Interview With Wendy Dingee - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 17, 2014

Interview With Wendy Dingee

1. In an article that you recently wrote on our site, you mentioned some interesting cliches like “You complete me”, “He’s my other half” and described them as self-limiting beliefs even though they may sound romantic. So is the right mindset, “You compliment me” instead of “You complete me”? We get so many emails from our women subscribers who are not happy because they are single and tend to seek relationships as a means to become happy.

Yes, I think “We complement each other” is a healthier mindset.  I would suggest “I am whole, and I am worthy of a whole partner” is even better!  Looking for completion and happiness from another person just doesn’t make sense.  It’s like trying to ignite your internal flame by striking a match when you already have a whole inferno blazing; it’s backwards.  When you recognize your own brilliance and let it shine, it is much more attractive to potential partners.

2. You also mentioned the emotional wounds we all have as children and how we tend to seek relationships as a means to heal our wounds. So how can women heal their emotional wounds? What does the process look like?

Though we cannot fix the injuries from the outside, the good news is we absolutely do have the capacity for self-healing.  It is not necessary to identify and pinpoint the exact moments of injury, we need only to connect with a sense of what life was like for that little girl who is now all grown up and no longer helpless. Once we have a sense of that history and can understand how we have adapted to protect ourselves, we then have the opportunity to create space between the history, the story, the abandonment/inundation anxiety, the defense mechanisms- all of that stuff that gets in the way of our ability to be authentic- we create space between all that stuff and our core selves.  In that authentic experience of your core, happiness, wholeness, and infinite possibility are already there.

I believe the key is to connect with the body experience of the early injuries, and by extension all the “stuff” that is generated by those injuries.  In my practice, I use Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP), which is the brainchild of Jack Rosenberg and Beverly Kitaen-Morse.  IBP is a non-invasive body therapy which utilizes energetic  breath work combined with cognitive and emotional processing to access that deep, limbic part of the brain and reprogram the old patterns on a level that talk therapy alone can just not reach.  IBP provides practical tools so that each client learns to become her own best therapist.

3. I think the point you just made is really important- “When you recognize your own brilliance and let it shine, it is much more attractive to potential partners.” One of the most common questions we get from our women subscribers is how can I be more attractive to men or what type of women do men find irresistible etc. I think the question would be better served when you ask how can I be more attractive to myself so that I am happy and full of energy. And when this happens, I think it is much more easier to attract people than merely focusing on what to say or what to do or what not to say and what not to do which may be useful but may not give you the best results.

So if I am a woman and I recognize that I have this tendency to look for happiness outside of me either by recognizing my past relationships or my current one, how can I go about changing this? Are there any activities or exercises that can help women start making small incremental positive changes to cultivate the habit of finding happiness within and working towards becoming that attractive self-sufficient whole person.

Awareness is the first step to any change, so already you would give yourself credit for having the courage to make the decision to change!  There are most definitely practices which support & develop the ability to be authentic, to recognize that happiness truly is an inside job, and to let go of old programming that says you have to focus on “doing the right things.”

Here are three which I would say are huge:

Mindfulness: The story in our heads is where we get in our own way.  That is where the old messages live, the ones that perpetuate the notion that we have to try really, really hard to do, say, and “be” just right, then we will get that love & acceptance and we will be happy.  Learning to create distance from that story is transformational all by itself.  Mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be complicated or scary; it can start as simply as taking one conscious breath, meaning actually noticing your breath and feeling the experience in your body.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness and many fabulous teachers out there.  My favorite three are Pema ChodronRick Hanson, and Thich Nhat Hanh, all of whom have multiple teachings available through books, audio, and online.

Self-Compassion: Compassion is so much easier when it concerns others rather than ourselves, particularly for women.  We tend to judge ourselves much more harshly than we ever would judge anyone else.  All of the teachers mentioned above do also address self-compassion, as mindfulness is part of it. Self-compassion as defined by Dr. Kristin Neff has 2 additional components which can be developed, and they are self-kindness and sense of common humanity.  The self-compassion quiz on Dr. Neff’s awesome website here is a great place to start.

Gratitude: Nothing is more powerful in shifting a negative mindset than a daily practice of gratitude.  You can test this out for yourself by taking a moment to think about all the “bad stuff” in your life, really dwelling on it, getting into it, and checking in with your body.  What are the body sensations?  Is it tightness contraction, shrinking inward?  Now focus on what you are grateful for, and trust me, no matter what, there are always things to be grateful for, whether it’s the ability to breathe or to see or feel, having food to eat, running water & flush toilets, or whatever! Focus on the positives with that same attention and check in with your body again.  Is there expansion, opening, warmth? Imagine the difference of what that energy is creating in your life.

