Tag Archives: trauma and human relations

Boundaries and me

At 5:30 this evening I was sitting up in bed, trying to achieve exit velocity from Netflix so I could go stare at the kitchen shelves before making dinner, when my mom walked into my  bedroom.

This was no casual drop-in.  She lives a third of the continent away from me–fifteen hours by car, although her flight was substantially shorter.  I’d opened up to her this week about my current major depressive episode, and this weekend as soon as she was free from prior obligations, she flew out to see me.  We went to dinner, and then she bought me groceries.

Well, first we hugged.  And after we hugged, I went to grab my purse and shut my computer, which involved signing out of instant messenger.  My mom just showed up bbl.

Then I paused, considered that sentence, and added a little 🙂 before actually signing out.  Because with my friends, you can’t take that kind of appearance for granted as a cause for relief and joy.

The people I run with are really big about boundaries.  My friends often fall into a series of overlapping groups that talk about boundaries a lot:  feminists, mental health advocates, sexual assault survivors, survivors of childhood abuse, and people with disabilities, to name a few.  A lot of them are deeply concerned with fighting the social pressures that take away their independence, autonomy, and agency; they want the right to make their own decisions about what they do, where they go, and who they do it with.  I think it’s a good fight and I support it.  But at the same time, I back off from rhetoric about boundaries being the ultimate social good, about how a stated boundary should be inviolably respected; the issue is more complex for me. Continue reading Boundaries and me

Anatomy of a Scar

So a while back I mentioned offhand that, due to my occasional tendency to blurt things out thoughtlessly, I self-sequester from Nice Guys™.  (If you’re like, “Why does this chick hate decent men?” go read that link.  I don’t.  I’m referring to a specific social phenomenon.)  This is not because I dislike and despise Nice Guys™.  It’s actually based out of empathy and compassion because I don’t know how to keep from hurting them right now.  I see a guy self-loathingly talk about how girls never choose him even after all he does for them, and I’m like, “Me = Bull.  You = China shop.  Me = LEAVING before I break you.”

It’s because I used to be one.  (As a girl.  A Nice Girl™.  Gender socialization makes Nice Guydom different than Nice Girldom in many ways, but they both share a common emotional core.  For the purposes of this post I’m reviving the archaic custom of having the masculine pronoun encompass both male and female perspectives of Niceness, unless a specific example is female.) As a Nice Girl, I trailed in the wake of the people I liked.  I gave gifts, attention, and energy, desperately hoping they would love me back.  I never said a word until far too late.  And then when I was turned down, I was devastated.

I used to be one, but then I dedicated myself to years of beating back the darkness in my soul.  Over the course of this quest I have learned secrets of Nice Guyism that no Nice Guy can hear without pain  They are a very potent medicine; they can cure, but it is not a kind cure or an easy one.  They stripped me down to my very darkest place and left me there for a long time.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Scar

The crankybolt strikes

I thought I was a bit snippy before, but then I got some really insightful comments to my post on people “outwitting” their therapists and now I would like to bite something (not my commenters!), as people contributed a lot of great ideas about how clients get set up in adversarial relationships with their therapists.

I have this dangerous habit of naivete that’s hard to break, which is: I forget about bad therapy and people who use therapy badly.  I like to relegate it to this separate place in my head and separate it from my vocation.  We may have come pretty far, but psychotherapy’s roots still go back to deeply toxic structures of institutionalization and social control.

I think a really common thread to the stories I get treated to was that the person was brought into therapy as a child, often for being “weird” or “odd”.  And a lot of child therapists, bless their hearts (she says through gritted teeth) actually do take it as their mission to take “odd” children and turn them into normal, happy, healthy children.  And sadly, a lot of dominant discourses say that normalcy is the path to health and happiness.  “If you stopped monologuing about Pokemon, then you could make friends and have a good social life!”

And, well, these conversations usually take place while at least one of us is in costume.  We’re geeks.  We’re odd children who grew into odd adults.  We monologue at each other.  “Normal” is the shoe that doesn’t fit.

Also, I did some work in my last practicum as a child therapist, and what really got to me was that all the parents assumed at first that taking your kid to therapy was like dropping your car off for an oil change.  You go and someone takes the kid away, and then brings them back 45 minutes later a little bit more fixed!  “Here’s your counsellor, Timmy.  She’s here to make you less of a freak.  I’ll be reading a magazine in the waiting room.”

The nice way to talk to the parents I worked with was, “I’m a stranger who sees your child once a week.  I’m good for what I’m worth, but I am nowhere near as important as you are.  You’re with him every day; you’re one of the foundations of his world.  If I do work with him, unless it’s being supported by things that change at home, it won’t be nearly as effective.”

