Self Loathing is Not Accountability

Hello friends and neighbors and baby duck enthusiasts,

 

Today we are here to talk about accountability and self-loathing!

This baby duck does not think that the entire internet hates you. Even if it does, baby duck still likes you.

I wanted to talk about this, because often when folks have an opportunity to be invited into accountability, they fall into their own personal pit of self-loathing. It’s really unfortunate, because they feel terrible.  It’s also tough because some folks can confuse the emotional exhaustion of self loathing with the actual emotional labor of accountability. This doesn’t help much get done, unfortunately.

 

I wanted to clarify the difference between the two because while people use accountability as a scary word to mean that everyone on the internet hates you, when utilized correctly, it can be very generative. Accountability is the task that a person goes through when they cause someone else harm, and then acknowledge what they did, make an apology and potentially restitution.

Self-loathing is most people’s response to feeling called out, and is basically synonymous with shame. While some folks invoke accountability in order to shame others, many more are trying to right a wrong, or reconcile a relationship. Accountability is an invitation to stay in relationship rather than throw somebody away.

 

For many of us, the Rube-Goldberg Shame Machine gets going often into overdrive when we are offered some feedback. Sometimes we know we aren’t handling things very well, and so we walk around with all this primitive machinery whirring inside of us.

Our shoulders are perpetually up near our ears, because we have such perpetual, fruitless energy expended with not much to show for it. Self-loathing is exhausting, and doesn’t usually give us information about how to do anything differently.

 

Accountability Is Much Harder Than It Looks

Accountability is a high bar! Coming to a conversation undefended and willing to acknowledge wrong-doing, but also from a place that does not require your own debasement, is a hard thing to land skillfully.

A common mistake is to tip into feelings of shame, and then hound folks with apologies, or conversely drive everyone else up a wall by constantly talking about how stressed out you are that someone  is mad at you.

Many people go to the place of feeling like they have done something wrong, and therefore are undeserving of time, space, comfort, and humanity.

Baby duck recommends a nap before and after hard conversations in which people might be mad at you.

Most people cannot do the hard work of acknowledging how they fucked up unless they are allowed some grace. A person may need to catch their breath, eat a snack, and then circle back to the work to engage with it from a centered place. If you need this grace, you get to be in charge of knowing and managing that.

How To Do Accountability From A Centered Place

People doing accountability work must do the work of engaging from a centered place, because whatever hard feelings you have about the harm you did to others are yours to deal with.

The whole point of this is that part of your humanity requires that you have some place to express your anger, disappointment, and grief that you have hurt somebody else that is not  the person that you hurt.

Your feelings of guilt cannot be a reason for them to offer forgiveness, and your restitution must be offered without needing a specific response from them. Also, if you fucked up, it doesn’t mean that you never get to watch a TV show or eat a donut or have a friend. You get to be a person too.

 

Here’s the other thing: people hurt one another frequently, even just by accident, which does not mean that we are collectively all failures. It means that we cannot avoid bumping into one another. However, getting more practice at being accountable, you get better at messing up, and dealing with it in ways that are honest and humane.

You Are In Charge of You

You are responsible for managing both your own self-loathing and also for making sure that you are being accountable.

These are both things that require a lot of hard work, and support from your people. Clarify that your people are up to the task, and get the support you need to do the hard work.

 

A therapist is a solid person to utilize to work out both self-loathing and accountability. If you need some help with either or both of those things, give me a call.

 

Baby duck lives here.

And also here.

Comments Off on Self Loathing is Not Accountability

Filed under Uncategorized

2018: Many Things Are Possible.

Hi everyone,

There are beaches entirely covered in seaglass, and the world is much bigger than these last wrenching 12 months. (This one is in Fort Blagg, CA)

This last year has been a pretty brutal one,  literally, or  emotionally/spiritually/psychically. If you’re an empathic person walking around in the world trying to live with the complexity of cruelty that’s been front and center the last several months, you may likely be at a loss of how to make sense of this year.

 

What I can say is that we are all still here. Many of us have lost someone this year to brutality or they crossed over of their own volition.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for doing what you had to do to stay.

Thank you for every small act of resistance, of staying present, of coping, of fighting, of doing what needed to be done, and doing what you needed to do.

We did not all stay here in ways that we are proud of. Whatever you did to stay, I’m glad you did it.

Obviously the work is not over but I have seen people weather this year with an enormous effort toward right action, whole-heartedness, and a desire to not let the world descend into chaos.

