Interview With Dr. Perrin Elisha: Sharing Her Thoughts on Overcoming Body Image Issues, Role of Chemistry and Much More
1. A common problem our subscribers face especially those who are coming out of a messy divorce or breakup is lack of self-belief and confidence. They wonder if there are enough eligible men looking for a serious long term relationship, they doubt if men would find them attractive and some also suffer from body image issues. What advice do you have for women to overcome this problem?
This is a great but multi-faceted question.
The question of whether there are enough eligible men out there really comes down to our basic views, assumptions, and expectations about the world. And, our view of the world are intimately related to our view of ourselves, which is typically formed in our unconscious mind and is a conglomeration of our prior experience and the ways in which we made sense of this experience.
For instance, if we grew up in a family or a world situation in which we were not able to find what we needed, unless we make some conscious effort, we are likely to presume that either we are not deserving of what we need, that our needs are too big, and/or that what we need doesn’t exist in the world (again, tied to the belief that our needs themselves are out of proportion).
The mind has a natural and adaptive way of forming expectations about the world.
We need to make predictions to guide our behavior and decisions on a moment to moment basis, and it is an evolutionary adaption to build in a wide range of expectations built on our previous experience. However, our youngest and most unconscious expectations are held in our unconscious mind, and may not be adaptive to the world we live in, in the present.
It is important to examine these beliefs, for instance about whether what we need in love actually exists in the world.
The more we believe that our needs can be met in the world, the more we act in ways that open our experiences to come across, recognize, and seize these opportunities.
If, on the other hand, we hold tight to a belief that what we need does not exist, we will behave in ways that limit our exposure, we will interpret signals from the world in ways that tend to reinforce our expectations, and we will give off signals to others based on those expectations. So my advice to someone facing this fear would be to begin by examining your beliefs about your own needs and worth and value.
Ask yourself where these beliefs come from, and if there might be a much broader range of possibilities in the world than you are currently truly open to.
Therapy is an invaluable tool to examine these beliefs, since as I said they are largely held in the unconscious mind and we typically need the help of an outside observer to begin to see what is unconscious in our own minds.
The question about body image and feeling attractive is really about how embodied we are in our own selves.
While it is true that initial attraction takes visual stimulus strongly into effect, and it is important for everyone to tend to their own physical health and wellbeing, and to feel healthy in mind and body, both men and women do not build an emotional connection based on relatively shallow experiences of one another’s bodies.
When we imagine a physical attraction being built solely on visual stimulus, we are thinking about both ourselves and the connection from a dissociated viewpoint.
The term “embodied” refers to the phenomenon of experiencing our bodies from the inside, through our actual senses, rather than from a dissociated view from the outside looking in. The problem with the dissociated view is that we are not available to connect to another person when we are dissociated, so the feedback we get from our relationships could reinforce the belief that we are not physically attractive enough.
In other words, we will not make a connection with ourselves or with another person when dissociated, and the relationship will tend to go awry or fade away without any real “chemistry.” It may be easy to believe that this was because we aren’t physically attractive enough, but I honestly don’t believe this is the case.
People who are in loving relationships with amazing chemistry do so not because they have perfect bodies, they do so because they are actually connected to each other through all of their senses.
So, my advice for someone facing this insecurity would be to work on embodying yourself in your senses. As a bonus, you are more likely to make healthy choices for your body when you are embodied, and will feel and look more attractive and healthy!
2. Some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life.
What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?
This is a great question! The first step to releasing past emotional baggage is to be aware that we have it, and what it is.
This insight gives us the leverage to begin letting go. Sometimes, the key to letting go is to recognize and take responsibility for our parts in past hurts. This can be tricky to sort out, because often the other person really did do something incorrigible. However, we need to understand how we may have unwittingly played into an unhealthy dynamic.
Understanding this protects us from repeating the pattern in the future and creates a feeling of safety moving into a new kind of relationship without being unnecessarily on guard against other people. We also need to learn to forgive – both ourselves and other people.
