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.

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.

Sometimes it feels like they've invented clocks before you're finished having feelings.

Sometimes it feels like they’ve invented clocks before you’re finished having feelings.

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.

 

Photos from me, here, and here.

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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.

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.

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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Self-Loathing Doesn’t Make You A Bad Person

Good morning, sweet peas!

Self-loathing is something that psychotherapy and self-help seeks to resolve for folks, but it’s a deeply pervasive issue and not usually a quick fix. The short answer of “why?” is usually “shame” and while the short answer to that might be “vulnerability”- it’s still hard undo every single tangle of the self-loathing knot.

Hey did you hear nobody likes you.

Hey did you hear nobody likes you.

Self-loathing Is Hard To Quit

Most folks with practice in self-loathing have been doing it for a very long time- usually childhood, though adolescence offers several critical junctures around the stories we have around our bodies, social relationships, and desirability in romantic relationships.

This piece seeks not to teach you five quick tips to undo your self loathing, but how to be in the world in the midst of your self loathing.

The story of your self-loathing is so personal, the broad advice of “how to stop hating yourself” might or might not be applicable. It always to resonate to the tune of:

hang out with people that are kind to you

believe yourself, or at least believe that your feelings might somewhere have some validity

build the infrastructure of a life that doesn’t grind you down in habits of misery

watch that Brene Brown video a half-dozen times until you are forced to reckon with your sense of unworthiness, etc.

So, You Kinda Hate Yourself

DREAD

DREAD

Self-loathing tends to be habitual in the things that reinforce it, so these are reinforced by things like:

Pervasive negative self-talk (when you make a mistake, you spend a long time telling yourself how stupid you are)

Engaging in relationships that feel bad (nobody else would like you anyway)

Persisting in tolerating things that make you unhappy (your clothes don’t fit your body or your gender, you go the same yoga class as all your friends although you prefer running, your friends are all in a Harry Potter drag troupe and you don’t like performing but it would cause a rift to ask to run the lights instead)

Hating Yourself Doesn’t Make You A Good or Bad Person

Hating yourself feels pretty terrible. However, it doesn’t by definition make you a good or bad person. Many people were raised to believe that any negative emotion is their fault and responsibility, and they internalize responsibility for all negative emotions. This is unfortunate (and inaccurate) because although they don’t feel good, negative emotions are just part of the human experience.

For many people however, they have translated the feeling “I feel bad” to the cognition “I am bad.”

Your feelings can give you a lot of good information about your responses to things, but they are unfortunately not always totally accurate.

Hating Yourself Does Not Make You Intrinsically Interesting or Better than Other People

People experience alienation for all kinds of reasons. Don’t let a sense of intellectual superiority be that reason for you.

Hating Yourself Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Do Good In the World

The things that broadly define people as “good”- which broadly means being decent to people- is something that you can do no matter how you feel about yourself.

You Do Not Have to Be Good

You do not have to walk a hundred miles on your knees, etc.

Genuinely though, a lot of folks with self-loathing try to fix the problem of self-loathing by just being the best person they can be. While being a really good person is a reasonable project, let it be for it’s own sake, and not because you have to compensate for how secretly horrible you are.

 

If you think you’re secretly horrible (and wouldn’t believe me if I told you otherwise) but desperately want some other options, give me a call.

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Should You Cohabitate With Your Lovah: Yes, No, Maybe.

Ah, love! And racheting costs of living in this city that is having an existential and a real estate crisis!

You can love-ah each other and not live together.

You can love-ah each other and not live together.

Regardless of the cost of living, there is often a question for lovahs midstream in their relationship. Cohabitation becomes a question on many people’s minds, often because it is the done thing, and also because the relationship escalator.

 

First things first:

You never have to move in with your partner. It doesn’t mean anything about your commitment, your intimacy, the depth of your connection, something intrinsic about the quality of your relationship, etc.

Sidebar- it is personally one of my very favorite things when older folks (> 75 y/o) who are perhaps widow(er)ed have a boyfriend on the other side of town but don’t mess around with trying to move in together because-what I always hear is- “I got things just how I like them.” Certainly, have things how you like them!

 

So, cohabitation.

