The Case Files: Silver Linings Playbook

I don’t really go out to see movies. My philosophy is generally TV > Movies (sorry, movie buffs) and any movie I want to see will be on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video (oh man, I love Jesse’s job). Plus, it’s become increasingly clear over the last few months that I’ve missed out on seeing like 95 percent of all the “greatest” films. I have a backlog.

But, I was going to see Silver Linings Playbook. I sort of knew what it was about, I love Jennifer Lawrence (duh, Hunger Games Case File), and it looked kind of quirky, dark, and romantic, which are probably the top three qualities that I look for in any movie to deem it a favorite. Once it was nominated for an Academy Award, Jesse said he’d go see it. Winner.

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HOLY MOLY YOU GUYS. Such (such!) a good movie. I may have some spoiler alerts in here, so don’t read ahead if you’re trying to see it.

So, it won’t be a traditional Case Files because these people aren’t real. What it will be, is a celebration that even if you feel a little off, a little weird, or a little crazy (I have felt all separately or in unison at one point or another in my life) then this movie will give you hope.

The plot follows Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, after being released from a in-patient hospital after assaulting his wife’s lover, which he discovered after walking in on the two of them mid-coitus, while their wedding song was playing.

Ouch.

So, Pat nearly beats this guy to death and basically has what he later learns is a break with reality as a result of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Upon leaving the facility, the movie chronicles his experiences in therapy (P.S. I don’t think this is a good representation of a therapist), his battle avoiding meds, his desperation to get his wife back, and his slowly growing relationship with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whom he befriends because 1) he doesn’t get much choice in the matter, 2) Tiffany can get in contact with his estranged wife (who has a restraining order against him).

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Tiffany, is also quite challenged. A widow who lost her husband in an ironic dose of tragedy, she copes by sleeping with anyone she can. Once Pat turns her down for casual sex, she ardently pursues a friendship with him, bartering Pat’s role as her dance partner in an upcoming competition, as a way to justify her assistance in helping Pat win back his wife.

That’s your short summary and I’ll avoid going into any of the more intricate details because I don’t want to completely spoil the movie or detract from how subtle somethings were that I feel really made the movie for me. There’s one scene that I just loved and it made me chuckle and smile from ear to ear.

Pat is visiting his friend’s house for dinner, who happens to be Tiffany’s sister. This is where the two meet. Tiffany knows Pat’s story, but the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Tiffany kind of owns her crazy and immediately begins probing Pat about his past. Pat displays some typical behaviors of someone who is unmedicated bipolar, in that he’s super impulsive, he barely has a filter from thought to words, and he’s just really erratic. The two begin bonding at dinner over which meds they’ve taken, discussing the finer points of Seroquel and Trazadone.

When you’ve worked in an inpatient facility (which I have), you become familiar with these meds. I’ve had countless clients explain the nitty gritty details of taking meds for a variety of reasons, but most of them rejoiced in the way they felt on their meds. Sleeping is easier and being awake is more difficult, but when you’re depressed or going through a tough life transition (death of a husband or new bipolar diagnosis), sleeping a lot has its perks.  It reminded me of my old clients and it gave me a nice warm feeling inside.

The Case File

Straight up, this movie (for me) was a commentary on mental health. Sure, I was looking at it through that lens, but I don’t think the message was lost on others who weren’t. When you realize your mind is different, whether you’re in a tough life transition, you have a mental health diagnosis, or you just feel a little… out of sorts, you immediately begin to worry about the likelihood you’ll lead a normal life and most importantly, find someone who will not only tolerate your quirks, but love you because of them. This movie proves something I’ve known for a long time; we don’t have to have it all figured out to find and feel love. Also, the more we find someone who can understand us, the more likely we are to be happy. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being perfect for each other.

Find someone who can call you out on your stuff and then help you get through it. That’s a partner worth sticking around for.

Relationships: Fighting Fair

All couples fight. Some fight in a knockdown-dragout way, some through intensive, long discussions, some through passive-aggressive behavior, and some with pillows.

The pillow fights might be more infrequent, but they should probably be instituted as regular occurrence. Sounds much better than knocking and dragging, right?

Working at The Gottman Institute, I’m surrounded by the topic of couples and relationships every day. It’s great because I have a personal interest in relationships as a whole and I love counseling couples – it’s known for being one of the most challenging populations. Most of the couples we interact with are really struggling to make things work. They are quarreling constantly and they don’t know what to do to solve the animosity that comes up everytime there’s a disagreement.

There is a method to fighting with your partner and fighting fair. I want to debunk the myth that there’s a way to fight and always get your way in relationships, because that’s just not true. Getting your way means your partner’s needs aren’t being met. So if your way is to deny your partner their desires 100 percent of the time in a disagreement, then there’s more that needs to be discussed about how much you value your partner than about how you fight.

