The Process of Change 201: The Basics of Community Accountability

This piece is another layer to my series about change: what change is, what the work of change looks like, and recognizing change in yourself and others. In Part 1, I specifically covered what the process of change generally looks like and how to give a meaningful apology. And in Part 2, I explained how how to set realistic goals/plans for change and started covering accountability as part of the how to create long-lasting change. Now, I’m moving from individual people taking account for their actions to community accountability. Community accountability is an important part of healing and re-joining the community when there’s been harm done. This piece will cover the basics of community accountability because I am seeing a lot of confusion of what that can actually look like. Community accountability creates situations where change is even possible. It sets the scene for change. Creates an environment that’s ripe for change and that helps change continue to evolve and grow stronger. Using INCITE’s talking points as a guide, I want to talk about what community accountability looks like on a basic level and how holding ourselves and each other accountable provides fertile ground for a better future.

Here are some pieces of mine that set the foundation for this so feel free to read them here in advance:

What Does The Word “Community” Mean To You?

What is community? The dictionary defines it as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. How are WE defining community? Ultimately, this questions boils down to: Who are we responsible for and who is responsible for us? White supremacy and capitalism encourages individual people to only think about themselves. It’s part of American/western values. That’s why you see an emphasis on nuclear families in this society. These values are part of the reason why elderly parents get dropped off at nursing homes while people move on with their new families. White supremacy/capitalism encourages people to only think about one’s own personal happiness above all else to focus less on systemic oppression. Reminds me of that video of Black cisgender heterosexual male celebrities not wanting to give money to the people in their personal lives (usually relatives) who supported them before they got put on. That individualistic mindset doesn’t see the difference between setting boundaries vs. looking down on the people who helped them get where they are now. It’s a rejection of community-based thinking (that got them where they are) for a individualistic “I got mine, get yours” mindset. Due to systemic oppression, Black people and other POCs do not have the generational wealth that makes living that individual life possible. Many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to live up to unrealistic western/American bootstrap ideals. It’s a scam. We are stronger together and all that good stuff.

And I’m not just talking about pooling resources. I’m also talking about helping each other grow. A community that doesn’t hold each other accountable and find healthy ways to deal with issues will rot from the inside out. There is no community without trust and there’s no trust without boundaries: both setting them with people and respecting the boundaries of others as equal to yours. Like I said in “The Process of Change” Part 1 piece, “When you trust other people to respect your boundaries, there’s a freedom there. You feel more comfortable being relaxed and being yourself because you don’t need to worry about any threats”. Boundaries and accountability create safety and freedom for EVERYONE in the community, not just a select few allowed to feel comfortable at all times. A healthy community is one that has set agreed-on boundaries, values, and goals that support everyone and that everyone in the community wants to protect and live by. Like I’ve said before, community members have to ethically work together equally, using everyone’s special skills. We all have equal work to do to save our communities and ourselves. We are all important with things to say and skills to share. And we all have toxic shit to work through. Working together intentionally and honestly is key. Too often we get caught up in the white-centric belief that we need a usually male leader to save us. We have all the power we need in ourselves. We gotta start healing from this white supremacist socialization/brainwashing. No leaders. No liaisons to white people. No Black messiahs. We need to truly tap into the power in ALL of us together.

What Are The Values That We Uphold?

A community’s values are its compass. Ideally, our values guide how we act and move in the world.  And vice versa. Your actions should match the values you say you live by. If you say you uphold safety, anti-violence against all women, etc., your actions should match those values. Now is the time to do some inner work and see what your values are AND to what extent do they uphold systemic oppression, for yourself and for others. Many people state values with their mouth that never match how they act in the world and don’t match what they model to younger generations. If these are our values, this is how we should be acting in front of the youth (and this is how the youth are acting because they are an honest reflection of who we are as a society). If these are our values, we should be creating a society where doing certain things is unthinkable and undesirable for ANYONE to do. No exceptions. That’s the power behind the community: intentionally creating the environment and the mini-world for themselves. Setting standards for living and behaving. Which is something that a single person, most of the time, does not have the weight to do. A group of people held together with a set of values is powerful.

