After a Prahlad Friedman tweet once again gets the poker community talking about racism and sexism, Lee Davy, shares a personal therapy session in the hope that it helps inspires men to take a more in-depth look at how their actions ripple around the world.
You don’t hear much from Prahlad Friedman in the average Joe poker community these days, but this week, the self-proclaimed poker legend and rapper caused a typhoon of a stir after stating that systemic racism is responsible for the high number ‘whites and Asians’ making final tables.
The ensuing conversation widened to cover sexism, with Friedman tweeting Vanessa Selbst and Jennifer Shahade (amongst others) to get on a call and discuss this issue as ‘yall are so much better than myself at articulating.’
Two hot buttons loaded with personal bias, confusion, anger, hope and hopelessness.
Freidman isn’t the only person who struggles to articulate what he sees and how he feels about these loaded subjects, I too have found it incredibly difficult to talk or write openly about these matters due to the fear of being labelled a racist or a misogynist.
I still have those fears, but feel the need to share an epiphany I had a few weeks ago, in the hope that in sharing, I can raise awareness of a discussion that many people have become afraid to discuss.
The Feeling Good Podcast
A few years ago, I read a book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. I loved it. I’m the founder of the Alcohol & Addiction Podcast, where I talk to people about alcohol-related issues.
I interviewed the author David D. Burns, and a friendship emerged.
David is the co-host of the Feeling Good Podcast with Fabrice Nye, and in the last year, they began live therapy sessions covering his new form of CBT: TEAM Therapy.
I contacted David and asked him if it would be useful for him to treat me, live on his podcast, on some marital issues.
I spent three hours talking to David, and the Feeling Good Institute’s Director of Training, Jill Levitt, and it was during these hours that I had my epiphanal moment.
You can listen to the episodes here:
Episode 1: Why is my Wife Trying to Control me?
Episode 2: The Death of the Ego.
Episode 3: The Rebirth.
TEAM Therapy is an acronym for:
T = Testing
E = Empathy
A = Agenda Setting
M = Methods
The therapy began ahead of the session when I completed a Brief Mood Survey (BMS), and a Relationship Journal in the TESTING part of the process, designed to give Jill and Dave an understanding of my emotional state, and to diagnose any potential mental disorders.
Jill and David then asked me to talk about my marital problems in the EMPATHY phase of therapy. For the next 90-minutes, I spoke openly about my relationship with my wife, specifically, how I felt she was always trying to control me.
At no time did Jill or David try to solve my problems.
They barely spoke, and when they did, it was to provide thought empathy (paraphrasing essential aspects of my dialogue). I felt utterly free to talk about anything. I trusted them. I was able to be at my most vulnerable.
I began digging deeper.
I spoke about my father leaving before I was born, and my stepfather being incapable of providing me with the love I needed as a child. I talked about divorce. How I miss my son. And how my poor parental role models contributed to the man who continually berates himself for being both a lousy father and husband.
A = Agenda Setting
After a football match worth of blubbering about my life, Jill mentioned how valuable it must have been to have offloaded, and that we could spend the entirety of the session talking more, as it’s clear it was of benefit to me, or, we could move forward, and try to do some work on some of the issues.
Jill was giving me a choice.
I chose to do some work.
It’s not unusual for therapists and patients to continue talking about ‘issues’ for many years, all the while making no progress towards actually changing anything.
David then said:
“Let’s imagine we have a magic button, and if you pressed it, all of your problems would go away. You wouldn’t have conflict. Liza wouldn’t tell you what to do. You would be the perfect father and husband. Would you press the button?”
“No,” I replied.
I knew that for a relationship to be strong, and for our children to benefit from our relationship in a role model sense, we needed conflict. My goal was not to remove conflict entirely but to learn tools to navigate it with more empathy, love and respect.
“So you want to navigate conflict respectfully?” Asked Jill.
I confirmed that I liked a debate, and it was necessary for me, not to become a doormat and that sometimes, the need to impress my point was critical for my wellbeing.
Then Jill said something profound:
“What we have to offer you is more civilised than debating. Maybe you want to hang on to your confrontational style?”
At that moment, she became the voice of my internal resistance towards change. Once a skilled TEAM Therapist does this successfully, it’s easier for the patient to move on to methods. If you don’t successfully melt resistance, no tools or philosophy will work, because you remain resistant to change, arguing your corner and “yes-butting” your therapist.
