Reader Request: Explaining Mental Health Status to Parents

This is a reader request (Thank you again, by the way). This post will cover 1)Doing some self-reflection to sort out what is making you want to talk to your parents about your mental health status, 2)Figuring out how safe the situation is for this, 3)Preparing for the talk, 4)Ways to go about having this kind of conversation with your parents, and 5)How to make your own safety plan in case things don’t go as well as you’d like. I want to make sure that whatever you decide to do, it is a decision that you thought all the way through, that was not made in a rush or impulsively, and that your safety and health is a priority.

#1: Self-Reflection  

What is making you want to tell your parents about your mental health status? This is a great time to reflect on what is motivating you to want to make this decision. It’s hard to figure out what to say if you don’t have a clear idea of what the end goal is here. Like writing an essay or making any persuasive argument, it’s always good to have your goal in mind from the very beginning. That will be your compass in navigating this whole thing. Are you telling your parents so they understand why you need money/financial assistance/health insurance (for medication, therapy, etc)? Or maybe because you need emotional support and/or to fit them into your social supports/safety planning? Or you want to tell them so you can set better boundaries with them? Whatever your reasons are and whatever your end goal is, you should hash that out 1st. Mindfulness techniques [101 post here] could be key here if you aren’t sure how to tap into yourself and figure out what your needs specifically are. Talk to your friends and other people you trust to get their perspective too if that will help you look at this situation from every angle possible.

#2: Assess the Situation 

How much do you rely on your parents? Are you a minor/dependent? Are they paying for your college or do you need them to fill out your FAFSA? Are you under their insurance? Do you live with them or rely on them for money? These kinds of things are what you are potentially risking if things don’t go exactly as you hope. This isn’t to scare you. This is to help you plan while looking at the pros and cons of each decision you make. The cons would be what you could be risking here by sharing your mental health status with your parents, who, depending on the situation, could have a lot of power over you. What are the realistic chances they will support you? How did they respond in similar situations in the past and what kind of support did they give you? How did you feel about the support they gave you back then? Do you have any worries that they might not support you or that they might try to harm you? My point here is to help you reflect on what they could probably do according to evidence based in what they have already said and done in their past…not what you hope they could do. 

#3: Prepping for the Talk 

Okay so you’re taking the time to do some self-reflection and you’re assessing your situation for risks and any safety concerns. Great. Now, it’s time to start getting ready for any response, including acceptance, rejection, gaslighting (A type of psychological abuse where someone manipulates another person until they start to question reality or their mental health. The word “gaslighting” was inspired by a 1938 play/1944 movie called “Gas Light”.), or silencing. Some things you can do to prepare for this talk (or any major talk) include:

  1. Safety planning: So what is the worst case scenario? No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios, but it’s important to plan for the worst (while hoping for the best). You’ve already assessed the situation and have a solid idea of the risks here. Now that you have that awareness, how can you protect yourself from those risks the best you can. Like wearing protective gear or like coming up with a Plan B in case things go left. In psychotherapy, therapists and clients work together on creating formal and informal safety plans whenever a client is in a risky situation. See my post on Suicide here for a more detailed description of a safety plan and for questions to get you started on creating your own plan. 

  2. Self Care. Self Care. Self Care. I don’t think y’all hearing me…SELF CARE. If you have not read my piece on self care here before this point, please time a couple mins to check it out. Definitely pay special attention to the reflection questions I asked in the 2nd half for help figuring out which self care strategies and habits work best for you. Self care is about being compassionate and loving to yourself in a harsh world. It is about taking the time to learn yourself and your needs and investing in yourself and in your future health. Not only is self care important for this talk, but it is key for your mental health and general life satisfaction.

  3. It’s also time to revisit the boundaries 101 piece here. I also suggest checking out Part 1 here of a 2-part boundaries 201 piece I wrote for the holidays: the setting boundaries with toxic loved ones. Just like self care, clear strong boundaries are so incredibly important for good whole body health and personal happiness. Like I’ve said before, learning how to set and maintain clear, firm boundaries is 1 of the most important skills to learn in life. Solid boundaries are armor/protection and they are permission/freedom to really be yourself with people in those relationships. Boundaries keep everyone on the same page, nurture the connection you have with them, and can bring you closer. Remember that you cannot control other people’s behavior, but you can control your behavior and, to different degrees, you can control what you tolerate in your life. Firm boundaries are an important part of self care and part of your safety plan. Regardless of how your parents react, your top priority is the protection of your mental health. And this is all easier said than done. It can be hard to set boundaries at home, especially when setting boundaries was never taught at home and/or your parents have fragile, vague boundaries themselves or even no boundaries at all. But this is worth it. Again, you are worth the effort.

  4. You could practice what you want to say and/or role-play with friends or any other trusted person in your life. This could be helpful to make sure that you are getting your point across in a clear, easy-to-understand way. In therapy, therapists and clients also role-play to help clients work through any anxiety they might feel leading up to a talk like this. Or practice by writing down everything you want to say in advance and reading it out loud and/or emailing it to a friend.

#4: The Conversation 

Ultimately, how you want to do this is up to you. No one knows your life like you do. You are an expert on your life and your situation. That’s why I put so much emphasis and went so hard on the importance of self-reflection, mindfulness, setting boundaries, talking/reflecting with people you trust, and self care earlier. Tapping into yourself and digging deeper is going show more revelations and pieces of wisdom than I think a lot of people would give themselves credit for. What I do want to cover here is some suggestions I have for when you are finally ready to have the first actual conversation with your parents about your mental health status:

When?

  • I’d suggest having a private conversation ideally when no one is in a rush to be somewhere else. You want as much of the focus and attention to be on you as possible.

  • If the person isn’t reasonably making time for you, that already says a lot about where their priorities are at (And if people tell you who they are…). That’s new information added to your situation right there. Assessing your situation is never a 1-time thing. Your plan, etc. can always be updated with any new information.

How?

  • You could write a letter/send an email or text. I personally prefer looking into someone’s eyes and seeing body language when having serious conversation, but I can definitely understand the necessity for other ways of communication, depending on the situation and your safety.

  • Another option is writing a letter/text/email as a kickstarter to the in-person conversation (“Read this when you get a chance. I wanna talk about it when we’re both free.”). Assuming the person reads it, this can be a great way to get your points across in an organized, lower pressure way with less chances of being interrupted.

  • Talk in person in private with talking points. Have an idea of what you want to say going into the conversation . This is where all that planning and possibly role-playing helps.

  • You don’t have to go it alone. Tell other people in your family who could help you have this conversation. Maybe, for whatever reason, this isn’t a 1-person job. That’s cool. Who are some allies you could get to help you break this down to your parents? I’m assuming these people were on your safety plan so maybe part of the support they could give you is help you speak to your parents in the moment. Try to find a balance between them helping you and them speaking for you. This is your conversation, not theirs. 

  • Talk in person with a medical/mental health provider in the room with you. The provider could help you explain the medical specifics if you personally have trouble with that. Or if your parents value and put a lot of trust in authority figures, you have someone like that in your corner. 

What?

  • Break down your symptoms in basic language and what it means for your everyday life. For example, “I’m dealing with this, that, and the third…and that is why you see me struggle with xyz or that’s why I’ve been doing abc”. The goal here is to help make your symptoms easier to explain, but also putting the focus on you, your health, and how they can support. 

  • Research and/or find supportive quotes from religious texts if you think your parents would be open to that.

  • Be specific about the kind of support you need from them. This is tied to knowing yourself and having clear communication and clear boundaries. If you don’t know what you really need, it’s hard to ask for help from others. 

The Blame Game: A quick note about blame. When dealing with shocking and/or upsetting news, it’s pretty common to cope with the situation by trying to find the first thing to blame.  Feeling out of control in the face of this new information, it’s very human to want to change the focus and energy on something else as a distraction and/or to feel more in control. Parents, the humans that they are, could react to the conversation by looking for someone or something to blame. Whether they chose to blame themselves, something you did or didn’t do, etc., it actually has nothing to do with you. It is how they’re deciding to cope with the update of your mental health status.  Putting it plainly: This is their mess. This isn’t you. This isn’t even for you. This is for THEIR comfort, not yours. The blame game distracts from the real focus of all this: your very real, life experiences and what you need from your parents here and now.

