The People You Imagine Judging You

Dear fomenters and fretters,

 

Many humans that struggle with any kind of social anxiety have a sense of what other people want or expect from them. I sometimes refer to this as ‘the generalized other.’

This is all me, guys.
Image from gratisography.com

How You Learned That You Are Unacceptable

Sometimes these outward projections of a person’s insecurities are often based in childhood: people think I’m too loud, people think I do my gender wrong, people don’t like me because I cry too much.

 

The other piece is that insecurities are often based in some kind of lived experience- usually closer to adolescence. Lots of people have often had a few formative experiences that reflect these insecurities, and the story gets more specific, and less of just a full wave of shame. It could just take one really snide person at the right moment, or a series of social gaffes that really break down a person’s sense of self and instruct them in what they should hide from other people.

When You Try To Convince Yourself To Be Somebody Else

Many folks are afraid of being different within the social norms of their communities. There is a comfort and reward to homogeneity. Some people fall into the bell curve effortlessly, but there are plenty of people are just innately themselves and are unable to do so. There are also a number of people who engage in a daily struggle of attempting to normalize things that fall counter to their actual nature.

And by “different” I mean “different than their actual nature”- and not in a generative, growing-edge sort of way. If you are not good at math or are shy in social situations, you can develop these skills. However, there is a difference between skill-building, and attempting to shift your entire personality 90 degrees to become more socially acceptable.

People Are Not Static

It’s also tricky, because we do change as we get older and integrate new information, or our life circumstances change. When you lived with five roommates and there were always people around to share food with and talk, you were much more sociable. When you moved in with one other person, you perhaps remembered that you also enjoy quiet time to yourself, and spent a lot more time reading mystery novels and having solo Kate Bush dance parties. (you ARE running up that hill, good on you)

Every human being has flexibility within their personality and preferences. The trick lies in being genuine about what you are actually looking for in the moment. We often have to struggle and experience discomfort in order to integrate new information, and without this we would do no growing or changing.

Growth Does Not Mean Disappearing into Shame

Many folks engaging in the process of growth struggle with the fact that change is messy! Folks will often experience a lot of shame in acknowledging the gap between their own situation and where they would like to land. This will often stir up their worries about how they will be perceived by the generalized other. (this is the “before” in before/after pictures)

The generalized other is who I refer to when I talk to folks about who in the world they think is judging them. I find that many folks have a very specific vision of either the particular person, or the kind of people that they think dislike their style/ politics/ way they tell stories at a party.

This happens in a lot of ways: business-minded folks worry about being ambitious or successful enough. Lots of queer people worry about being appropriately gendered or expressing/enacting their sexuality in the ‘right’ ways.

Literally everyone worries about becoming boring when they get old, and what boring in this context means besides “doesn’t like loud concerts or staying out late” or “less enthusiastic about binge drinking” I haven’t figured out yet.

Vintage car-owners have their own specific concerns about how they appear to other vintage car-owners and ways that they engage socially and attempt to impress or show one another up. Because I am not a vintage car-owner I cannot tell you much about what those nuances are, but they absolutely exist.

Folks Are Afraid of Being Left Behind

Many of our fears are based in the reality that people organize relationships around convenience, affinity, and identity. If we don’t measure up, our sense of social scarcity gets activated, and we try really hard to keep up, or try really hard to stay in the particular groove that maintained the original relationship before it was worn down by time and change.

 

Our concern that people will think we are uncool is a pretty generalizable concern. But what is considered uncool changes rapidly over time and is subject to pretty specific community concerns.

If any of you have read “Dykes to Watch Out For” there’s a specific comic I’m thinking of when two characters (Mo and Harriet) are hooking up for the first time, and Harriet worries-“ Oh no! I’m wearing a bra! I hope she doesn’t think I’m uncool!”

Because friends, amongst lesbians in the 80s, it was de rigeur to not wear bras, because an androgynous aesthetic was popular, and bras were interpreted as cages of patriarchy, I guess?

But since Harriet is a person with large breasts, (which are best aided with some means of lifting or supporting) she wound up fretting that her hook-up buddy would think she was uncool for wearing a bra.

Is this reasonable? No.

But have we had our own version of worrying that people would think we were uncool for some similarly deeply contextual, superficial reason? You bet.

Your Anxiety Is Not Giving You Good Information About What Other People Think of You

We are in a moment of deep misinformation and fear and we do not have good information about the world around us.  Probably your anxiety is ratcheted way up, because you are bipedal human who goes on the internet sometimes.

Your capacity to consistently interpret other’s behavior does not exist in isolation from the other generalized stress we are experiencing. This is something people regularly tussle with, but it is worse lately.

