Dr. Eris: "Sharing My Story Out Loud Scared The S--- Out Of Me"

Dr. Eris shares her struggle with self-image.

As a professional therapist, woman, wife, daughter, sister, and someday (hopefully) mother, I questioned myself on how much I should, and would, share with you about my own insecurities. After all, therapists showing their personal stories of fear, struggles and shame, is not the norm. We, therapists, have been placed on a pedestal, with a plaque underneath it that reads, “got it all figured out.” This is a myth. It’s a lie. At least I can speak for myself -- I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t know anybody that does. The only thing that I do have figured out is that you always should be working on figuring things out to make your life better. That’s what works for me. Sometimes we make choices that make us feel ashamed and embarrassed. But that’s how we learn and grow. This is what I share in my message, with my clients, and why I chose to open up as much as I have on LA Shrinks. 

I hoped that if I showed you my (and my husband’s, which he was so supportive in doing) vulnerabilities, pain, shame, fear and frustrations, maybe you could relate. Maybe I could help someone out there. Maybe telling you my story would inspire you to share your story with others like it did when Clayton and I wrote our book, Break-Up Emergency. He impressed upon me the need to share and gave me the courage to show my struggles and vulnerabilities. 

He was right. People started saying to me that they felt as if my story was theirs. I realized that we all have insecurities and challenges. But these things don’t make us ugly; rather, they made us real and beautiful. I now know that in these honest moments is where truth can be found. And through being honest about these truths, we can begin to accept and love ourselves. 

I have made choices in life that I’ve been ashamed and embarrassed about. Haven’t we all? When I was 15 years old, I started going to Weight Watchers because I felt fat. This was the beginning of my journey to Bulimia and Body Dysmorphia. I couldn’t stop myself from eating all of the ice cream, French fries, waffles, and fried chicken my heart desired. I then purged because I didn’t want to get fat. All of these choices were because I was afraid that nobody would love me for who I was. And, nobody could because I didn’t love myself. I thought that if I would hide my honest feelings about myself, people wouldn’t find out the true me and maybe they would like me. I was in hiding and ashamed because of my Body Dysmorphia. This is very common; I see it in my private practice and the world around me everyday. 1 in every 4 college aged women has an eating disorder.Although I healed from my active eating disorder by the time I was 21 years old, I still felt uncomfortable in my own skin. When I was 25, I decided to get breast implants in hopes that I would feel more confident and that men would find me more attractive. They did! I also loved my augmented breasts. I felt sexy. But, because of my history with Body Dysmorphia, I was embarrassed to admit that they weren’t real. 

Ten years later my body rejected the saline implants (foreign object) and I developed an infection in my breast. For nine months no doctor could figure out what was wrong with me. They pumped me up with antibiotics in hopes of what was wrong would dissipate. It didn’t. Then I decided to undergo surgery to remove the breasts, hoping that it would take the pain and infection away. It didn’t. 

I woke up in the middle of surgery with a liposuction machine in my breast sucking out the infection. It didn’t work. I ended up getting a botched surgery, where the surgeon removed breast tissue, which is permanent, and the infection still remained. I was sent home with IVs of antibiotics in my arm and the surgeon kept telling me that I would be OK. But, something didn’t feel right. 

I checked myself into the hospital, where the doctors still didn’t know what was wrong with me. Finally, they sent me to one of the leading reconstructive breast surgeons in the country. I underwent surgery again, this time successful. He informed me that it would take time for me to heal. Clayton was by my bedside day and night supporting me through this difficult time. He slept on the floor at the hospital when there wasn’t an extra cot. He just wanted me to be OK. 