So, how are you feeling about all this? I know this is a lot to think about. I hope with this piece, you can begin to reflect on your situation and make informed decisions. By making time for self-reflection, taking a step back & looking at your situation closely, doing what you need to do to prep for the talk, including making a safety plan in case things aren’t ideal, setting firm boundaries, etc. you are making yourself and your health a high priority. Always weigh the pros and the cons. Study the benefits and the costs. Assess the risks. You are worth the effort.


Thanks for reading. The next piece will be Part 2 of the 2-Part Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home series in time for the holiday season, focusing on using boundaries as tools to build and make all the relationships in your life even stronger on Sunday 12/23/18.

Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home Part 1

If you haven’t read my piece on “How to Set Boundaries” here, you should. It’s basically an intro to this more complicated issue. Setting boundaries with draining/toxic/abusive relatives, friends, loved ones, etc. isn’t easy. Like I said in the intro piece, setting boundaries with loved ones can be hard, “especially if you are used to your boundaries being laughed at, ignored, pushed aside, or not even acknowledged (common in child emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, child neglect, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, etc.).” People in these situations learn to live with the fear that if they set boundaries, even really small ones (like needing alone time or a safe space), they will be punished for it. In the face of danger and/or fear, people mainly talk about fight and flight, but another common response is not resisting. The person begins to believe that no resistance = no pain. Boundaries are our protection and armor, but many people have grown used to going through life with little to no protection. Maybe you feel like there’s no point in having that armor up because nobody will respect it anyway. Maybe you feel like you’ve gotten this far, why do you need protection now? Again, give the intro to boundaries piece a read. Setting and maintaining firm boundaries is playing the long game with your physical and mental health and your life in general. And that all said, it’s one thing to know how to set boundaries, it’s a whole other beast to take this knowledge home. Learning new habits and breaking cycles is literally life changing work. Some of those dynamics in your family and with your friends/loved ones are YEARS in the making and feel hard to break/change after all this time. With this piece, I want to help y’all begin to apply the intro to boundaries information to your real-life, complicated situations. It’s time to start to taking your knowledge home and make some real life changes.

What Are Boundaries? –  Level 201

Aight so boom, when we talked about boundaries back in August, we covered the importance of boundaries as a way to take care of your physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Having clear, firm boundaries is a kind of self care strategy. Self care is often stereotyped as drinking tea and having spa days, but self care is actually paying attention to what your body and mind need and taking steps to meet those needs. Mindfulness techniques (Here’s the intro piece I wrote about mindfulness) are very helpful in connecting with yourself to really get a sense of what your true needs are. I also wrote a intro piece here about self care if you need a deeper explanation of what self care is. Clear, strong boundaries are a sign that someone really knows themselves and knows how to take care of themselves. It’s like working out and knowing just what your body needs to grow without damaging yourself. Or knowing that you can’t stay out late helping someone if it means cutting into your sleep when you have something important happening the next day. Again, it’s playing the long game with your physical and mental health. You can’t be at your best if you are constantly drained and burnt out. That’s not a healthy or satisfying life. Knowing yourself and knowing your own personal limitations is key. Also your personal boundaries will naturally change as you change as a person. Like a snake needing to shed old skin as it gets older. Likewise, it’s okay to need to and want to change boundaries as you change.

Like I’ve said in the intro to boundaries piece, boundaries are not about setting limits on other people’s behaviors. You can’t control other people. You can only change and control yourself. Boundaries are ultimately guidelines for yourself so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation. Basically, drawing lines in the sand like in old school cartoons. Setting a boundary can be as straightforward as: “If you want to come over, call/text me first” or “It offends/hurts me when you say that if you’re gonna keep doing this, I won’t be around you”. If people don’t make real efforts to respect your boundary, they don’t give a damn about you. So, at that point, where do you go from here? What can you do? I’d suggest separate yourself from people: block them, stop doing business with them, stop giving them money, etc. Setting boundaries requires a realistic awareness of yourself and compassion towards your own psychological/emotional needs. Let me repeat that last bit: Setting boundaries requires having COMPASSION for yourself. Just because you are used to being treated a certain way and that’s how it’s always been, doesn’t mean that’s how it should always be. Like I said before, people change and if your situation doesn’t work for you, it’s time for a change.

“Okay, But It’s Not That Simple”

Sometimes, it’s for real not that easy to cut someone off or to just leave them. There are times and situations where you legit have to be practical and/or think about your safety, unfortunately. And that’s real (and it’s not your fault). Just like with coming out as queer and/or trans, sometimes the situation requires really analyzing the situation. If you are worried about the potential consequences that could come from you setting boundaries with a particular person, pay attention to that intuition. Intuition saves lives and that gut feeling is probably accurate. Speaking of safety: Would trying to cut them off or leaving them have any effect on your safety or livelihood? Are you financially dependent on this person/people? Do you share custody of children? Do you live with them and rely on them to pay their half of the rent? That’s all real and needs to be taken into consideration. If you can’t just cut people off now (or for the foreseeable future while you figure something out), there are still things that can be done to limit your interaction with this person. There are still ways to protect your mental and physical health as much as possible. And this is still a part of the many ways to do self care.

It can feel impossible to set boundaries in these situations, but there are things someone can do even then. Remember, boundaries are not about controlling or changing other people’s behavior. Boundaries are guidelines for yourself. What are some ways you can practice self care by limiting the time/contact spent around draining and/or toxic people in your life? A former client of mine felt suffocated by everyone in her house because she was the main caretaker of everyone in the house (kids & adults) and each person was constantly draining her energy and time. She just wanted some time alone to herself to recharge. She had been trying to set direct boundaries herself with her relatives, but they would outright ignore her or act like they were going to change, but never did. She was burning out fast and crying tears of frustration in my office. We brainstormed possible solutions and we finally decided that I, her therapist, would prescribe mandatory alone time in the park at least 3x a week for an hour as medical treatment for “stress”. In this situation, the woman couldn’t just walk away from the situation or cut people off so we found a way for her to recharge and take time for herself.

Relatedly, who else can you rely on for support? Dealing with draining, toxic, and/or abusive people is not a 1-person job. In fact, toxic and/or abusive people love isolating people because they know people need support from loved ones/their community to break free. Who do you trust to have your back? What kind of community resources can you take advantage of? And I’m not just talking about domestic violence hotlines, etc. What are ways that you can build community and support systems outside of that draining and/or toxic environment? Free/low cost classes, workshops, interest groups, meet ups, etc. all provide opportunities to meet new like-minded people. It’s easy to get brainwashed into the toxic mindset that you don’t deserve to have firm, respected boundaries and that you deserve whatever toxic treatment you are receiving at home. Having friends outside of that circle will breathe some fresh air and new perspectives into your situation because they are not invested in keeping you thinking in the old way. Also taking these classes or going to these meet ups will also remind you that you have well-rounded interests, skills, and talents. You are more than what they say you are. Remembering that goes a long way for a lot of people. And taking even an hour break every week will do wonders for your mental health and will also help you start to think about what your life would look like in a future without all that toxic mess.

