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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When Your Parents Are Against Therapy

It’s a season of lots of weddings and next to the holidays, people are often seeing more family than usual. I hear from a lot of clients is that their parents have some very reactive responses to hearing about:

 

WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ABOUT ME

WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ABOUT ME

  1.  why they are in therapy
  2. what they talk about in therapy
  3. fears about what the therapist is saying about them, as a parent.

 

 

 

People Don’t Really Get What the Point of Therapy Is

People who don’t spend a lot of time in therapy often fundamentally misunderstand what therapy is for.  This includes my relatives, so I have recently had conversations with people I am related to about:

  1. What is anxiety anyway? (All humans have experienced this, but let me explain.)
  2. Is everyone who sees you just sad and mentally disturbed? (No? What a strange question.)
  3. Does your work make you super sad? (Sometimes, mostly I really enjoy what I get to do.)
  4. Why would somebody go to therapy, anyway? (The human experience, mostly.)
  5. Do you mostly only talk to gay people all day long? (Ha! Some days yes, other days no.)

 

 

I can’t answer questions for every irate relative who thinks that cognitive behavioral therapy is a scheme to steal your money and blame your parents.

However, this is a primer to offer some potential responses for bewildered relatives who want to talk to you about your personal business. (your relationship, your therapist, your skin care regime, when you’re going to have kids, all that stuff that is actually none of their business)

 

What is the point of therapy?

Having a person who doesn’t exist in the context of any part of your life whose sole purpose in their relationship to you is helping you out and being on your team is something most people could use.

Some folks need help processing old patterns, want to feel heard around things people couldn’t bear to listen to, or they need somebody to believe them.

Some people need to be validated because their heart is still broken.

Other people need to hear what happened to them was not their fault and was not okay.

Often, people need to be reminded to take care of themselves.

There are lots of reasons to be in therapy!

Therapists blame everything on the parents.

 

Most people inherit traits and narratives from their parents. If a person grows up and their story differs significantly from their family story, they often spend some time reconciling those two things. If you, as their parent, have no space to hear them, they will talk to a third party, often friends or a therapist.

 

Individuation and differentiation is a really normal developmental aspect of adulthood. Even if you did everything they could, there will be gaps in the ways that you try to love your kid. They will have to reconcile those things on their own.

 

 

Regardless, many young folks go to therapy to make sense of their young life and their family of origin, and the broader world that they are finding out is really different than whatever their natal backstory provided.

Many of us need language and reflection to understand our experiences, and if we don’t get it from familial relationships or friendships, therapy is not an unusual place to seek that out!

Therapists just want to take your money!

 

There is an interesting tension around the cost of therapy, because it is effectively emotional labor, and something that we are not accustomed to valuing in a financial way. It is often expensive, but many therapists are doing what they can to make it affordable via sliding scale payments and accepting insurance payments. We care about you, and we also need to pay our rent. Those are not mutually exclusive.

 

Just talk to your friends!

 

Have you ever had a friend listen to you talk for as long as you wanted without telling you what to do, directing the conversation back to whether or not we were going to get nachos, and validate your feelings without encouraging you to steal your ex’s tires?

Dog is a magic friend but other than dog I don't have magic friends.

Dog is a magic friend but other than dog I don’t have magic friends.

If you did, lucky you, you have a magic friend. Many of us have a couple of magic friends, but magic friends go to work and have to do their dishes and are not always in the mood for our shit.

Therapists are on the clock to hear about your stuff and be magic in that particular way for the duration of your time together.

 

It seems self-indulgent.

 

Certainly the time and resources can make going to therapy prohibitive for some folks. That said, spending the time and resources to invest in your particular thoughts and feelings can be leveraged in such a way that it can simplify many other aspects of your life.

 

Meaning, a therapist cannot make you stop wanting to date emotionally unavailable people, and cannot make the floppy-haired queermo of your dreams skateboard into your life.

But, a therapist can remind you the next time you are wrung out over somebody who won’t text you back, “Remember that thing we talked about anxious attachment?” and “Their failure to text you back in a reasonable time frame means nothing about how much you deserve love! You deserve all the love! And also we can’t make them better at texting! So what are we going to do for you, right now?”

Therapists Are Not the Enemy of Parents

There are lots of things that make therapy worthwhile, and your parents might not get it.

You can tell your therapist about it, and we can trace some of the reasons why that might be. (intergenerational trauma, cultural relationship to the idea of mental health issues, a pervasive habit of minimizing your feelings- could be lots of things!)

 

Regardless, therapists are not the enemy of parents, and people spend so much time in therapy talking about their parents because they’re such enormous relationships that take up so much emotional and imaginative space.

We spend a lot of time sorting out the enormity of these relationships, and it can feel crushing to have those efforts belittled, so please be kind when taking offense to people’s efforts in therapy.

 

If you need help justifying or sorting out your complicated relationship to your parents, give me a call.