 

It’s okay to feel that deep maw of fear, grief, social anxiety and insecurity. It’s understandable that your shoulders are up around your ears and that your overworked sense of panic extends to whether or not people dislike you.

Consider that the story where nobody likes you is a story that you are telling yourself. If you need help untangling that story, give me a call. (in December 2017! I’m still on leave, but I’ll see y’all soon.)

 

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Feelings Are Contagious

Dear leaf-peepers and wellie-footed outdoorspeople and cozy indoor-dwellers,

SASQUATCH ONLY HAVE EMOTIONAL CONTAGION WITH FOREST

Welcome back! It’s the rainy season again (though the stunning skies of a brisk autumn day are not to be undersold, but we are steadily headed into months of gray and low-light times.)

You all will be spending a BUNCH more time indoors and in closer quarters with whomever you spend most of your time with. While most folks are familiar with the term “cabin fever,” we often don’t talk about emotional contagion.

Emotional Contagion Is Very Very Common

I guarantee you have already experiencing emotional contagion. It’s not intrinsically abusive (though insisting that other people respond to your moods like the weather definitely can be). It’s often a matter of an undetected or unchecked emotional response someone is having that activates other people.

One example of emotional contagion is the way in which if your partner or roommate comes home in a grouchy mood, and they just grouch all over everything, until whatever headspace you were in gets spread around, and you wind up in a similar grouchy mood.

Anxiety/depression/negativity don’t necessarily have to be contagious, but often if we are unconscious about the impact we have upon others our state can provoke a similar state in others.

There are certainly aspects of depression/anxiety/other things that render a person less insightful than otherwise, but experiencing those things does not inherently make a person emotionally contagious or toxic.

Emotional Contagion Can Be Neutral But Often Isn’t

While sometimes emotional contagion can be neutral- I sometimes give in to fits of giggles that other people catch, also if you are comfortably “meh” and pass it on to a neighbor, nobody usually loses. However, there are other kinds of emotional contagion that have harsher mental health impacts on the people around them.

Complaining as a form of bonding is a time-honored tradition among curmudgeons everywhere. It stands to bear in mind however, there is a space between good-natured shit-talking and externalizing your anxiety in order to find fellow sufferers to join you in the whirlpool of misery.

Some highly contagious states of emotion these days include:

existential despair (lots of that going around these days),

social anxiety (will they like me!!!!!!)

unproductive perfectionism (often about specific things, like if one well-meaning white person sits next to another well-meaning white person worries out loud about if they’re doing enough right now)

The opportunity is closing (did I do the thing on time!!!!!)

How will we survive the apocalypse (should we buy water, or should I just ignore my panic and watch Netflix until I feel nothing?)

 

Did that list catch something under your radar and get your anxiety moving? Here’s a good opportunity to practice what we’re talking about today.

How To Manage Your Own Emotional Overwhelm

If you find yourself overstimulated by a certain kind of content or information, give it some space. Whether it’s the news, or a friend, or a certain task, give it some space. (between 15 minutes and 24 hours, depending on the thing)  While you’re doing that, you’re not avoiding- you’re just giving yourself a little bit of distance.

When you notice your brain floating back to the thing you found overwhelming, take a minute and notice what’s happening in your body.

What tenses up? Where do you feel gripped by a feeling? Is there a story coming up for you about “people don’t like me” or “nothing I do matters” or “the world is a terrible place”?

 

Now in that moment (or right now, if you’re still thinking about nuclear fallout), take a few deep breaths. Let’s say between 3 and 7. While you’re doing that, focus on the expansion of your lungs, and ribs, and belly.

 

The story about what is wrong with you is just a story. You can do better in the world if you can get yourself centered. You will do a better job of dealing with the overwhelming thing once you feel a little more settled.

 

How’s that?

 

The idea of this entire exercise is that managing one’s own emotional contagion is ultimately a personal responsibility.

This is different than never having feelings in public, and never sharing your intimate thoughts with anyone else- but it is about being aware of how your presence in the world impacts other people.

 

That does not mean that your feelings are dangerous, but it may mean that either

a) your feelings need a soft place to land

b) you feel some pretty big feelings that want some care and merit some containment

c) you may or may not be getting the reception that you want.

 

People will certainly sometimes make their feelings hypervisible as a way of seeking visibility, and for plenty of people, this is a very legitimate choice. If you have access to a lot of visibility or social capital, then your externalization will have a very different impact than other folks.

 

If you are finding yourself in need of a place to externalize your feelings, therapy is a really good place to do that. Fire me off an email if you want to connect around that. (I’m on leave until December! But if you can muddle along until then, we’ll make some magic happen.)

Sasquatch provided by gratisography.

