By Nastaran Yousefi
Dr. Azita Sayan hosts the popular TV talk show Donyaye Eshgh (World of Love) on Pars TV. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the California-based CEO of Embrace Growth, LLC. Her company delivers relationship seminars and private counseling on effective communication, marital selection and intimacy skills, and organizes regular workshops in Los Angeles, Toronto, Hamburg, London and Dubai. Dr. Sayan is also the author of a woman’s handbook on intimacy: “Girl Talk – What Works with Men in Dating, Sex & Marriage.”
Dr. Sayan recently joined Kayhan London for an in-depth conversation about her own life and about male-female relationships.
Why is your personal life story an important part of your career and professional trajectory?
My personal life story is important because when I started work as a psychologist, I was full of pain and inner wounds that had not healed. Though I was raised in an educated and kind family, I was physically abused at the age of two – out of ignorance – by one of my brothers. Later, I was sexually abused by another supportive brother. These were my first childhood wounds.
Then, in high school, I was raped in my dormitory and left with a second scar – even as those first unspoken and invisible wounds had not yet healed. These painful experiences turned me into a girl with two personalities: a cheerful, intelligent and sociable girl on the one hand, and a fragile and tormented girl with latent pain on the other. I turned to cigarettes, was diagnosed with bulimia, and found myself in desperate need of men to believe in and accept myself.
Is that why you turned to psychology?
Yes. I thought that getting an education in this particular field of science would be the path to understanding human beings. I worked passionately and hard, and was so successful that at the age of 28, I became the head of the department of mental illness at the hospital. I found joy in my patients’ recovery. Yet I was not aware of my own pain – until I met Dr. Lampert. He noted that I was a very angry person, and asked me about my pain. It was only at that point that I realized that I had not been true to myself.
When did you start developing your therapeutic methods with patients, and what difficulties did you encounter along the way?
After completing my studies in 1987, I started working with children who were victims of harassment, persecution and abuse in their home and family environments, and who had been separated from their families by the state. Working with these children was very painful. The more I did, the more I realized that these children needed fundamental help. Due to the restrictions imposed by the state, we could not implement a proper therapeutic approach and get any results.
I moved to New York and began working with juvenile delinquents. That was where I met Professor Neil Lampert and started research with him. Through him, I was introduced to Gestalt Therapy. We worked with this method for some time and rapidly achieved positive results.
I then moved to Los Angeles and started my Ph.D. studies. It was at that point in 1990 that I was introduced to transpersonal psychology and that I also started my private practice. Following an introduction to depth psychology and Jungian psychology, I became acquainted with female and male energies. With the help of Dr. Patricia Allen, I better understood the difficulties in male/female relationships, and discovered the way to establishing proper relations between men and women.
It was during this period that I met my husband. I was able to use this approach in my own relationship and, for the first time in my life, have a successful relationship with a man.
I came to the conclusion that as women, we fall into into four age-old categories. First: the fighter woman and queen of the amazons – a purposeful, capable, intelligent, leader who is, for the most part, single. Second: the sensual and ravishing woman. Third: the mother. Fourth: the spiritual woman.
I concluded that success was achieved when these categories were in equilibrium with each other. The results of this research were used as one of the objectives of our workshops for women.
One of your objectives seems to be establishing a healthy relationship between parents and children. Do you think this approach is effective with the younger generations in Iran?
Our parents are the problem in our society – not our youth. It is the parents who must increase awareness and learn how to relate to young people.
The other problem is that in many instances in Iran, psychology means the prescription of drugs and medicine. Many psychologists come up with fake medical conditions, and prescribe pills for these conditions. In such cases, parents must realize that the mental problems of our youth are not only not solved with pills, but that these drugs often have negative side effects. As psychologists, we must be responsible for the mental condition of our youth.
Many Iranian websites connected with the regime accuse you of being a deviant psychologist who recommends “illegitimate” relationships to people. How do you defend yourself against this accusation?
I am not hurt by these accusations, because I believe in democracy. I invite these individuals to get acquainted with the psychological methods I use and to speak about me with a real understanding of what I do.
Perhaps one of the reasons behind this accusation is that I do not explicitly oppose a healthy sexual relationship. For me, sex is a human necessity that must be based on thought, feeling, and depth, rather than impulse and the satisfaction of a trivial need. For example, if a woman wishes to get married, sex plays no role during the dating period – except after the engagement.