The Aftermath

There are many different ways you can feel after setting boundaries with a draining, toxic, and/or abusive loved one. People are complicated. You can feel lots of emotions at once or experience 1 emotion at at time and move from 1 emotion to another as you go through this process. You can feel guilt. Months or years of someone close to you saying and/or implying that you setting boundaries is rude or not even possible can really get into your head. Internalizing the idea that you are selfish for setting boundaries is real…but it’s also not true. That said, it can take a while to unlearn the lies. So feeling guilt post-setting boundaries is a possibility and so is relief. Having draining, toxic or abusive people in your life can be very tiring. One-sided relationships generally are. So lifting that burden off your shoulders can feel like the first breath of fresh air you’ve had in years. You could also worry about retaliation. Toxic people both tend to have vague, weak boundaries themselves and encourage (or enforce) poor boundaries in other people. Like I’ve mentioned before, poor boundaries allows people all kinds of access to you and toxic/abusive people feel entitled to that access. Setting boundaries threatens their level of access to you and they could act out, etc. Trust your instincts. If you are even a little concerned about what they could do, listen to yourself, and take some steps to protect yourself and possibly your valuables.

Finally, another emotion you could experience is nostalgia. Very few people are all bad all the time. Part of what makes it so hard to set limits or cut ties with toxic or abusive people are the memories of when life was good and when y’all were good together. You find yourself missing the person and/or the times and emotions you had with that person. It may hurt to leave them despite knowing that leaving would be good for you in the long run. That’s real. It’s ok to acknowledge those feelings. Don’t run from that feeling or try to push it away. Avoidance always makes people feel worse in the long run. Acknowledge it. Face it. Sit with it. This is where mindfulness techniques, venting to patient loved ones, and/or speaking with a therapist can help. You’re a human being. Your feelings are allowed to be complicated. In therapy, it’s called ambivalence and it’s very common. Coming to terms with your complicated feelings in healthy ways by yourself or with people you trust will go a long way in maintaining your mental health. And don’t let the toxic person’s mind games fool you: ending the relationship with them doesn’t mean you will go without love or support. Part of self care and being your own MVP is building connections with people who help you grow and limiting your time/energy with people who drain you.

Setting and maintaining clear, firm boundaries is definitely 1 of the most important things I feel I could teach someone. Solid boundaries really set the foundation for a satisfying life and for good mental and physical health. I, professionally and personally, cannot talk about them enough. Boundaries can seriously change the quality of someone’s life. Adding to that, it’s 1 thing to learn how to set boundaries, it’s a whole other thing to take these lessons home and apply them to the people closest to you. Especially when the people in question feel entitled to you. Learning to have the compassion for yourself that they have refused to show you is key. You’re worth the effort. You are worth the satisfaction and the clarity that comes with strong boundaries.

Thank you for reading. The next post to be published on Sunday 12/9/18 is a reader request: Explaining your mental health symptoms and/or diagnosis to your parents.

Grief

Loss is a part of life. Whether we’re talking about the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship with a partner or a friend, loss of a job you’ve had for years, etc., loss of some kind happens everyday. And with loss, comes grief. The purpose of this post is to demystify grief: I will be explaining what grief is, what it can look like, and the importance of mourning and mourning/grieving rituals as ways to hold onto the memories of beloved ones in a healthy way. In this piece, I will be mainly talking about grief after the death of a loved one, but again, there are many different kinds of losses one can experience. I hope this piece helps y’all start to make sense of what you have experienced.

What is grief?

Grief is the very common response to loss. Many people are familiar with the idea of the stages of grief, but I don’t like thinking of grief in that way. With the idea of set stages of grief, there is a risk of expecting people to fit into boxes that aren’t real for them.Grief looks different depending on each person. People are complicated. So the process of grieving is just as complicated. Everyone’s journey is their own and depends on life circumstances and the relationship you had with the deceased person. Trauma, issues with abandonment, other stressful things going on in your life, physical and mental health issues, etc. can add to and complicate the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are not the only emotions people feel while grieving. You could feel relief. You could be happy the person is no longer suffering. You could be glad on some level to be out of that job. You could be low-key grateful your partner is gone. Feeling emotions beyond those 5 doesn’t mean you are broken or an extra secret special messed up. Again, people are complicated. And while dealing with all these complicated feelings, it may feel like you are being swallowed up by an eternity of feelings. Regardless of how it can feel, grief is not forever. With time and active work towards healing, your often intense, painful feelings of grief will start to go away usually in about a year (in the case of death). I’m not saying you won’t miss your deceased loved one anymore. But you will be able to think about them and miss them without the feelings taking over your life. You could think about them without crying immediately, for example. That difference between actively mourning someone versus remembering someone fondly, etc.

The grieving process becomes a mental health issue when it starts to take over your life and you have been actively grieving for over a year. What do I mean by actively grieving? If 12 months have passed since your loss and your feelings are just as intense as the very first day, you may be experiencing what is known as “complicated grief”. Constantly thinking about the loss, feeling distress that is outside of what is usual for your society and/or culture, being unable to keep up with your commitments at work, school, with family, etc. like you used to, and passive and/or active suicidal ideation are all symptoms of complicated grief. Examples of passive suicidal ideation include wanting to go to sleep and not wake up, wishing you weren’t alive, or wishing you were dead. Examples of active suicidal ideation include thinking about ending your life, having the intention/desire to end your life, having the tools/method to do it, and/or having a specific plan (See my post on suicide here for more information explaining suicide).

Grief and Depression

Grief and depression can feel very cruel because they both can convince people that this is the way they are going to feel forever. They both change the way you see yourself and how you see the world while you’re in the middle of it. A huge difference between major depressive disorder and grief is the subject of the distressing feelings. A grieving person’s thoughts focus on the person who has died. On the other hand, depressive symptoms tend to focus on feelings of personal worthlessness. Basically, if a grieving person is feeling sad, it is most likely going to be related to a sense of loss, to missing the deceased, to wishing they could be with that person, etc. A depressed person’s sadness focuses only on themselves and any flaws (or “flaws”).

In my piece about depression here, I break down the symptoms of depression in more detail. To have clinical depression, someone must have at least a depressed mood most of the time, almost every day, or not able to feel pleasure/joy from things that used to make them happy. Depression is self-critical. A depressed person’s inner monologue/their self-talk/the majority of their thoughts (to be REALLY blunt) is mainly about how they feel they ain’t shit. Depressed thoughts are pessimistic and any related suicidal ideation is about wanting to escape their situation. Again, grief, though, focuses specifically on the loss. And a grieving person’s thoughts are mixed with the positive memories and emotions related to their dead loved one. Even the suicidal ideation that some grieving people experience is usually focused on wanting to be with their loved one, not escaping their misery as it would be with a depressed person.

Now to complicate things a little because life is complicated: Grief and a major depressive episode can happen at the same time. And the loss of a loved one can trigger depressive symptoms in people with a history of depression. Recent loss can kick up past emotions like fears of abandonment from past deaths and other kinds of losses. It’s important to be aware of yourself, especially if you have a history of depression, trauma, anxiety, etc.

Mourning

Mourning rituals and practices are an incredibly important part of healing. These rituals, both personal and public, allow people space and time to express emotions, process thoughts, and reflect on memories. Many cultures have their own mourning rituals and ceremonies in place as a part of community healing. In psychotherapy, therapists encourage clients to practice in their own culture’s mourning rituals and/or create their own personal rituals. These rituals allow for time to think, memorialize, feel feelings while also helping to contain the emotions and give them a proper place. These rituals are a way to set boundaries with yourself and your emotions so mourning doesn’t consume lots of your time and energy. If you need more information on how to set and maintain firm boundaries, I wrote a piece about that here. Learning to balance your thoughts of the deceased with your thoughts of the land of the living is important for the healing process and for your ability to continue to stay on top of bills, keep up the relationships with your living loved ones, etc. Many people feel trapped in their initial pain because they believe, on some level, if they don’t feel this pain, their loved one will be forgotten. And this isn’t true. You don’t need to be in pain to honor them. Your cultural and personal rituals are your special way of remembering them. They keep the memory of your loved one alive.