 

Just because it’s a conventional choice doesn’t make it a bad choice! You get to decide what makes the most sense for you and your lovah. Let’s consider some things:

This seems like enough space?

This seems like enough space?

Who have you lived with before?

 

Are you used to living with roommates or a close friend or stranger? What are your intrinsic expectations based on these experiences?

 

How much time do you expect to spend together?

 

Do the two of you have experience with having intentional conversations:

When the dishes get done?

How often you have sex?

Are you willing to have someone in the bathroom brushing their teeth the same time that you’re showering?

How much stuff do you have, and how much stuff CAN you have in the space?

Will you share a room or each have your own?

How much will cohabitation prompt around sharing finances or at least shared purchases?

How do we want to talk to each other about things we have concerns about, and when should we have those conversation? Timing matters. 

While it is useful to have an agreement of how messy is too messy, it is more important to be able to express your feelings and desires about how goddamned messy the house is without immediately escalating or blaming each other.

I'm using I statements to say I wish that I had gone on this walk by myself.

I’m using I statements to say I wish that I had gone on this walk by myself.

Let’s Also Consider:

 

What are you excited about?

Cooking together? Having the end of your day be shared and private in ways that feel intimate and connected? Having the groundedness of that consistency, and being able to swing out and come back to it?

Do you want to get a dog or cat together?

Are you somebody who loves to do acts of service, and so mowing the lawn will be this act of care you do for your partner?

Are you going to have a whole room devoted to your record collection or nerf guns or bean bag chairs?

 

Moving in or not moving in together is not a moral imperative. If you’re too fancy-free to bother, that’s fine. If shared ownership of a duvet makes you feel really secure in your relationship, sounds great. You get to make the right decision for you, when it’s time for you. There isn’t a timeline.

 

If you’re house-hunting or wondering if your relationship should take that particular plunge, give me a call. Arguing about whose coffee cups are worth keeping is a real drag, and I can help you figure out which parts are about coffee cups, and which aren’t.

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What Is Enmeshment? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me No More)

Enmeshment! Also Known As Codependence.

 

Codependence is something that gets bandied about a lot in self-help and psych-talk generally, but we don’t often go through all the trouble of defining it.  Today, we’re here to do specifically that.

 

I often use the language of ‘enmeshment’ rather than ‘codependence,’ because codependence specifically has a lot of baggage & pathologization around it. I will use these interchangeably in the post, because ultimately language is value-neutral, but lots of folks have a preference based on their personal experience with this language.

But if you go away we can't be enmeshed anymore.

But if you go away we can’t be enmeshed anymore.

So What is Codependence?

(If not dance music from the 90s)

Briefly, codependence is when you need somebody else to be okay in order for you to be okay, and you only define yourself in relationship to what you can do for other people.

 

When someone else’s needs or suffering enters the room, your story disappears/becomes displaced/disassociates.

Why This May Happen

 

Often enmeshment or codependence occurs or becomes habitual in a family system or relationship because one person is not getting enough support or help from the broader world/their particular support system, so they lean harder on a single person.

 

While there are times this happens during severe circumstances in everyone’s life (during illness, etc) in which a person may rely on another this intensely.  The difference is that you can be present and attentive with someone in an extreme need for care, and still acknowledge that you’d like to go for a walk or see a movie later, if it’s possible.

Gotta go outside for bear-slipper time.

Gotta go outside for bear-slipper time.

If all your desires and motivations are subsumed by somebody else’s needs, you might have some enmeshment going on.

But Some People Are Genuinely Fragile

 

It’s true that many people are in need of care and support, and it’s lovely that you feel so moved to attend to those needs. While you are in this relationship, are you checked in to whether or not you are aware of your needs?

 

I hear that some things come up that are urgent, or you don’t need much- but there’s a difference between not needing much and avoiding the fact that you will have some needs some times.

 

It’s Okay to Need People

 

Enmeshment is often something that people learn out of necessity or the survival of some kind of trauma, especially within family systems. It’s not useful to shame folks for desiring certain kinds of connection or presence with one another just because it doesn’t work for you. However, someone having needs doesn’t make them codependent, it makes them human.

 

Even if someone is very distressed because their needs are not being met and they appear very needy- does not make them intrinsically codependent. However, these types of situations are helpful to de-escalate by encouraging folks to sort through what they can do independently to attend to their feelings and address their needs.