Do you take the women’s side while counseling them? How do you deal with this?
No, on the contrary. I deal with women very seriously and sternly. In many cases, I view women as responsible for the relationship. Women need to be trained, get to know themselves and responsibly move their relationship in the right direction. I consider it my most important responsibility to be the training of women around the world and particularly Iranian women.
Can you talk about what you refer to as the “seven mistakes” committed by women in their relationship with men?
Men’s language is different from women’s. Women have the feeling that sometimes when they are speaking Farsi with a man, i.e. a brother, a father, a husband or a male friend, the man replies in Chinese. There is a great distance between the two languages. We women sometimes do not realize that we may have a very different grasp, understanding, perception and interpretation of things. Men and women do not see and understand the world in the same way.
Our first mistake is that we think that men are bad-tempered, impolite, and rude beings. We don’t understand that they are actually none of the above when you compare them to other men, and only appear that way when you compare them to women. We take this behavior personally, and assume that they are being disrespectful in their conduct, when in reality they are no such thing. We judge them according to our own standards, and in truth, want a man with a manly figure but the personality, courtesy and demeanor of a woman – that is, an imperfect man.
Our second mistake is that we deem our personal interpretations of a man’s statements to be the truth, when in reality this is not the case. If a man is tired, it doesn’t mean he has no time for you. He is simply tired. When he says ‘I am still hungry,’ it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like your cooking: he is simply not yet sated. If he says he has no money, it doesn’t mean he wants to give you less money to spend on the family, just that he has no money. Whenever a man speaks, we interpret his words as a woman, and believe that those interpretations reflect reality, that they are what he means instead of what he actually says.
Our third mistake is that as women, we expect a man’s time – except for what we think is required for him to do his job or look after urgent matters – to be devoted to us. Men don’t see life in this way, and believe that all of their time belongs to themselves. They decide how to fill this time.
One of a woman’s first mistakes as soon as she gets close to a man is that she thinks that the man must adapt his daily schedule to her needs: be available when she’s available, go out when she wants them to go out, call her when she wants to be called, send emails or text messages several times a day, see her as often as she wishes, and not go anywhere else . . . This is the wrong way for a woman to connect with a man. It’s overstepping the boundaries.
The fourth mistake is that we women jump into men’s conversation and interrupt them. For example, we ask them a question, but as soon as they want to answer, we barge in and don’t let them finish what they wanted to say. Men react in three ways when we interrupt them: first, they lose their concentration and train of thought; second, they get angry and yell, go silent, or get ready to leave; third, they start speaking more loudly, hurting our feelings, and taking the conversation a million miles from where it began.
That’s why we say that men don’t know how to talk to us, that they don’t share their problems with us and don’t treat us like a partner. And yet we are at fault when we disrespect them and fail to listen when they speak. So when a man is speaking, don’t interrupt him: let him finish, take notes, keep silent and listen carefully to what he is saying. After he has finished, pause, thank him for everything he has said and ask if there is anything else he would like to add. Let him know that you want to hear everything he has to say. This encourages him to speak more with you. You then realize how much the man has to share with you – he is simply not given that opportunity.
Our fifth mistake is that, as we’re capable of multi-tasking, we believe that men have the same capability, but are lazy and can’t be bothered. A man can only focus on one thing at a time, because he is a born hunter, and has to finish that one thing before moving on to the next. They’re not like women who can do several things at the same time; there may be a few gentlemen who have this ability, but 99% do not.
Our sixth mistake is the belief that men are indifferent towards us. If a man is watching TV, he is watching TV, not being indifferent. When men are doing something, they are actually doing that thing, and not ignoring us.
Our seventh mistake is our biggest in our dealings with men. We try to compete with them in their work, profession, education or anything they deem important. For example, we believe that if a man’s mother is sick and he is paying attention to her, we must compete with her for his attention, or that we are in competition with his work or studies or whatever else keeps him busy. Generally speaking, the belief that we must be first in a man’s life is wrong. As women we believe that we don’t have a place if we’re not first.
These are the seven mistakes that we make in our relationships with men – mistakes that end up ruining those relationships.