 

Images from gratisography.

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Pizza Toxic Masculinity Dad Issues

Hello little sluggers and barbeque-ers,

My butch side is my left side, I told you.

My butch side is my left side, I told you.

We are at a moment in the year when everyone is preoccupied with the fathers in their lives, or lack thereof. Thusly we are encouraged to buy ties, and plant pizza herb gardens, (oregano and basil I guess?) and hang out with our dads.

The cultural story about fathers is complicated, because our relationship with masculinity is complicated. (and also maybe your dad is not that great?)

 

Masculinity has a tough time because the way we engage with it culturally is literally the worst. The embodiment and presence of masculinity does not have to be intrinsically toxic or dehumanizing, but you wouldn’t guess that based on the way we talk about it.

 

Engaging in masculinity without conscious awareness and resistance to the cultural undertow leads to an inevitable participation in the dehumanizing and toxic pas de deux.

Patriarchy Ruins Everything

Let’s also be clear- it’s dehumanizing for everybody- both the folks getting steamrolled by toxic masculinity as well as the folks embodying it. The cost is often higher for folks surviving under the impacts of toxic masculinity. It’s a little more complicated to tease out the variety of influences and interactions that shape toxic masculinity than it is to specify acts of violence and consent violation that are the result of toxic masculinity.

 

However, when we fail to examine the inner lives of masculine folks, we re-enact the same dynamics of toxic masculinity that reduce their capacity for change. Many folks embodying toxic masculinity lose out on much of the breadth of connection, feeling, and humanity that we’re all capable of.

 

Biology is Real but Not Inevitable

 

So much of the conversation about masculinity is framed around biological determinism. This theory maintains because there is a predominance of certain kinds of hormones in certain bodies, it predetermines a particular personality or incapacity to resist base urges. As in, if you’re a person with higher levels of testosterone in your body, you cannot be expected to manage your anger or sexual impulses or other reactive responses.

 

What any human can tell you is that resisting reactivity is challenging, but it is also a personal choice. Everyone experiences emotional overwhelm and sudden urges. Toxic masculinity maintains an  lack of responsibility around engaging in these (reactive, violent) responses.  This often happens while

Grrr. Argh. Bears have no impulse control. Maybe you should though.

Grrr. Argh. Bears have no impulse control. Maybe you should though.

simultaneously quelling most impulses toward softness, connection, and emotionality. The impacts of these forces are devastating internally and externally. It bears repeating, though: toxic masculinity and the violence it encourages is always a choice.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Become Your Dad

 

Many people have experienced violence enacted by masculine folks- whether their fathers, brothers, peers or partners. This also holds true for transmasculine folks.

There is a particular anxiety that comes with the trajectory of moving toward the thing you fear, that you increasingly resemble. The particular dysmorphia of embodying a masculinity that feels accurate but also fraught is disruptive to the gentle hearts of many transmasculine folks.

This is not to say that transmasculine folks are incapable of enacting toxic masculinity- because that’s not true- but it is fair to say that they often get caught in a particular bottleneck of a deeply ambivalent relationship to masculinity in a way that isn’t necessarily true for cisgender masculine folks.

 

The Upshot of All This is Choice

 

The more we separate masculinity itself from it’s mean cousin toxic masculinity the easier time we will have identifying the space between the two. When we do that, folks have the opportunity to both occupy masculinity as well as culturally prescribed ideas of what masculinity is in less problematic ways.

 

Things that we typify as masculine- such as confidence, the capacity to take up space, a quality of physicality, etc can exist without their toxic aspects, if we commit to doing so thoughtfully. One does not need to exhibit power-over in order to be powerful.

 

 

Masculinity has had so little opportunity to be an innate sense of self or an embodied response without having all the historical garbage thrown at it. Figure out who and how your masculinity wants to exist in a world determined to poison it. You have figured out how to own fraught aspects of yourself in the past. Consider this another reclaiming of the self.

 

If you have some feelings about toxic masculinity, give me a call.

Images from gratisography.

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How to Spot a Fake Psychic Trash Panda

Hello, dreamers and journey-makers,

 

This week we’re here to talk about fake psychic trash pandas, or more concretely, the use of woo to avoid accountability, boundaries, or reality.

 

***Disclaimer- we are not here to interrogate the validity or value of woo. Woo can be a cathartic tool for healing and transformation, and people get to use it (minus gross cultural appropriation) and believe in whatever they want, as long as they are not messing with other people.***

 

What is a fake psychic trash panda:

In this moment, it is a person who utilizes their own perception of their spiritual capacities to justify their behavior. Unfortunately since in this case their behavior is that of a raccoon (trash panda) they are destructive, cause a mess, and just generally remain unaccountable for the impact of their behavior.

Lil raccoon if you throw that trash everywhere nobody will agree it's for your own spiritual development.