What Are Some Ways We Can Make The Community Safe For Everyone?

This is another time when the power of many rises above the power of one. By setting standards of what’s okay and what isn’t: “Nah, we don’t do that mess here.” By supporting the boundaries of others. And even by providing other kinds of support so people’s basic needs are met and they can focus some energy on setting/maintaining their own boundaries. There’s many other different ways to support each other. Financial support: donating money directly to people’s GoFundMe’s or twitter hashtags like #TransCrowdFund. Volunteering time and providing physical support, like helping marginalized people move, helping people get gender-affirming clothes, etc. Passing along information and community resources right to the people who need and could use it. 

Teaching adults and kids about enthusiastic consent in all situations, not just sex, is another incredibly important way community members can keep the community safe. Of course, free comprehensive sex education for adults and kids is very, very necessary to counteract the toxic socialization around sex and sexuality. A lot of the time, I see the conversation around creating safety ending at self-defense classes. More people need training in crisis intervention, de-escalation, and how to make a safe space. There needs to be more opportunities to learn alternatives to violence with the understanding that self-defense may have to include violence sometimes.

What Are Some Ways We Can Deal With Interpersonal Violence And Other Kinds Of Abuse Within Our Communities?

Let’s talk about the role accountability plays in dealing with violence within a community. Again, individual people come together to set standards of what is acceptable in the community both directly and indirectly. Directly meaning a community can set up actual rules for how people can conduct themselves. Individual people can also indirectly choose how they want to set up their personal boundaries around the person who has hurt others. People can choose not to provide services or otherwise engage with someone who they feel has crossed a line with their behavior. There’s a fundamental difference between refusing to deal with someone because of a unchangeable part of their identity like being Black and/or transgender vs refusing to deal with someone whose behavior has caused a level of harm that you are not comfortable having in your life. Harm can also mean acting in ways that play into someone’s systemic oppression. And, remember, boundaries are not about controlling other people’s behavior. They are about setting standards and limits in our lives for what we will and won’t tolerate. They involve clearly spelling out what we need and don’t need in our lives and walking in the spirit of that. That’s all boundaries are and that’s all “cancelling” is: People deciding what they want and don’t want in their lives. Deciding what they will and won’t put their energy and/or money towards. People don’t have to deal with everything and everybody. Like I’ve said before, people who try to keep others from setting boundaries are exactly why boundaries are needed in the first place. Not everybody needs the same access to you and to your energy. And it’s fair for people to decide that someone, as a result of harmful behavior, can’t be trusted with their energy or a certain level of access to them anymore. Somebody will always have their close people, but there could be people that just “don’t fuck with” them because of something they did. Because actions do have consequences. 

The first priority of a community is safety for the most marginalized. When the most marginalized in a community feel safe, we are all safe. Any areas where they don’t feel safe are flaws in our armor, exploitable by oppressors. And the next priority for a community is creating/maintaining an environment where safety and true, healing change can grow. A community that upholds shared values and holds every single person in the community to those values is a safer one for all. A community that prioritizes the security of the oppressed over the comfort of more privileged is a safer one for all. And yes, yes, restorative justice. Restorative justice and change for those who have caused harm is not possible if the community/environment is not set up for change. How can restorative justice happen if the community is fully of enablers? How can restorative justice happen if many people want to rush to the forgiveness and moving on part without the constant inner work and long term public accountability that comes with change?

Instead of shaming individuals for setting boundaries around behavior they will or will not tolerate, it should be seen as part of the natural consequences of someone’s actions and part of being held accountable for the effect their actions had on other people. A chunk of the reason I think communities of color should divest from police departments and the criminal justice system in general (beyond its well-documented role in the systemic oppression, torture, and deaths of many of us) is how ineffective it all is at the lie it sells the general public: punishing people stops them from doing things we don’t like/want. Tons of peer-reviewed research over the decades shows that punishment does not work for lasting meaningful change. Like I talk about in the Part 2 to corporal punishment piece, people learn best from positive and negative reinforcement (encouraging a behavior), from watching how other people act, and from dealing with the natural, real life consequences of their actions. That’s why enabling someone and shielding them from the natural consequences of their behaviors actually hurts them in the long run because they never get to learn from life and never get to grow. Communities holding their members accountable is part of restorative justice. Healing and change does not happen without acknowledging exactly what happened and without acknowledging the lives that were affected. Healing and treatment cannot happen without acknowledgment and accountability either. That’s also why I wrote the 2-part series on the process of change, not only to assist people in being able to recognize what change actually looks like, but also how to recognize someone who is avoiding change and accountability.