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Field Trips for Depressed Folks

Hi friends,

 

It may officially be fall! Maybe!

SUMMER ISN’T OVER YET HOW DARE YOU

And while there have been lots of lovely days in Seattle, (a brisk sunny 65 degree day with a light breeze is my particular favorite, but I am also from this weird chilly place) the season of rain appears to be upon us. For some folks, this justifies a descent into gourds, old-book smell, and knitwear. For many other folks, the last few rainy days they’ve taken on a forward-slump and a turning-inward that doesn’t feel good.

 

 

For many of you, edging toward depression in the colder months in an inevitability. While many folks become more interior and insular during these months, this does not always resolve in coziness or an enthusiasm for serialized streaming television.

 

Depression is tough, because there can become a tight loop of knowing what you might do that would make you feel better, but then shaming yourself for not doing it. Low energy and low motivation are an inherent aspect of depression, as well as not enjoying the things you used to enjoy as much.

 

Often folks with depression wind up stymied in rituals of maybe-this-will-work, going to yoga classes, therapy, buying themselves journals and fancy coloring books and taking classes in woodworking.

 

Sometimes these things work! Sometimes you try, and you have a really boring or awkward time! Sometimes you hate it!

 

This list is intended to offer some perhaps unconsidered options for folks entertaining some depression now or in the future, because when you’re depressed, what can be helpful is to:

a) Have a plan, and feel purposeful and directed (something many folks do not feel, while depressed).

b) Engage in the practice of going out in the world, and all of the requisite habits a person may utilize for this task, like brushing their teeth and putting on shoes,

c) Follow through on the plan.

d) Perhaps experience something interesting or enjoyable while out in the world.

 

So, here are some places you might go or things you might try if nothing else sounds interesting. Some of these are very sensory-based, because depression begins in your body, and often if your body feels different, sometimes you will also feel different.

The Butterfly House at the Science Center

 

This one is a mood shifter because it is bright, warm, and a little humid. It’s pretty and often fairly quiet. There are plants everywhere, it’s often not super-crowded (school trips don’t tend to start till later on in the year, often not after breaks), and if a butterfly lands on you, you can take it personally that that butterfly definitely favors you. Who indeed, does not want to be friends with a butterfly.

 

Bookstores, Libraries, and Book Readings

 

I know this is annoyingly typical of cold weather recommendations, but hear me out- these are also quiet, climate controlled, and it is fairly easy to spend a chunk of time here without anyone worrying about what you’re doing. Plus, old book smell is apparently a thing people are enthusiastic about, you might be one of those people.

 

If you have any desire to be around other people, readings are a time-bound opportunity to sit in a room with folks with a shared purpose with low expectations of interaction, and they are usually free.

 

Aquariums and Fish Stores

 

This is another environmental one-fish stores in particular are often mostly pretty dark with indirect lighting, are typically warm, and have the low hum of motors in many of the rooms. It’s a pretty low-stimuli environment, which can be nice for lots of depressed folks.

 

Aquariums are also nice (and often lack that smell of fish store) but tend to be large, bright, and dense with people, which can be okay for some folks, but you may also find overwhelming.

 

Small Museums

 

The two recommendations I have for this are the Frye Museum (free) and the Wing Luke Art Museum, particularly the upstairs galleries (not free, but great). It’s a good place to wander around and stare at things until you notice yourself having a feeling. Congratulations! You felt something other than numb! This is big news.

 

Also, most museums are far too big for people to visually absorb what they have going on, and frankly I think an assault on the senses is not an ideal field trip for most depressed folks. Plus, if you pay the cover and then see half the exhibits, some folks feel like they’ve wasted money, and they walk all over the museum staring half-lidded at all the exhibits, and don’t really enjoy it. Why bother?

 

All of these are some loose ideas based on some light crowd-sourcing I did- but consider for yourself when considering your own depressed field trips-

What feels like sufficient motivation to leave the house?

Would you rather go by yourself or meet someone?

What steps to getting there (transportation, how your body feels that day, how your gender feels in public, etc) will be helpful or disruptive?

What kinds of environments feel coziest or safest to you right now?

 

Take good care of yourself! I’m on leave right now but I’ll be back in early December (2017) and then feel free to give me a call and have therapy be one of your depression field trips.

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Nature is A Social Construct

Dear organic sea-sponges and other brethren creatures of the salty aquatics,

 

That’s a weird fish, amirite? One might even call it unnatural? Even though it, by every definition, lives in nature?

 

We have arrived on this fine day to discuss the use of “natural” as a term that has become bloated and indistinguishable due to overuse. Let’s discuss.