Lil raccoon if you throw that trash everywhere nobody will agree it’s for your own spiritual development.

 

This is adjacent to spiritual bypassing, but a form of being more actively harmful and destructive. Let’s talk about spiritual bypassing! What this basically means is that people talk about spirituality to avoid engaging their more painful wounds. This shows up a lot of different ways, sometimes with avoidance:

 

Avoidance

 

Folks who won’t have conversations about things that bring up a lot of “negative energy.” This is particularly relevant as we live in dangerous times, that are particularly dangerous for specific folks, and there is a great deal of exchange happening that could be coined as particularly ‘negative.’

 

Not everyone has the capacity to stand under the full blast of the evening news, but in times where there is such truth-telling about harm being done to people, it is negligence and avoidance to ensconce oneself against knowing any part of things.

 

Certainly we all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and manage what we can manage. But if you’re going to check out, better to articulate this as a strategy of avoidance rather than indicative of spiritual purity.

 

But it feels bad to say I messed up and I don't want to.

But it feels bad to say I messed up and I don’t want to.

Deflecting

 

If we have a disagreement with someone, indicating “it’s all an illusion anyway” or “they just need to grow spiritually” rather than taking ownership over our own feelings or participation in the conflict.

Boundary-crossing

 

We can agree that there are many ways of knowing. However, “knowing” something about someone does not constitute them giving you permission to share that with them. Such as:

 

If you have a dream about your ex who has specifically asked you not to contact them, do not contact them.

No. Don't do it.

No. Don’t do it.

If you have a “feeling” about a person in a store, but they appear preoccupied and do not appear to be actively consenting to engaging with you, do not try to tell them about this feeling.

 

You may have certain community norms around how we interact with other people’s bodies (norms around touch and nudity come to mind) and it’s fine to have norms and interact within those. Keep in mind though that norms are not the same thing as license to do exactly what you feel like at any given moment.

Regardless of your spiritual powers or inclination, boundaries that have been articulated by words and intentions still apply.

Compassion as Codependence

 

Compassion is a deeply powerful practice to engage with oneself and others. However, just as boundary-crossing is an established acceptable practice, tolerance of these boundary-crossing may be habitually framed as compassion.

 

It often takes people who are used to having their boundaries crossed a LONG time to unlearn this behavior. It’s often a strategy reinforced by patterns of emotional enmeshment. Framing this emotional pattern as ‘compassion’ or ‘tolerance’ only reinforces further harm and distance from the strategy of setting and holding boundaries.

Karmic Bullshitter

 

There is this story in the land of woo that bad things happen to bad people (or “negative people” with a “negative mindset.” This is a short kick of the can away from a bootstraps mentality indicating that one does not achieve success in capitalism due to a lack of motivation and hard work.

 

This idea may be mostly attributed to “The Secret”- the idea that like attracts like, and that your thoughts and feelings manifest the reality you live in. So that is a tricky half truth: perception absolutely matters, and sometimes folks can create a self-fulfilling prophecy informed by anxiety and negative self-talk.

 

However, there are many people in a generations-long spiral of trauma or whose quality of life is diminished by the many hydra-heads of structural violence that folks live with. There lives have been informed by trauma and not a failure to “think positively” and “attract positivity.”

 

I Like Astrology Too But Tell Me How You’re Feeling

 

Astrology can be such a powerful tool! The skies are constantly moving! What an incredible way to gain insight. However, knowing what’s going on amongst the celestial bodies is not the same thing as being in your own body and articulating your own emotional state. I’m vaguely aware that things are conjuncting and retrograding each other, and I’m happy to hear about it, but let’s bring it back to you.

People Use Spiritual Bypassing to Avoid Their Own Suffering

Now, folks often utilize the strategies of spiritual bypassing because they are suffering, or trying to strategize in a world that feels overwhelming, and spiritual bypass is often a kinder gentler strategy than others. However, it can evoke a lot of confusion and is rich with opportunities for gaslighting.

 

You get to access tools for your growth and healing, but stay in the know about whether you are using them for growth, or as cloud cover for your deeper fears and insecurities.

 

If you or someone you know has spiritually bypassed their way into another dimension and you don’t know what to do about it, give me a call.

Trash pandas found here, here, and here.

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You Deserve Sleep and Cookies

Happy Friday sweet peas,

 

A friend and I were talking recently about what we both prioritize in order to function in the world, and she mentioned,”You said that thing, about how a cookie isn’t sleep, and it made me think about how true that is for me.” I had said it at the time because it is certainly sometimes true for me as well.

Butter cookies are pretty easy-access.

Butter cookies are easier to find than an efficient bus route between your house and work. Image source here.

 

What I had meant by that at the time, was that often the things we need more of are harder to achieve or more structurally inaccessible .

This means things like more time, more sleep, access to a doctor who is kind and knowlegable, childcare that is financially accessible, access to transportation, nutrient-dense food, a home that is safe and clean-ish are all really difficult to access.