4. Very helpful and it is indeed fascinating to learn how mindful and aware we have to be to constantly negate the inner negative talk. It’s almost as if the brain defaults to that negative talk in the form of worry, anxiety, stress etc. So what you seem to be advocating is instead of increasing the volume of the negative chatter in your mind, tune into the gratitude channel and gradually you will be able to overcome that negative chatter.

A number of our women subscribers have felt a loss of their identity in relationships which causes a gradual neglect of  the inner self because they tend to put their partner’s need above themselves. In relationships, you are always negotiating, compromising, engaging in conflict, communicating and making decisions and in the process of compromise and adjusting, women sometimes end up sacrificing a lot more for the greater good of their partner and relationship.  

Over time, what often happens is that women suffer in silence and they don’t really let their partners know that. Inside they feel more and more dissatisfied because they are sacrificing a lot more, doing a lot more work and feel they are not getting enough appreciation, recognition and effort from the other end. And men can sense this unhappiness from women and they tend to shut down and withdraw making things even more worse.  

How can women ensure they retain their sense of identity and how can they communicate with their partners and let them know they need that time for themselves and it is very important for them without feeling guilty about it and coming across as demanding and rigid?

Yes, Rick Hanson talks a great deal about the brain’s biological negativity bias.  He uses the analogy that our brain is “like teflon for good stuff and like velcro for bad stuff.” This is because for survival purposes it is much more important to be aware of dangers than of pleasant things.  The good news is we can retrain the brain, thanks to the magic of self-directed neuroplasticity. Dr. Hanson teaches a wonderful practice he calls “Taking in the Good.”

What you are describing to a T is what we refer to in IBP as “agency”, which is “a self-perpetuating system of self abandonment in search of a target.” Agency is learned very early as a response to those pre-verbal injuries we talked about before. As a way to get the care a child requires for her very survival, she learns to be hyper-vigilant to the needs of others at the expense of her own sense of well-being. Throughout her life, she hones that ability to pick up on the desires & needs of others and becomes a helper, fixer, and caretaker of others. The problem with this system of “agent” & “target” is not the helpful behaviors, but the unspoken contracts that go along with them (and the feelings of betrayal that inevitably follow the other person not living up to their end), as well as the core self-abandonment, and the invasive nature of presuming to take responsibility for the well being of another fully grown human. When it comes to intimate relationships, this system also destroys sexual desire, because the agency target is infantilized & disempowered.

Because agency comes from that very early place, it is programmed into that limbic part of the brain and shows up in the body.  One of the very coolest things about this framework is that we can work with it; we can learn to recognize when we are going into agency by paying attention to the body sensations, and we can learn that we don’t have to self-abandon in order to love; in fact, self-abandonment is the antithesis of love.

The way we go about being able to choose ourselves is to change that old programming that has us convinced it is good and loving to sacrifice ourselves.  The agency system gets set up super early, and we spend much of our lives getting reinforced for being helpers & caretakers, so this is definitely pretty challenging work!  Again, it is about creating space between our authentic core selves and the stuff that gets in the way. In IBP we use breathwork,  energetic boundary exercises, and a set of mantras.  The first agency mantra is “I’m not bad, I haven’t done anything wrong, and I am worthy of love.”  Once you can say that one, believe it, and really feel the truth of it in your body, there are others which address having a right to your own space, having your own voice, not being selfish when you act on your own behalf, etc.

5. You mention, “Once you can say that (mantra) one, believe it, and really feel the truth of it in your body, there are others which address having a right to your own space…” I think the biggest problem comes from “believing it” and “really feeling the truth.”

I have read books and countless experts talk about standing in front of the mirror and reaffirming yourself that you are the best or you are beautiful and I have heard from quite a few of my subscribers who tell me, “You know whenever I try this, I feel so silly because deep inside me I feel a part of me is laughing at me sarcastically and telling me, “No, you are not.” I guess this is where the believing part becomes difficult and challenging.

This is why “affirmations” all by themselves tend not to be very helpful, because they are only accessing the cognitive, logical, pre-frontal cortex part of the brain, and that is NOT where those old messages live! They live in that older, more primitive limbic part.  The body is where we can access those limbic programs, and breathwork with body awareness is an effective way to do that.