Language is Inaccurate

Our language quickly becomes shorthand, and most folks who inquire about the “kosher”-ness of a situation are not actually curious if the circumstances have been overseen by a rabbi. Probably they mean “is this acceptable to all parties” and not “has this been written   into Jewish law.”

 

While this misuse of language can range from inaccurate to annoying to feeling harmful, we are generally casual with language in a way that will preclude that somebody will get their feelings hurt. That said, people’s feelings matter, and if nobody insinuates that we should do better, we will never do any better.

Stop Using Nature to Justify Your Hang-ups

 

Due to a variety of cultural factors, it’s very popular right now to engage with things that are “natural.” While it is fine to want to wear cotton rather than polyester and attempt to find affordable organic produce, we are often not talking about produce or non-synthetic fibers.

 

When we refer to “natural” reproduction, for the most part, we are talking about heterosexual intercourse.

 

When we talk about meeting someone to date “naturally” we are talking about meeting through friends or pre-existing social networks, rather than utilizing the internet to locate people of our particular affinity group or activity preferences.

 

When we talk about the “natural order of things” most people are referring to gendered dynamics that fall hard on the side of normalizing abuse, or at the very least maintaining a status quo that does not ruffle anyone’s feathers.

 

When we talk about “looking natural” we are referring to someone appearing effortlessly beautiful, which allows us to imagine that the labor that goes into aesthetics is superficial and meaningless.

 

If we talk about appearing “natural” it means someone possesses confidence in things they are unfamiliar with, or we are willing to presume their competence at something. If you have ever known a woman working in STEM, you will know that has more to do with the audience than her actual capacity.

 

We talk about marriage as a phenomenon as being natural or unnatural, but please avail yourself of Marriage:A History and you may find that it, like everything else on this list, is socially constructed.

 

You Aren’t A Biologist, Probably

 

Nature is pretty weird, does unexpected things. I know that therapists are obsessed with using metaphors of streams, walks in the woods, and sometimes the ebb and flow of waves to describe people’s emotional wellbeing.

But once we step away from nature as an objectified metaphor, we can in fact come into the understanding that it does all kinds of weird things that you weren’t expecting. Evolution will occasionally get drunk and blindfold itself and trip over things just to see what happens, and then we wind up with dayglo fish and flat frogs and watermelons that can be convinced to be square.

 

Nature is a weird beast. Do not cast your eyes upon these bizarre-looking up snakes and fish and tell me that God only wants you to have one sexual partner in your entire lifetime. Those are bounds of logic that do not need to be leapt.

Most Things Are Social Constructs

Nothing is natural, and the use of the term ‘natural’ is inexact and unhelpful. We can describe things as being comfortable for us, or being produced literally without pesticides, or conforming to our expectations, but nothing is actually natural.

 

If you have been told one too many times that you are an unnatural creature and you would like to hang out in my Den of Unnatural Anomalies which is also my office, we can do that.

 

Weird fish brought to you by WTF, Evolution?!

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You Get To Be Mad At Your Parents

Hi sweetpeas,

It’s been a rough, smokey week, huh?

I IDENTIFY WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE.

Today we’re here to talk about a subject in which I’ve noticed plenty of folks making things rougher on themselves, and wanted to speak to those folks.

 

Many adults I know both as a friend, acquaintance, colleague, or client who struggles with their parents will at some point say, “My parents never hit me!”. To these folks, the burden of proving their experience of harm or difficulty in their parental relationships will struggle with what we define as “actually” abusive.

This means, that many people who have experienced harm or abusive things within their families of origin may feel unjustified in articulating their dissatisfaction or hurt feelings. Often their hesitance to disclose is reinforced by an invalidating environment or relationships. “My parents never hit me” may become their rationale for years for not naming boundaries, setting limits on their time and tolerance, or sticking up for themselves.

Identifying With Your Parents is A Survival Strategy

Human beings are hardwired to try to connect with one another. Small humans rely upon larger humans for care and will go to great lengths to stay safe. In this case, safety often means doing whatever you can to remain in the company and good graces of larger humans.

 

Also,  I understand that everybody is constantly giving parents, especially mothers shit for not giving birth to infants that know calculus. Trust that we are not speaking to you personally about the parenting you are doing right now. We are speaking specifically about the legacy of hard feelings that you have attempted to avoid in order to protect your parent’s feelings.

 

Holding the Contradictions of Your Emotional Legacy

You can simultaneously acknowledge that:

a) your parents did the best they could and

b) there were things you missed out on that you wished that they had given you.

 

You can be grateful and also set boundaries.

 

You can acknowledge that your parents went to great lengths for you and in the same breath articulate a desire for a different, or greater degree of acknowledgement or validation or emotional engagement.

