Letting you know, this will be a serial, irregularly updated. If you like it, tell me. Short stories are not my strength at all, so even limiting myself to 3 page chapters in a serial is a talent stretch for me. Like @SeananMcGuire ‘s Firstborn, I build worlds.
The hardest thing about being a therapist isn’t the emotional labor, or dealing with insurance, or even everyone & their brother wanting free help.
It’s patience. It’s being able to clock the client’s problem in the first 15 min but spending 6 months nudging their agency.
(Spoiler: Big Little Lies)
One of the best sequences in BLL is Celeste & her therapist. Doc knows from first meeting with Celeste & Perry that he’s an abusive shitstain, but Celeste isn’t ready for that. Respecting Celeste’s agency demands working through her process of …
…We have a little communication problem
This is our dynamic
I’m just as responsible
We’re okay except when we’re not
OMFG He’s going to kill me if I don’t GTFO.
As far as I can tell, that’s something like 6 months in terms of show and about that in real therapy.
When a client comes in, I’m rarely the 1st person they’ve talked to. There’s a good chance they’ve *edged* around their issue with a friend, cleric, social worker, nurse/doc/PA/NP. They’ve probably googled some, read some PsychToday articles, reddit, written an advice columnist.
But they don’t have the vocabulary. They’re the experts in their body and their mind, but they’re amateurs. To use the car mechanic analogy, they know they hear a whine coming from the hood area. They know it’s wrong & new. They don’t know why/what changed. They need an expert.
With every new client, I have to start over with beginner’s mind. I have to know their context.
What’s prompted this thread is a Captain Awkward thread & the stance that it’s a no quarter given, absolute responsibility of white people to handle other white people’s racism. (H/T to AnaMardoll)
Now, to be clear, I disagree with the absolutist premise. I think when we reach self-actualization & the upper levels of Maslow, then yes, we ARE REQUIRED to police our own. But I’m not going to ask that of someone who is just realizing she’s in an emotionally abusive sitch.
To advocate for others requires a level of emotional/physical security for oneself, plus the vocabulary of boundaries & self-confidence and social empathy to to push back. Plus, in a roomie situation, the financial ability to walk away. Several steps up Maslow, at least level 3.
I think LW is at the Celeste “minor communication problem” stage. She knows her roommate displays SHITTY AWFUL BEHAVIOR.
But she works w/ him, maybe commutes with him (she mentions a mobility issue in passing), lives w/ him, can’t afford Bye, boy!
She wants behavior to stop.
I never, ever, ever meet clients when they are their best, most empathetic, most socially conscious & capable selves. They wouldn’t be in my office if all was 👍. (Duh.) Same for someone writing for advice. They’ve got a problem. They can’t solve it.
So we must assume the letter writer’s baseline isn’t “I’m living my best life on the way to Enlightenment.”
It’s “pls send help or ballgag. Don’t care which.”
LW may not be short on calories/O2/H2O (Maslow 1), but Maslow 2 is shaky. Housing, body and employment depend…
… on maintaining eggshells around guy.
She says clearly that pushing back will bring a long debate, piss him off, or drunk tears. She’s already using OK strategies to deflect & a metric ton of avoidant strategies. It’s not improving. There’s no route to Maslow 5 for her.
Telling her to DTMFA is counter-productive. He’s in her house, in her job. Yeah, she uses the word friend. That’s not what she describes. She describes someone she socialized with, who seemed reasonable at the remove of work and foosball, which led to shared housing.
Most people have shitty definitions of, and gradations within the word “friend”. English sucks that way. We don’t have specific terms for
—people I see at $Hobby
—Works in same building, we sometimes share lunch table
—can call for bail $$
—will handle my funeral
Friend is vast.
Too vast. It sounds like the LW wants to maintain cordiality with the asshat until circumstances change.
But she’s new to this. She thinks it’s a communication problem, that he won’t take “shut the fuck up about your unacknowledged fetish” without causing more crap.
Narrator voice: Isn’t a communication problem.
This is an emotionally exploitative relationship. Guy’s Cool Lesbian Friend is his emotional dump. He forces her involvement in his emotional/sexual needs, w/o her consent. He’s an emotional flasher who jacks off through his mouth.
We don’t know what she’s not saying (financial & mobility issues never bode well for egalitarian co-housing…) but from her own words, yeah, it’s exploitation.