 

Because of structural factors like access, and also the proliferation of advertising, we often have more access to cookies than sleep. When we are just trying to get through the day (most folks are just trying to get through the day) we will often find our way to cookies instead of sleep.

 

Don’t Blame Cookies, Blame Capitalism

Now trust me- cookies are delicious and you should eat whatever cookies you want, and if for you the right answer is always cookie, have cookies. If you’re going to do that for the forseeable future, maybe also drink some water? But also, you’re in charge of you.

 

This also applies to all the grouchy thinkpieces that disparage people for being sucked into their phones, for disengaging from reality. Often these complain-pieces disparage the distraction techniques many people utilize as self-indulgent.

People Are Mostly Just Trying to Survive

Here’s the thing: we are living in some dangerous times. Some incredibly scary things are happening, folks are trying to stay engaged in spite of the chaotic hyper-reality that keeps escalating. Some folks have managed to wedge themselves into a place of action while still taking the time and space they need.

 

So in light of the world we live in right now, it seems spiteful and narrow-sighted to rag on people for their choice of cookies and tumblr-scrolling.

 

That said, if you are a person responding to the shock and violence of the world we live in right now with a limited range of coping mechanisms, maybe consider:

What Is the Bigger Picture of What You Need?

What other care might you need right now?

 

Do you have some feelings that just need the opportunity to surface & be expressed in cathartic ways?

 

Do you need connection or validation or to be seen?

 

Is your body just exhausted and needing of rest and hydration and nutrition and maybe some assistance with parts of it that are in pain?

 

Are you ever not stressed out, and where would you need to find or imagine yourself to be in order to settle your nervous system even a little bit?

 

In this scary world, you deserve and need both sleep and cookies. Even if it’s a stretch to get ahold of the things you need, it’s still worth knowing you deserve better, or just something else. Knowing what you need to be different can help move your life at least incrementally in the direction of the things you need.

 

If you are just without any sense of what is helping, and what might need to be different, give me a call. I can help you figure out both your short term and long term strategies for making your life work in dangerous times.

 

Cookie cameos found here and here.

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Everyone Wants To Be A Surfer When They’re At The Beach

Hey there, sailors!

I'm a mermaid! Ask me how!

I’m a mermaid! Ask me how!

Paddle on over for today’s talk about the difference between our actual selves and who we think we would like to be.

 

Every single one of us has a projected idea of ourselves that is intimately tied to our insecurities.

We imagine ourselves glamorous, witty, dating someone terribly attractive, living in a really beautiful place, having access to money and cultural capital and things like that with incredible ease.

We glamorize results rather than process, and many folks have a hard time with the idea that we spend most of our time in awkward in-between spaces on our way somewhere with our gaze fixed on the horizon.

You Are In A Montage

I talk about the montage often in therapy, because it describes a lot of people’s trajectory. (because I like to make dorky movie references!) The montage is the part of the movie where you see someone doing lots of different things to get an end result very quickly, set to fun music.

Whether someone is very quickly looping through that activities of running up stairs or getting their eyebrows plucked, we are quickly delivered the outcome of all these labors. Rocky clobbers someone with his fists and defeats Communism or a thoroughly fluffed and plucked Cher goes to the opera to prove that love is never a matter of duty. (in the movies anyway)

You will only aspire for your eyebrows to look this incredible.

You can only aspire for your eyebrows to look this incredible.

 

Here’s the thing though: most of life is the montage. Most of life is the accumulation of lots of little actions and small choices that result in a particular thing. Everyone is so focused on the quality of napkins at the wedding that they don’t notice if a person is attuned to their partner, if they like each other and listen to each other in the boring mundane details.

 

 

Everybody wants to be a surfer when they’re at the beach. They look really cool, and I’ve heard that it’s amazing. However, surfing is not a non-stop pleasure voyage, there are hard parts too, such as:

 

You often have to get up early (to catch waves, I guess?)

Sometimes there are surf-bros that are unfriendly and rude

Surf culture itself can be pretty sexist

Gear is expensive

Surfing is really hard work- the core strength, the practicing, etc!

It takes time to get good at it- you’re the only person who can make you a better surfer!

Dangerous things like stingrays and jellyfish live in the ocean.

 

Does any of this make surfing not worth it to people who love it and have made a practice of it? Usually, no!

 

But, there are certain things that we imagine surfers to be, such as: svelte, perpetually chill, living a terribly cool boho lifestyle, hanging out with very sexy people all the time at the beach. This has not much to do with the actual experience of surfing. Surfers, as far as I can ascertain, are generally lovely humans with a variety of characteristics. The only ones that I might generalize are a love of the ocean and a tendency to utilize body movement as a meditative or mental health practice.

You Can Like What You Like

That does not mean you shouldn’t glamorize surfing, or whatever thing you think is really cool. If you came of age in the 90s, you probably can’t really help it! You get to like what you like!