Remember, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves!
It does not let the other person “off the hook” for bad behavior, but it emotionally separates us from the damage so that we are free to move on and have a new, better experience in the present and future.
When we forgive and let go of past baggage, we are in essence remembering who we truly are, and strengthening our own identity and boundaries.
This inner work puts us in the place where we are truly available to a new relationship, because we are at our best selves. Our best selves will attract someone who is truly a good fit!
3. As women prepare themselves to date men after a breakup or divorce, they often find dating intimidating and stressful. They feel out of touch, out of place and suffer from anxiety because it has been a long time since they have gone out on a date. Some even call dating a dreaded chore. How can women overcome this intense anxiety and start enjoying the dating process?
Dating after a bad breakup or divorce is a new experience!
I recommend thinking of it that way. Likely you have grown, changed and developed since you last dated. This is a good thing, but I takes some conscious reflection to understand where you are at now and what this means in terms of reentering the world of dating. I recommend talking to others who have been through the process, or reading some of the many resources about dating.
These conversations will help you think about dating from a new perspective.
Are you at a different stage of life than you were the last time you were dating? Where do you meet people now, what have you learned about yourself, what is important to you in your next relationship, and what do you know are your dealbreakers?
If you have done some personal work to learn from and recover from your last relationship, this is the first step. If you have done this, you likely are armed with a good deal of knowledge and awareness that can guide your new dating life.
If dating feels like a chore, then you may not have done the inner work to be ready to date again.
Make sure you feel in touch with who you really are and what you value in life, and make a point to look forward to that. If this feels insurmountable, I recommend therapy to help you through this process.
A huge part of being ready to date again is being in a positive frame of mind, having a healthy sense of identity, and looking forward to creating the kind of life you want.
This isn’t a black or white issue, and everyone has doubts and fears, but make sure you can access these positive feelings inside yourself, and then take that self confidence and joy out on your next adventure in life!
4. Another common problem we hear from our subscribers is the fear of being alone and never finding the right man. This is especially common as women enter into their thirties. They see their friends getting married and even having kids, they are asked by friends and family when they are going to get married and they feel the pressure of a ticking biological clock. In the process, they approach their relationships from a place of fear, worry and anxiety.
Instead of enjoying their dates and conversing with men, they tend to interrogate them so that they can stop wasting their time and weed off the wrong men. They tend to fall too hard and too fast in love when they find a man they like but often that scares men away.
What advice do you have for women who approach relationships from a place of worry and how can they shift from a clingy, desperate vibe to an empowered, joyful zone?
Well, you sort of named the advice I would have for someone in this situation: shift from a place of worry and fear. I think we all basically understand that to approach love from a place of fear and worry is backwards. We need to approach love from a place of love, and a general trust in love.
So, how does one do this if one feels stuck or confronted by realistic worries, such as a biological clock?!
The first step is to acknowledge and understand the feelings one does have.
This is essentially an exercise in approaching oneself from a place of love. This means that there is room for one’s own feelings, they are respected and understood. So, if you feel envious of friends who are getting married while you’ve been waiting, it is best to acknowledge and accept the presence of those feelings.
If we deny the feelings, a number of unhealthy and self defeating things can occur: we feel disconnected from ourselves, we can feel ashamed because we are hiding feelings (hiding breeds shame, and shame breeds hiding), and we do essentially become and feel disempowered.
This is primarily because we will act out feelings that we are not aware of or processing consciously.
For instance, if you are envious of your best friend getting married, but not processing these feelings consciously, you will tend to do something mean or spiteful, or show up late to her shower, or get in a fight with her, etc.
These sorts of acting out behaviors inevitably result in bad feelings in relationships, which can leave the perpetrator ultimately feeling less hopeful about themselves and their capacity to have healthy relationships.
If, on the other hand, we work through these feelings internally, we learn that although painful we can tolerate and survive the feeling, and that our friend is not the source of our fear or pain.