So, let’s cover what I feel is essential to fighting fair. I’ve taken Dr. John Gottman’s Sound Relationship House as an approach to solving this issue.

1. Reflect – Before you even start talking with your partner about what’s bothering you, think about it. Try to analyze where this issue is coming from. If you’ve been feeling sad lately, is that your partner’s responsibility to solve or is it yours? If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the kids, have you asked for help from your partner? Now matter how much we wish it was so, our partners can’t read our minds. Very often this issue can be resolved internally and through your own work, with support from your partner.

2. Softened Start-up – This is a Gottman term. Softened start-up is crucial because it signifies to your partner “I respect your time”. When we ask for permission for a discussion, we’re respecting our partners feelings in the moment. If they just walked in the door home from work, the last thing they probably want to hear is, “We need to talk.” Trust me, it will be better to wait until after dinner or even for a day. Ask your partner for a discussion about something, don’t bombard them.

3. Practice Self-Awareness – When you are as emotionally invested as a relationship often requires, having conflict can feel overwhelming. Pay attention as best as you can (it’s a practice, not a competence!) to how your body is reacting and how you are feeling. If you feel you’re flooded – your heart is racing, your blood is pumping, and you feel physically heightened – take a break. Let your partner know you’re going to revisit the conversation when you’re calmed down.

Also, pay attention to the things you’re saying. Use ‘I’ statements and avoid statements which start with, ‘You…’ in an accusatory manner. Attacking your partner as a person is not a likely solution for a positive outcome. Keep an eye out for the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” as Gottman calls them – Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Contempt.

4. Be Prepared for Influence – Practice active listening with your partner – give them nods, mmhmms, etc. When they say how they feel or they make a point and you can practice empathy with that and you honestly see how they could feel or think a certain way, tell them. It’s your job as their partner to be the one person in the world who really aims to understand who they are and what they care about. The statement “I can see how you would feel that way,” can take you very far in conflict.

It’s also known that when partners take ownership of a problem, making it a ‘we’ issue instead of a ‘you’ issue, problems are resolved faster and with less animosity. The problem also doesn’t seem as huge when you have someone working on it with you.

5. Dig Deeper – Most arguments about seemingly petty things or unsolvable issues are really much deeper than they seem. Remember when you reflected? If you figured out that what you are having a problem with goes down to something deeper than what initially bugged you, now is the time to say something. If your worry about your partner never helping you clean around the house is actually a worry that your partner doesn’t respect you or your time, then that’s deeper. That says, “This is more important than vacuuming the rug. This is about how much you value me and my happiness.”

6. Be Flexible – Resolve the issue by finding places for compromise. Figure out your flexible and inflexible areas and find out your partner’s talk about what changes you both will make to accommodate this problem. Make a commitment to be flexible in your approaches to this problem for a while.

7. Dialogue – Don’t sweep this under the rug. Check-in on it. Ask each other how you’re feeling about what changes are being made, how each person is feeling about the solution, and if there are any new ideas for tackling the issue. This is a great opportunity to build intimacy and really learn more about your partner. The silver lining of conflict! You learn more about the person you love.

8. Repair – Always come back to your partner and look for ways to soothe the conflict. Find the situations where your partner tries to help you feel better, apologize, or resolve the problem. Find opportunities to do the same. It can be as simple as a hand on the back, the wiping away of tears, or a gentle joke. You may not be able to always tie a conflict off with a beautiful bow, but you can at least suture the wound.

This is a good standard for fighting in your romantic relationship, or really in any close relationship. I have found these little tidbits incredibly useful over the last few years. When I do these things, I find the anxiety over any problem I’m having – be it with friends, partner, or family – vanishes.

Do you do anything that you feel helps in a disagreement with a loved one that I didn’t list?

The Case Files: Twilight

In honor of the final Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 movie coming out on Friday, I figured I’d do a case files on the trio from Twilight.

Oh, there are so many things I can say after reading these books, even years later. I read them my junior/senior year of undergrad and I will not lie, I loved the Twilight books. They DO NOT compare to Harry Potter, that’s like comparing Champagne and Barefoot wine, both are suitable for many occasions, but definitely for certain circumstances. Twilight is for mindless reading and emotional sensationalism. Harry Potter is a bit more cerebral and I believe it will endure the times better than Twilight will. To put it blunty, I will be placing the Harry Potter books into the hands of my children and I avoid all instances where my teenage daughter can read Twilight until she’s out of her teens.

Why, you ask, am I so averse to my children reading Twilight? Well, let’s talk about it.

If you don’t know the plot of Twilight, I’m sorry that you have been living under a rock. It may be less cool to read Twilight, but hell, get with the times. This is one of the most popular teen series in forever. I won’t bother to recap what the books are about, that’s just wasting the precious time of my fingers. I will do my best to tease apart some of the more striking things I notice about each of the characters based on their psychological presentations.