 

But be concrete about what your actual interests are (wearing board shorts, drinking beer outside, having people think you are cool) and try not to confuse them with what you project onto people or activities.

 

The other side to this is that it’s alright to be attracted to glamour- that’s part of how we figure out what we like. It’s fine to have aspirational models.

So be realistic about what you are drawn to: the outdoors? Babes in bikinis? Lots of unstructured free time? Engaging in feats of strength? Be honest.

 

From there, let’s be concrete about how to pursue these things honestly. Rather than accumulating a bass guitar, a surf board, a spinning wheel, all before you have tried things out in a casual way to decide if you really like them.

You said you wanted to learn about gardening but you wore pearls. If you wanted to hang out you should just say so.

You can have glamour and connectedness at the same time. You can also look at this picture and imagine that if Cher and Lily Tomlin ever went on a date it might look like this.

 

It’s okay to try things out and see what kind of person you might want to be!

 

 

Just stay in touch with your perpetual and core self to see how things are going, how you’re actually feeling. Notice what you are genuinely drawn to to make sure that you aren’t chasing glamour in order to construct a sense of worthiness.

 

Glamour is a lot of fun, and is not the same sense as an innate sense of worthiness, connectedness, or safety. Often we pursue things that we think other people will like, because we are seeking out a sense of affinity or connectedness. Unfortunately, when we narrow our sense of self to these things, we often struggle to access affinity or connection outside of these confines. It cuts off our access to these more human aspects of what we are seeking in our pursuits.

 

If you’re struggling to sort out if you’re seeking glamour or a sense of worthiness, give me a call. You can admire glamour while at the same time moving in the direction of a sense of connectedness and worthiness.

Images found here, here, and here.

 

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Rube Goldberg Shame Machine

Hello, intrepid explorers!

 

Rube_Goldberg_Machine_(278696264)

WHIZZ BANG POW.

This week in emotional intelligence, we’re going to be talking about the shortcuts your brain makes in order to develop neural pathways. This in turn produces your quick emotional responses to certain kinds of stimuli!

 

The Marble-Drop of Shame

We learn social strategies early- meaning, things like what we can expect when we ask for help, whether or not people care about our experiences or feelings, how to express affection or emotional responses, etc. All of us grow up internalizing neural pathways of how to express ourselves and how to get what we need.

 

Many folks have learned to sublimate their needs and feelings- but have reactivity around things they have strong feelings around. Some of us grow up and become more reactive in ways that are obvious to other folks.

Usually, when folks are reactive in a way that externalizes their emotions, they have big, visible feelings. All of these responses are in response to external stimuli, and circle back to our internal narratives and strategies about getting our needs met.

A lot of people who are experiencing their emotions in a reactive way have a lot of shame about this. Most people struggle with feelings of shame while crying in public.

External Stimuli Produces A Lot of Emotional Responses in People

“Stimuli” can be a lot of things- and your awareness to these layers of stimuli often relate to sensitivities you possess.

This can mean being sensitive to things like:

How loud a space is

The kind of people that are there (whether or not you feel safe with those folks, or if you will expected to tolerate a degree of microaggressions or hostility)

The density of people in the space

The level of light, (folks can be very sensitive to fluorescent lights)

Smells, (my buddy who gets headaches from the smell of coffee), etc.

 

I know folks with degrees of emotional or physical sensitivity are habituated to think they are high-maintenance, because they are used to internalizing that their needs are excessive or inconvenient. This belief largely stems from structural violence that they have internalized.

These are very concrete elements of external stimuli, but social dynamics create a great deal of nuanced external stimuli that we are constantly responding to- tone, body language, etc- that inform the emotional content of our responses to the world outside of us.

But back to your feelings!

 

DBT has a great model of chain-of-events- namely encouraging folks to identify an external stimuli, and the ensuing compound of emotional responses they have that can create certain patterned results. Something like:

a fight with a friend,

which then escalates to feelings of shame, despondence,

and then often results in whatever catharsis people engage in to feel better.

For some folks, that can be things like self-harm, but other folks have more low-flying strategies like eating your feelings or getting high or texting your ex.

 

This is a really great model, though I often describe it as a Rube-Goldberg machine, because the results may not necessarily always be chaotic in order for the idea of a chain of behaviors to be useful.

If only your emotional trajectory had clearly numbered signs for the order of operations.

If only your emotional trajectory had clearly numbered signs for the order of operations.

In fact, many emotional Rube-Goldberg machines simply exist to maintain a certain stasis in your understanding of the world. These are usually shame-powered.

So a potential example being:

A friend texts you, inviting you to go to a party.

You worry that the party will be loud, full of unfamiliar folks, you’ll feel pressured to drink or stay out later than you want, it’ll be full of couples or people much too pretty for you to think they might be interested in dating you. So you don’t text back.