From this place we can decide what we want to do differently in our own life, which leaves us feeling more empowered and hopeful with an intact sense of self esteem. The example you gave about a woman facing the reality of a biological clock is an important one, and deserves its own attention.
Again, it is important to be both realistic and to acknowledge your own feelings and needs.
Different women decide to handle this issue differently, depending on their own values, medical advice, and feelings on the matter. However, it is always necessary to begin with acknowledging and respecting your own feelings, and to sort out all of the factors with expert guidance.
When we are conscious of our feelings we learn to contain them and to learn from them, which in the end is empowering; we learn that we are not victimized by or situation and that there is actually something we can do to better our situation.
Navigating the specifics of this territory can take help or guidance if you feel stuck.
Don’t be shy about asking for help in this process, but the bottom line is to learn to handle your own emotional life with the kind of respect and dignity you would like in a relationship: make room for your feelings, respect them, learn from them, and take positive action. This inner approach to yourself will naturally ease you into a place of trust and love rather than fear, worry or desperation.
5. From our subscribers, we often hear “lack of chemistry” as a leading reason why they aren’t willing to persist with a man even though he seemed to be a decent guy, treated them with respect and made them feel comfortable. Can you share your thoughts on chemistry and can attraction grow over time? Is it worth persisting with a man with whom a woman feels comfortable but doesn’t quite share the chemistry?
I believe there are some general guidelines about “chemistry,” and you should also ask yourself how important this part of a relationship is to you—in other words, relationships are not a “one-size-fits-all” part of life. Some people truly need or desire this feeling more than others.
That being said, I believe that “chemistry” is a unique phenomenon that happens when two people are connecting in a creative and open way on multiple levels. I’m not talking about pure lust, but about a feeling of connection that is multi-dimensional and therefore provides a creative and rich experience that is special, and opens two people to the potential to create a unique “world” between them.
I highly recommend Judith Wallerstein’s book “The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts”; she researches the ingredients that seem to characterize self defined “good marriages” that have endured over decades – and her primary finding is that good marriages have the quality of a unique and special world that two people have created – a very real blend of these two individuals that no other two individuals could create.
The richness of this experience is a kind of “chemistry” that is not “lust” that could come and go in a few weeks.
I think a good general rule of thumb is that within three dates you should be able to sense a special kind of connection or “chemistry” occurring in which you are feeling more open with this person that you would with most people, and that this is evolving into something more rich, more interesting, more dynamic, and more personal in a compelling way.
In other words, I recommend looking not for “lust” chemistry, but for a rich and dynamic connection, and that this should be tangibly evident and naturally compelling in order to invest more time and energy into a relationship.
If you notice that you are not having this experience despite the opportunity to connect with decent and available men, it is time to ask yourself if you are truly open and available to the kind of connection from which this kind of chemistry arises.
Again, chemistry is not based on looks, it is based on two people being available to a rich connection, and being a good enough fit to one another.
If you’ve been approached by men who seem to be a good fit in terms of interests, values and other important characteristics, yet still don’t find yourself feeling “chemistry,” you may have unconscious defenses against truly letting someone get to know you. This can change with time, but not on its own!
You will need to learn to be open in the real and personal ways that lend themselves to the experience of genuine chemistry that will endure over time.
6. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to ignore and overlook the red flags especially when they really like a man. In the process, they create an idealized version of the man and overestimate the feelings he has for them. For women who have a history of fantasizing and idealizing a partner, what can they do to evaluate the man and their relationship for what it is truly worth rather than what they ideally like it to be?
I think the key to seeing a person or relationship for what it truly is is to evaluate the actions and behaviors in the relationship.
It is easy to fantasize about potentials or qualities in a person that are either intangible or tantalizing with their potential. I recommend focusing on the tangible actions and events in a relationship. Especially in the beginning, these are the most telling signs of a relationship’s real potential.