 

The fact that your parents were exhausted did not mean you wanted too much. It’s easy for parents to project their feelings of guilt onto their children for not being able to be more present/have more resources. That projection of guilt does not make your family situation, or their feelings of guilt any of that your fault.

You Get To Own Your Story

You are allowed to want what you want and also understand that maybe they did the best they could, and maybe they didn’t.

 

It is very painful to acknowledge that your childhood was not everything that you wished it could’ve been.

 

Most families have a story about their own exceptionalism, and your family may very well be exceptional, and that does not mean that they are imperfect.

 

Not everything is either/or.

You Get To Be Mad

Being angry with your parents is not a betrayal. You do not have to constantly make good on whatever they offered you. Certainly it is a tremendous gift and a worthy cause, but you are also intrinsically deserving of care. When you are small, you are entitled to be cared for. The fact that many children are neglected or harmed does not change this entitlement- it merely illuminates a failure and travesty that many children endure, and many adults endure in memory.

 

Anger is an emotion that can be harmful and destructive, but you are also entitled to experience emotions. Disappointment is something that is a natural response to your hopes being let down. Grief is an emotion, not a betrayal.  As an adult, you have choices how you respond to these feelings, but your experiencing them does not disrespect or eradicate the impact of your emotional labor within these relationships.

When you are an adult, your experience of parental relationships will shift over time, and you get to have your own differentiated experiences of these relationships and interpretation of events.

If you want some time to air your feelings about your parental relationships and not be told you’re overly sensitive, give me a call.

 

Photo from gratisography.

 

 

 

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Eat Some Late-Summer Produce and Listen to a Podcast

Hello, beauties,

SUMMER ISN’T OVER YET HOW DARE YOU

We have these once-in-a-while podcast recommendation blog posts, because I honestly like telling you about the things I like (Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company ice cream bars, books on queer or occult history, and the knitwear designer Stephen West’s instagram feed.)

 

The central theme of this podcast reel remains feminist by name or in spirit. Please enjoy, and have some late-summer produce to accompany your listening time.

Peach Plum Pear Podcast

No Sports Trivia

This is the humor runoff of a trivia game from San Francisco hosted by two folks (Ken McBenzie and Ben McKenzie, I think) who wear a bear and dinosaur mask respectively. They are charmingly queer, feminist, and sex-positive, and host regular guests who most frequently provide concrete instructions in how to be a person. They are brief, rapid-fire, and social justice-minded without often being super heavy.

 

Dear Prudence Podcast

 

Do you, like me, love and miss The Toast? Have you been stalking Mallory Ortberg’s instagram, but mostly have found her aspiration to be an Instagram model not the same thing as her quick wit and steely common sense? She is currently Dear Prudence at the Slate, and you can listen to the edited version of the podcast for free.

She has on her friends and family members as guests, but the upshot of queer, sex-positive, feminist, practical advice columnists is that you get the benefit of really solid advice from a middle-of-the-road publishing platform. No trips to the obscure newsstand for you, you get everything you need right here on the pod-catcher of your choice.

 

Levar Burton Reads

 

Did you grow up watching Reading Rainbow? Would you be charmed to learn that Levar Burton is maybe-not-so-secretly has some very progressive values around gender and race? Listen to him read short stories- he often favors sci fi and fantasy- and you may very likely have a total-body experience of relaxing while you listen to the low, dulcet tones of his radio voice. You won’t be sorry, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

 

The League of Awkward Unicorns

 

This is one I haven’t listened to TONS but it’s Deanna Zandt and Alice Bradley and they talk a great deal about their experiences of mental health.  They have rad progressive values, and many  interesting guests. This is probably a good one for somebody seeking some visibility of cool people with mental health issues, because if you’re new to self-identifying as having a mental health issue, it can help to see similar folks striving and thriving.

 

That’s all for this week! Settle in for the end of Mercury in Retrograde, maybe do a little something to unfuck your habitat if you can get around to it. Make some plans to go walk around a corn maze or go for a hike if you get autumn FOMO. Or just buy yourself some fancy pens on sale, because you get back-to-school season nostalgia. Be nice to yourself!

 

If you need the closest thing to an in-person advice columnist who is not really at all like Dear Prudence, give me a call.

 

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Not All Of Us Are Friend-Monogamous

Hello there, friends of various degrees!

Today we’re here to talk about valuing the further-out intimacies in your life.

Zucchini duck is glad for the two times of year you see each other but is comfortable with current level of closeness in your relationship.

There is a particularly popular trend these days toward insularity. We’re centering our attention on a few significant people in your life. This lands on being really centered on the human that is your best friend.

This can create a pressure to find or cultivate or identify a best friend, if one does not appear organically. If one does appear- great! This relationship will take communication and reflection as much as any other significant emotional relationship.