(That was also the practicum that got me a case of, “Your child’s doing amazingly well considering the circumstances, but holy hell YOU need some psychiatric services STAT.  Let me write up a list of symptoms to take to your GP, and show you how to dial 211.  Also: HOW many social workers, law enforcement officers, and doctors signed off on your case without noticing this?  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”)

I love knowing that people like Social Jerk are slogging it out in the trenches of Child Welfare work, because when I think too much about the way our society practically enshrines a parent’s sense of proprietary ownership over their child I kind of want to swell up into a giant beast of rage and start lighting things on fire.

Shoot, you got me

I travel in pretty geeky circles–renfaire, science fiction conventions, that kind of thing.  Over my life I’ve seen geekdom really blossoming from a weird niche interest into something more socially recognized and accepted, so it carries less of a stigma than I think it used to.  However, it’s still very much full of people who grew up feeling different and weird and rejected by the communities they grew up in.  (*raises hand*)

Some of the people I find it hardest to get along with are people who reacted to those early experiences by becoming defensive, angry, and a little bit paranoid that the world is fundamentally stacked against them. Which, okay, I understand!  It usually comes from a super valid place.  But what I have trouble with is when this is the universal attitude someone goes through the world with.  Everything is an attack, and it’s specifically targeted at them.  Unfair bosses, unkind lovers, uncooperative trains, hot coffee, cold butter pats–you name it.  And nobody, nobody has it worse than them, ever.

No, that’s not what I have a problem with.  It’s what living that way does to a person’s relationships.  If you view the entire world as a hostile and threatening place, it becomes impossible to trust that some people might have genuinely good intentions and the capability to carry them out.  If being the noblest victim who ever was victimized is core to who you are, you lose the ability to be empathetic or compassionate to other people who are struggling (unless they are exactly like you somehow).  There’s no space for gentleness or authentic sharing of self.  Everything becomes so harsh and instantly judged.

(Then there is also the fact that when you perceive yourself as helpless, you lose touch with your ability to wield power over other people.  Not that you lose the power–though depending on the circumstance you may or may not get any; you just lose your awareness of when you have it or how you’re using it, and you’ve abdicated responsibility for decisions regarding it.  This can make people who think of themselves as powerless infinitely more dangerous than those who accept what power they do or don’t have at the moment.)

Anyway, this came to mind when I was reminded of one of the reactions I’m least fond of, when I tell people what I do.  (If you meet a therapist socially, and you think that you are being witty and unique by joking “I should be your client!” or “You should write an article about me!”–you really, really aren’t.)  And that is the wary, defensive people who say, “I went to a therapist once, but I figured out everything she wanted, so I outwitted her and never went back.”

Trying to outwit your therapist is like putting on a raincoat before you get in the shower, and then bragging that you didn’t get wet.  It’s essentially missing the point.  The point of therapy is to have a person who is, for the time you are together, entirely dedicated to hearing what you have to say and helping you with your problems.  The therapist’s conclusions or observations are ultimately irrelevant compared to what that process is like for you. It’s those actual butt-in-chair hours talking and trying to let someone else understand you that heal.  There are often clients whose problems I can call ahead of time from one session in, but it would be absolutely no help at all if I just dumped the cerebral knowledge, “You’re never going to be as good at your work as you want to be, because it’s really a substitute for feeling like a worthy person; eventually you have to embrace that and start getting angry at your parents for neglecting you all your life” on them.  It would be the opposite of helpful.  They need to process it a little bit at a time, doing most of the work themselves.

So if you’re going to walk in and be entirely closed to that process of forming a bond of trust based on empathy and understanding, uh, congratulations; you have sabotaged your own therapy.  What, you realized we therapists want to talk to you about difficult emotions and vulnerable areas and this process might be hard for you?  OH NOES OUR SECRETS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.  (Except therapy works even if you know how it works, because life’s a bitch that way.)

I do my best, with these little chitchat exchanges, not to let a smart remark fly out of my mouth.  Oh, you outwitted your therapist?  “I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience,” I say politely, and go check out the vendor booths.  Not to mention, when I get drawn into debates about psychology and sociology with this kind of nerd, I tend to pull a Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and not quite realize that I’ve just emotionally gutted my conversational partner until we both become aware of a pool of blood spreading on the floor.  (I self-sequester from Nice Guys™ these days.)

I still haven’t found a right imaginary occupation–you know, when you lie and say that you’re an accountant just to stop having the super awkward conversations about your job.  (Do accountants have these? Must ask.)