But that’s an emotionally scary place & she’s just starting to ask for help now.
Vocab not yet installed.
If she’s in my comfy chair, the first thing we’re doing is affirming her agency, because that’s something she’s NOT getting in the rest of her life. We’re helping her establish boundaries, routines, improving her avoidance strategies while we recharge her sense of self so… …she can progress. If she wants to say, “dude, that’s racist,” then WALK OUT & go to movie/class/yoga, I’m gonna encourage that, because dude’s never gonna hear it elsewhere.
But if she just wants to roll her eyes & walk away, that’s fine, too. He’s not her fixer-upper.
She’ll get to a point of self-confidence & actualization & she will tell him off. (Or she’ll just lose what control she has.) But she’s just starting.
Nobody is born self-actualized.
We don’t download social empathy on our 21st birthdays.
Would be nice if we did.
I’d like this to be an easy conversation about confronting racism & cutting off the shitheads in our midst.
(Which is my 🥇strategy. Isolate the fuckers. But we haven’t yet set aside Nebraska for people who won’t live in peace with others.)
Alas, our housing market. So…
We once had SROs & furnished boarding houses for people starting out/over. Which sucked in their ways, but it was common enough for people to move. Now we do roommates & lock ourselves into year commitments with strangers. Who sometimes behave ok in public & 💩 on floor at home.
And yes, white people, it’s our job to confront the racists in our midsts.
Just as it’s not every woman’s job to take men through Misogyny 101, the job of confronting racism is adjustable. An eye roll & walking away is not a Seminar, but it’s a valid step.
(More to follow)
So white folk. It’s our job, we have to develop the emotional strategies to deal with our asshats. We can’t expect anyone else to do it, but fuck them, they don’t make it easy.
So, to borrow from the Murderinos: politeness is overrated. Walk away when the racists start 🤮
Deprive them of attention, positive and negative. Don’t engage. Don’t give the seminar. Don’t exhaust yourself arguing. (More on this in a minute…) Just stop. Turn your back. Close the door. Go away. That’s level 1. That’s the least we can do, and the broadest base strategy.
Let’s all get to at least that page, and we can start talking next steps.
But arguing/debating/ engaging is often counter-productive, too. The asshat in question wants to use other people as an emotional dump, so he doesn’t have to process his own shit for himself. He’s outsourcing his feelings.
He’s an emotional flasher, jacking off via mouth.
If you’re into that, go for it.
If not, turn your back, walk away, go away. Close the door.
Let him get constipated/blue balls.
(Oh, fuck, this metaphor is gross.)
Yes, he’s likely to immerse himself in the slime pits of reddit/MGTOW.
(Narrator: he’s already there.)
They’re consenting to their verbal circle jerk.
It’s icky, it’s causing harm, but we have to build the baseline of Everybody Gets Boundaries!
That means shunning this behavior.
I don’t like it. It’s messy therapy & messy prosocial behavior.
But expecting the t-ball team to play Yankee stadium just makes the t-ball team feel like they’re failures.
People just starting their emotional journey don’t need to take shit from the experts. Empathy for all. End
PS: Now, the last fragment, from the social empathy perspective.
This is my job. We therapists build and foster social empathy in people whose empathy-ers have been injured or infected or atrophied.
We’re in the trenches, doing base work. We don’t see people at their best.
When advocates present an absolute – that all people should do thing – that adds pressure on people already not in their best places.
Truly, one of the easiest ways to turn a moderate into a MAGAt is to tell them they suck at everything and should be shunned for Doin It Rong.
Because vulnerability is exactly that. It’s a soft, open wound. We protect ourselves. So when advocates say you suck, you will always suck, you cannot be redeemed…
well, the deplorables say awful things, too, but they don’t think I’m horrible because I’m stressed & scared.
Remember when you’re an advocate, you’re something of an expert. Far beyond beginner’s mind. You have vocabulary, you have practice. You have the mental and emotional musculature to see and act on social empathy.
You’re not a beginner. Don’t expect your performance from a noob.
Because in beginner’s emotional submind, the dialogue sounds like this:
Pick one… people who hate me, or people who don’t and hate the people who hate me?
Congratulations, this is how MAGAts, and a whole lot of other antisocial behavior, breed.
Isolate the ones who are active and noisy and are CURRENTLY BEING AWFUL.
