Run For Your Life...Now

by Dr. Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT

I have been a Beatles fan since the day my grandparents brought me my first Beatles record at age 6.  Many of their songs glorify love but there is one that is anything but that:

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girlbigstock-A-motion-blur-abstract-of-a-pe-17528759
than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
or I won’t know where I am

You better run for your life if you can’t, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl

“Run for Your Life” has been running through my mind a lot in the context of three women here in the Twin Cities who have been murdered by their partners over the last few months. With Spring and the terrible discovery of each woman’s body, I wonder what might have happened if each of these women had just run for their lives instead of trying to find the best in their harmful partners. An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called “Missing women cases highlight problem of domestic homicide” expresses concern about how difficult it is to predict when domestic abuse will become lethal.

Stories about abusive partners and their narcissistic behavior are coming into my office with more frequency. It is not uncommon that my clients think that they can change a narcissistic, damaging, controlling, violent, unstable partner’s behavior by compassionately teaching and explaining why the behavior is “not okay.” It takes so long for victimized and abused people to realize that they are being abused. It is common that the ones being harmed do their darnedest to protect the harmful person. I know that my clients are grieving what might have been or the partner they wish they had. When I see my clients disintegrating physically and emotionally in damaging relationships, I let them know that protecting abusive people gets somebody hurt, and maybe dead. When they ask me “Can my partner change?” I answer with some questions of my own:

  • What makes you think that your love is going to change a disturbed person’s behavior, when that person has no interest in changing?
  • Why do you continue to have hope for someone who is harming your mind, body, and spirit?
  • Why do you keep teaching your partner when he (or she) has no interest in learning?
  • Why haven’t you told others about the abuse?  (Here’s a tip:  Narcissistic people hate being exposed for their behavior but it might protect you better.)
  • What leads you to call a harmful or violent partner a good parent when they are harmful or violent to you and your children?
  • Would you put up with this behavior from a stranger on the street?
  • What are your fears about leaving?
  • What are your fears about staying?
  • Have you had enough?
  • Why haven’t you run yet?
  • Are you thinking that I will help you stay to continue to be abused?  Let me answer that one for you:  I have compassion for you and, no, I will not help you or your children be abused some more.

Things don’t just get better.  Praying won’t change an abusive person’s behavior.   For a  long time, my motto has been “Safety First” with clients who are being abused.  Here’s the bottom line: you don’t reason with a coiled rattlesnake.  Get your ducks in a row as fast as you can and run for your life.


This Year, Make Mother's Day Your Own

By Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMF

I wrote this article for the Springm 2013 Resolve national newsletter, For the Journey and Beyond Please share it with others so that Mother's Day can be different this year.


Advertisers sell Mother’s Day as a day filled with family celebrations. For many who are undergoing bigstock-Summer-decorative-composition--25583843fertility treatment and family building, this manufactured holiday can generate anxiety, dread, and anger. You want to be one of the people being celebrated, but you are not there yet.

This year, you can decide what you want to do about those ads and others’ requests that you “happy up” for Mother's Day. Let this day become your own personal Empowerment Day. You may not feel that you have many choices about fertility treatment, but you absolutely do have choices about how you approach Mother's Day.

Rather than a day of “Why?” let this become a day of “How?” Ask yourself:

“How am I doing on my journey to parenting?”
“How do I need to change my perspective or treatment protocol?”
“How would I LIKE to spend the day?”

Let this be a decision day about where you are in your life, not just in your attempts to conceive. Let this be a day that is all about you. Embrace self-care as part of your quest to be a mother.

Did you know that you do not have to attend celebrations, even though you have been asked or even if someone demanded you attend? What would you like to do? Being honest does not make you Debbie Downer. It makes you human, and real, and a person. Here’s a truth—someone else may not like you making a different kind of decision, but you will do better. You have absolute permission to stay in bed the entire day, to cry, and to breathe.

But there are other options. You might do something you enjoy by yourself or with your partner. Commit to changing your diet to better support your health and well-being, not just your fertility. Let this be a day when you have that glass of wine or big cup of coffee that you avoid while you are doing fertility treatment. Commit on that day to living in the most authentic, empowered way you can. Remind yourself that you are a person on this earth and you matter. You deserve love and compassion 365 days of the year.

Here’s another thought that might be surprising. Mother’s Day is just a Sunday, as there are 51 others throughout the year. God will support you if you choose not to attend a church service that day where the sanctuary is overflowing with children. You, yes you, get to choose on Empowerment Day.