Another piece is normalizing the experience of the old beliefs.  In IBP therapy, we do that by working with where that old stuff came from and recognizing that any little girl would feel that way, and in fact it makes perfect sense to have those feelings, but it is not about now.  Kristin Neff’s self-compassion work also provides some great tools to work on acceptance, not-judgement, and letting go.

6. Is this also a reason why some women tend to engage in the same dating patterns or repeatedly attract the same kind of wrong men into their lives because they truly deep inside don’t feel they deserve a healthy, deserving relationship even though they may say I am looking for a healthy, deserving relationship?

And if I am that kind of a woman who has fallen into this pattern, how can I break free from the pattern and create healthy personal boundaries so that I am not being abused or taken advantage of in my relationships?

Yes, precisely. The logical part of the brain “knows” you are a good person and you are worthy, but that old limbic pattern hangs on and sends its signals straight to the body.  Dr. Marsha Lucas explains this really well in her book,Rewire Your Brain for Love.

I believe breaking free starts with awareness and the realization that there is not something wrong with you.  We go so easily into beating ourselves up by telling ourselves, “Well, now that I know better, why can’t I just stop it?”  That just keeps up stuck in our head.  To break free from the old pattern, it is vital to get out of your head, out of the story, and into your body, into the present moment.  Know that it is going to take effort, repetition, and focused awareness because you are physically changing connections in brain; it’s kind of a big deal!

Know that change is going to feel uncomfortable, because that is our nature.  We don’t like change as a rule, even when it is good for us! Know that fear will be part of the process, know that you already have your freedom, power, and confidence, you just need to figure out how to claim them . Use support.  Support might be therapy, it might be friends, family, community support, or whatever, but you do not have to do it alone.  That is another trap we fall into, believing that being strong means we have to handle things on our own.  Being strong means being brave enough to ask for help.

7. Basically what you are saying is cut some slack and position these shortcomings as problems that need to be solved, much like an engineer or a researcher who acknowledges the problem and is fascinated and eager to find a solution. The solution may take time, it may be a trial and error process and you may encounter roadblocks in the process but if you are not going to enjoy the journey of problem solving and focus too much on the end result, you are probably going to give up and fail to improve.

This leads me to a much popular train of thought we tend to have which is I will be happy after __________ . And this blank can be I will be happy after I get a guy to date or I will be happy after the guy I date wants to date me exclusively or I will be happy after he accepts me as my girlfriend or I will be happy after he proposes. So we end up waiting and waiting for that event to occur to trigger that moment of happiness after which it is just a brief feeling of happiness or the mind pushes that happiness goal post further away for another event to happen.

I guess this thought process of tying happiness to a possession of an object or for an event to happen or for a special person to change our life is a misleading way of delaying and starving happiness when we can experience it at this very moment without any external forces or circumstances involved.

A common problem some of our women subscribers face is a ticking biological clock and they want to get married and raise a family pretty soon. In the process they are worried, tensed and anxious and this is their default state. When they go out on a date, they tend to put on an invisible armor around them to protect them from getting hurt or wasting time and figuring out if the man they are with is marriage material as early as the first date.

This is an example of how their mind has worry and anxiety in the front seat and happiness is all the way back and waiting for “marriage” to happen. How do you train your mind from the unhealthy habit of sabotaging and delaying happiness?

It is absolutely vital to learn to let go of the attachment to the “fixed idea” that there is a certain way your life is supposed to look at a certain time.  I know this is easier said than done.  I have worked with so many women who are unhappy because they are not where they “should be” in their lives, and often that has a lot to do with being in a committed relationship, being married, having a baby, on their 3rd child, etc. You are exactly right when you say worrying about getting what you want puts you into “stress mode” as your default setting.

The tightness, constriction, closing, worry, anxiety, lack, and neediness that are your companions in stress mode will keep you from getting what you want. This is the piece missing  or at least not emphasized strongly enough, in many Law Of Attraction Teachings.  You MUST let go of the attachment.  I believe it is also why there are so many skeptics  “Oh, sure, I can get what I want, but I have to not want it too much?” Seems like a ridiculous, cruel paradox!  But LOA is about energy, and the energy behind attachment, aka grasping, neediness, and desperation, is Fear. And the energy of Fear will keep you blocked.

So how to change this habit?