To What Degree Are We Working Against The Systemic Oppression That Creates The Conditions For Violence In Our Communities And/or Makes Things Worse?

It is absolutely important that there is community awareness of systemic oppression. How can a community know how to keep its members safe without awareness of everything they are up against? Knowledge of effects of socialization, historical events, and systemic oppression help guide community members on ways to work together and to come up with lots of different solutions. This knowledge must come from many different, well-rounded, trusted sources: academic sources, lived experiences, books, etc. ideally from people of color. Everyone has something of value to share. And using this shared knowledge creates the environment where it is safe to do inner work. Developing self-awareness, awareness of the impact your actions have on the community, and awareness of the community’s effects on you is key. People’s feelings and the way they see the world is affected by so much socialization that critical thinking, self-reflection, and other kinds of inner work are part of the work that comes with real long term healing and true change. 

Awareness (self-awareness and awareness of socialization) is the just the first step. And it’s an important one, setting the foundation for the kinds of revolutionary change we hope for. A lack of awareness leads to falling for white supremacy’s fronts and blaming ourselves and our own people for our own oppression. What are ways community members can deal with problems in our communities without calling the police who are a danger to us? What are ways we can support people in our communities who are especially vulnerable without getting tangled in a part of the system? I’m thinking community-based prevention and support. We’ve been socialized to say “not my problem” and expect the government, police, and/or court system to come in and deal with issues like homelessness, people struggling with chaotic use of drugs, parents who won’t pay child support, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, etc. instead of coming together and dealing with it ourselves as a community. In a perfect world, we could rely on a government to provide us with resources and services (I mean, that’s what we pay taxes for and that’s where our tax money should be going…ideally), but the reality of the situation is the criminal justice system and the government in general was not created with our growth and betterment in mind. Too many of us have been traumatized and have had our entire lives changed by police, courts, etc. for us to really think we are the ones they are protecting and serving. At some point you start to realize on many levels that we aren’t being protected. Whiteness and the power/privileges of white supremacy are what’s being served here…and being “protected” from us. Many of us already know this low key and high key, but it’s one thing to know it and it’s another thing to make the moves to solve our own problems. 

It’s time to start thinking about the ways that you can help to create an environment that’s ready and encouraging for change. How can you and others encourage accountability in your communities? It’s scary to really realize we are alone and that institutions/systems in society are not there to help us. Terrifying. But we have each other. The work needs to be done (both our personal inner work and our community-level work) and it’s all very possible if we ALL willingly work to undo socialization and move forward together. We are our own power and our power is limitless. No leaders. No messiahs. We got us.

Thanks for reading. The next piece in July will cover child abuse and neglect, breaking down what it is, how to recognize some signs in children, and what we can do as a community.

Reflecting After the End of a Romantic Relationship

Maybe you did your life reassessment, looked at your whole life, and you realized that it was time to end a romantic relationship. Or maybe you already ended the relationship and are now trying to decide what your next move will be. The most common advice I hear given to people, especially cis men, after a relationship ends is, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else”. And…nah. Whether you are monogamous, in an open relationship, polyamorous, a relationship anarchist, etc., the end of any kind of romantic relationship is still a loss that has some kind of effect on you. And this kind of effect on any level is worth dealing with as soon as possible. This piece is about the next steps after a romantic relationship ends, whether that is taking a break before moving onto the next relationship and/or taking some time to yourself periodically (and/or with trusted loved ones, a therapist, etc.) to reflect and process what happened and how it affected you. Many people seem to think that closure comes from talking to an ex-partner and coming to some kind of total, complete (and honestly idealistic) understanding. That kind of closure is a myth, to be real, and I mentioned some reasons before (See this short Twitter THREAD about closure in romantic relationships) for why looking for that kind of closure isn’t helpful. Instead, find closure, understanding, and peace within yourself by taking time to work through how you feel, what you’ve learned, and how you can grow from what you have experienced.