 

You fret that your friend will be unhappy with you both for saying no and avoiding them, and decline to respond to comments they make to you on social media.

 

The party approaches, you worry that your friend reaches out again.

 

You feign forgetfulness, or illness, and feel your guts churn with the shame of your social anxiety, lying to your friend, and the disappointment that you don’t have better plans.

 

Your friend is understanding, if a little irritated or disappointed, and you burrow deeper into your blanket burrito, and hit ‘play next episode’ until it’s time to go to bed, (by “time to go to bed” I acknowledge that this statement is meaningless when the Rube-Goldberg shame machine it working overtime). Meanwhile, you are distracted by the worry that perhaps all of your friends secretly hate you.

 

Now, there are several different moments- between the spoon flinging the egg, broom falling over, or spinning top that might’ve created opportunities for a different choice.

What Else You Might’ve Done If Your Shame Machine Were Not Working Against You

 

Noticing your feelings of shame! Getting acquainted with how shame shows up in your body, and in the repetitive chatty patterns of your brain.

 

Telling your friend you don’t feel like going to a party

 

Making other plans for things to do that you’re actually interested in

 

Mentioning to your friend that you’re worried about disappointing them.

 

The Shame Machine has been in operation for a very long time, and likely is at work doing what it does, which it believes to be purposeful and helpful work.

Unfortunately,  there was a time in your life when shame was the best you could come up with, and has now become habit. Rather than flipping pancakes, your sense of self- worth gets flipped over and over by the Shame Rube-Goldberg Machine.

 

While it takes time and a lot of attention to detail, therapy is an excellent tool for deconstructing the machinations of your particular Shame Machine.

Give me a call if you need some help with that; I’m not a cause-and-effect machine that produces pancakes, but I can help you recognize some of those cause-and-effects and we can talk about your favorite pancake toppings.

Images borrowed from here and here.

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Rapists Are Not Evil Geniuses

Nearly every woman, trans person, or otherwise gender-creative human you have met has experienced, or been shaped by the experience of sexual violence. Survivors are a powerful legion.

BRITAIN-WOMEN-PROTEST-SLUTWALK

DON’T TELL ME TO SMILE.

Is Safe Space A  Real Thing

We have been working hard to build a world with a vision of safer space. Prioritizing the emotional safety of survivors by requesting trigger warnings in educational spaces around triggering material, social spaces, etc. The idea of safe(r ) space is complex because the world itself is objectively unsafe.

It is also reasonable to want to enter social spaces with the shared understanding of what is an appropriate kind of humor or way to engage with people and personal space.

Trauma Warps Your Sense of Reality

What is tricky is that trauma is so destabilizing, and can lead to a strong experience of disembodiment. Many folks who have experienced trauma seek to control their interior experience by seeking control of their external experiences.

Often, it is easier to quiet the interior chaos if folks have a sense of security around the space that they are in.

Being Triggered Is A Real Thing

Being reminded of past traumas (being triggered) can create a strong somatic response. A person’s trauma response (fight! flight! freeze! appease! disassociate!) floods a person’s body and they can re-experience the feelings of being trapped, either literally or sense-wise, and create disassociation. When you are in a moment of being triggered, you feel that you are intensely in danger in the moment.

 

But here’s the thing- our body, and our brain often disagree. It’s hard for our bodies to grasp the space between “my friend is mad at me” and “our friendship is over and I am terrible.”

 

It’s difficult for you to hold the balance between “I do not want to see the person who assaulted me, and if I do I will probably have some kind of strong response that I may be embarrassed to have in public” and “If I see them I WILL DIE.”

Your Response to Somebody’s Presence Doesn’t Mean You Are Broken

Here’s the thing: you are allowed to freak out in public. You are allowed to yell at people who assaulted you, and refuse to leave, or refuse to go. You are allowed to have whatever response you are having.

 

survivors

This dude sucks so much.

But that does not make them magic. It does not make them powerful. They are not suddenly the bad guy from Jessica Jones.

 

 

 

 

The person who assaulted you may be a garbage person, or may be a redeemable person, or may just be a regular person who did a fucked-up thing out of ignorance (which does not make it excusable, but is different than it having been malicious).

They are definitively not an evil supervillain who has magic powers to control you from a distance. (Although it FEELS that way) Whoever they are, you do not owe them anything.

There are, of course, folks who have had the experience of domestic violence, emotional enmeshment, psychological torture, and literal entrapment for whom it is difficult to internalize any change in their lived experience that does not map onto the significant experience of trauma. But most folks can branch out from an experience of trauma and re-establish a sense of safety in the world, eventually.

 

It may take many years, a lot of trauma therapy, and various community or legal interventions for you to feel safe again. The value of trauma therapy is that folks can re-live these experiences and create opportunities for literal and figurative movement.