If one doesn’t, these can leave folks feeling like the last kid picked for kickball. It feels like everybody is best-friend paired off with their inside jokes and matching sweatshirts. There’s a particular kind of loneliness, observing the uneven intimacy that exists in the world, and perpetually feeling on the outside of it.

Not Everybody Needs to Be Best Friends

It’s also simply true that people have uneven intimacies. We are more and less close with different people at different times. The ebb and flow of friendships is a pretty innate aspect of the human experience.

Sometimes, however, when we focus really intensely on a central relationship, it can eclipse many other things. There can become this pose of actively not caring about people we aren’t very close with.

This can become tricky! While we don’t need to feign affection for people we’re not interested in, aggressively not caring about people usually doesn’t bode well for the world at large.

We don’t have to impose intimacy onto relationships where it hasn’t developed. But, we can also have a generalized concern for other people! This is where community care comes in. Community care is an effort with a very broad scope.

 

There are many layers of connection, and people don’t have to be your best friend or share all of your values to be helpful. We are multifaceted, needy creatures, and we need things from more than just one or two people in our lives.

Zucchinis need a lot of room to grow, and you will as well over your lifetime.

Sometimes in the pursuit of privacy and boundaries, we neglect to show up as a person in community. Being a person in community doesn’t necessarily mean giving money to every person who runs a gofundme, or walking dogs for every sick person ever. But it may mean having an openness to that, or stretching yourself to participate.

 

None of this is a moratorium on people who do the majority of the community care and emotional labor. This is an invitation for folks who habitually withdraw and disengage to consider what it would be like to turn their focus outward more frequently.

More Connection Ideally Means More Sharing of Resources

The purpose of exercise is to experience a breadth of intimacy, and increase the range of access to resources everybody has! Also, the upshot of these casual relationships is that they don’t necessarily require the anticipated upkeep of other kinds of relationships.

 

What I mean by all this is: It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask somebody to teach you to knit, to show you how to use a drill, to pick your neighbor’s extra plums when you are invited to do so, to share what you have when you have extra, and to accept other people’s excess.

 

Also please bear in mind; none of this is intended to nag you into a community involvement you don’t want to participate in. But sometimes, feeling that connection to other folks can ease some sense of scarcity, even if the way that connection and abundance shows up is in your neighbor’s superfluous zucchini. You deserve all the zucchini and connection you want.

I have no zucchini but if you need to connect and talk about how you feel like you show up in community, give me a call.

Images sourced from here and here.

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The Internet Is Real

Hi sweet peas,

 

What a week, huh? I hope you’re someplace cozy to sit and have something nice to drink, or at least a plan for when that’ll happen next. Today we’re going to talk about how our feelings interact with the internet, and the ambivalence a lot of folks feel about that.

 

Something that happens frequently in therapy is that folks talk about their interactions with other people or content on social media. This isn’t surprising to me, because so many relational things happen on social media. However what often also happens is that folks quickly scuttle their feelings by muttering something like “I can’t believe I’m talking about Facebook in therapy.”

When nobody on the internet agrees with you about anything, including bear slippers.

I am here today to tell you friends, that the most people do this. The feelings you have on the internet are real feelings, and as valid as feelings you have in other places.

The Internet Is New

The internet is a phenomenon that has shaped history and culture in dramatic ways for, let’s say generously, 30 years.

While for a very long time the internet was the purview of social fringes- many weirdo-type folks found themselves at young ages on the internet (and found a lot of other things as well, probably), it has since moved into the center.

We have a deeply immoderate relationship to the internet in general. There are so many interesting and expansive things present on the internet, but it also gathers a thick crust of the lowest common denominators.

 

The Internet is Real

 

The internet intersects with how most of us gather information, meet dates, seek like-minded individuals out, and acquire goods and services. None of this is news to you. It is integral to how many of us operate in the world, and while op-eds may want to argue about how terrible of a thing this is, we nonetheless find ourselves here, very frequently on the internet.

 

We do a lot of our socializing over the internet. Folks that post on our walls for our birthdays are not any less sincere than the person who says it in person. We have no way of knowing which person has summoned up an innate feeling of enthusiasm for the day upon which you were born.

However, we approach our social interactions on the internet as entirely more circumspect- as meaning a great deal more or less than we might assume in person.

The Internet Is Always On, And We Are Supposed to Also Always Be On

We also have increased expectations of availability and presence in these online spaces. If people don’t text us back, we have evidence of how long it has been since we last made contact.

Many people assume this has something to do with themselves- how much people do/don’t like them, are they in a fight, etc. This may be true, but it as likely that the non-texters are wrapped up in their own lives, not thinking about you. (which may be a painful truth to acknowledge!)