How do you know when it is time to take a break and/or reflect?

In general, I’d suggest taking a little time to yourself after every end to a relationship, if anything, just to reflect. You just experienced a loss. Acknowledge that. Your first steps after a relationship ends are important. Any lessons you don’t learn and any wounds you don’t heal are not just gonna go away or heal itself with just time alone. Don’t let the often-repeated lie fool you: Time does not heal all wounds…especially not all by itself. Healing is never passive. It’s never something that just happens to you somehow over time. Healing takes active work. And life lessons have a way of coming back around the longer you are alive. It’s better to take the time and learn the lessons sooner rather than later. No one likes to be stuck in a rut: Repeating similar scenarios, similar relationships, similar dynamics, etc. for years, wondering why you always seem to date the same kinds of people or find yourself in similar situations. That’s a sign that it’s time for you to stop, check in with yourself, and figure out what you need to do to make some active changes in your life.

Again, the ending of any kind of relationship is a kind of loss and with loss comes grief. Grief is a normal response to loss and, like I mentioned in my piece on grief, it looks different for each person depending on the specifics of the situation and the kind of relationship you had with your partner. Grief is also affected by any history of trauma, history of abandonment, other stressful things going on in your life, physical and/or mental health symptoms, etc. And factors like these make no 2 people’s grief look exactly the same. And because humans are complicated and life is complicated, so are the feelings one can feel while grieving. You could feel sad, angry, lonely, relieved that it’s over, glad the partner is out of your life, nostalgic for the good times, etc. Like I mention in the grief post, these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process and they are important to feel/process because “un-dealt with grief can build up inside someone and then come out in other, less healthy ways.” Generally speaking: The worse the break up (meaning the more complicated, the more emotional, the less friendly of a breakup, etc.) the more likely you will need more time/effort to reflect and learn/heal and that’s ok. Scrapes, cuts, and wounds need their right time to heal, even emotional and psychological ones. 

You Know What They Say…”

Do NOT use another person as an object to “get over” a past partner. First of all, it’s a messed up thing to do to someone else. It’s 1 thing if the person actively consents to being your “rebound,” but using people like objects is not how healing works at all. And “getting over someone by getting under someone else” doesn’t actually work. You never actually deal with whatever the problem was. It’s a distraction. In counseling, that would be an example of avoidance. And avoidance almost always makes things worse. It’s like seeing a water leak in your home and “fixing” it by renting a hotel room for a couple weeks. The feelings you try to push away will always come back in some way, usually stronger. Unhandled emotions and psychological unfinished business can come out in your body so you might start to feel achy, sick or drained all the time. You might start treating your other romantic or sexual partners, your friends, your children, and other relationships in your life like crap. You might start believing that you deserve to be treated badly in relationships or that you aren’t meant for real love or relationships. Like a physical injury, emotional wounds shouldn’t be ignored. 

Time for growth

Sex, casually dating, and new romantic relationships are great as long as you are also taking care of yourself in the process. Relationships are not tools for healing. They are relationships. The other person(s) isn’t your therapist. They are your partner(s). This is another example of the need for firm boundaries and an example of how firm boundaries are nurturing for you as an individual and for your relationships. Check out my introduction to boundaries piece here for basic information on setting and maintaining firm boundaries with people and why it’s even important. And here’s the Part 2 of boundaries 201 2-part series where I explain how strong, clear boundaries can be used to make relationships even stronger and more fulfilling. Those boundaries will also give you the time to dive deeply in your search for awareness and understanding. Mindfulness techniques (as I describe and explain in this intro piece to Mindfulness here) can be very helpful for tapping into yourself and getting to know yourself. Take some time to focus on you. Don’t rush or let anyone else rush your healing. Take however long you need. It’s better to be really ready than to be fast with the process. You wanna focus on quality here. Kind of like how I mentioned in the unemployment piece here, people of all genders should take the time to grow yourself after a loss, whether we are talking about losing a job or a relationship. If you don’t grow yourself, you will never learn from your past. Look at yourself. What lessons do you need to learn? Talk to your friends. And if you figure out that you might be stuck in a relationship rut, maybe talking to your friends isn’t enough. It might be time to talk to a mental health professional. 