 

You Are Not Broken

None of the things you are experiencing or doing mean that you are broken. They mean your body is trying to process very intensely the thing that happened to you, and keep you safe in a moment when you are flooded with feelings.

 

Do what you need to do to feel safe in the world.

But let’s be clear- your aversion to their presence, your dislike for sexualized violence on TV, your desire to be informed about what to expect in the classroom- the does not make you whiny or weak.

 

That makes you a person who has been shaped by a specific and significant trauma, who is entitled to a sense of safety in the world.

 

We may not always get the reasonable things we are entitled to- such as a feeling of safety, freedom from sexual violence. There are many brilliant folks engaged in the work of trying to make things different.

 

Therapy has been known to act as kryptonite to rapist supervillains. If you would like a dose of that, give me a call.

 

Images found here and here.

 

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You Are Not A Whiny Baby For Having Feelings

Something that comes up frequently- particularly when doing EMDR therapy- is that when we dig and dig into a person’s pretty deep feelings, we eventually hit a wall of shame or embarrassment. I often hear folks say, “That’s a stupid feeling” or “I’m being a whiny baby.”

I feel like you should play with me.

I feel like you should play with me.

Usually people don’t have feelings for NO REASON AT ALL. Here are some things that may be going on when you have stupid whiny baby feelings:

Some Reasons For Feelings

You may have some concrete bodily needs that are not being attended to.

Honestly, if you are hungry or exhausted or nobody has been nice to you in a week or you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent and are twisted up with anxiety about it, you will fall apart about it.

 

Things Matter to Humans

 

When folks are upset about something seemingly insignificant (canceled plans, missed bus, lost favorite hoodie, etc) I try to encourage folks to follow the thread of what this feeling reminds them of.

This is usually the thing people feel stupid about- they can’t explain why they feel so wrecked about having lost a hoodie or missed a bus.

 

When we tease through their feelings- maybe they have a fear of being late, because they have time management issues and are used to being perceived as irresponsible, and now every instance of running late feels like judgement piling ever higher.

Symbolic Objects and Interactions

A lost hoodie may mean practically that you’re slightly chillier than you would like to be on the bus ride home, but it may also relate to: a childhood of scarcity, of a lifelong urgency around familiar objects.

At the very least it, may resonate with being told that it is unacceptable to be frustrated or disappointed about things that are frustrating or disappointing.

 

It Goes Way Back

 

Many of us learn from a very early age that our reflexive responses are unacceptable. Sometimes this is related to a history of abuse- when you were expected to endure things that are intolerable, and show no signs of distress. It’s not uncommon with folks with a history of emotional abuse/trauma to have learned to shape their responses to the comfort and feelings of the people inflicting harm upon you.

I've got hurt feelings.

I’ve got hurt feelings. Image Source

Other times, we simply learn that it is inappropriate or unacceptable to have any kind of reaction to things that is inconvenient or upsetting to our caretakers who may

a) be tired, frustrated, and running thin on patience (which happens) or

b) simply cannot tolerate our distress.

 

This is not intended to be a diatribe on the way that you were parented or are parenting, but simply to acknowledge this fact.  Many of us learn at an early age to disassociate from emotions that cause our caregivers and friends discomfort. We translate their experience of discomfort into the experience of unsafety and isolation. As a result many people internalize responsibility for having any sort of reaction when things make them unhappy.

 

Sometimes Things Just Feel Bad

Something I spend a lot of time doing in therapy is normalizing people’s experiences of feeling upset, distressed, or grieving. Feelings like grief, anger or most kinds of distress are counterproductive to capitalism, in which you are supposed to shut up and feel fine.

We are instructed that every feeling we have is supposed to be processed and done in a much shorter time frame than is realistic. (because capitalism, mostly)

 

Feelings Take A Long Time

 

Lots of folks I talk to have the experience of wanting to be done with their feelings that seem irrational to them. I understand that once the landscape of your feelings gets familiar, it can be frustrating to understand why you can’t just “get over” them! We want to see ourselves as competent, and our idea of competence relies on the notion of efficiency.

You are a creature that has been coached to believe that your day should be broken down into increments of 60 minutes. This makes sense to do in order to monetize your time and effectively participate in capitalism. Your actual body is something that has not evolved to do this.

 

Your neural networks that remember the relational experiences of your life- of feeling beloved, of remembering feeling excluded, of fear around certain kinds of people delivering certain kinds of rejection.

You remember the pitch of laughter of kids who you were certain were laughing at you in middle school, and you still shudder and tense up your shoulders when you walk past a group of folks who erupt in laughter.

Feelings Make Sense in Specific Ways, But Not Ones that Appear Rational

That is why your feelings- while not necessarily being rational, or actionable- are not stupid. They are piecing together body memories of how old things felt, and trying to keep you safe. Your nervous system is primed to expect negativity- because survival strategy, and also likely because of some sort of trauma history.

 

Your neural networks are really good at generalizing. They are good at locating discomfort or tension and centering on that.