Some ideas for personal rituals and other ways to personalize your mourning process:

  • Creating physical or online memorials
  • Visiting the gravesite
  • Lighting candles alone or in a small ceremony and reflect on the deceased
  • Writing letters, poetry, or songs to the deceased
  • Going to grief counseling groups to commune with others going through similar situations
  • Having a dinner to celebrate the life of this person

As time passes, the sharp painful feelings of loss will start to fade. In therapy, checking in with clients is an important part of the healing process. I would have clients track their own emotions, their thoughts, etc. so we both can see how they change over time. Are their feelings of grief becoming less intense? Are they able to sleep as well as they used to? How much do their feelings of loss interrupt their day? Are they getting the support they need during this time? Check in with yourself. Try some mindfulness techniques (read more here) as self check-ins to see where you’re at, what you need, and how this changes as you heal. While checking in with yourself, see if there’s anything you can do via self care (my piece about the many types of self care here) to help yourself heal.

A REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: Certain times of the year like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. can still be hard emotionally for you even years later. This is very common. In my clinical work, clients and I have worked together to make a safety plan (Check out the suicide post linked above for a sample safety plan) to figure out how clients can get the help they need before any problems start. Like a fire drill. That way, when things pop off, there’s no need to panic. Safety plan for yourself in advance for the hard days. And these moments and days when the sadness and grief come back can happen, but they won’t be as debilitating or world-crushing as the day 1. Seek therapy if mourning gets in the way of functioning and/or it has been longer than a year and your feelings feel as intense as it did on the 1st day of loss. You may need some professional assistance with going through the healing process. And that’s okay.

Loss is inescapable. Whether it is loss of a relationship, loss of a loved one via death, etc., everyone is going to grieve something at some point. And though feelings of grief are painful, they are a part of life and important to feel. Un-dealt with grief can build up inside someone and then come out in other, less healthy ways. On the other end, intense feelings of grief that last over a year can get in the way of living one’s life to the fullest. With all things, finding a balance is key. Mourning a loss is an important part of life, especially the death of a loved one. You can love and miss people without those feelings taking over your life. Love never really goes away. That’s facts, but personal and/or cultural mourning rituals and grieving ceremonies help people set boundaries, use mindfulness techniques, and get their support system in order in healthy ways. Beloved people won’t be forgotten because we can keep them alive in our hearts through rituals and remembrance. And we can live our lives to the fullest in their memory.

Thanks for reading. The next piece will be part 1 of a 2-part series in time for the holiday season about setting boundaries specifically with toxic/abusive people in your life.

Suicide

Suicide is a touchy subject. It’s complex topic that many people have strong feelings and opinions about. At the same time, it is an issue that not many people are really educated on. Suicide makes many of us uncomfortable and in this society, whatever makes the majority uncomfortable gets pushed under the rug at best. However, the misinformation that many people have about suicide leads to those in need not receiving the kind of support necessary from their loved ones, from healthcare professionals, and from society at large. In this piece, I want to talk about suicide: what suicide is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention. I hope with this information, people are able to better support their loved ones and/or find the support they need while going through difficult times in their lives.

Suicide Is…?

Suicide is the act of ending one’s own life on purpose. As a psychotherapist, I know that people who are suicidal don’t necessarily want to die. They want an escape from their current situation. Many people tend to see someone killing themselves as the problem when actually suicide is usually a symptom of other problems. Something or some things else are going on in that person’s life. There are other issues adding stress to their lives, bringing them to what feels like a breaking point. And a person who is suicidal sees suicide as a definite way to escape from their pain.

Now, being at risk for committing suicide is different from having suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation aka thinking about dying or killing one’s self is actually very common. Most people have had times in their lives where they have thought about wanting to die in their sleep or wishing they were dead/not alive anymore, which are examples of passive suicidal ideation. Many people have also fantasized about jumping in front a train or car, etc. for a second as it’s about to past them. This urge/fantasy is usually short and most people never actually do it. It’s so common that therapists are not generally concerned with just thoughts of death. Thinking about their death by itself does not make someone at risk for committing suicide. Thoughts of committing suicide without a method, intent/desire to die, and a clear plan are usually on the low risk end. However, someone is in immediate risk of suicide if they have a way to kill themselves on standby, a specific plan of how they’re going to do it, and the intent/desire to do it. Otherwise, thoughts of suicide on their own are opportunities for conversations.

I believe in bodily autonomy. There are times, unfortunately, when someone’s problems are not resolvable for them. All the suicide prevention efforts (which I’ll get into next) could have been attempted and everyone could have put their all into it and, for whatever reason, it is not enough for someone to want to stay alive. I believe people ultimately have bodily autonomy and even if they want to end their lives, it’s their body and their life. At the end of the day, when everyone leaves and goes back home and/or goes to sleep, they have to be alone with their pain. I think it is selfish and torture to force someone to stay alive who doesn’t want to be. If every measure of suicide prevention available has been used and every bit of support in the person’s life has been accessed and the person still does not want to be alive, from a humanistic perspective, it is unethical to force them to live with their pain for someone else’s personal values. If you want someone to stay alive, then it’s time to put in some work.

Suicide Prevention in Treatment

Because I believe in bodily autonomy, it is my obligation as a mental health professional to 1)provide a safe space for people to process what they’re going through, 2)help them receive as much clarity on their situation as possible, 3)find and weigh other options to escape their situation, and 4)help them build a support system. All with the hope that with more resources and more options, the person will be able to resolve their situation in other ways, using other options. Ultimately, suicide prevention is addressing people’s stressors and problems. Again usually people struggling with suicide want freedom from suffering, not necessarily to die. It’s a common reaction to want to avoid talking about suicide out of fear of pushing the person “over the edge” or “giving them any ideas,” but that’s not how suicide risk even works. In mental health treatment, when dealing with someone who is suicidal, it’s time to get curious, ask open-ended questions, and not be afraid to go deep with a client. What symptoms is the person experiencing? What is going on in their lives and how can that be addressed? Who is around that can support them?

With these kinds of questions in mind, therapists usually encourage at-risk clients to use a safety plan. In treatment, therapists help clients brainstorm and create their own personal safety plan, which usually involves about 4 steps.

Step 1: Identifying the situation. What are some signs that let you know you’re starting to feel hopeless, sad, frustrated, etc? Do you feel it in your body? Do you feel tired all the time? Do you lose your appetite or eat more than usual? Or is it more in your head/thoughts? Do you get racing thoughts, for example? Mindfulness techniques [Here’s a piece I wrote about how to find the find one for you] are great ways to get a clearer idea of how you’re feeling if you aren’t sure.

Step 2: Self-soothing. What can you do for yourself to go back to how you were feeling before? What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation? How did you get through difficult times in the past? What stops, if anything, you from you using these coping skills now and how can you get around whatever is in your way?

Step 3: Who your people? (I said what I said). Being able to self-soothe is important, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people in this difficult time. Who can you ask for help? And what kind of help do you want from each person? Do you wanna vent? Do you need to leave home for a couple days? Do you need someone to make sure you eat? Do you need help going to the Dr? Do you need help with classes? Do you need money or transportation? Do you need help filling out paperwork? Do you need someone to babysit your kids for a couple days? If your social circle is fairly small, what social agencies are in your area that provide free or low cost services? A lot of community organizations can provide resources or referrals to free or low cost assistance that many people are not aware of.

Step 4: Emergency services: Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? What hospital would you want to go to in a worst case scenario? It’s better that you choose than to have a stranger choose for you. How would you get to the hospital if needed? Do you have any suicide hotlines handy (See the post on depression here for a brief list of hotlines at the end)?

I always suggest suicidal clients have multiple copies of their safety plan in different areas for emergencies. Keep copies in your bag, jacket pockets, wallet, car, in your room, at your partner’s place, in a few trusted friend’s homes. etc. Tell the people on your safety plan what their role is and what kind of support you need from them at those times.