 

 

Enmeshment Side-Effects May Include:

 

You disappear- you become unaware of what you are feeling or the influence your presence may have on a situation.

 

You get involved or over-involved in helping folks.

 

If you are not helping, you may become very distressed and uncertain about the depth or quality of relationship.

 

You may deeply fear rejection.

 

You may perceive boundary-setting as rejection.

 

You may be so attuned to other people that you are quick to interpret their moods and needs and be so careful around them that they will never have to set a boundary with you.

 

You may be a bit of a shape-shifter- changing shape and shifting in your relationships to be what your friends or partner needs.

 

You may google “am I codependent” and wind up reading these kinds of articles, and peruse lists looking for proof that you aren’t codependent, because you feel a lot of shame around it.

 

So Maybe You’ve Got Some Enmeshment Going On. Now What?

 

Identify how you participate in enmeshed dynamics, and what you get out of it. You wouldn’t do it if you got exactly zero things out of it, so what is it? A sense of control? Confirmation that you can be helpful and therefore are indispensable? No shame,  just gotta own it.

 

Identify what your triggers are- what makes you especially codependent? Is it earnest queers with mean parents? Is it people struggling to redefine masculinity? Is it older people who have had really hard lives? All of this is a road map to your codependence, and you get to study it.

 

Work to de-stigmatize for yourself this particular behavioral pattern. Acknowledge which parts about it you enjoy, and also what you are willing to let go of. It can be incredibly pervasive, but there are a lot of folks that have been shamed for being “codependent.”

You learned it for a reason, and it wasn’t a reason you made up. You might have been taught it, but they were trying to teach you to survive.

 

Figure out who you are when you are not just providing for other people.

 

If you are finding it to be really difficult to figure out who you are when you’re not enmeshed with other people, give me a call. I probably won’t tell you when I’m having a bad day, but I won’t shame you for asking. either.

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Mindfulness is Not The Patchouli or Speed Walking of Mental Health

 

Therapy and the self-help industries like to present themselves as perpetually self-aware, because that’s how you sell things. However,  it has been subject to trends and popular opinion from the inception of the invention of the idea of psychology.

There has always been ‘pop psychology’- that is, psychological theories that become integrated into popular culture until it becomes thoroughly integrated with advertising. Freud was pop psychology of his day.

This was Freud's actual couch. It's much less creepy than I expected.

This was Freud’s actual couch. It’s much less creepy than I expected.

Diagnostic Trends; Hemline Trends

There are also trends of diagnoses– apparently the 80s was a time when psychology was learning a lot of things about Disassociative Identity Disorder (Also known as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’- which is often the result of severe trauma).  This overdiagnosis trend is facilitated by a lot of discussion about it in popular culture, and some very trendy treatments including multiple therapists for each different self. (later they figured out this only exacerbated fragmentation)

 

So, You May Have Heard Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a very popular, dare I say trendy activity promoted by mental health professional and self-help industry. It originates in Buddhism (thanks for Columbusing mindfulness, mental health professionals!) but the concepts are easy to grasp.

The core concepts fundamentally involve, per my broad interpretation:

becoming aware of your body’s internal workings

becoming attuned to the ways that your body responds to different relationships and environments, re: feelings and stress.

If you are skilled in identifying how your body responds to different stimuli without judgement, you can respond more effectively and get good information about what you are drawn to and what is scary or overstimulating.

Overstimulated.

Overstimulated.

Pop Psychology Has Some Good Ideas

What’s disappointing, is that there are a lot of bits and pieces of good information in pop psychology that tend to continue to pop up over time that have a longer historical trajectory than the flare-up they get in glossies every so often.

Things like getting enough sleep, gratitude, disengaging with unkind or inconsiderate people, striving to build your empathy and understanding, setting boundaries, allowing acknowledgement and validation of your feelings, accepting help, etc. These are all the kinds of things that may have cropped up in your search for self-help.

 

Blah Blah West Coast Therapist Blah Blah

Mindfulness is also very trendy on the West Coast in additional to behavioral psychology, (psychodynamic ba-jazz is still very popular on the East Coast). While arguably it is the purview of relaxed Californians in linen pants drinking cold pressed juice and talking about auras, (or Seattle therapists wearing Danskos and talking about tarot cards) everyone can benefit from mindfulness.