They are not skilled at looking at the feeling you are having and saying,

“Yes, it makes sense that you feel that way, the situation of anxiety we are experiencing waiting for a date to text us back is similar to anxiety I felt about feeling alienated when I was younger.

But, let’s do some things to calm down and manage these feelings, because the only thing we know is that they haven’t texted us back, but we don’t really have good information just yet about whether this is a rejection or if they’re just busy. Lots of people just get busy!”

Your neural networks are really good at anticipating worst case scenarios.

 

There’s nothing wrong with guarding your heart, but if you try to interpret the future based on insufficient data, you’ll make some predictions with holes.

 

If you are anticipating only bad things happening to you but life is giving you mixed responses about whether or not that’s accurate, give me a call.

 

 

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Trying Can Be Super Awkward

 

It’s really typical for folks to try new things to get out of a negative cycle or change their lives. This has sometimes felt like an incredible relief (when you started wearing clothes that fit your body or your gender!) or when you started spending time with people who don’t activate all your insecurities. Unfortunately, in a lot of instances when we try,  it is deeply awkward.

JORTS levels of awkwardness.

JORTS levels of awkwardness. Image Source

Awkwardness Is So Common

Awkwardness is a deeply human emotion, but one people also avoid because it can activate all kinds of feelings of shame and inadequacy. Awkwardness is an unpleasant companion to trying something new in the pursuit of a bigger life/new habits/ reinscribing relational patterns in your neural pathways.

Where Awkwardness Comes From

People also have different baselines of awkwardness. Most people experience awkwardness when they are new at things. Awkwardness often ensues when people are uncertain of the social nuances, and will sometimes self-consciously flail in these positions.

These instances may arise from a person’s neurodivergence, but it’s just as likely for folks in a new social or professional circumstance to feel nervous and become awkward. Things that are particularly unspoken, such as dynamics around class or sexuality can become explicitly awkward, because folks struggle to know what to do if no one will explain things to them.

It can be hard to figure out if you genuinely like partner dance or play parties if the first few times are awkward.

There are certainly some folks that mediate their social awkwardness by projecting their uncertainty into a state of hypervisibility. A number of folks are also engaging in ‘faking it till they make it’ so they present with a degree of confidence, which ultimately is about practice but less about their interior state.

I Did This Because My Therapist Suggested It

Folks try a lot of things because a therapist recommend it- I’m thinking most explicitly about things like mindfulness practice, or pursuing making new friends or dating.

 

The awkwardness of sitting with your own breathing, especially for the first time, is excruciating, especially since the question of “Am I doing this right?” is pervasive for folks new to mindfulness. Yes, you’re doing fine, if you’re actually doing it, and not secretly on your phone.

Sitting With Awkwardness is Uncomfortable

It’s really hard for folks to try new things and have them not go well, especially if they have steady habits of negative self-talk. If you’re used to internalizing everything that doesn’t go perfectly as a horrible failure, it makes it really hard to move past this state.

 

There’s no easy fix to this part. I talk with folks about things like radical acceptance- which is effectively just like

“Yup, this sucks. Yup, this feels bad. I can distract myself or practice the things I’m trying or listen to my favorite Mariah Carey album over and over until I feel better. Some things just feel bad until they don’t anymore. The important piece is to keep going until you have another feeling.”

Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh. Image Source

No Feeling Is Forever

One of the meanest things depression convinces people of is that whatever thing they are feeling is the final feeling. What’s true most of the time is that you will feel something else again in your life- whether you’re up or down, you will feel something different later.

Making New Friends Is Awkward When You’re Not Drunk

There is also the experience of making new friends or going on dates- many people, especially self-conscious or awkward folks, will say weird things or be overwhelmed with anxiety during dates, and they may not be super fun.

For a lot of people, the answer to this is to have a couple drinks. This can be deeply problematic for some folks, and for others just be a strong indicator that you really struggle to tolerate awkwardness and your own anxiety.

What Other People Are Doing Is Mostly Not About You

It can be very difficult to gather up your courage and go on a date, or meet up with a new friend, and have it flip-flop into a pile of ‘meh.’ There are some truly bad dates, and there will be a lot of boring, mediocre ones you may go on in pursuit of your specific venn-diagram of qualities of dateable friendable humans.

For folks already struggling with anxiety, it’s a real challenge to not internalize this as a failure. In reality, how other people behave is sometimes about you, and very often also about how much sleep they got, a phone call they got right before they walked over, traffic, how their pants are fitting, etc.

You will meet a lot of people in your life, and some of them will be great friends, and others will be awkward passerbys in your social history. Not everyone you go on a date with will be a great love, and that’s not a personal failure on your part.

If you feel painfully awkward and want to admit that to somebody else, I’m more than happy to hear about it. Send me an email if the phone makes you feel awkward, I’m faster via email anyway.

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