How You Can Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

Let me start by saying that no amount of positive thinking and yoga is going to “fix” suicidal ideation and stop someone from wanting a permanent escape. It’s like trying to cure a tumor with just positive thinking and a vegan diet. Not gonna happen. You got to get at the root of the problem. What is making them want to escape from their lives in a permanent way? If you want to help people who are suicidal, listen to and support them in addressing the issues that led them to feeling this way. Go at their pace. Let them lead the discussion and ask them what kind of support you could give to them during this time. While also making sure to set firm boundaries for your own mental health. Here’s the piece I wrote here on how to set firm boundaries. Or if you can’t help fix the major issue(s), support them by listening to them when they ask AND do small things to make their life easier. What everyday struggles could you help them with? Laundry? Food? Do they need help with child care? Or do they need your company? The suicidal person has to wrestle with their main issues while trying to stay alive. Your support could go a long way in easing their burden and increasing their chances of survival.

Too many ppl use the hotlines as the first level of defense and I want to dispel that. The first level of defense should be community-based prevention. Meaning building up strong friendships, chosen families, community bonds, etc. to the point where it’s normal to sincerely check in on each other’s mental health and actually step in to help when needed. Yes, give people hotlines to call. Hotlines are good resources if you need to speak about something anonymously, if you literally don’t trust anyone else in your area, etc. Hotlines are incredibly important…and also is there anyone in their personal lives who can talk to them? Sometimes people don’t want to talk to a hotline. They want to know that someone in their personal life cares about their situation and supports their fight for survival. Check in on your friends and I’m not talking about hollow check-ins between acquaintances. The “You good, fam? I saw your TL…” and “Yeah, I’m good. Just tired and a little stressed from work/school, lol”. Not the polite, fake checking in. Most people don’t get real about checking in because they don’t believe the other person actually cares and/or wants to take on the extra burden of helping someone else. Let’s get real though. Who’s your crew? Them? Those folks? Protect them. What keeps a pair or a group strong is sincerely opening up to each other, checking in on one other, and supporting each other through life’s mess.

I talked about squads checking for each other in the 4th part of my parenting series here where I also briefly talked about how it’s “very Western, very colonizer, to rely on a nuclear family (spouse and kids) for everything”. And it honestly doesn’t work. And going the individualistic Western way of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is literally impossible. That phrase was originally meant to describe something impossible that no one should be expected to do. And look, capitalism twisted the original meaning to trick us into fighting towards an impossible goal. Draining us of our health and life to feed the machine. There are so many lonely people in this world under this system. We should be relying on each other too.

If someone is opening up to you and talking to you about their suicidal ideation, it is a huge sign of trust. More often than not, they just want to talk about/process their experiences without feeling like they have to protect other people’s feelings, comfort, etc. And they trust you to be that non-judgmental, not pushy person for them. If someone you know tells you they are suicidal, don’t make it about how sad you and others will be if they die. It’s cruel to emotionally blackmail people into staying alive if they are suffering. Psychological suffering is just as earth shattering and life changing as physical suffering. Guilting them makes their pain about you so now they have their personal hell AND your feelings to manage all at the same time, which can make their own symptoms even worse.

Suicide is not selfish. You don’t know people’s lives and people’s pain. If suicide offends everyone’s sensibilities and morality so much, it would be in everyone’s best interest to do their part to make life bearable for everyone. Many of the problems and stressors that make life so painful are made worse by and/or are ultimately caused by systemic oppression of all kinds. In this way, disability rights, racial oppression, misogyny, transgender rights, capitalism, etc. are all public health issues. That all said, again, there are situations that cannot be solved for some people and assuming all efforts were made towards prevention, that person’s bodily autonomy should be respected.

I want to make a separate note to highlight this point: Calling the cops is the very last option if someone is suicidal, especially for Black and Brown people. What are ways you can maintain safety before reaching a point where one might consider calling the police? If you can get the person into the hospital or other other forms of safety, without calling the cops and possibly further endangering a life, great.

Suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss and it’s even harder to actually be in a situation where life doesn’t appear to be worth living anymore. It feels like a losing battle and people can find themselves wishing for any kind of peace or escape. This is where support from chosen and/or biological families, friends, and ideally the community can come into play along with any necessary treatment. Coming together and addressing the actual problems going on in that person’s life instead of guilting them into living a life full of suffering without their consent. All this…while also coming to terms with the possibility that maybe all the words and support in the world might not be “enough” to prevent loved ones from making that final, permanent choice. And realizing, as I said before, that people ultimately have bodily autonomy. The sadness and loss experienced by people still living are real and legit, but those feelings are not more important than the deceased person’s pain. And finally, it’s not anyone’s “fault” for them doing what they felt needed to be done. I hope this was helpful in giving people some clarity on how to better support those in need and/or find the support they need themselves to make informed decisions.

Thanks for reading. The next piece on Sunday 11/11/18 will cover grief. I will be explaining what grief is, what it can look like, and the psychological importance of mourning and mourning/memorial rituals.

Detransitioning

This is a seriously misunderstood topic. I was inspired to write about detransitioning when I saw a tweet by a bigot spreading misinformation. Bigots love to pretend that the rare cases of people deciding to reverse the effects of social and medical transitioning are somehow a sign of an “agenda” forcing people to become transgender. For the record, this isn’t a trans 101 post. There are hundreds, if not thousands of trans 101 resources and websites out there for any “But what does transgender mean?” questions. Google is your friend. Or pay a trans person to explain it to you. Either way, that’s not what this post is for. The goal here is to explain the basics of transitioning, detransitioning, and how you, cisgender people, can support trans people regardless of the choices they make. I want to demystify detransitioning for y’all.

What is Transitioning?

Before I get into detransitioning, I’ll explain transitioning real quick. There are 2 types: social transitioning and medical transitioning. Social transitioning deals with how you engage with society and people. Examples of social transitioning would be coming out as trans (to friends, family, coworkers, classmates, doctors, etc. over and over again throughout your whole life), using different pronouns, changing your name and gender markers on IDs, and/or changing the clothes you wear. Medical transitioning includes the medical procedures/treatments that some trans people decide to do to ease dysphoria, to overcome the puberty they were forced to endure, etc. Hormone replacement therapy, hysterectomies, the multiple kinds of top and bottom surgeries, etc. are a few of the many examples of medical transitioning. Cis people, in their ignorance, think there is this 1 surgery, THE surgery, that does…who knows what…and that’s how trans people become trans…like baking a cake or something. Transitioning in general is not a 1 size fits all kind of deal. Some trans people socially transition, medically transition, or some combination of both. Not all trans people choose to transition the same way. Transitioning, like life, is unique to each person. It depends on what living their truth looks like for each person and what is realistically possible for them due to financial restrictions or society’s transmisia/transphobia. Some trans people do not socially or physically transition in any way for their own reasons.

Note: Transgender people do not transition for cisgender people’s pleasure, comfort, permission, etc. Trans people transition to live their truth. Trans people do NOT transition to look like or copy cis people. Trans people do NOT transition to attract or trap cis people. Trans people transition for their happiness, peace of mind, satisfaction, etc. The only time trans people factor cis people into their thinking is when they are worried cis people will harm/kill them or when discrimination leads to them losing jobs, access to healthcare, right to pee in public bathrooms, child custody, etc.

The medical health and mental health needs/concerns of transgender people are not taught in med school/psych programs and there are so few in depth trainings available. Most cisgender professionals don’t know anything and don’t have the training to provide care to trans ppl. And most of them don’t even know how to help people process their own feelings about gender. Most professionals don’t know how to help anyone determine for themselves whether they are transgender or a cisgender person with gender-related concerns. So it is rare, but possible that a cisgender therapist with no proper training could encourage a another cisgender person with gender role/gender presentation concerns to transition. That’s SO rare because usually cisgender people go out of their way to do whatever it takes to stop people from gender transitions. Despite what most cis people seem to think, nobody is passing out hormones, etc. to transgender people like candy. It can take months at minimum to receive clearance for any kind of trans-related care, assuming you have insurance that will cover anything.