Bella Swan

Good lord, where do I start? This is probably going to be eerily familiar to many of you who have read anything remotely feminist about Twilight. However, I also want to point something out – Bella is a teenage girl. When was the last time you met (or you remember being) a secure teenage girl? In my own experience, there was probably 1 per every 1000 girls in my teenage years who actually appeared secure and self-assured. As a whole, we’re all just bumbling, emotional, insecure people until we start getting the chance to self-actualize in our 20s.

When I was 16, everything revolved around having a boyfriend. I romanticized that someone would love me in spite of my braces, my position on the golf team, and my horrible clumsiness. I wore chokers I made from my own bead collection and I fretted over wearing converse to school because I didn’t want the cool kids to think I was trying to be cool and steal their Chuck Taylor-wearing thunder. I was a mess and all I wanted was for someone to validate me by loving me (besides my mom). When I finally got a boyfriend, my world did revolve around him to some degree and I’m sure if he was some sexy vampire who was like 100 years old and the most unique, intelligent, and mysterious person I had ever met, I’d do stupid things like follow him into the woods and look up at him dreamily. When you’re 16, your mortality is like the last thing on your mind.

So, I have a ton of empathy for Bella. I think we all do. That’s why we gobble this stuff up like Thanksgiving tofurkey (don’t hate!). Bella is an insecure teenager. It fits. She’s the product of a divorce, with a rotating cast of characters for fathers throughout the years. She watched her mother throw away her own life in varying degrees for her male partnerships, so her pattern makes sense. Plus, her mom is a notorious flake who has struggled to provide Bella with a consistent upbringing since leaving Forks. No wonder Bella finds Edward, with his 100 year existence and his giant family, so appealing. This guy is about as stable as they come in Bella’s world. He’s a grown-ass man.

To her credit, girlfriend slowly grows up and gets a life of her own. Edward does a lot of good things for Bella without doing it intentionally. He leaves her. He forces her to realize that life goes on without that person you love(d) most. We’ve all been there – broken hearted and feeling like the world was over. Then, the world wasn’t over and eventually we were OK. Sure, Bella does dumb stuff like try to drive a motorcycle off a cliff and fall in love with her best friend, but again, she’s 16 and already not doing so hot as far as family situations go. When I was 16, you should have read the stuff I wrote in my diary. If I had a motorcycle, I would have done something stupid in the midst of my first heartbreak, too.

So, she develops a sense of self. She gains enough courage to understand Edward’s love isn’t this tenuous thing and if it is, well screw him, because she loves Jacob, too. That’s what happens when you leave your young girlfriend in the hands of Taylor Lautner in jorts. She falls for him in some way. Edward being a grown-ass man takes it in stride and just puts a ring on it.

This is where everyone loses their marbles over this whole series. They get married! She gets knocked up! She’s what, like 18? I certainly don’t want my 16-year-old daughter reading these books in 20+ years and thinking the answer to all her problems is to get a boy, get a marriage, and have a baby. The books make it sound so perfect and the ribbons tie together so perfectly, if I was in a teenager’s brain, all hyped up with hormones, emotion, and irrational thinking, I might draw the conclusion that I should fall madly in love with the first boy I meet, marry him, and have a baby with him with some stupid name like Renesmee.

Girls, DON’T DO IT! No man is like Edward and if he is, run away. He’s not a vampire, so it’s creepy, not romantic. We are all Bellas, but there are no such thing as Edwards. There are plenty of Jacobs in this world and they are so worth having, trust me.

Anyway, the premise Stephanie Meyer uses to wrap-up her books is not something that I champion. What I do enjoy is that Bella begins to make her own decisions. She decides to keep her baby in spite of Edward. She gives up on her whining about becoming a vampire. She finds purpose in life besides living for Edward – granted it’s living for another human being at first – but eventually, she becomes her own woman. She recognizes she is unique and powerful, much more powerful than anyone could have anticipated, and there’s something beautiful about that conclusion. It says to me, “Girls, we will grow up and we will come into our own. We will be women with our own unique gifts, independent of whom we choose to love.”

Edward Cullen

Oh, Edward. I loved you so much until I met Jacob Black. Let me explain…

Edward isn’t a real person. This man does not exist. He is Mr. Darcy on crack, which is just appalling to me. Why would you want to amplify Mr. Darcy? The reason he is so great is because he has an understated charm and unexpected soft underbelly. He is Mr. Darcy and he is perfect just the way he is. He is probable and hopefully expected. He could happen in the real world. Mr. Darcy is an accomplished man, who is intelligent, self-assured, and capable. Naturally, he is attracted to his equal who also loves and values herself. It makes sense.