OMG hippies stop.

Cheeky mindfulness stock photo..

The problem with mindfulness is not mindfulness itself, but in fact mindfulness as a trend. It is fine to like things, but if we all hype the same thing everybody gets sick of it. (See: furbies, Taylor Swift, Chia Heads, etc)

I recently told somebody “mindfulness is effectively what makes you realize you have to pee before you pee your pants.” You have to cultivate that awareness sometimes- whether it’s about knowing you have to pee, or recognizing the difference between hunger and anxiety, or hanging out with a heavy feeling long enough to figure out what exactly the feeling is.

 

Mindfulness As Adulting

People have many theories for how to manage persistent difficulty of life. While we have different senses of entitlement toward avoiding discomfort, we all need some help to get through the day.  Being realistic about what you have capacity for is a strong adulting skill.

Mindfulness is also useful as it puts the onus of emotional labor on ourselves rather than our loved ones.

While some people manage to get away with outsourcing a lot of this emotional labor to their partners or friends or parents, and while it’s good to support your friends, emotional labor deserves compensation, reciprocity, or appreciation at the very least.

 

Mindfulness is crucial to things like:

 

Anger management (Your face is getting hot! Sounds like time for some deep breathing!)

Noticing what’s happening while you read the news (Are you nauseous now? Did you stop breathing entirely??)

Communicating with medical professionals about things like pain and (side)effects of medications (Nobody else but you knows what is happening to your body.)

 

Maintaining embodiment while having sex with somebody else and communicating your shifting emotional/physical state (These things can often shift midstream during the trajectory of a sexual encounter.)

 

Noticing when you disassociate and tracking what happened before (Did someone make a triggering remark? Did you have a specific kind of interaction? How disassociated did you become? Were you able to remember any of your anchoring techniques?)

 

It has a lot of different applications, but ultimately there’s a lot to gain from noticing where in your body you feel your feelings and paying attention to that over time, and doing some deep breathing if you’re having an overwhelming feeling.

Call it what your want- deep breathing, check yourself before you wreck yourself, it doesn’t matter as long as it works for you.

 

If you have a hard time locating or identifying your feelings, give me a call.

 

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How Trauma is Like Taking an Anxious Dog for a Walk

I have loved a lot of anxious dogs in my life, and while I don’t currently have one of my own, I recently dogsat one this winter named Maggie.

Hello my name is Maggie my pronouns are she and her I like stuffed monkeys with the stuffing pulled out and the stalks of cruciferous vegetables. Also Christmas.

Hello my name is Maggie my pronouns are she and her I like stuffed monkeys with the stuffing pulled out and the stalks of cruciferous vegetables. Also Christmas.

Maggie is great, and is an amount of anxious that feels pretty manageable to me, but she’s still what dog people call “leash reactive.” What that means is that when she gets on a leash, if another dog gets in her face, she freaks out. Seem reasonable- she doesn’t have complete freedom of movement and becomes fearful and lashes out.

 

I live pretty near a big park, which Maggie likes, but lots of other people walk there with their dogs off-leash. This is a problem because:

  1. everyone assumes their personal dog is well-behaved enough in public to be off-leash
  2. b) Maggie gets riled up either way
  3. c) the onus is on me to explain to every passerby “She’s not great with other dogs” or “She’s leash-reactive.”

 

Meanwhile, these well-meaning people who are creating the problem splutter and say things like, “My dog is friendly! She’s all bark no bite!”

 

Which may or may not be true, but the reality is, common sense and legal precedent are that dogs should be walked on leashes. Your dog’s temperament does not make Maggie less reactive.


.

So what does this have to do with trauma?

 

A lot of folks who identify as Having Experienced Trauma have some sense of the scope of their trauma. Most will try to manage their triggers by avoiding certain kinds of media or social events that they anticipate being triggering. That’s pretty reasonable, but the tricky part becomes how much of the world is triggering and what scope of experiences you are hoping to have.

 

Rape Culture is Everywhere

 

If you are somebody who has any history of experience with sexual violence or harassment, it is understandable to want to minimize interactions with people and environments that trigger those experiences.