Though transgender people have always been around, trans people are becoming more visible in mainstream society so, as a result, more and more people see that being trans (and transitioning) is possible. At the end of the day, the rare cases of detransitioning that result from cis people mistakenly transitioning speaks more to systemic transmisia/transphobia in the healthcare field AND the desperate need for medical providers who are properly trained in transgender healthcare and working with gender-related concerns in general. Mental health professionals and doctors/nurses should be trained by trans people (a great way to create jobs) to be able to provide quality care and to be able to help all people process any gender-related feelings without judgment and/or bias.

What is Detransitioning?

[CW: I’m going to talk about detransitioning, putting it into the context of living in a transmisic/transphobic society. This may be hard to read and/or dysphoric for trans people. Self care, y’all.]

So I want to make it clear in this section that when I’m talking about detransitioning here, I am referring to transgender people who detransition. I already talked about cis people who mistakenly transition earlier. Again, the rest of this piece will cover only transgender people who detransition. Detransitioning could be social and/or physical. It’s usually due to systemic transmisia/transphobia (living in a society that is pound for pound stacked against you and wants you dead/disappeared) and a lack of social supports. Systemic bigotry and individual experiences with transmisia/transphobia can cause or exaggerate mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and/or trauma reactions. In addition to making physical health symptoms worse because the mind and body are connected. Exposure to other kinds of bigotry like racism and misogyny does the exact same thing so if you are a transgender person of color and/or a trans woman of color, you are dealing with even more burdens and stresses on your mind and body all the time at the same time. Detransitioning then can become a survival tactic in a bigoted, violent world that wants you dead.

Imagine being forced to cosplay as another gender for most of your life, with society constantly making jokes about trans people (trans women in particular) and killing them on a regular basis. Comedians make whole comedy specials about these murders. You then realize that you’re actually 1 of those people you’re taught to think is weird/disgusting/worthy of dying. Living your truth as a trans person is not a breeze, contrary to what a lot of cis people seem to think. This is an uphill battle: people you thought you trusted will abandon you and possibly actively try to harm you. Support can be hard to find depending on where you live. In many states, changing your name and gender marker on IDs is made purposefully too expensive for many people with mandatory doctor visits and/or surgery requirements. Really think about that. Think about being forced to have surgery (an expensive surgery you might not have really wanted) that you could die from because there’s a risk of dying in any kind of surgical procedure…and/or because your medical providers and/or case workers might have little to no experience working with actual trans people and/or might have anti-trans views. There have been many cases of medical providers refusing to treat trans people and/or letting trans people die on the operating table. This seriously happens. This is something that many trans people on some level worry about especially if you don’t live in an area that has quality transgender-specific care.

Let’s keep imagining here though: you need money to pay for your transition expenses, but no one will hire you to make that money because job discrimination against trans people is legal in most states. But any delay in transitioning could lead to more mental and emotional symptoms because there’s a serious risk of violence from cis people who routinely attack anyone who doesn’t look like them. And honestly that’s not even close to everything that trans people deal with. It’s draining to be trans in this society. It’s literally traumatic because bigots make it that way. And if you have other marginalized identities: being queer, asexual, intersex, Black or another POC, disabled, etc., it’s even more complicated. It can wear someone down to deal with all that bigotry stacked on top of each other alone for years. And with all of that, detransitioning can seem like the only option to find some peace. How messed up is that: Being forced away from living your truth and then dealing with all the psychological/emotional pain of that becomes the way to avoid society’s constant torture.

The most common reasons I have ever heard for a trans person detransitioning are for safety, a stable job/income, and/or to avoid being alone. I’ll never forget: in 1 of my old jobs, a coworker had a Black trans woman client who lived in a SRO (single room occupancy) building. I remember her coming down to see him in “boy-mode” suddenly one day. She told me casually that she decided to detransition over the weekend because she was terrified and tired of cis men attacking her basically every night. She was trying to find her own apartment and a job, but she couldn’t if she was constantly healing from these assaults. After almost a month, she started taking HRT again. When I saw her, she told me she started HRT again because (I’m paraphrasing) she had to do her regardless. I had so many mixed emotions in that moment. On 1 hand, it’s powerful as hell, but it shouldn’t have to cost her so much power and so much energy just to go to the corner store. Despite detransitioning being so rare, she isn’t the only one dealing with this.

I decided to ask transgender people on Twitter back in April the following questions: “What was happening in your life when you made the decision to detransition?” and “Is there anything else you want me to know/understand about this?”. 2 people graciously reached out to me to tell me their experiences with detransitioning. 1 person, a trans man made the decision to detransition in order to become financially stable. Due to job discrimination against trans people being very legal in this country, in order to receive “a serious paying job”, he made the choice to detransition. To put it blankly, he knew that “if I had walked into the interview binding with a shaved head I wouldn’t have been hired”. I’m using the word “choice” loosely here. Decisions made in coercive situations aren’t the same thing as decisions made when you have freedom. Having to choose between being yourself and being able to eat and keep a roof over your head is a symptom of larger problems in society. Suffer psychologically and emotionally and keep a job or be homeless and financially unstable. That’s not a real choice. And that’s a man-made problem that can easily be solved.

The 2nd person to share their story with me on Twitter was a non-binary trans POC who came out as trans 5 years ago and was isolated from their family for 4 years as a result. They decided to detransition because they are “in dire need of community”. They described the trans community at the school they are attending as “racist” and after being alone for so long, they said they are “in the process of detransitioning to talk to my parents again”. Humans have many different kinds of survival needs: shelter, clothing, food, stability, and a sense of belonging/community are some of them. Many marginalized/oppressed people are forced to trade some needs for others and have to figure out how to exist without fully being allowed to live. It’s painful. It’s messed up. Again, it’s a man-made problem. Many bigots will point to trans people who detransition as evidence that their trans experience and their gender was never real. One thing that this 2nd trans person wanted to make clear was that being forced by their situation to detransition was “very painful” and did not make them any less trans: “I guess I’d like you to know that I’m still trans”. This sentence reminded me of that Black trans woman approaching me to tell me that she’s still trans. I really felt that. Cisgender bigots try to capitalize on the rare detransitioning cases because they want to pretend that transgender people are accidents, signs of mental illness, a recent fad, and something that can be reversed with enough hate and abuse. But transgender people are still here. They have always been here and there’s nothing cis people can do to change that. If anything, detransitioning is a sign of a cisgender agenda: an agenda designed to prop up white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, etc. that traumatizes and kills children and adults, whole human beings, everyday.

What Can Cisgender People Do To Support Trans People?

This is why it’s so important for you to challenge transmisia/transphobia in yourself and the people in your life. Look into yourself. If you are a person of color and would want white people and other POCs to speak up if someone ever said some racist mess about your culture, you’d be a hypocrite if you wouldn’t do the same for an oppression that isn’t yours. This society makes being transgender so damn hard. Deadly actually. Especially if the trans person is also Black, queer, disabled, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you have abandoned to be as bigoted as colonizers. You can’t be a leader in a revolution with all that hate/disgust/aversion in your heart for your own people. You can’t be a leader and a leading cause of death at the time same time.

Some Basic Ways Cis People Can Help:
  1. Introduce yourself with your name and pronouns to everyone, even if you think you know their gender. If anyone asks, say you’re just being polite: You wouldn’t like people to assume anything about you and you don’t like assuming things about people.
  2. Use whatever name and pronouns you are given. With practice, like anything you put effort towards, pronouns are easy.
  3. Don’t let anti-trans jokes fly without challenging them. If it makes people uncomfortable and feel like they can’t make those kinds of jokes around me anymore, good. I didn’t want it anyway and I made the area a better place.
  4. Stand against laws and policies that hurt trans ppl because it creates a safer world for everyone. Creating laws where medical providers can turn away trans people for religious beliefs creates loopholes so doctors could reject cis people for wanting birth control, being Black, having an undocumented immigration status, etc.
  5. If you don’t understand something, google it. If you can’t find the answer after googling, ask a trans person if you can give them some money in exchange for them taking the reasonable amount of time and labor to educate you.
  6. If you have some extra money, donate directly to a trans person.