Edward Cullen does not exist. He can’t exist because there are too many contradictions to him to actually be a believeable person. At least Bella makes sense, but Edward… the guy lived an extra 100ish years, matured, learned Latin, played the piano, dated(eh?) Alaskan vampires, and then decided that he had to be with Bella Swan, the most unlikely and unassuming woman of all time. Granted, she is this rare, diamond in the rough and her and Edward are cosmically connected through that whole premise that everyone has “the one” waiting for them out there, but in my experience that’s just crap. In Twilight it makes sense, but when applying it all to real life, it doesn’t. We can’t find Edward Cullen because he doesn’t exist and he shouldn’t. It’s the rule of books – sometimes you just can’t apply that stuff to real life. If so, I’d be a wizard living in Hogwarts, teaching Legilimency (which in itself is improbable in HP world, anyway).

Part of becoming self-actualized is liking who you are and recognizing you exist independently of others. You don’t exist to make someone happy and no one exists to make you happy. Sure, happiness by association can happen incidentally, but hanging your hat on someone as a responsible party for your happiness is not how life works. It’s a recipe for depression and all sorts of other mental health issues. Edward serves as a man who fills our voids we are too scared to fill ourselves. Unfortunately, this man doesn’t exist in the real world because any man of Edward’s caliber would grow so sick of the whiny “fix how I feel!” stuff that he would hit the road to Italy… and never come back.

Anyway, I don’t know much about Edward’s family so I can’t go all case files there, but that’s the main disconnect I see with the idea of Edward Cullen. I’m not really complaining, considering the majority of art in our culture for young women to consume teaches us this lesson about how men will come in, save us, make us feel whole, define why we are alive, and then help us grow into the person we were always supposed to be – whether it’s as a vampire, a mermaid, a prisoner of a mystical Beast, etc. At least Belle got an awesome library out of the deal.

Jacob Black

Jacob is the normal one. It’s why he’s so unremarkable in the books. He’s not completely insecure and unstable, he’s an average, decently intelligent, self-assured guy who happened to fall for Bella. Yeah, she was awesome in her own way, but let’s remember how small Forks is/was. She was probably the first girl to ever cross Jake’s path and also give him the time of day. He had to love her.

There’s not much to say about Jake, other than that I think he’s the true romantic hero of the story. Jake stood by Bella every time he could have run. He not only loved her, he was her friend. Even when he couldn’t bear the heartache of her marrying Edward, he stuck by her in the end and came to support her family. Jake always did the right thing. He was reliable, considerate, caring, and thougthful. He wasn’t a grown-ass man like Edward, but he is a real person. He makes sense. I can buy into him actually existing in real life. Jake is a man that is wandering out there in the real world. He is dateable, loveable, and marryable. The problem with Jake is that he is real – he’s not some cooked up ideal of what a man should be. He doesn’t bury letters beneath our floorboards, he doesn’t watch us creepily while we sleep, he doesn’t demand we marry him at 18. He makes us cutesy bracelets with his own hands, he sleeps next to us and keeps us warm, and he is patient. He’s willing to let us figure ourselves out independent of our relationship with him. He gives us room to breathe.

Bella didn’t want that room. She wanted to be eclipsed (get it? heh) by someone else. It’s really a bigger problem among young women then I think we’re all willing to admit.

The Case File

I think I’ve covered most of it, but the biggest take-away from the whole series for me was really a commentary on young women. If the series hadn’t been so wildly popular, I probably wouldn’t be fretting about this so much. I’d just roll my eyes, read another page, and say something like, “That was great, mindless reading!” The plot is so, so, so good and it just sucks you in. If you don’t take it too seriously, the books really are fabulous. They evoke so much emotion and they just make you want to give a damn. I like books like that.

I remember being Bella’s age. I remember how desperately I wanted to be cool, how much I cared about what others thought about me, and how I thought, “If only I had a boyfriend to make me feel loved and signify to everyone else that I’m desirable and deserving.”

It took me years to completely shed that mentality and I could contribute that to popular culture, the way I was raised, or just my own inner workings as a teenage girl. I think it’s a combination of all of it in some ways. If I was being really picky, I’d blame Stephanie Meyer for perpetuating this ideal. Sure, she could have thought long and hard about how the role of women is accepted and portrayed in popular culture, or she could have just written her book and made tons of money. Good for her. She capitalized on a way we all think and made her life better.

Girls like Bella are normal. Boys like Jacob are normal. Men like Edward are not. If you find a man like Edward Cullen, I recommend you run away. He’s not some rare, perfect vampire just for you. He’s a person, which means he has all the trappings of being a regular human being, making all the gifts, the eternal ‘I love yous’ and the rest of it a farce. Edward is passionate love, but he’s not companionate love. Our world of monogamy is based on the latter. We should pick partners that fulfill those needs if we want a long-lasting relationship.