A lot of the time the messages we get from society around love, relationships, and dating are incredibly toxic. There’s always someone in your life or some self-help book ready to tell you the fastest way to get over someone. However, at the end of the day, motivation and the juice for change is already in you. It’s just a matter of taking some time to yourself and doing some serious reflecting and going through your feelings, etc. It’s pretty easy to bounce from relationship to relationship. It takes a lot of strength to pause and take some time to look into yourself and to be honest about what you see. And it’s powerful to take what you’ve learned about yourself and use this information to begin to do whatever you need to heal and learn from those life lessons. 

Thanks for reading. The next piece will cover how to help friends come back to baseline (meaning how they normally used to live their lives) after a trauma/crisis and how to conduct crisis intervention in the mean time and in between time while y’all are looking for/waiting for professional help.

One Year Anniversary: Do You Know What Today Is?

I officially started this website a year ago on January 1st 2018 as part of long-term career goals on my journey as a psychotherapist. From the moment I enrolled into that Applied Psychology graduate program, I dedicated every aspect of this part of my life to Black people, especially Black LGBTQAI people. I had been planning to go into psychology research and the academic world until I started hearing from different Black people online and IRL about the systemic difficulty finding culturally-competent, ethical, and empathic therapists who are also affordable and accessible. And that changed the direction of my life.

And now, this website is part of my ultimate goal to dedicate my psychotherapy career to finding many different ways to 1) Share free psychotherapy-based information to help people use these tools towards the goal of healing themselves and their communities, 2) Personally provide free psychotherapy to low-income Black people via my future private practice, 3) Provide future clinical supervision to upcoming Black LGBTQAI mental health counselors who need hours for their state license, and 4) Network with other Black mental health professionals to work together towards this common vision.

To everyone who has supported me in making this website happen this year, the very first year: Thank you so much. Your help was so deeply appreciated. I want to give special shout-outs to my brother Sam, my sister Crystal, and my editor/friend Kiya. Without the 3 of you, this website would have been almost impossible.

To everyone who has read any of my work on QueeringPsychology for the last year, thank you. Expect to see more and more of my work, written and otherwise, this new year and in the years to come.

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.

How to Know If/When You’re Depressed

Before I start I wanna say that it’s legit ok to feel sad sometimes. Humans are not supposed to be happy all the time. That’s impossible. Humans are supposed to feel a wide range of emotions. Even emotions that can be very uncomfortable or just plain suck to feel. That’s life. Hiding from those emotions or pretending you don’t feel certain emotions doesn’t fix a damn thing or make you a more evolved person (but that’s another post for another time). So what’s the difference between being sad and being depressed? Mental disorders, in many cases, are more extreme/intense (aka outside of the average person’s experiences) versions of everyday emotions and experiences. Anyone who has ever taken an abnormal psychology course probably has heard of the 4 Ds method of thinking about mental disorders: Deviance, Distress, Dysfunction, and Danger.