People Use the Internet in Different Ways

We are all operating with different expectations of other people. There are as many unspoken social norms on the internet as there are off the internet. Some people perceive a failure to respond to a comment as a grave slight and a direct hit, where others assume this is a sign of flakiness/business/distractibility.

 

It is impossible to know the causes and motivations of other humans, but when we have receipts for the minutiae of our interactions, it gives us the opportunity to analyze them after the fact. This can often be a strategy folks working through anxiety or seeking a particular sort of evidence will utilize.

Feelings Happen On the Internet

We take the interactions we have in all human relationships- projection, hope, rumination, etc- and channel it through our online interactions.

Our feelings don’t always necessarily give us good information about other people’s intentions, but they are good information about where you’re at and how you perceive these relationships.

 

Here’s a way to think about it: if you feel excluded because people hung out without you, it’s okay that you felt excluded! If you feel hurt that you can see pictures of your ex with a new girlfriend, it’s fine that you feel hurt and angry!

 

There is a separate conversation about internet boundaries that we will have one day; suffice to say, it is always acceptable to block/unfriend/unfollow. Sometimes it can be helpful to examine how reactive this choice is, but you’re always entitled to do so.

 

Your feelings get to matter. It can be helpful to notice and attend to those feelings (in therapy, or with a friend) before you decide how to strategize around these things. Some folks proactively post pictures whenever they do fun things, other folks get good at making a lot of plans and only looking at social media when they aren’t already feeling bored and lonely.

 

We often look at social media when we are already feeling bored and slightly out of sorts hoping to be encouraged or distracted; this typically increases whatever feelings we were carrying around beforehand.

 

Because of the stigma the internet has historically carried, we have an attraction/revulsion relationship to it. With this push/pull dynamic, we aren’t able to interact with it as a value-neutral thing.

Sometimes Other People Are Clumsy With Our Feelings On The Internet

All this is to say; the fact that we have a screwed up relationship to the internet does not make it fake. The emotional experiences you go through on the internet are real, as anyone who has ever been a teenager with an online crush/date/girlfriend will tell you, or any person who is unfriended as a result of a fight with a friend online that felt like an indictment of the entire friendship. Anyone who has asked for help on social media to have people respond with,” Hearts!!!!!!” but no one has actually shown up to do the thing that needed doing knows.

The way we interact online impacts how we think about each other and how we think about our relationships. As I mentioned, we have a greater expectation of our relationships as a result of these increased online presence- and some folks are better stewards of this presence than others.

 

Your personal habits and expectations of others notwithstanding, the internet is in fact basically integral to many of your relationships if you participate in social media at all. It is where relationships and social capital are brokered even if you fail to participate. All that is to say, it’s fine if it brings up hard feelings for you. How could it not- it is a very real aspect of your social and familial relationships.

 

If you have a hard time acknowledging the validity of your feelings on the internet or off, give me a call.

 

Pics from gratisography

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Other People Are Not Adulting At You

Hello, fair denizens of the internet,

 

This week we’re here to talk about people trying to get their life together, and the many responses we each may have to it.

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE OKAY

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE OKAY

So let’s frame this: as time goes by, often with age and reflection, we get more information about what kind of a person we are. This means we change over time! This is why “phases” are necessary, even though folks can be so condescending about them.

 

As time goes by, we develop different ideas of what kind of a person we are. Perusing the internet recently, I realized that 4 years ago I was somebody that wore cowboy boots most of the time. They’re still cute, but it’s not as much my thing as it used to be- we all get to contain multitudes.

 

As we develop different ideas of the kind of person we are, we often develop a concrete story about what we do, what our priorities are, and where we are headed. This is where adulting comes in.

 

Adulting Looks Different from the Inside and Outside

Adulting can be broadly defined as executing life admin, (laundry, bills, etc) and developing expertise in various life areas to increase efficiency and competence. This can include: small home repairs, personal finance, developing emotional intelligence, career development, etc.

 

When observing from the outside, we often fixate on the visual cues of adulting rather than the internal work people may or may not be doing. This may include: buying a house, having kids, getting married, and other assorted items that are often culturally endorsed in a broad sense as the “right” thing to do.

 

The trouble is, we can’t necessarily tell when folks are doing any of these things because they feel a genuine impulse or responsibility towards these tasks, or if they are doing them out of a sense of duty or “that’s just what’s done.”

 

Just Because You Bought a House Doesn’t Mean You Have Good Boundaries

 

It’s unfortunate, because we are assessed on our external and material developments, and that may or may not give information about what’s going on for us internally.