Transphobic cisgender people love to jump on detransitioning stories as evidence of a “transgender agenda”, but if cis people let other people live their lives freely, there would be no need for detransitioning. Being real and true, the real agenda is assuming everyone is cisgender and heterosexual and then forcing everyone who is different to pretend for the rest of their lives…unless they want to risk housing discrimination, job discrimination, terrible medical care, not being able to get custody of their children, etc. On some: be like us or we won’t let you be a full member of society…assuming you survive all this. Staying silent doesn’t make you a witness. It at best means you’re an accomplice, holding the torturer’s beer. Trans people aren’t aliens. There are Black transgender people, Latinx transgender people, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you could be supporting. There are trans people in your hood you could be looking out for. Because bet money throughout history when one of us was killed and a march needed to happen and/or hashtags needed to be shared, your transgender community members were out in the streets. But who stands up for the trans people in your community?

 

Thanks for reading. The next post on Sunday 10/28/18 will be covering suicide: what it is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention.

Deescalation And Conflict In White-Dominated Workplaces

Conflict can be hard to deal with for many people. Especially when the conflict happens at work, the source of your livelihood. Nobody wants to mess up their bag and work conflicts can be the perfect storm. Keeping a roof over your head is so ridiculously difficult in this country and so many people are living paycheck to paycheck. And for people of color, there are even more risks to getting into a work conflict with another coworker or worse, a boss, and are trying to figure out how to deal with it without losing your job. The combination of job discrimination/systemic racism, white people’s fear and implicit biases towards us have a huge impact on many people’s ability to make rent. This post will explain how to deescalate conflict in a general situation, the effects of systemic racism and personal experiences with racism, and finally, share professional suggestions as to what resolution can look like for us in these situations.

What is Deescalation?

Deescalation is bringing a high-emotion/energy situation down to neutral. We deescalate situations all the time in our personal lives: “You at a whole 12 and I’ma need you to bring it down to 4, fam. We in public and nobody got bail.” In general, deescalating a situation is about maintaining safety of everyone in the area while respecting the upset person’s agency/humanity. The key is to balance keeping a level of order so that no one is hurt while not treating the person who is upset like an animal. Once you start seeing the upset/agitated person like an animal that needs to managed and contained, you’ve lost ethical control of the situation and the decisions that come after probably aren’t going to be the best.

So what does deescalation look like once conflict starts? Ideally, deescalation involves:

  1. Making eye contact and talking to them in a calm voice. Speak to them calmly until they are able to talk to you about what’s going on for them). It’s important here to be respectful (regardless of how you might feel in the moment) and treat the person with the same empathy you’d want if you were upset.

  2. Dealing with the person who’s upset/angry, etc. 1-on-1. If possible, bring the person to the side and speak to them personally. Don’t gang up on someone because that will probably escalate the situation and the person could become more upset.

  3. Actively listening to what the person is saying. Not putting words in their mouth. Not just waiting for them to stop talking so you can talk. Actually listen to what their needs are. Many times people are upset because they feel no one is hearing them and their concerns are being ignored. So hear them out in all seriousness.

  4. Setting reasonable, realistic boundaries to maintain the safety and peace of the space. For example, reminding the person of the rules of the space i.e. not fighting here or yelling in the waiting area. Or setting personal boundaries like: “It’s hard for me to focus when you ___, would you mind sitting down to talk, etc.?” (Reminder that boundaries are not about setting limits on or controlling other people’s behaviors. Boundaries are ultimately for you, not for other people, as guidelines so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation. In this case, you are setting boundaries also to maintain physical and emotional safety for everyone in the space. See my intro to boundaries piece for more here.)

  5. Collaborating with the upset/agitated person on other realistic options to this behavior/situation like taking a walk, having a snack/going on lunch, and/or going into another room to talk to someone, etc. This helps you continue to see the person as a human with reasonable concerns and someone who can help come up with solutions to the issue.

How Does Race and Racism Affect How Conflict Is Handled At Work?

I described an ideal situation: all things and people being equal. But what happens when the playing field isn’t fair and 1 person has more power/privilege than the other? Personal experiences with racism and systemic racism in the workspace set the scene for how people approach each conflict. Since my intended audience is mainly Black people (and other POCs), I don’t think I should have to explain how racism and white supremacy affects how people are seen and treated. Who gets listened to vs. presumed to be lying? Who is assumed to be aggressive vs. who gets to be the victim? I think most POC in America have had moments when their fate was decided totally based on white tears, anger, etc. at some point in their work life. It can be a seriously scary moment when your job and ability to live hangs is up in the air to be decided by someone’s whims. What does deescalation even look like when the person doesn’t see you as fully human? The agitated person doesn’t want to reason with you or if you are the upset one, people around you are acting like you’re a wild animal. Often in the workplace, Black people are expected to perform extra happiness for the comfort of white coworkers and employers. A neutral face or any emotion that isn’t joy is often seen as threatening. At best, white people feeling threatened by you existing leads to multiple private meetings and pressures to change yourself and perform whatever person they want you to be for their comfort (extra emotional labor with no extra money to go with it). Or worse, you could be harassed and deal with gaslighting for months or longer before you give up and leave, are pressured to resign, or fired.

And it isn’t like it’s easy to find a job nowadays. Wider systemic racism affects job market and job discrimination is very, very, VERY real, especially if you are a person of color with many different marginalized identities at once. It’s 1 thing to be a cis Black man, looking for work and dealing with racial job discrimination. It’s a whole other thing to be a Black trans woman and dealing with racism, sexism, transmisogny, etc. all at once.  And without generational wealth, possibly being the one that takes care of family members, etc., we are often in a no-win situation. Many of us stay and deal with a toxic workspace (if we have that choice to stay) rather than be forced out into the unknown. If this sounds like abuse to you, it is because this is abusive. Your life and your ability to survive is tied up in the whims of privileged individuals and in the system. It’s no surprise that many Black people take the “clock in, do my job, and clock out” approach to work.

Dealing with Conflict In White Spaces

What does conflict resolution look like for Black ppl & other POCs in white-dominated workplaces? And I’m defining white-dominated as who ultimately holds the influence/power, not in terms of population size. The first thing I’d ask y’all to remember is that HR serves the interests of your company, not the rights/ethical concerns of employees. Basically, HR ain’t for you, fam. They don’t have YOUR best interests at heart and will throw you under the bus to save the company in a second. Never forget that. As a person of color in a white dominated space, it can seem like you are constantly deescalating and trying to prevent potential conflicts on a regular, especially the darker your skin is. On some level, everything about us is policed so we end up eventually policing ourselves: our body language, tone, how we word our emails, the way we laugh, our resting face…all of that needs to be adjusted if you make it a priority to make your white coworkers and bosses feel comfortable with you (and your Otherness). If you’ve worked in these kinds of places for awhile, it may be easier for you to navigate everything. Being able to work in a white-dominated workplace is not a sign of being better or worse. Your ability to co-switch and act in ways that make white people comfortable is not a sign of intellect. It’s a survival tool, sure. And like other tools, not all of us can use them. It just means that person needs to find a different tool that fits them.

If you are being harassed, document everything. Keep emails and send them to your personal email. Audio record meetings. Get verbally recorded or in writing confirmation of as much of the harassment as you can. See if you have trusted witnesses. Get a pro bono lawyer. Don’t brag about yourself making these moves. You are in a toxic situation with your abusive employer. These moves help to protect your livelihood. Unfortunately, there are times when conflict resolution isn’t enough. Always have a Plan B.