  • Deviance: Whether someone’s behavior is acceptable in their specific culture (or cultures) and society. For example, “disorganized speech” (where someone is impossible to understand due to a disorder in how their thoughts are put together) is a symptom of schizophrenia. It is incredibly important for therapists (and all mental health professionals) to understand someone’s background/context before diagnosing them. The situation changes completely if the person was speaking in tongues while praying. In that case, speaking in tongues would not be considered disorganized speech aka a symptom of a mental disorder because it is an appropriate part of that religion/culture. See what I mean?
  • Distress: Do the symptoms this person is experiencing cause them (or the people around them) clinically significant distress (EG: a lot of anxiety, sadness, pain, etc)? If you’re wondering why causing other people clinically significant distress in written into the diagnosis: For certain mental disorders (personality disorders, etc) and in other situations, a client may not notice their symptoms or the impact these symptoms have. This is called having “poor insight”. But just because the person can’t tell that anything is off/wrong, doesn’t mean that their loved ones and others around them aren’t affected. Example: A spouse who is currently having a manic episode and impulsively spending all the rent money. A therapist could still use this information to diagnose their client.
  • Dysfunction: Do the person’s symptoms affect their ability to function in society (hold a job, pay bills, maintain social relationships/obligations, personal hygiene, etc). This does not mean the person’s whole life has to be dysfunctional. Symptoms could affect 1 area of someone’s life so much that it qualifies. For example, social anxiety symptoms that affect a person’s ability to go on successful job interviews, but don’t come up when hanging out with friends would still count.
  • Danger: And finally, do the person’s symptoms cause them to be a danger to themselves or others. [Note: Danger alone does not mean someone has a mental illness. Lemme say that again: violence, abuse, and any other kind of danger (emotional, physical or otherwise) alone does not mean someone has a mental illness. So stop saying every person who is engaging in violence has a mental disorder. That’s NOT true at all. It adds to the stigma against people living with mental disorders (who are more likely to be victims of crimes/violence/abuse/neglect and therefore are always shafted in terms of healthcare and treatment because of this stigma). And it lets people who engage in violence, and this society that enables them, off the hook instead of really addressing root causes of violent behavior.

A given mental disorder does not have to have all 4 Ds, but usually will have at least one. The 4 Ds method is a nice guideline/tool for thinking about what makes something a mental disorder.

So what is Depression? Because I refer to the kitchen in my home as “my kitchen”, I find it the easiest to think about mental health disorder diagnoses like recipes. Every recipe needs ingredients and these ingredients have to cook for a certain amount of time before the meal is ready. To make a major depressive disorder, you need to cook at least 5 of the following “ingredients” for at least 2 weeks [These symptoms must cause distress or dysfunction and the symptoms must not be caused by anything else like medication/drugs or another medical condition]:
Must Have At Least 1 From Here:
  • Feeling depressed (or other people think you look depressed) nearly every day; Kids might look irritable instead of depressed
    • Translation: Feeling shitty, cranky/irritable, down, etc so intensely that it causes distress and/or dysfunction, etc
  • No longer interested or no longer enjoying all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day
    • Translation: You just don’t care about the stuff you used to or the same stuff doesn’t make you feel good anymore. You might find yourself pulling away from people and being social
And At Least 3-4 From Here To Meet The 5-Ingredient Minimum:
  • Huge weight loss/gain or appetite decrease/increase
    • Translation: Eating can either feel like a chore, be your new best friend, or all of the above depending on the context. The important part here is that your usual behavior has changed
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
    • Translation: You have problems falling sleep and/or staying asleep or you sleep for hours more than you usually do
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day that other people gotta be able to see
    • Translation: Agitation – Looking agitated (think restless movements like nail-biting, skin-picking, pacing, fidgeting, etc) to people or Retardation – Looking as if your speech, thoughts, and physical movements have slowed down, taking longer than usual to react, and/or you are talking much less, much quieter or with much less feeling. Psychomotor retardation is what can make doing every day activities (showering, cooking, household chores, paying bills, answering emails, doing homework, work, etc) feel impossible to do because it feels like you are physically incapable, almost like there are invisible weights/pressure on and all around you.
  • Feeling fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
    • Translation: Feeling tired to the bone. Even the smallest activities might make you feel exhausted and you don’t get shit done the way you usually do
  • Feeling worthless or excessively/inappropriately guilty nearly every day
    • Translation: Holding yourself to unrealistic expectations, constantly ruminating/reviewing past mistakes, and/or seeing everything as evidence that you ain’t shit or blaming yourself for things that couldn’t possibly be your fault
  • Difficulties concentrating or indecisiveness nearly every day
    • Translation: Feeling distracted often, having trouble remembering things, and/or making even small decisions feels incredibly hard
  • Repeatedly thinking about death, thinking about suicide, thinking about suicide with a specific plan on how to do it, or attempting suicide
    • Translation: Passively wishing you could go to sleep and not wake up and believing that others would be better off if you weren’t alive on the lower risk end of the spectrum and constantly thinking about committing suicide, having a specific plan of how to do it, and/or attempting suicide would be on the higher risk end of the spectrum