I don’t know what we can say about the world in general as a generalized truth, but I can offer that most people don’t want this, and many many people I talk to are doing what they can to unfuck their personal habitat.

I see a lot of people looking to various movement leaders and mentors and folks at the front, seeking guidance for how to act in the ways that move us as a community in the right direction.

Imagining Ourselves Into Being

People’s selves expand and the world changes because they imagine or dream something into existence that doesn’t already exist. I am fond of saying that queer people often have to dream themselves into existence. Because they lack something to grow toward, they grow sideways and thrive in the best ways that they can figure out how to do.

 

You made it through 2017. You are here. I’m so glad.

 

Perhaps you find yourself at the end of this year with a tougher exterior, or a deeper interiority that you’ve been spending a lot of time within.

Give yourself a moment to consider, if it is only this moment: what dream are you gravitating toward?

You are working and doing what can be done to move in the right direction (away from tyranny!) : imagine what that world is.

Obviously there is a multiplicity of changes we would all wish for- but where is your heart particularly set?

 

I offer this because moving in the direction of ‘less bad’ is a very reasonable direction to move in- but where is your heart set? Your particular trajectory can be a little more specific.

Things may never be perfect, but they will absolutely be different, and they don’t have to be different in the direction of “more bad.” They could be different in the direction of growth, and change, and healing, and resilience. All these things are possible for you. All these things are possible.

 

I don’t expect that there will be a time when people don’t have problems, but I hope for new problems for you. I hope for problems that come with moving further along the line of your goals.
Change is slow, and we all get to commit to doing our own small piece of the work, but we all get  to show up for it.

 

Show up in whatever way you can. We need you. We believe in you.

2018 wants you there. I do, too.

 

If you want to figure out where your work lies, and want help narrowing your focus to specify your vision, give me a call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on 2018: Many Things Are Possible.

Filed under Uncategorized

Christmas Is Not Abuse (But It Looks Like It Sometimes)

Good morning mistle-toes and grinches all,

 

Christmas is mad at you but not telling you why.
Attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Christmas_pudding#/media/File:Christmas_pudding.JPG

Time marches on and we are mid-way through December!

You may be wrapped in tinsel at this moment because it is that time of year! It is equally likely that you are swathed in a thin film of anxiety about the cost of everything, and the cascading pressure that the holiday season often offers!

Today, let’s explore the aspects of the pressure you may be feeling.

 

Also, FTAG does not intend this blog post to shame people who love Christmas. (Especially because shaming people for liking oft-feminized things is a lousy thing to do.)

This exists to illuminate ways that the narrative around the holidays can reinforce coercive emotional dynamics similar to emotionally abusive ones. It’s not Christmas’s fault that people are going around being coercive about it.

Okay? No hurt feelings? Let’s proceed.

 

There Is A Lot of Pressure Around The Holidays

 

“The holidays” which means different things to different folks, but what may capitally be called “the end of November until the beginning of January” has been seized upon by both capitalist habits and cultural norms as a time of the year that is special.

 

There’s nothing wrong with a time being special. Special can be great! Special is a really wonderful thing to infuse your relationships and shared moments with.

Not All Special Is The Same Special

What happens, unfortunately, is that when there is a moment of enforced specialness, there becomes an expectation of having a certain specific emotional experience. As anybody ‘looking for happiness’ can tell you- attempting to construct a specific emotional experience is a very difficult task, especially with something carrying such enormous cultural weight.

Certainly, aesthetic and culinary beauty can cultivate a positive experience for most people. When folks tell me what they like about this time of year, the answers usually run along the lines of “twinkly lights and mashed potatoes and the two cousins that I like.” Those are easy things to like and will often induce a sense of enjoyment in a lot of people.

However, under the heading of “holidays” in addition to twinkly lights and mashed potatoes, there may also be the insidious expectation that you:

  1. Enjoy the holidays.
  2. Enjoy spending time with your family
  3. Participate in festive shenanigans in ways that flatten other emotional experiences that you are having.

 

How Does This Replicate Abusive Dynamics?

 

In many abusive dynamics, the person surviving is charged with the responsibility of curating the environment around the person abusing them.

The hope is that this plays out so that the person abusing them does not experience any disruption to their sense of self or narrative. (Most folks enacting abuse on folks around them have a very fragile sense of self.)

 

If the narrative of Christmas is “our family is a happy family and everybody gets along” – then people will be invested in maintaining this narrative. If contradicting or disrupting this narrative is disruptive to the relationship itself, there is harm being done.