As a psychotherapist, I am going to put emphasis on the need to protect your mental health. It’s one thing to be able to survive and even thrive at the job, but do you have the mental and/or emotional energy for the other parts of your life? It’s important to find that balance so you can survive/thrive for as long as you need to while also being at peace with how you live your life in general. Find a balance between making those unfortunately  necessary for now sacrifices and setting boundaries for your mental and physical health. We all remember how drained about grandparents and parents were after coming home from jobs where they had to coddle white people at work all day for the sake of keeping a roof. Self-awareness is a way to make sure that you are being fulfilled and finding meaning/purpose in other areas of your life. That job is important because it pays bills, but it doesn’t have to be the most important thing in your life. Again, check out my post on how to set boundaries for some more information. It’s easier to maintain a solid work/life balance if you make some time for self care (Self care 101 post here and if you take the time to know yourself. You could also try different Mindfulness techniques (see post here] until you find the right one(s) for you. Mindfulness techniques are useful for checking in with yourself, managing anger, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and cravings, etc. Sometimes there are going to be no-win situations where staying is not an options. Part of having firm boundaries, taking care of yourself, and being more mindful of yourself is knowing when to leave a toxic situation at the point where the it hurts more than it’s helping. At the end of the day, it’s about how not only doing good for yourself now, but also keeping this same energy years from now. Sustaining yourself. Growing yourself, not the company.

Deescalating a heated and/or tense situation at work is hard enough as it is. Adding in racial dynamics can make work feel like a life or death chess match or survival strategy game everyday. And that can be draining. Figuring out how to set the right boundaries, doing some self care and mindfulness techniques, and having a life outside of work goes a long way in protecting yourself from the potential damages of working in a less than affirming work environment. Taking care of your health and mental health is priceless.The only way you’ll be able to survive and/or truly thrive in the long run is if you make yourself a top priority.

Thanks for reading. The next post will cover the phenomenon of detransitioning and the reasons that trans people might decide to detransition, and what you can do to support them in whatever actions they take.

What Is Socialization?

It’s everywhere. Every. Where. But most people aren’t aware of the effects it has on how they think, act, and what they see as possible. I see people not knowing what socialization is and how they are affected by it everyday. Whether we are talking about sex and dating (“It’s just a preference.”) or systems of oppression like racism (Black people seen as especially angry/dangerous) or transphobia/transmisia (Thinking there are only 2 genders). Socialization is there setting the scene for your life. Even in this society where we are taught to be “mavericks” and achieve our individual American dreams (these are all examples of socialization by the way), we are all living our lives by scripts and rules set out for us. And those who actually go against the grain in ways that capitalism can’t make money off of are socially punished at best. Many have also been abandoned, killed or imprisoned. This post will focus on explaining what socialization is and how it affects every part of our lives with the goal of helping people become more aware. I am constantly taking about the importance of self-reflection and awareness. Self-awareness and awareness of the various kinds of socializations is the first step to freedom.

So what is socialization? Socialization is the process of learning the social agenda and everyone’s place in society. It is a learning process that starts from the moment we are born that we can’t opt out of and we can’t avoid it. And no one is immune to it. Nobody is above the power of socialization. It starts from birth and you are already living according to what you’ve learned from it years before you are old enough to start to becoming aware of it. Learning in socialization happens on many levels: at home with parents/guardians, in extended families, at school, with friends/peers, in church/places of worship, in the community, in the media, etc. Learning the social rules and agenda in a society can happen verbally, in body language, reading between the lines in implied situations, etc. We are constantly learning ideal, morals, ethics, values, and rules for how to behave that determine all the choices we make. We are all directly and indirectly punished/rewarded for certain traits/behaviors. We’ve also watched others get gathered for things they did. We saw the consequences of their actions and switched up our behavior in response. That kind of learning literally changes our brains and affects what we think is possible to be and do in the world.

Socialization is how you learned to believe that poor people aren’t working hard enough or that “boys will be boys” when cis men engage in violent behavior. It’s how you learn that having dark skin is ugly/animalistic or how you learn that to be feminine is to be weak. Socialization is what encourages people socialized as women/femmes to stay with toxic men because they see the potential of who he might become while encouraging cishet and cis masculine men to leave the moment they are unhappy. If life is a board game, the game is rigged and everyone’s roles and destiny was pre-decided by a handful of people who cheated and stole to get that power. They wanna keep most of the winnings to themselves so they set up the game so people like them always win…as long as everyone plays their part. Socialization is the game rules and everyone is told that if they keep to the script, they might win something in the end. But anyone really paying attention can see that, like gambling, the House always wins. These rules are not natural law. This ain’t ordained by god or whatever other justification they use for being greedy and bigoted. Because socialization is taught from the moment we are born, it’s easy to believe that social problems can’t be changed. Poverty, racism, colorism, rape culture, etc. are man-made problems, not natural disasters that we can throw our “thoughts and prayers” at. That’s why it’s so interesting that people (usually people defending their position of power/privilege) love to talk about the “agendas” of marginalized people like ”The Gay Agenda,” for example. They snitch on themselves with this. Pay attention: any different ways of thinking and/or existing in the world directly stand against the socialization game rules and the agenda THEY set up to benefit them. If you act differently, you mess with their bag. They have an agenda that they want to protect at other people’s expense.

To complicate things, someone can be both privileged and oppressed in different ways. Somebody can be oppressed for being Black and gay, but have cisgender, abled, and masculine male privilege. This person could definitely experience systemic racism (job discrimination for being Black) and have individual experiences with homophobia (abandoned by his family and communities and forced to figure out life on his own). That said, he also benefits from living in a society that rewards and gives priority to able-bodied masculine men and holds back, oppresses, punishes, and/or kills people who are feminine and/or not cisgender. Because people often can be both marginalized and oppressed, many people often focus only on the oppressions they deal with and ignore the suffering of other people. Especially if they can enjoy some level of power over those other people. This society encourages people to not have empathy for others so everyone can keep playing the game. It’s exploitation on so many levels.

I mentioned before that socialization affects how you see the world. This can look like white people calling the cops on Native youth for going on a college campus tour because “they don’t belong”. Dig deep there: why don’t they belong? Why don’t non-white youth belong in school? That’s racism and socialization: racism is taught to us and is a part of how we are socialized. Internalized racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. is also socialization. Even sexual preferences that y’all love to pretend are objective and not affected by anything. Sexual preferences and your ideals of attractiveness are strongly influenced by socialization. We are all taught who is attractive, who is worth dating and loving, and who is worth just having sex with in private. None of that is natural law. And I know what many of y’all are going to wanna say at this point: “I’m my own person. I just like what I like. I believe what I believe. And that’s that on that”. Yeah, you have an inner self. You are you, but this you is filtered through and shaped by the society we live in. If you weren’t socialized into believing that some people are less equal than others through racism, misogyny, homophobia/homomisia, transphobia/transmisia, ableism, colorism, etc., then you would have different values and be a different person. Like that Black Mirror episode: “Men Against Fire” with the Roaches [SPOILER]. Think of socialization as the MASS implant given to soldiers to hide the true identities of the people being killed. The implants created the circumstances where the soldiers could dehumanize people and see them as “roaches” in order to participate in genocide and basically their systemic removal from society. [END SPOILER] That’s what socialization does. Changing how you see the world so you can participate in society according to the rules. If you were socialized to see transgender people as equal human beings like you, you would be disgusted at how often people joke about killing them or how medical providers will leave trans people to die because healing them is against their religion. If you were socialized to see dark-skinned Black women as people, you wouldn’t call them “unrapeable” and “roaches”. It’s easy to separate children from their parents and then “lose” them if you see them as “animals”. And again, 1 of the goals of socialization, like the implants, is to systemically remove certain people or make them invisible in society. These are physical, psychological, and social genocides.

You don’t have to keep playing the game with the rules you have been given. Socialization can be unlearned. For example, people of color expect white people to unlearn the racism they were socialized into. And the Me Too movement is about asking people to unlearn the socialization around rape culture. Taking apart your assumptions is hard work, but it’s definitely possible. It’s something to work on everyday while being open to being corrected on your mess. Fostering awareness of yourself (1 way is through Mindfulness techniques. Check out my piece here) is the start to unpacking socialization’s baggage. Freedom isn’t something that passively happens. Ain’t nobody gonna just free us. We have to free ourselves and it starts in our minds.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about dealing conflict and deescalating situations as a person of color in a white-dominated workplace.