I’m telling you all this, not so y’all can run around diagnosing people on the internet or IRL. Diagnosing a whole human being is not something you can do after reading a few pages in a manual. There’s so much work that goes into diagnosing a client: proper information gathering, taking into account the many parts of what makes each disorder, how the disorder develops in theory and in real life, risk factors, cultural issues, gender-related issues, and then comparing similar symptoms within multiple disorders to make sure that the diagnosis is as accurate as possible, etc. Basically, y’all, what I’m saying is take these good tips I’m giving you at face value and stay in your lane before you cause damage trying to diagnose or read someone’s mental status. Thanks!

This information is to build self-awareness so you can recognize possible signs and symptoms in yourself. Having a clear understanding of the symptoms and what makes those symptoms flare up is key. This post does NOT give you the ability to self-diagnose a major depressive disorder. Unless you have been diagnosed by a mental health professional, you cannot say you are clinically depressed (I should write a post about the overuse/inappropriate use of mental diagnostic labels & how it’s used as a shortcut to actually using more accurate/descriptive words for how you feel. And how people being uncomfortable delving too deep leads to using labels that don’t fit…). Again, what this post does do is help you identify any potential symptoms and give you a basic level of understanding. The first steps to healing are education and awareness. From there you can think about your options: using coping skills, asking for support from loved ones, looking for treatment, etc.

If you are experiencing these symptoms and want to access mental health treatment, places to start could include calling your insurance company to see what is covered, going Open Path Collective‘s website, filling out an intake for free/low-cost mental health services at nearby nonprofit organizations/community-based organizations, speak to your doctor about referrals, or checking directories like Psychology TodayNational Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, Therapy For Black Girls, etc.

 

If you feel like you want to hurt yourself and need someone to talk to, here are a few suicide hotlines (in the United States):
  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK); Available 24/7
  2. The Trevor Project Hotline (LGBTQ youth) – 1-866-488-7386; Available 24/7; TrevorText: Text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200; 7 days a week 3pm-10pm EST; TrevorChat: Click this link for the chat portal; 7 days a week 3pm-10pm EST
  3. Trans Lifeline – 1-877-565-8860; Available 24/7
  4. Mental Health Hotline – 866-677-5924
Depression doesn’t make you a failure. You aren’t a bad person. You aren’t weak. You aren’t a sinner. You just going through some shit right now. You don’t have to go through it alone. Hope this helps. Let me know if y’all want more of these kinds of posts in the future. Thanks for reading.
Next post will be about workplace relationships among coworkers and employers “dating” employees on 2/11/18.

 

Welcome to QueeringPsychology

 

This site was previously a casual blog that I created because it bothered me to see how much and how often knowledge was hidden from people based on race, gender identity, class, etc. When I was in my applied psychology M.A. program, it especially felt like I was crashing a party no one invited me to. People like me, the communities/identities I rep, are always seen as the victims, clients, patients, criminals, dependents, corpses, case studies, etc. Never as the creators, professionals, healers, researchers, change-makers or anyone with agency in the world. Systemic factors keep many of us out (or try to push us out) of the rooms where a lot of knowledge is being given. And to keep it 100, many of us who do get into those rooms do a trash job of packaging what we learn in lay, real life terms and spreading it to our communities.

As a psychotherapist (See About Me for more info), I have always had an interest in bridging gaps in knowledge and I want to use this website as a way for me to share, not only what I know, but how to apply it to daily life. One of the schools of thought I work from, believes that you have the power you need to heal yourself and thrive already within you. I just wanna share some tools and some food for thought with y’all to aide in your healing.

Just like I mentioned in this thread on Twitter, I want to publish written and video posts applying my knowledge of psychotherapy to various topics and issues, including demystifying therapy and mental health, LGBTQ-related issues, Blackness, interpersonal relationships, trauma, whole body health, etc. with future guest writers/speakers to speak from identities and to issues not in my lane. I also will eventually use this site to advertise for clients once I am ready to set up a private practice.

I will be posting every 2nd and 4th Sunday.

Thanks for reading.