But give the noobs & undetermined just a little latitude. Just a little. Tiny bit of patience. Let them know that we have tools to help, and we understand that you have to put your own oxygen on first.
Let them know we want them on our side when they can, that we want to help. That whatever their privilege, it will help them get out of their hole, and they need to use it now, so when they’re ready, they can help everyone else.
That it’s OKAY to use your own privilege for yourself when your situation is bad. But you have to use it to alter your situation.
You can’t just wallow & complain.
That alteration takes time.
And we don’t hate you because you’re stressed and scared.
⬆️ Washington Post article that inspired this. Read it first.
Let’s start with career: a police officer. He seems like he was a good one, but two aspects of personality are drawn to law enforcement: a need for control, and authoritarian thinking. These are the two traits that tend to lead to dysfunctional behavior.
Then there’s his child’s severe, ultimately fatal, devastating illness. He’s self-aware enough to directly associate his gun buying with crises in her illness (and that makes him an EASY client) but he continually chooses the avoidance object (guns) over letting go of control.
During his wife’s illness, he’s basically alone & caring for a dying woman’s body well after her personality faded. This is devastating, watching your loved one die hundreds of times. And he was alone. This is a failure of his community: the police fraternal, neighbors, friends.
This is a guess, but I’ve done enough geriatrics work to make the bet: at some point, he started listening to AM talkers &/ Fox News. He was lonely, he needed adult interaction and respite, he wanted to hear human voices, he needed something to think about that wasn’t dementia.
There are some strong neurological reasons why people in distress turn to Fox/AM talkers, but the simple one is this: they serve as a tiny dose of uppers. Anger/fear stimulate neurotransmitters associated with elevated heart rate, better O2 uptake, heightened attention (panic).
Caring for terminally ill people alone is exhausting. You never get enough or deep enough sleep. You can’t read, eat, meditate, pee by yourself. Exhaustion means you slip on cleaning/maintenance, which adds shame, which makes you less likely to ask for help, so more fatigue.
And this is a person in desperate need of control, has been his whole life. He couldn’t control cancer. Nor dementia. Nor exhaustion. But he’s got these voices — the only voices in his life who seem to talk about things other than diapers & meds — offering energy through anger.
So yes! He’s grabbing every bit of the drug that right-wing media offers. It’s his lifeline.
What’s sad? He’s an easy client, if we’d gotten him when his daughter got sick. He needed an own voice shrink – preferably someone with EMS service – who was an absolute ally. But easy.
The point we must take away from this article is the one the author also missed: the community failed this man so often that the only option left was the civil temporary seizure of his guns.
His police union should have been keeping up with him.
His wife’s church.
I often say that 80% of a shrink’s workload is a social work issue; loneliness and overwhelm that can be fixed with help and money are not psychological issues.
Medicare is partly responsible here: it doesn’t cover either mental health or social health in a functional way.
But this is also the world that the authoritarian mindset wants: a world where all people are islands, where we cannot trust anyone outside of ourselves, where people paid to take an interest in us are to be despised. Because in that world, it’s much easier to *sell* things.
There’s a reason that authoritarianism tracks closely to laissez faire capitalism: the authoritarian wants to be the one with the solution, and wants to be able to sell it with no restrictions.
Then there’s the misogyny side: Toxic masculinity devalues emotional labor, including the emotional labor of social work, which doesn’t pay the authoritarians for their One Simple Solution, therefore, social work is devalued. Paid help can’t be real in the authoritarian mind.
Even if wife’s hospice had offered this man help, his need for control, his authoritarian mindset, and the RW media/toxic masculinity conditioning would have led him to devalue any assistance offered if it didn’t come from a volunteer (friend.)
And the end result is, in this case, ultimately not a disaster. We have an angry, traumatized, bitter, lonely survivor but he has a few strong connections. (Though those connections may be damaged because he’s ashamed of the civil order.)
But he’s alive & people are listening.
Too often, it ends the other way, with his body found a couple weeks later.
So what’s the alternative? His police union should have stepped up. Other retired cops should have been dropping in, picking up a mop or doing some laundry. Talking about grownup shit that has nothing to do with dementia or cancer. They should have provided HIS mind respite.
Hospice should have provided at least one weekly 4 hour respite caregiver so this man could go elsewhere or just have a shower all by himself. That’s $80 a week, so even over a year of hospice care, it’s still only $4K. It’s cheap.