 

Buying a house and remembering to stay hydrated throughout the day can both be significant developments, but they are assessed very differently by our peers. Both of these are adulting.

 

It’s also tough, because in the face of things like house-buying and baby-having, folks may respond to this news with a swell of shame, because they themselves are not doing those “right” things. This creates this false binary of adults doing the “right” things, and everybody else.

 

It’s not reasonable to frame all folks who live with roommates and have less professional jobs as carefree spirits living with reckless abandon and perpetually in a state of passion or intoxication. As a parallel, framing people doing more conventional adulting as tedious, beige and suburban is not reasonable or accurate.

When some folks do things like create a budget, they can develop a paralyzing worry that suddenly they are trapped in a suburban housing development with wall-to-wall beige carpeting and a husband they resent. Their worry about social pressure to conform overwhelms any potential helpful changes they might be ready for.

 

Your Choices Obviously Matter

 

We can certainly tell some things by the external structure of someone’s life: whether they have roommates, live in the suburbs, how they get around the city, do they go to therapy- but they don’t tend to give us a lot of information about what kind of a person they actually are.

 

Buying a house doesn’t mean somebody is financially solvent or evolved as a human. It also doesn’t mean people who make strategic financial choices in order to do so are materialistic and invested in nuclear-family values.

All joy has fled, there are no more tubas, only the dullness of responsibility.

All joy has fled, there are no more tubas, only the dullness of responsibility.

 

Most of Your Choices are Actually Value-Neutral, But The World Is Not

 

Most of your choices are actually value-neutral, and it’s not really anybody’s business if you want to have no partners or three, or no kids, or five. But we don’t live in a value-neutral world, our choices are shaped by economics and extensive other circumstances.

 

People can be living lives they don’t like on either side of the coin. What’s important to check in about in all these options are figuring out:

 

Are my choices consistent with my values?

Am I making these choices out of social pressure?

Am I avoiding certain things because change feels scary?

Can I develop a sense of myself in a different context?

Who am I afraid will judge me or leave me if I change?

 

Give me a call if you’re figuring out this adulting thing. We can piece out what parts you can let go of, hold on to, and grow toward. There doesn’t need to be shame for living in whatever your truth is.

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Invalidation vs Gaslighting

 

Hello there, friends!

 

I apologize for the brief interlude, it is summertime and I have been fuzzy-headed and not had brainspan for much besides reading terrible romance novels and staring into middle distance.

Wasn't joking.

Wasn’t joking.

Today we’re here to talk about a nuance of emotional abuse that some folks get confused about, because most folks have a limited amount of words with which to talk about these things.

This is a conversation about definitions, and one of those semantical pieces of “all rectangles are squares, but not all squares are rectangles.” You with me? Great!

 

We’re here today to define the difference between gaslighting and invalidation. Both are harmful, both are abusive, but they’re not the same thing.

 

Gaslighting has gotten a little more airtime in the recent past, so I’ll begin by defining invalidation, or creating an “invalidating environment.”

Compare/Contrast

Invalidation is chiefly the practice that other people engage in that is based in fundamentally disagreeing with someone. This may begin with simply disagreeing with a person’s stated feelings or needs, or denial that they exist at all.

 

Gaslighting goes one step further, by attempting to convince a person that they do not in fact feel that way.

 

Invalidation can sometimes be framed as a positive, along the lines of “You don’t really mean that!” when someone expresses a mean-spirited thought, or “Cheer up! It’s not that bad!” when people (often as children) are upset by things out of their control. (which is often)

 

Gaslighting is often a more deliberate manipulation- whether through active manipulation of the environment, denying that they said or did certain things that they absolutely have done.

 

Invalidation says, “You’re overreacting!” and gaslighting says, “I didn’t do that!”

 

Invalidation allows for a slender thread of accountability or acknowledgement while trying to tell you otherwise, while gaslighting wholesale wants to shut down any difference of opinion.

Knowing the Difference Makes a Difference

While neither feel good, it may be helpful to parse out the difference between gaslighting and invalidation. Articulating the difference between behavior that feels bad vs behavior that is abusive gives you good information about yourself!

 

When we don’t have good information about what feels bad to us, (vs what is explicitly abusive) we respond to all negative emotions or interactions in the same way. Given that trauma often has the impact of smashing people’s capacity for discernment, this is understandable.

 

However, in your particular trajectory of healing, the more specific information you get about yourself, the more capacity you will have to engineer something different in the future. A different future might look like more boundaries in invalidating relationships, or seeking out new ones entirely that have more spacious room for your needs and feelings.

In either case, certainly you deserve better than outright gaslighting or well-meaning invalidation. There is room for all of you. Give me a call if you need help believing that.

 

Queer of La Vista may be found here.

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