I realised at that moment that if I hung on to my confrontational style, no positive change would come out of it.
David then asked, who was to blame for our arguments, my wife or me?
The obviousness of the answer was striking.
It was me.
I WANTED TO ARGUE WITH HER.
For TEAM Therapy to be successful, therapists laser in on one specific moment. I had already provided my ‘moment’ in my Relationship Journal ahead of our session.
I was trying to put pyjamas on my two-year-old daughter. She was playing up. I raised my voice and told her that if she didn’t sit still, I would forcibly put her pyjamas on.
My wife said, “I don’t think a man should raise his voice to a little girl.”
I replied: “Don’t tell me how to parent. Raising my voice won’t hurt. Sometimes, she needs to understand how serious I am.”
It then escalated into all-out war.
EAR Communication (Empathy, Assertiveness, Respect)
David asked if my response was Empathic.
David then asked if I had been Assertive in explaining how her comments had made me feel?
Finally, David asked me if I had treated her with Respect.
So who’s to blame?
It’s clear that I am creating my pain, and blaming my wife. My wife was genuinely conveying concern as a parent, and it was my reaction that led to the argument.
“How painful does it feel to know you’ve always been the cause of your arguments, even though you’ve always blamed your wife?” Asked David.
“It feels pretty painful,” I said.
‘How does it feel?” Asked David.
No words came out.
“I lied,” I said. “I didn’t feel pain.”
“Why?” Asked David.
“Because I wanted to shut her down. I wanted to assert authority. I wanted to be right. I wanted to show her who was the boss, and what would happen if she tried to control me.”
The Need to be Right
I realised at that moment that the need to be right had existed for as long as I could remember, way back to childhood.
David said that many therapists try to bring couples closer together when in truth, this is not what they want. They want to hurt each other.
Now I knew I was 100% responsible for all my suffering and that I have always wanted to hurt my wife, could I let it go, and move on with learning some tools to rectify the situation moving forward?
I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t let my wife walk all over me.
I couldn’t be a doormat.
What the fuck was happening?
“Maybe, this works for you?” Proposed Jill.
“It doesn’t work.”
“What happens if you keep behaving this way?” Asked Jill.
“I become lonely. My wife will leave me as the first one did. My son will grow up believing that shouting at a woman is perfectly normal. My daughter will grow up thinking that it’s ok to let a man shout at her. I have to change.”
But where was this coming from?
It hit me.
It was my definition of a man.
I was concerned about emasculation.
A man is:
HE IS ALWAYS RIGHT
If I behave differently, I cease being a man.
Who will I become?
Then another epiphany.
A real man treats women with empathy, respect and expresses his true feelings in an assertive but respectful way.
David calls this interpersonal enlightenment.
“It’s a lonely road,” he said. “There is an unfairness to it.”
Then there was one final invitation from Jill.
“Are you ready to change?”
Before my session, I would have put my hand on my heart and swore that I treated my wife with respect, that I wasn’t sexist, and that I treated women with respect.
Today, I see that’s not true.
And if it’s untrue for me, then how many more men are behaving this way?
While I could blame my parents for my behaviour, it’s more complicated than that. Media. TV. Watching friends and strangers interact. It all helped forge my personality as a child, and create the framework for how I believe a man should behave when in the presence of a woman.
Would you call this systemic?
I couldn’t articulate it until my session with Jill and David.
It’s important to note that even though I point to my past to find the reasons why I behave the way that I did. It means nothing. Once someone can show you that you’ve been acting outside of your core values, then the responsibility for change is yours.
But I needed that help.
I wouldn’t have figured this out without David and Jill.
I wouldn’t have considered approaching David and Jill without the many people in the world who are bringing these matters to the forefront of our psyche on a daily basis.
I don’t know how to end this article.
I will tell you that my relationship with my wife has never been better. I still act like a dick, but I am catching my lousy behaviour retrospectively, and even learning to prevent it, proactively.
It takes practice.
And with that practice, and action comes the good stuff.
My wife feels connected, respected, and loved.
My daughter can see how a man should treat a woman.
My son can see how to treat a woman.
And I can share stories like this.