was worthless. She realized that in order for her to feel successful she had to be perfect, but she acknowledged that perfection was a highly unrealistic goal. Susan came to realize that her procrastination and tendency to give up when things became too tough was a result of this striving for perfection, and a fear of failure (in her case to be perfect).

Susan realized that by allowing herself to become controlled by the guilt that her mother was inflicting on her, she was allowing herself to become the victim. She focused so much of her energy on making her parents happy, that she had no energy left to make herself happy. Susan came to realize that she could not live her life according to her parents unrealistic expectations, but that she had to learn to create her own expectations. This would be a hard task, but a very important one in order for Susan to start building up her personal confidence, and reduce her feelings of anxiety and depression.

Upon further analysis, Susan began to discover a self defeating belief that contributed to her unhappiness. Susan thought that she always had to be “perfect” and responsible to an unrealistic degree. She felt that she had to be perfect both to satisfy her parents desires, as well as to set the “correct” example for her siblings. Being self-indulgent and having fun was out of the question. When she had fun she would feel guilty and feel that she was acting irresponsibly, and therefore she was unable to enjoy herself. Her guilt over disappointing her parents by not always being responsible and getting perfect grades would drive her to be perfect. But then this push to always be perfect made her resentful, and this resentment drove her desire to have fun and not be “perfect.” However, when she would go out and have fun, she would feel guilty. These self-defeating thoughts and feelings resulted in a self-defeating cycle with Susan cycling between guilt and resentment, and hence the two behaviors that went along with them, in her case acting “perfect” versus having fun and not being “perfect.” Because of her self-defeating belief, studying and having fun could never be in balance. Once Susan identified this self-defeating belief, and recognized its influence on her behavior, she was slowly able to break free of its influence and enjoy herself both in study and in social situations.

Posted in anxiety, balance, change, childhood, depression, family experiences, guilt, parenting, parents' guilt provoking behavior, perfection, resentment, self help, self-defeating behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, unconscious behavior, victim behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Susan – Parent Pleaser to her own Detriment

Posted by igootnick on August 25, 2008

I’ve spoken about guilt in many of my posts.   Now I’m going to present you with the experience of a client of mine and I would like you to analyze it.  Please post any of your thoughts and in my next blog post, I will let you know the results that came out of my therapy work with her.

Susan came into my office to deal with feelings of depression and anxiety.   She was in college and couldn’t focus on her work. Although she was smart, she felt intimidated by all the people around her who she felt were smarter.  She wanted to do well, but with all the other smart people around, she felt that she would not be able to do well enough.  Susan placed very high expectations on herself, and felt that if she got anything less than straight A’s she was a failure, but she also felt that if she completely ignored her social life she was a complete ‘loser.’  She had no idea how to balance her academic and social life.  Her social life started to take over and her grades quickly dropped. Susan had no idea what to do.   She told me that when she tried to focus on her studies, she would get anxious and the only thing she could do to relieve that anxiety is go out with friends.   But when she would go out with her friends she would feel depressed about the fact that she was not doing well academically, and would feel that she was a disappointment both to herself and to her parents.

As a child, Susan grew up in a difficult home.  Her parents were always arguing and very often blamed her for their arguments.  She never knew whose side to take in the argument and was torn between supporting her mother or her father.  Susan’s father was not around much when Susan was growing up, and therefore her strongest parental relationship was with her mother.  Her mother would often complain to her about what a horrible man her father was, and how miserable she was because she was married to him.   Susan empathized with her mother and felt horrible for her.  How could her father be such a horrible man?  How could he be so bad to such a seemingly innocent person such as her mother?

Susan grew to hate her father.   She began to take her mother’s side in all arguments and would many times come to her mother’s defense when her parents would begin fighting.   Although Susan’s mother did not stop accusing Susan of being the cause of the arguments, Susan still felt compelled to side with her mother.  She felt so hurt by her mother’s comments, but at the same time felt that she needed to defend her mother against her seemingly worse father.   Every time her parents would fight, Susan would get in the middle.  She told me that she made it her mission to help them get past their problems and to bring peace to her home, but that every time she tried she would fail.  And every time she would fail, she would feel horrible.  She became depressed, feeling that she was a complete failure.

Susan’s parents also had very high expectations of her.   She recalled that a 90 on an exam was never good enough.  And if anyone in the class got a higher grade than her, her parents would always say to her, “Well why was so and so able to get that grade and you weren’t?  You probably didn’t study hard enough.”   In addition, being the oldest, Susan was expected to always be responsible for her two younger siblings, as well as to always set the right example for them.  Even as a young child, doing normal things that young children do, Susan’s parents would criticize her for setting a bad example for her siblings, and therefore if her siblings did something wrong she was the one who got punished.  They considered it her fault.