Losing a part of my breast was devastating to me. It affected my body image, which I had dealt with since childhood, my sense of self, my libido, and still leaves the question of whether I will ever to be able to breastfeed. As for most women, breasts symbolize femininity, sexual attractiveness, and motherhood. It is the same for me. After the surgery, my self-image was lower because something I had before was taken from me. A sense of grief kicked in, but I thought that I had to stay strong instead of show how scared I was. I felt as if my identity was no longer the same. I felt less attractive and desirable, even though my husband didn’t feel that way or make me feel that way. But, he didn’t know what was truly going on with me emotionally. He tried to understand, but I was too scared to let him in. The only way that I knew how to cope was to stay in denial and act as if I was strong. It was not until the therapy session you see on the show that I began to realize the effects this had on me, and my marriage. It was also the first time that I was able to be honest with Clayton about my emotions. We got to begin to work through the issues that surrounded our relationship for a few years thanks to the therapy session that we did on the reality show. Go figure!By being open, honest, and vulnerable, I got to embark on a journey of loving myself. What I know today is that you can never fully love somebody else until you love yourself. Nothing external will give you that love. What will is knowing yourself for who you are today. Forgive yourself for the choices and experiences that you might have made in the past. You get to choose the person you want to become from the inside out. Love yourself and love will follow.

Self-love is something that we know is important but sometimes we don’t know how to go about attaining it. People can tell you that they love you and compliment you on how wonderful you are. But, you won’t be able to fully receive those compliments if you don’t love yourself. If you have negative thoughts about yourself, they will come into your mind and take over. How do you feel about yourself? More importantly, how much do you love yourself? I hope you are asking yourself these questions as you read this. That’s why I am sharing my story with you. 

I would love to hear your story. “We Women” is part of my blog at loveetcetc.com. I invite you to share your story with me, and others, on your heartbreak, redemption, joy and love. How did you overcome a difficult time in your life? How are you learning to love yourself? Your story might be able to inspire others to have a break through as I hope my story does you. 

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Power Struggles

Dr. Greg explains why he saw Tamara individually during couple therapy.

Couple therapy is very different than individual therapy in that you are treating the relationship primarily rather than just two individuals. That is why it was such a problem that in the second "couple therapy" session, Steven did not come to the second session with Tamara. At this point, I had two choices: see Tamara alone or send her away.

I did see her, but before I did, I informed her the research literature has shown that one-partner “couple therapy” may result in a negative outcome for the couple (Wilcoxon & Fenell, 1983). Understanding the possible impact, she agreed to stay and to focus on her specifically and tried to leave Steven out of it as much as possible. 

As a result we uncovered her issues with desire for respect and being liked. I explained the often inverse relationship with the two -- that someone who is highly respected is not always liked, and someone is well-liked is not always respected. Sometimes what gets you liked by others can also diminish their respect for you, and vise-versa.

What also became apparent was the use of the animals in the relationship to cut the tension between the two. Couples often do this with animals, but also use other means such as television, alcohol, or even their own children to help them avoid any tension. A little is OK, but too much can drive a wedge in the relationship. In the third session, Tamara brings her cat to the session -- an act I labeled as "passive-aggressive." 

A passive-aggressive act is typically an aggressive act done in some non-assertive manner. Here the aggressive act is that Tamara brings her cat (Kozy Mel) to the third session even though I asked her to come "without Jimmy Chew [the dog], without any animals." Then she claims she thought it only applied to Jimmy Chew. Passive-aggressive acts are typical when people feel powerless in a relationship; yet wish to express their power and/or anger in a situation. As it turns out, this passive-aggressive assertion of power with me turned out to be typical in her relationship with Steven. Because of the cultural expectations of women, her own upbringing, and the dynamic in their relationship, Tamara had learned to put her own power aside so that she can be liked and not ruffle feathers. But also because also wants respect for her intelligence and capability, she is in conflict.  So, she uses indirect or passive-aggressive means to assert her power that can end up being destructive to the relationship.

Talking about this seemed to make Steven uncomfortable. He even mocked the quote by Rosanne Barr that I paraphrased but actually reads, “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” This is going to clearly upset the dynamic in the relationship, but speaking up for what she wants is something Tamara needs to be doing more. And, Steven needs to do his part by taking her seriously, listening to her, and accepting her influence. Once this happens the relationship will thrive.

A post-script: what you may not have seen was the clear love and respect that Tamara and Steven did have for each other. Though we did uncover issues that were getting in the way of the relationship moving forward, they also had far more strengths that we could use to support their bond. And, I am happy to report that Tamara and Steven are getting married!

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