If you find yourself sidetracked and ungrounded in the actual relationship, it might be useful to keep a journal of the actual day to day happenings in a relationship.
Look back on the unfolding of the relationship, and ask yourself if this is something you could live with and be happy with in the long run. Take note of how you feel on a day to day basis. If the relationship makes you feel good on a day to day basis, this is a good sign.
If you have insecure or painful feelings yet feel inclined to stay in the relationship, you are probably investing in the fantasy of the relationship rather than the reality.
Sometimes, if you have reliable and unbiased people in your life, you can ask an outside observer to let you know what they see occurring in the relationship to compare with your own observations. If you are caught in fantasy land, other people’s observations will vary dramatically from your own ideas, and you should pay attention to this.
7. Some of our subscribers hesitate to share their honest feelings especially as they are getting to know a man and want to grow the relationship. This hesitation comes from the fear that they may come across as someone too emotional and needy and feel that it may push the man away. So they don’t raise the issues and avoid tough conversations because they want to be the “cool” girl. Here are some examples: she goes out on a date and he says he will call her but he doesn’t. She is disappointed when he doesn’t and doesn’t discuss this when she hears back from him. Other examples are not calling ahead of time when he is running late or not making plans for a date etc.
What advice do you have for women who have issues that they want to discuss with their man but have troubles expressing them because of the fear of coming across as a nag or needy or demanding?
Being able to communicate openly and honestly is very important to develop a real connection.
Granted, it’s not generally a good idea to do this all at once. Pace the manner in which you allow yourself to get close to someone, but don’t halt the process so much that you are avoiding needed conversations. In the example you gave, early on in a relationship is when you need to know if someone says what they mean and means what they say – if their actions match their words.
If there is a question about this, it’s worth bringing it up so that you can learn from how the person responds.
There are ways to be open in our communications that are respectful of the other person and invite more closeness without alienating or overwhelming the other person. This is a skill we need at all phases of relationships, so invest some time developing this skill!
Some basics are don’t start with accusations.
Learn to speak from your heart about what you feel and why, and communicate that you are open to learning about the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
Of course this can be a vulnerable process, but it’s worthwhile and necessary to gradually take these risks in our communication. Ultimately a healthy relationship is one in which both people can be open and vulnerable with one another, for this is where we have the opportunity to be known honestly for who we are and to experience the other person’s essence as well – in other words open communication is one of the main avenues of a genuine, loving connection.
In the example you gave, you might say something like “Hey, when you said you were going to call I was really looking forward to hearing from you. When you didn’t, I felt _____ (fill in the blank). It’s important to me that we build a sense of trust as we get to know one another, I’m curious what you think about that?” Use your own words, not mine, and speak from your heart.
8. Our subscribers also run into a situation where things are going great and just when they think the relationship has great potential or feel he is the one, the man starts developing cold feet. He pulls away, doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages and in some cases disappears for a while.
What advice do you have for women who deal with men that suddenly pull away and act inconsistent?
I think this has to do with a matter of degree and the context of the pulling away.
On the one hand, love can’t be “captured,” and especially early on in a relationship, both people deserve the space to explore their own feelings. Different people have different ways of overcoming the fears and anxieties that inevitably come with getting closer to another person. However, there should be a general feeling of respect and consistency that is growing over time.
Someone who can truly “shut down” and stop responding altogether for long periods of time (relative to the typical context of communication) may not have enough empathy for other people to be capable of a healthy relationship.
If there are notable gaps or changes in communication, it is important to be able to talk openly about them and reflect on what they mean to both people, even if it takes a little time to get to that point.
Again, I think the important thing in a developing relationships is that the trend is towards more consistency, more mutual understanding, and more trust on both ends.
If this has been the trend and it suddenly reverses, first take a deep breath and don’t panic – it may be worth having some patience, but be sure to communicate about what happened. How people respond and communicate about these things is very telling. If the relationship is strong, sharing what happened and why may build a stronger foundation of mutual understanding and trust.