His own doctor should have been able to refer him to a house-call therapist who came by a couple times a month to talk to him.
House call, because putting the logistics on someone who is already overwhelmed just leads to failure. Again, Medicare can cover this for minimal money.
And let me be clear: Mental health is not the same as mental illness or injury. Someone can be mentally or behaviorally unhealthy – have detrimental habits of mind and coping mechanisms – without a chemical imbalance, neural/cognitive disorder or dysfunctional context.
Unhealthy behavior happens because we’ve learned it works for a short-term result. Yelling at your spouse gets you your way. Hitting your kid makes them comply. Drinking two shots provides an immediate calming effect. Humans like maximum result for minimum effort: we’re lazy.
We also don’t do long-term thinking well or naturally. So when we’re stressed, we turn to what has offered some relief in the past and fail to evaluate if that relief
2) improved the situation
3) affected others.
We reinforce our dysfunctional behaviors when they offer simple, quick relief or anodyne. Which is not to say self-care, even our less perfect coping mechanisms, are specifically bad for us. Some are, some aren’t. But they’re all temporary.
When we break our ACL, we take NSAIDS & ice for immediate comfort & healing, but the fix usually requires surgery or serious PT or both. Dysfunctional behavior is like popping Tylenol but never doing the exercises. The knee doesn’t get better; the stress situation remains.
The point of self-care is to recharge enough to do the mental work of changing the irritant. Often, when we start self-care, we’ve got such a deficit that we need weeks or months of charge, but we have to make the change.
And that’s why we need a lot more access to therapy & social work at all levels.
Because right now? We’re using guns to compensate for lack of control and anxiety. RW media to compensate for social isolation and loneliness, the police to compensate for a frayed social network.
We’ve got to break out of those social dysfunctions, those short-term behaviors that don’t fix the underlying problems.
(Note: read the link if possible. I like the gifs.)
I’ve spent my entire professional career putting people back together after trauma, especially gun trauma. 19 years.
When I say I’m tired of it, I’ve earned it.
When I say I find the vast majority of gun owners insecure, immature & lacking empathy, I’m speaking from experience.
Let’s talk about avoidance. It’s what we do when we don’t want to do something, but can’t just say we don’t want to. It’s having a headache instead of going out with a difficult friend, or pretending your mother’s voicemail got garbled instead of admitting you just X’ed it.
As a culture, we’ve been avoiding the gun discussion for decades. We talk about metal detectors in schools, background checks, or hardened safe rooms. When we talk about these, we’re not talking about the simple premise that a gun is a tool that does nothing but kill.
That’s a gun’s sole purpose. It’s not about protection or self defense or hunting. It’s about intentionally killing. Even when we only use them for target practice, the paper target is practice for killing. And the people who advocate for guns are practicing murder.
We need to stop avoiding this and start thinking about it. The people who believe their gun rights are more important than other people’s right to live in safety are prioritizing their desire to own property that kills over other people’s lives. It really is that simple.
Most gun owners hate hearing this. They want to believe they are an exception. They want to justify their fears & anger & self-interest. But they’re driven by fear of other people, by their own sense of insecurity, and selfishness.
We have to face this, as culture. Gun owners need to face this.
A home with badly secured guns is more likely to be robbed, b/c the *guns* are the object of desire. A home w/ a secured gun safe? Less likely to be robbed, safer for everyone who lives there. There is nothing in your house worth taking a life. It’s just stuff.
A person who keeps a gun for home protection is more likely to fatally injure a family member in the middle of the night. Your kid may sneak out. It’s what kids do. That transgression shouldn’t risk death. Most of us don’t trust ourselves w/ snacks at night. Guns aren’t snacks.
Women who own guns to protect themselves from stranger rape or domestic violence are more likely to have those guns turned on themselves. Domestic violence kills 3 of us every day. That’s 3 times the per capita rate in the UK, and 5 times the Swedish rate. Most rapists are known.
Half of medication suicide attempts fail, and the vast majority of people who attempt suicide do not want to have died. 95% of people who attempt suicide with a gun succeed. If more of them failed, perhaps we’d know they didn’t want to die, either. But we can’t ask. They died.
