This one is just complicated. Lots of moving parts.
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.
Empathy for all. End.