 

However, you also are entitled to be a person and live in the world, and sometimes when that happens, (especially if a lot of your trauma is unprocessed or feels really big) you may have a reaction that feels unexpected or that you are embarrassed by.

Maggie tearing into a pile of kale stalks.

Maggie tearing into a pile of kale stalks.

What is Your Deal

It often becomes the responsibility of the triggered person to manage the fallout, or explain their own response. Even if nobody seems too perturbed, they simmer in a humming shame at their own erratic body that panics when they desperately want to appear in control of themselves.

 

Meanwhile, the onus of responsibility lies with the person who has experienced trauma to manage their own behavior and reactions from a disdainful world.

 

Trigger Warnings Aren’t Self-Indulgence

Marginalized folks experience a disproportionate amount of trauma. Many well-meaning people would like to operate under the guise that they are sensitive to these issues. However, folks who don’t want to be told to ever change their behavior think traumatized folks are overly sensitive, which shifts all responsibility to the traumatized person.

This responsibility prompts the traumatized person to simply Act Less Traumatized.

What I can tell you for a fact is that does nothing for the person who has experiences trauma. It only reinforces that everyone gets to pretend that nothing bad happened.

Here’s the thing though- it’s not hard to make a little more space for folks with a trauma history. Some ways you could do that include:

Don’t normalize horrific things.

Give folks a heads-up for what’s coming

At the very least we could acknowledge that rape/racism/other terrible things isn’t funny.

HI YES THANK YOU THAT WOULD BE GREAT

HI YES THANK YOU THAT WOULD BE GREAT

Trauma is something that happens to a lot of people, and our reactions can sometimes surprise us. If you continue to be surprised by yourself and need some help making sense of it all, give me a call.

And please walk with your dog on a leash.  Maggie would really appreciate it.

(unless you’re at the Richmond Beach off-leash dog area, in which case, let them roam amongst the driftwood)

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You Don’t Have to Kon Marie Your Life to Get a Date

Hello lovebirds!

Love birds lovin' each other.

Love birds lovin’ each other.

I hope your build-up to this day of great romance is as heavy with chocolate and pink hearts as you want it to be. If you feel entirely salty about this time of year, I wish you an entire salt hill to sit on.

 

Something I hear a lot from folks who are hoping to find romance is about the idea that you have to “make space” in their lives for love.

 

We’re in a cultural zeitgeist very focused on releasing things. We’re clearing out our physical spaces, and allowing more gaps in our scheduling so as not to be work-bots eking out our existence in late capitalism. Many folks feel as if they have to clear their schedules and gut their bookshelves in order to have room to be swept off our feet by love.

You Have a Life Already

For many folks it’s not as if they’re waiting exactly, but they are also hoping for a future with something slightly different. They’ve done a lot of self-improvement and built a life that they’re happy within. The tension lies, for a lot of folks, in the sense of what to do with themselves in the meantime while romance has not yet taken root. Holding the tension of “maybe, that would be nice” with “this is my life, and I can’t control meeting someone who is ready to fall in love with me” can be exhausting.

Room for A Beginning

My best advice for you, if you are hoping for romance to happen to you:

 

You only need room for a beginning. You do not have to give up anything that is precious to you. There is enough love in the galaxy for you to find somebody who’s a good fit. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean anything intrinsic about your value or desirability. It can be about a thousand things, including timing, location, and the alchemy of your particular needs and how it interacts with another person(s).

 

You do not have to turn your life upside down to be good enough. You only need be your weird, essential self and allow the breadth of beginning to exist somewhere. Allow possibility to implant in your life. There will be the opportunity to negotiate egress and changes that may come with time.

You don't have to toss out your vintage drawer handle collection to be ready for love.

You don’t have to toss out your vintage drawer handle collection to be ready for love.

Our schedules and our sense-of-self can accordion depending upon our priorities. Your priorities will inevitably shift over time, whether this expands to include another person, or contracts to settle gently around your own sweet self.

 

There is enough of you that is worthy of love right now. You need room for a beginning, and it can grow from there.

 

If you still feel deeply unworthy of love, give me a call. We can figure that out.

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