I’m not saying don’t hunt; I know elk herds need management. I’m saying there’s a perfect tool for meat hunting& it’s neither a hand gun nor a semi-automatic rifle. It’s either a compound bow or a long-range rifle. The bow is better for you. It improves your core strength, and… …and we know that elderly people with good core strength are less prone to life-threatening falls, and maintain their activity levels deeper into extreme old age. Bow hunting is good for your brain and body. Learning new skills protects against brain degeneration.
In terms of hunting, gun hunting is low skill, high consumption. It has a low challenge rating, says the practitioner is unwilling to work on their skills. With a semi-automatic, it’s kind of contemptible, trading ammo money for accuracy. If you want fun & rapid, try paintball.
Of all guns, the semi-auto is the easiest to give up, with the lowest skill rating, the least utility, does the most damage for the least return. It’s not even good for punching holes in paper targets. Use the right tool for the job, and we have no arguments.
But we’ve got to stop failing to think about what we’re allowing. We cannot prioritize the individual fantasy of Wolverines! Over the Wall! John Wayne Rides Again! against the whole of society.
If a patient comes into my office telling me they think they have a right to hit their child or spouse, we dig into that error of thinking. Because it is an error. Gun ownership is that same error, writ large. It says,“I have the right to decide who lives or dies in my presence.”
That is monstrous arrogance, bordering on sociopathy. And it’s time to face it. We need to call the arrogance and fear by their names and stop avoiding the reality we’ve created. #StopTheNRA#StudentsStandUp
A UTS is an Unrolled Tweet Storm. I find that I’m doing a lot more of my super-short and short work on Twitter, not because I especially like the platform (I’m ambivalent) but because the 280 character limit makes me edit my words.
Since a woman who writes 700,000 word epic fantasies actually needs to learn to brief it up. (There’s gonna be an update on that here in a couple days.)
It’s not going to happen, I’m going to continue to gush words like I’ve opened an artery, but at least each paragraph I write will have a limit, and Twitter only lets me have 25 tweets in a thread before it tells me to either wrap it up, delete it, or post the bastard and let people react.
I’ll add each tweet storm as I unroll them (or as someone else does for me, because that happens, too, and it makes me blush every time.)
The first one I wrote worth keeping is this, written a week after Parkland. It’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of guns. I grew up around them, but on base, the regs keep them locked up, secured. Only MPs have them. Having them in the house is a terrible idea, especially with two adults who abuse the hell out of each other. I can admit I had both suicidal ideation and homicidal ideation when the legally responsible parties were getting their Narc Gas Supply from each other. (Long years later, it’s more that I wouldn’t direct a stream of pee at either one, even if they were on fire.) If a gun had been in any house during my childhood, there’s a very good chance someone would not have survived. But they weren’t, and we all did.
And then my cousin (not first cousin, but effectively so, because my 8 great aunts and great-grandmother were enmeshed in one another’s lives, and so where their kids and grandkids, and we’re all part of the same generation) was killed by a responsible gun owner — a gunsmith! — in 2012. The gunsmith test-fired a gun across a small lake. The bullet went through the wall and into my sleeping cousin who’d just come off a night shift. He died before he got to the hospital and left a devastated widow and three children, with very little life insurance or compensation from his killer. The gunsmith got 60 days suspended and pled down to a misdemeanor so as far as I know, the gunsmith can still own guns. That’s how easily a responsible gun owner becomes a murderer.
My professional life is full of trauma, and a gun plays into most of the situations that gets a client and me in the same room. I can’t say I’ve seen all of the scenarios, but human dramas are like narratives: there are only so many possible ways for an incident to go. TVTropes is not just a time suck, it breaks down most of the personality archetypes and story arcs available to bipedal mammals who sexually reproduce and have decoupled reproduction from emotion.
As always, I moderate comments. I have rather little patience with apologists or those who want to claim they are the exception. I doubt they are. We can have a conversation about it, but we’re going to do it on Twitter, and I have specific questions I start with. I think if they went into a therapeutic relationship with openness and honesty, they’d realize they’re not unique, not nearly the hero they think they are, and have harmed those around them for a long time. But I don’t see that happening, because people who are so afraid of neighbors are also terrified of themselves, and cannot face either fear. I mostly pity them, but if you’re reading contempt, it’s not subtext.
Sometimes the UTS will be related (1 and 2; 3 and the one I’m planning for tomorrow, for example). We’ll see how this goes.