If, on the other hand, one or both people become defensive and non-communicative, it may be a sign that it is time to reevaluate the relationship.
I would not recommend staying in a relationship with someone who goes through repeated cycles of non-responsiveness, as this will break down the trust and bond between you.
It’s one thing to say “honey, sorry I can’t respond to that question right now, I need a day or two to sort out my feelings.” It’s an entirely different thing to leave any message unanswered, and I regard this as a huge red flag!
9. Some experts recommend women wait till they get to know the man they are dating and not have sex until you both are committed to exclusivity. Some experts believe you should go with the flow and be spontaneous and not have any rules regarding when you want to sleep with a man.
Can you share your thoughts on the right time to have sex?
Again, relationships are not a “one-size-fits-all” experience, which is why you can find experts and great love stories verifying every imaginable course to true and lasting love! That being said, there are some general principles to consider.
First, know thyself!
Some women truly do experience and equate sex with attachment. If this is you, then you are setting yourself up for at least confusion and at worst heartache to become sexually intimate with someone before both people have agreed that this is the course of the relationship.
Ask yourself if you are comfortable sleeping with someone when one or both people may be dating other people?
If not, then you should certainly wait to sleep with a man until you have agreed to being exclusive. Otherwise, you are simply setting yourself up for either insecurity, hurt feelings, or a miscommunication. There are a crowd of experts who believe that men need the sexual chase in order to invest in a relationship, period, and that without this, no matter what your feelings about sex, a relationship is likely doomed to fail.
My experience is that there are men like this, but that not all men are like this, which is why there are experts on both sides of the fence.
My advice is that sex is an important decision.
Unless you have really asked yourself if you are okay accepting any outcome of the relationship, that you do some reflecting before sleeping with someone. Know what your own needs and desires are, and ask yourself if you know enough about the relationship to know if sexual intimacy is a wise choice for you. I don’t believe that relationships survive or fail based on rules about when you sleep with someone.
Rather, they survive or fail based on the genuine connection being made between two people. If you sleep with someone at a time that is not honest or in line with your own values and needs, you are taking the genuine connection off course.
More often than not, it takes some time and familiarity to honestly and openly navigate the decision to have sex as well as the emotional ramifications of having sex, so it is reasonable that waiting a bit will more often than not be good for a developing relationship.
When we have sex too early on in a relationship, meaning before the emotional connection has had enough time to develop, it is likely that the sexuality and the emotionality become separate from one another.
It then can be an uphill battle to try to bring the sexual and emotional life of the relationship together.
So, if you want a relationship where the sexual relationship is an emotionally loving one that can develop into a great, enduring connection – proceed with a bit of patience!
10. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are single and looking for a long term committed relationship?
1. Be open! And I don’t mean “open to anything.” But make sure there is an openness inside of you, starting with an openness to yourself and to love in your life! Be open to letting someone get to know you, without this you are dead in the water!
2. Know your top 5 values, and Never compromise on them in a relationship.
3. Become familiar and comfortable with online dating. In today’s world, unless perhaps you are in college, few people truly have the opportunity in the course of their daily lives to meet and get to know the kinds of people they would be well suited for.
About Perrin Elisha
Dr. Perrin Elisha is in private practice in Colorado, California, and via videoconferencing. She holds offices in Los Angeles, Aspen, and Carbondale, CO. She specializes in the treatment of health, body image, and eating concerns.
Dr. Elisha has written in the area of body and health experience and its relationship to psychological wellbeing. Her new book, published by the American Psychological Association,“The Conscious Body: A psychoanalytic exploration of the body in therapy,” explores the role of the body in psychoanalysis. Dr. Elisha is on the organizing committee and teaching faculty of the New Center for Psychoanalysis’ eating disorders training program and periodically provides seminars and short courses for other organizations. She is a former staff member with the Susan B Krevoy Eating Disorders Program and has served for other inpatient treatment programs.
For more information, please visit her at www.depththerapy.com.