There are many ways someone might disrupt the narrative of Happy Happy Christmas.  Perhaps by having a feeling besides delight around Christmastime, or showing up with weird hair, or bringing up hurtful family dynamics as cause for discussion during the month of December.

By taking offense to these disruptions, one communicates that the story called Happy Happy Christmas is more important than a discussion of deeper emotional issues.

 

Holidays are Often A Time We See Family All Together

 

Often there is pressure to bring everyone together that has any kind of blood tie at this time of the year. While this can sometimes go off without a hitch, it also bears mentioning that many families have their share of sexual predators, irreconcilable differences, and lingering hurt feelings. Many families with these issues are not honest about these issues.

While some jerky relatives have the good sense to stay home, many do not. There are many people who assume that because you are related they can treat exactly however makes them most comfortable.

 

There is a strong pressure to conform and “get along” at this time of year. It’s easy to frame someone’s genuine response to hurtful behavior as “creating drama” or “ruining Christmas.” Because it is December, we are told, we must forgo the expectations that we have of adults throughout the rest of the year.

 

You Must Feel A Certain Way

 

What can be hardest around the holidays- even outside abusive dynamics- is that people expect to feel a certain way. There is a story that if you are not humming with the warmth of human connection in this particular month, you have failed at Christmas. However, there are a thousand reasons why a person might be feeling a feeling beside giddiness, delight, or an abstract fuzzy feeling of enjoyment.

 

Abusive dynamics are infamous for enforcing the appearance of an emotional experience while denigrating a  person’s actual interior experience. Meaning- it doesn’t matter how you actually feel, as long as you’re smiling, especially in front of the neighbors.

This is particularly the case in families where abusive dynamics are consistently playing out- holidays can be a particularly awful time with additional pressure and heightened visibility.

 

Christmas does not have to be this way! In fact, many people lean so hard into Christmas because it is their respite from a cruel world! The trouble is- you cannot compel everyone you know and are related to to participate in your months-long ritual of escapism. You get to disappear into Christmas if it feels nice for you, but you can’t reasonably coerce anyone else to do so.

 

Have whatever emotional experience you’re having. Don’t feel pressured to feel or be a certain way. You get to show up in December having whatever experience you’re having. 

Take good care and see you in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on Christmas Is Not Abuse (But It Looks Like It Sometimes)

Filed under Uncategorized

Holidays Are A Social Construct; You Don’t Have to Enjoy Them

Hello spice-ropes and squash cornucopias,

The seasonal moment of roasted meats and root vegetables are upon us, as well as the expectation of compulsory family bonding.

COOKIES ARE A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT.
Image source:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holiday_Cookie_Tray.jpg

For those of you that wish to crown your heads with holly and festoon your homes of lights, and your home has billowing clouds of the scent of cinnamon, good for you. The entire culture will rise to meet you. This piece may not speak to you, but go in peace knowing that there are many people and opportunities to have your choices validated.

For what it’s worth, you are not cheesy or silly or sentimental for liking holiday stuff. Often the folks that get belittled for liking these things are women and femmes, and I am not down to harsh on women and femmes for liking what they like. You get to like what you like, and the purpose of this piece is absolutely not to shame folks for liking twinkly lights or dogs wearing elf hats.

 

Holidays Are A Social Construct

 

Holidays are sort of like weddings- there are a number of things that people have INVENTED. (white dress- started by Queen Victoria, diamond ring- started by a marketing campaign by DeBeers, unity candle- invented by General Hospital, all of this within the last 150 years or so, which is not that long considering the way people talk about the sanctity of Christmas.)

Most of the stuff that people engage in around holidays is made up and very new. The legitimacy that people attempt to bestow on holiday traditions based on the perceived age is not based on actual fact, but on their emotional relationship to traditions.

Traditions Can Be Personal And Meaningful

 

So if everything is made up, including Christmas trees and stuffing and church, that means it doesn’t have to be compulsory. Some folks engage in some really sweet traditions they have made up or are more personal than turkey-potatoes-football.

Traditions don’t all have to be terrible- most folks have a couple of things that they appreciate about the holidays even if they generally are disinterested in the holidays. Many curmudgeons will acknowledge that yes, the lights are pretty, or their grandma would make these almond cookies they feel sentimental about, or they feel nostalgic about all the goofy reruns of certain movies on TV. What this means is that in the enormous cultural wash of Christmas, most people can find one or two things that mean something to them, and does not mean that a person is required to get on board with the whole Christmas works.