In advance, commit to talking with your clergy person about how he or she can recognize the struggle of parents-to-be. He or she may have no idea how difficult it is for you on a daily basis, but especially during holidays that promote and celebrate families. What if we all suggested that clergy set aside for a day of prayer for those who are struggling to bring their dreams of parenting to reality?

You can also choose to engage in celebration of your own mother. This year, find a way to do so that fits with your love for her and for yourself. In whatever ways you choose to spend that day, empower yourself to be the beautiful person you were before your fertility journey began and the person you will be after your fertility challenges are resolved.

Deborah S. Simmons, PhD, LMFT is co-owner of Partners in Healing of Minneapolis. Dr. Simmons has been a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine for 15 years and has counseled many individuals and couples during the journey to parenting.


You Matter

YoumatterBrought to you by Dr. Deborah Simmons

I took my first Spring walk around Lake Calhoun today, one of my favorite places in the Twin Cities.  It was glorious.  People were smiling and happy, all of us sprung from the dark, cold dungeon of a very long winter.  As I walked, I began to see uplifting messages written in chalk on the curb.  “You look beautiful today!”  “No matter what you are dealing with, it’s not snowing!”  That one brought a smile.  The one that grabbed my attention the most was “You Matter.”  I thought to myself, “Yes, I do!”  It almost brought me to tears.  It made me think about the stories I have had the privilege to hear in my office recently and the courage it takes to move forward in life.

To those who are struggling to build a family when others don’t seem to care, you matter.  To the people who are newly pregnant after fertility treatment but who are afraid of loss, you matter.  To those who are grieving the death of a parent or who are besieged by chronic pain or illness, you matter.  To those who live with drama-makers and who just want peaceful intimacy, you matter.  And to the beautiful person who brought kindness and joy today to people walking around a city lake on a sunny day, you matter.  And I love you from the bottom of my heart.    


#NIAW Hurtful Judgments and Dumb Advice

NIAWby Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT

To start my blogging for National Infertility Awareness Week (April 21-27, 2013), I thought I’d start with some information for people who may not know much about infertility. Did you know that one out of every 10 couples or more than six million people in the United States struggle with infertility? That’s right. Infertility is a medical problem and it is not rare. You probably know someone who is having a hard time trying to have a baby.

And it’s not just women who have problems with their fertility. Fertility problems are split evenly between female factor (40%) and male factor (40%) problems and 10% of the time, both partners in a couple have a separate, identifiable diagnosis.  Finally, 10% of all couples will have unexplained fertility problems and may never get a diagnosis.

Multiple doctor appointments, giving and receiving injections, and repeated miscarriages are hard.  But you know what’s really hard for people to take, on top of medical treatment for infertility?  Hurtful judgments and dumb advice.  It often goes like this:

    • Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.
    • You’re trying too hard.
    • God has a plan for you.
    • Just go on vacation.
    • You can always adopt.
    • You can have one of my babies.
    • You’re too obsessed about infertility. Just lighten up.
    • It’s just a baby shower.

My request to people who say these things? Please stop. Stop making judgments. Listen rather than offering advice. Ask questions. Offer to help in some way. Most of all, show some compassion—for your neighbor, or your cousin, or your colleague at work. It’s National Infertility Awareness Week.



It Ain't Hypnosis, Folks

by Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT

I’ve just returned from the new movie, “Trance“, with James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson.  The plot:  An art auctioneer and some criminal types work with a hypnotherapist to recover a lost painting worth millions.  While it was an enjoyable way to spend a chilly afternoon, the movie came up short on how hypnosis was portrayed.  This is unfortunate because clinical hypnosis done by a licensed and trained clinician is very helpful with medical procedures, to help to resolve emotional problems, and generally, to figure things out internally.  I’ve been doing hypnosis since 1999 and many of my clients have benefited from and enjoyed their time in a hypnotic trance.  So let’s review some myths about clinical hypnosis;

  • A person in a hypnotic trance is in control of themselves and their own thoughts.
  • No one can “inject” ideas into another person’s mind.
  • You cannot be made to say or do anything against your will. (If you want to bark like a chicken, you are welcome to do that anytime you wish.)
  • Suggestions are offered but it is up to the person in a relaxed state to take them or not.
  • You cannot get “stuck” in a hypnotic trance.
  • A person who is in a hypnotic trance or altered state of awareness is not asleep.
  • There is no swinging watch.
  • And, a good reminder for all, it is always gauche and illegal for any therapist to have a sexual relationship with clients. I so wish that movies would stop doing that!

In closing, clinical hypnosis is helpful when offered by a licensed and trained clinician.  I use clinical hypnosis all the time with my clients who are undergoing fertility treatment or working on their therapy issues.  The bottom line:  interesting movie but it ain’t hypnosis!