Susan felt like there was nothing she could do to make her parents happy, but that did not stop her from continuing to try to please them.  However, her continuous attempts always ended the same way: her parents were never satisfied and she felt like a failure.  So why did she keep going out of her way to try make them happy?  This behavior was making her miserable, so why was she continuing this seemingly self-defeating behavior?  Let me know what you think, and in my next post I will let you know what Susan came to realize in our therapy work together.

Posted in anxiety, balance, change, childhood, depression, family experiences, guilt, parenting, parents' guilt provoking behavior, perfection, resentment, self help, self-defeating behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, unconscious behavior, victim behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stop being the Victim. Unleash your inner Force and Achieve all of Life’s Possibilities.

Posted by igootnick on August 10, 2008

Inside all of us is an inborn force pushing us to develop our talents and to become as strong as possible.  This force helps us leave our nest and spurs us on to become successful.  Because this force within us is so strong, there’s no good reason to limit ourselves and not achieve life’s possibilities.  Or so it may seem.

But actually there is a reason.  When a parent or sibling’s extreme behaviors persist for a long time, children develop destructive patterns, and these destructive patterns can often last throughout adulthood.

“My father was an alcoholic.”  “I was poor.”  “I was neglected.”  Isn’t that sad?  Don’t you feel sorry for me?  Please pay attention to me.  Does this sound familiar?  Maybe you know someone who plays the victim in order to get through life, or maybe you yourself have played the victim to your parents role of victimizer.

Some people say that criticizing parents isn’t justified, that people who criticize their parents have exaggerated fantasies about their childhood suffering.  They say it’s done in order to get attention of sympathy or in order to avoid adult responsibilities.  There are those that argue that the past isn’t important, that all that’s necessary for change is that we change our behavior, that we be strong, use willpower, follow someone else’s positive example, and think positively.

If you really think about it, does this make any sense?  No!  Do you honestly know anyone who doesn’t want to be happy, successful or fulfilled?  Sure, there are people who play the victim in order to get attention or to avoid responsibility, and yes they are doing it in response to damaging family experiences of the past.  But not all of us relive our childhood pain in order to play the victim.  Why should a suffering child cease to feel pain just because he or she has become an adult?  This is just not the way we are wired.  Our past does follow us into our future.

So clearly these attention seeking behaviors such as whining and complaining are annoying.  And clearly they are not effective.  So why would a person go out of his or her way to get attention and avoid responsibility by being ineffective and by annoying people?  Given the choice, they wouldn’t.  But unfortunately, they weren’t given the choice.  When children experience mistreatment, they blame themselves and suffer.  They suffer as children, and they suffer as adults.

As adults, the self-defeating motivations behind these behaviors are unconscious.  But recognizing these self-defeating motivations is an important part of overcoming your limitations and achieving your life’s goals.  So how do you know what these self-defeating motivations are if they are hidden from your consciousness?  By observing the results of the flawed behavior you exhibit – your self-defeating patterns.  Remember accommodation, rebellion and mimicking.

Now think about yourself.  Which of these self-defeating behaviors do you exhibit either with your parents or in interactions with others in your life?  Maybe you exhibit a combination of these behaviors.  Now what could be the motivations behind these behaviors?  We spoke about guilt as a huge motivator.  What other motivations could be causing your behaviors?

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please post them and I will get back to you.

Posted in accomodation, change, childhood, family experiences, guilt, mimicking, parents' guilt provoking behavior, rebellion, self help, self-defeating behaviors, unconscious behavior, victim behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why Do We Mimic Behaviors We Despise in our Parents?

Posted by igootnick on July 28, 2008

When you were a child, you probably remember swearing that you would never grow up and treat your children the way your parents treated you.  You promised yourself that you would be better.  But many years later, you find yourself behaving towards your children in similar ways.  This behavior is called mimicking – but why would you mimic a behavior that you so greatly despised?

One reason we become like our parents is to punish ourselves and relieve our guilt for hurting them since as children, we blame ourselves when our parent continually acts badly.  If you are unhappy, suffer, are disappointed, or out of control, then you have paid yourself back for the suffering you feel you caused them.  And it seems that our conscience wants to punish ourselves exactly in the way we feel we’ve made our parents or siblings suffer.

Does this sound self-destructive?  Of course it does, and it is!  Surely you’d prefer to not fly off the handle and rail at your children, and you’d surely rather not suffer when they don’t submit to you.  But since you feel you caused your parents or siblings to suffer, then you feel that you deserve to suffer in the same way.  This self-blame is central to why we behave in ways we hate.

Another reason for mimicking is to relieve your bad feelings over possibly being better off than your parents.  At a talk I gave, a woman told me that she would sit with her obese mother during meals and snacks and mimic her overeating because she thought that this would comfort her mother since they would be “in it together.”