First, recognize that it is a habit, and that it can be changed.  Work with the fear.  Pema Chodron has a wonderful teaching in Smile at Fear which goes, “Whatever you are attached to, let it go.”  Practicing mentally and energetically letting go of what you *think* you *need* helps you to become friends with the fear. When your fear no longer has that constricting hold over you, there is opening, and you are able to create your life out of the energy of gratitude, loving kindness, and compassion.

8. Some of our women subscribers have a problem with trusting their partner. In other words, they are reluctant to be emotionally vulnerable because they have the fear that they would be hurt again, betrayed again, abandoned again. I guess as you have more relationships, you have more scars and carry an emotional baggage that makes you skeptical and cautious. What this means is you are afraid to be vulnerable. Do you have any suggestions that can allow you to open your heart fully and be vulnerable without being afraid of rejection despite past experiences?

The early, preverbal injuries we talked about before, the ones that feel like “Something is wrong with me, I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough,” etc, all of those  at the base boil down to “I’m all alone.” It is our deepest fear because as helpless tiny babies, it is a very real fact that we would die if left completely alone. That old fear is coded into the limbic brain and held in the body.  We know perfectly well in the logical part of the brain that we are no longer that helpless little baby, but because the limbic brain programming is communicated directly to the body, the visceral experience imparts us with that powerful sense of danger.

That feeling of terror gets activated by incidents of abandonment, becoming stronger with each betrayal that we experience, just as you describe.  Naturally, we strive to protect ourselves, resulting in shutting down.  The price of closing ourselves off though, is not only missing out on the chance to connect in a meaningful, healthy relationship, but also loss of access to our full aliveness. Brené Brown gave a fantastic talk on the Power of Vulnerability, which you can view here.

Strengthening your inner connection by learning to be fully grounded, in your body, in the present moment can help you to recognize that fear as coming from a very old place. Then you can start to make choices based on truth rather than fear.

9. Another common problem some of our women subscribers face is lacking the courage to end when they are in toxic, unhappy and unfulfilling relationships. They may stay due to the fear of being alone or due to a sense of guilt or obligation. Needless to say they are abused, manipulated and exploited. What would you recommend in terms of helping women overcome that fear and take that decision to leave the relationship?

Women in abusive or toxic relationships usually feel trapped for those very reasons that you mention: that old abandonment fear and a crippling level of agency. Abusers often manipulate in subtle ways, pushing those oh-so-accessible buttons that feed the guilt, fear, and doubt until the limiting self talk from old programs of little-girl helplessness are completely in charge.

Letting go of fear, breaking free from old patterns, and discovering the power within is part of a journey of self exploration which takes time.  Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships which are physically abusive, you may not have time. The danger of escalation is real, and the intense, remorseful “romance” that is part of the abusive cycle can make it harder to break away.  Talk to someone, get another perspective, reach out.  Find safety tips, helpful information, and an always available hotline number at www.thehotline.org.

When personal safety is not an issue, moving away from relationships that do not support you will be a natural by-product of your increased awareness and self-compassion.

10. Can you please share any books and programs that would be helpful for our subscribers who are looking to improve their self-worth and confidence and create happy and healthy relationships?

Love to!  I believe bringing the body into the process is really important, because it is impossible to reach those deep, old places where the self-limiting programs dig in & hang on by staying up in your head.  Integrative Body Psychotherapy is a powerful approach that offers universally applicable tools for transformation;  I would recommend if at all possible to find out of there is an IBP therapist available in your area.  Find out here.

Another method that addresses the body and works on reprogramming self-limiting beliefs is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Practitioners of EFT use a “tapping” sequence along with affirmations designed to change those old messages at the body level, and will be able to teach you to use the sequences yourself.

Many books and audiobooks are available to explore ways to practice mindfulness and self-compassion on your own.  Here are some favorites that I and many of my clients have found helpful:

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind- Kristin Neff
Don’t Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions- Pema Chodron
The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace into Your Daily Life- Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom- Rick Hansen and Richard Mendius
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are- Brené Brown
Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness- Marsha Lucas
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation- Daniel J. Siegel

No matter what your own path looks like, remember that is yours, unique to you.  Stay curious, and you will find that opportunities for knowledge and growth pop up all around you at just the right time!

About Wendy Dingee

Wendy Dingee

Wendy Dingee is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and Board Certified Coach in private practice in Las Vegas.

Wendy specializes in empowering clients to let go of self limiting beliefs and old patterns of thinking which tend to manifest as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and relationship problems.

To learn more, visit her website www.livewellnevada.com.




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