 

You Don’t Have To See Your Family

 

Blood relatives are not a tradition you are required to engage in. There are a thousand reasons why you might not want to. For most people, holidays are a time of increased stress, and whatever pre-existing dynamics of emotional abuse exist, those will likely escalate.

There is particularly a nasty occurrence when parents will say “I made you a beautiful holiday!” and justify any abuse as spillover from their resultant efforts toward gifts, an elaborate meal, or decorations. Many folks with a history of trauma in their families have particularly escalated and perhaps violent memories around holidays. Going “home” for the holidays is something some people are unable to do.

 

If December 25th is a day like any other, you get to spend it how you choose. You may want to swim in the whole cultural soup and give everyone gifts and spend time with your blood relatives; that’s fine. But if you need to go your own way, and spend time with other folks, or do things differently that you have in the past, that is more than okay.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on Holidays Are A Social Construct; You Don’t Have to Enjoy Them

Filed under Uncategorized

Go Ahead and Ruin The Holidays

Hi there all you pine scented candles and cinnamon sticks,

 

Welcome back to the blog. It is that time of year again where Christmas music is aggressively playing in retail establishments, it’s dreary outside, and people are very concerned about where you will be on very specific dates and times.

Today we’re here to talk about the pressures of going to visit your family of origin, which may or may not feel like home to you.

In this family we have webbed feet and I don’t want to hear another word about it.
Image source : gratisography.com

Families of Origin Bring Up A Lot of Feelings

If you are any kind of sticks-out-sideways person in your family, you are used to running afoul of what expectations your family may have of you. This may play out when you open your mouth, or when you simply appear, because something about you is so visually clearly unacceptable you elicit ire just by showing up.

Or you may be a person in your family who is expected to fold yourself up as small as possible so that you scarcely leave a shadow, and allow the entire family tableau to play out around you, without causing any ripple or disruption.

The Pressure Is On the Odd One Out

The pressure of keeping the peace in the family, weirdly, seems to consistently fall to the weird or different family members. There is an entire family structure people are invested in maintaining. Often people become habituated to maintaining the status quo within their family structure, whether or not they realize they’re doing it.

This often restricts a family’s capacity to adapt to the changing needs of it’s members. This can be true in families in which abusive dynamics are playing out, or just family dynamics that are ill-equipped to incorporate the broad needs of it’s different members. I sometimes refer to this as a ‘closed-system’ family culture.

Why would we need to learn talk to new people?
Image source:
https://i1.wp.com/reekoscience.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/image75.png

 

Within family cultures that resist change, people may become especially entrenched in the months between October and January. The loose idea of ‘tradition’ and faaaaaaaamily are at peak activation in those months. While many families resist introduction of new members, dynamics, or expectations, this time of year is when people become especially inclined to double down on their old habits.

 

If you show up as yourself, you are not ruining the holiday.

 

If you insist that people are respectful of your pronouns, dietary needs, relationship, desire to have or not have kids, where you’re at in life financially and professionally, whether or not they approve of your hairstyle or how you dress or the slang you use, you are not ruining the holiday.

Holidays Are A Social Construct

Holidays are a social construct anyway and they cannot be ruined. The abstract idea of family and togetherness knit together by pine boughs and puffs of apple and cinnamon scent emanating from the kitchen are not a reason for you to shut up about the same things that hurt your feelings or twist up family dynamics the other 364 days a year.

 

Your needs matter, and whether you need to hang all the way out or fold up to get through the next few days is a choice you get to make, but you also don’t have to show up at all if you don’t want to.

 

It is not on you to be the only one keeping the peace, especially if the responsibility for that rests on you shutting up when your feelings get hurt.

I wish you a herring buffet if that is what feels seasonally appropriate to you.
Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Christmas#/media/File:Julbord_sill.jpg

Your feelings matter, even if your family acts deeply inconvenienced and unconcerned with them.

 

Give me a call if you just need some help feeling like your feelings matter.

Comments Off on Go Ahead and Ruin The Holidays

Filed under Uncategorized

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.)

 

Comments Off on The People You Imagine Judging You

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Comments Off on Feelings Are Contagious

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Comments Off on Field Trips for Depressed Folks

Filed under Uncategorized

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?!

Comments Off on Nature is A Social Construct

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

 

 

 

Comments Off on You Get To Be Mad At Your Parents

Filed under Uncategorized