Another person may mimic parental behavior in order to stop thinking about the past traumatic experience and try to remove it as far as possible from his or her memories.  In order to do this that person may become the one who mistreats, instead of the one who is mistreated.  For example, as an adult dominating your children, you may forget that you yourself submitted to domineering parents.

The last reason for mimicking is that by doing so you hope to meet others who can show you how to better cope with the behavior that harmed you.  These new people that you meet become role models for you in learning new ways of dealing with behavior that was painful or difficult for you in the past.  If you’ve ever wondered why many couples have extreme opposite personalities that often clash, this is why – each one is learning from the other how to improve on his or her own shortcomings.

These four reasons help explain why, in spite of your best intentions, you may have acquired those qualities of your parents that you hated the most.  Now, think of yourself.   Take out a pad of paper and write down situations where you have seen your parents’ behavior coming out in you.  Do any of these explanations apply to you?  Try to think of ways in which mimicking has been the root of the behavior you wish you could stop.

If you have any questions about this post, or if you have any personal questions or comments you would like to share, please comment and I will get back to you.

Posted in childhood, family experiences, guilt, mimicking, parenting, self help, self-defeating behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, unconscious behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rebellion: A Way to Survive Your Parents

Posted by igootnick on July 15, 2008

Rebellion is a refusal to comply with parental demands or needs and the restrictions they impose.  A certain amount of rebellion is normal and healthy in the development of a child’s independence and control.  But when a parent’s expectations are extreme, that child will rebel against accomodating his or her parents in order to fight their attempts to limit the normal goals we set for ourselves.

Rebellion is the child’s way of communicating to the parent(s) that their specific actions are not only distressing, but that they need to STOP.  And that would be fine if not for one problem: Parents have their own hidden self-defeating motivations from their own childhoods which cause them to behave badly and prevent them from receiving their child’s message in a mature way.

When children fight against excessively accommodating the flaws of their parents and siblings, they suffer so much guilt for their rebellion that they resume accommodating in order to relieve their guilt.  This leaves them shifting back and forth between accommodation and rebellion, never finding relief.  These behaviors will carry forward into relationships in the child’s adult life.

So how can you get past this self-defeating behavior?  Through therapy and introspection, you can learn to understand the reasons behind your accommodation and rebellion and you can learn to tell the difference between reasonable and unreasonable requests and behaviors on the part of others.  In this way, you will be better able to gauge when it is healthy for you to accommodate others wishes and needs and when it is not, you will learn how to stop the rebellious behavior when you feel resistant to accommodating, and you will learn to not feel guilty when you have made the decision to not accommodate others.

If you have any question, please post them and I will respond.

Posted in accomodation, bad relationships, childhood, family experiences, guilt, parenting, parents' guilt provoking behavior, rebellion, self help, self-defeating behaviors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Accomodation: A Self-Defeating Motivation

Posted by igootnick on July 7, 2008

You have developed mechanisms to survive your family.  These mechanisms are behind the behaviors that you have and don’t like.  The big three mechanisms are: accommodation, rebellion and mimicking.  Once you understand why you use these mechanisms, you can figure out how to stop using them, and your behaviors – the ones that seemed impossible to change – will change.

In this post, I will address the mechanism of accommodation.

To maintain the important ties to our parents or siblings, to feel loved by them, we may accommodate to or comply with their reasonable and unreasonable expectations.  When we comply with their reasonable expectations we are okay.  But what about when we comply with their serious flaws and damaging expectations?  Not so okay, huh?  Too much accommodation causes us to ignore our own interests, goals and destiny.  So why do we do this?  Because their guilt provoking words and deeds show us that they’re hurt when we don’t comply or accommodate.  Maybe they become agitated  – he screams, she loses control, maybe they become violent.  Their insults, screaming and other such behaviors are evidence that your parents are fragile and that you have wounded them.

They will often pout, withdraw, reject you as a sign of having been hurt by you.
Often they will tell you directly, “How could you do this to me?” “Just wait until you have kids.”  “I hope that your kids do to you what you have done to me.” These manipulations are designed to get you to accommodate to their expectations no matter the cost to your best interests. If you don’t go along you feel guilty about hurting them and therefore continue to repeat a pattern of behavior that you don’t like in yourself.

In my next posting, I will discuss the mechanism of rebellion.  If you have any questions about this post or any others, please feel free to ask.  I will try to get back to you speedily.

Posted in accomodation, bad relationships, change, childhood, family experiences, guilt, manipulation, parenting, parents' guilt provoking behavior, resentment, self help, self-defeating behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, submissiveness, unconscious behavior | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »