The Process of Change Part 2: Taking Action and Looking to the Future

This is a Part 2 of a 2-part series about change, written using knowledge about the psychology of change so that we can all be on the same page about the actual steps of making a change in your life, what it means to do the work of change, and how to see if someone is fronting to avoid actually changing and being responsible for their actions. Part 1 [LINK] explained what motivation is, what the process of change generally looks like, and how to give a meaningful apology. This Part 2 covers important parts of the planning, action, and maintenance stages in the process of change, explained in Part one: 1)what accountability is and what makes it a key to true change, self-reflection, and 2)learning how to set realistic goals/plans for change. My goal with this Part 2 is to: Help people be able to see if someone is actually doing the promised work of change and Put a spotlight on accountability. I want us to give just as much shine to accountability as we do to forgiveness. Because from a psychotherapy and mental health point of view, forgiveness is NOT needed for healing. At all. Someone can definitely heal and live a full life without ever forgiving the person(s) who have hurt them. But the flip side isn’t true. Accountability is SO IMPORTANT for healing. Without accountability, true healing and change will never quite be possible. So many people see change as something that happens to someone so they can be passive and watch change happen. But that’s not true. Change is active, both for individual people trying to make changes in their lives and also for the community as a whole.

“It’s Done. Let’s Just Move on.”

So they’ve apologized to others and have forgiven themselves, now it’s time to move on, right? Actually, no. Change is not about “moving on”. Moving on implies putting things behind you. And when someone puts something behind them, with time, they start to forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind is real. So instead of “moving on” or “moving past” something, change is actually moving towards. The person wanting change now needs to start walking the walk: making the sometimes uncomfortable moves towards change and community-healing. Because yes, their actions do have an effect on the people around them and, on some level, their communities.  Change is not about looking good in public, getting people to forgive them so they can feel better/comfortable, or getting back to the way things were before as quickly as possible, etc. That’s not the kind of motivation that leads to lasting change. That could be what first pushed them to think about changing, sure, but after awhile, that’s not going to be enough to keep them going when no one is clapping or even looking at them anymore. Again, unless they are changing because they want to deep down and they see the change as worth it to them personally, the change is not going to last. Walking the walk isn’t always going to feel easy or good. It’s gonna feel like hard work sometimes because that’s what it is. 

Action and Accountability

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is nice. Someone forgiving themselves when they are ready to change is very important. I will say, though, that I see a lot more energy given to rushing towards automatic forgiveness. ESPECIALLY if this is someone with social power, someone most people like, and/or someone who makes popular music/art. Rushing to forgiveness messes with the process of change for 2 reasons. First, it assumes that forgiveness is a mandatory part of the process of change. And it is not. Forgiveness is each person’s choice. It’s not even a required part of healing. Someone could have pushed themselves, worked hard, and transformed themselves into a totally different person and it is still someone else’s prerogative to not forgive them and/or to never want to deal with them again. And someone can heal and live a full life without ever forgiving the person(s) who have harmed them and/or harmed others and that’s fine. Not everyone will forgive. Some people won’t be allowed in certain spaces as a direct result of something they have done to someone else. That’s called respecting other people’s boundaries.That’s also the consequences of their actions and they gotta deal with it. Could someone feel upset, frustrated, tired, etc. because of these consequences? Sure. And if they need to express those feelings to people, they should process those feelings with a consenting friend and/or therapist. That is exactly where those feelings belong. 

What is Accountability?

Less talked about than forgiveness, but more important to me, is accountability. Forgiveness is nice, but accountability is a key to long-lasting change. People feeling as if they are not accountable to anyone is one of the reasons for the abuse, neglect, etc. we see in the government, at our jobs, in our schools, in our communities, in our churches/places of worship, in our families, in our romantic relationships, in our friendships, etc. There is so little accountability going on throughout people’s lives that many people don’t seem to be clear on what accountability is or what it looks like in the real world. To be accountable means that someone is holding themselves responsible and/or is being held responsible for what they have done and/or for what they were supposed to do. Being accountable is also about accepting the consequences of your behavior and choices.

Accountable to Who, Exactly? 

We are all accountable to someone or something in our lives. From the time we are born, there is usually SOMEONE who can check us. Whether it’s parents, teachers, older peers, bosses, landlords, the IRS, etc., at some point, everyone has to answer to someone else. A person, who is serious about changing, holds themselves accountable to the people harmed. Accountability includes reparations. Specifically listening to the person(s) who have been harmed and basing your plans for change on what they need and don’t need from you. Being accountable means being committed to not repeating that behavior without demanding forgiveness and/or expecting rewards for changing. And to do that, you have respect the boundaries of other people and accept the potential social consequences of your actions. Another part of reparations is working on learning new ways of acting/thinking/speaking to take the place of the old ways. So when someone is facing (constructive) criticism about their lack of change and/or not being willing to learn why what they did was messed up, they are refusing to be held accountable and are refusing to really change.

Another level of accountability is being accountable to the community (I plan on writing a separate piece about community accountability later this year). In a better world, it is the community’s job to provide safety to its members. Close friends, relatives, people that the person trying to change respects, etc. should acknowledge the harm done and tell the person they are responsible for resolving it. Instead of what usually happens: Enabling their loved ones, trying to make the work of change as easy as possible, and/or making them feel comfortable with not changing at all. When people are not also held to higher standards by their loved ones, peers, and community, they feel like they can avoid the work of change. Where is the push to even start contemplating change when everyone is acting as if the person hasn’t done anything wrong? Part of community accountability is checking in people’s growth and being willing to receive that check-in. Holding yourself accountable to the community means being willing to be accountable for your actions and your words from the past and in the future. Strength isn’t just somebody saying something with their chest. It’s also to being answerable for what they do and the effect it has on other people. No gaslighting or lying. Just standing up and being willing, not to move on, but to continuing to move toward change by accepting feedback and constructive criticism. Similar to how I described the healing power of boundaries in the Boundaries 201 Part 2 piece, personal and community accountability go a very long way in making positive long=lasting change possible. Accountability creates the right environment for change and encourages more growth in the future. Without personal and community accountability, people eventually won’t trust each other and strong community ties are not possible in that situation. Accountability is part of the work that keeps people and communities feeling safe. And safety and trust in each other is at the core of powerful movements and revolutions.

Working on Yourself

Self-Reflection:

So what does the work of change actually look like? Where does someone even start? I think one of the first things to do is to make time for self-reflection. And I’m not talking about taking 10 minutes to think about why this person was right and that person was wrong. Assuming by this point, you are at the place where you want to make changes for yourself, it’s not about what other people did anymore. Your main focus should be on yourself. I’m talking about setting time aside time for days, weeks, possibly months, to really dig into everything that happened, the role(s) you played, how your actions affected others, etc. You can use my life reassessment piece here as a starting point (it includes links to my piece on mindfulness so check that out) to help figure out how to start the process of taking stock of your life. Taking the time to look at your life bit by bit in an honest and deep way will give you a clearer idea of how to move forward without repeating the same life lessons over and over again. 

The process of self-reflection will take as long as it takes. Don’t rush it. This is a difficult process and many people prefer to rush through it to get to more feel-good parts, like a glamorous redemption/prodigal son story. But it’s the journey that’s important here, not to be cheesy. But it’s literal facts. If someone rushes through their process just so they can get back to the part where everyone likes them again, it’s a fake peace. They didn’t acknowledge that something in their life isn’t right. They didn’t come face to face with the need for change. Without acknowledging and understanding the entire realness of what happened, they can never truly apologize and feel sorry for their part in what happened. And if they don’t feel sorry, they will not change. That’s why I believe that no one should accept any kind of apology (or even worse, accept a non-apology) just to “keep the peace”. Again, that’s a fake peace and it won’t last. 

“I Mean, At Least I’m Honest”

Someone acknowledging what they did and/or “being honest/blunt” about the things they do that hurt people (low-key or high-key) is not enough. The work doesn’t stop there. No applause. No pat on the back just for honesty. That’s less than half the work. It’s good that someone knows themselves. Y’all know I love a mindful person. But my next question every time is, “Ok so now that you know you’re like this, what are you planning to do about it?” Because if the person doesn’t plan on doing anything serious to change in the long term, they can hurt someone just as badly as someone who isn’t aware of themselves at all. If someone feels like they aren’t able to get as deep as they need to on their own, that is probably a sign to start looking for a therapist for a professional outside point-of-view. Vet the therapist to make sure they already have the values you are trying to build in yourself. Just…just saying.

Setting Goals and Making Plans

Someone has been reflecting, is becoming more and more mindful, possibly working with a therapist, and feels ready for the next step, so what’s next? It’s time to take what you have learned about yourself (and are continuing to learn about yourself because self-reflection shouldn’t stop) and decide what needs to be done to change. This is where SMART goals come in. I learned about this from working at community health organizations for years and this is a great way for people to organize themselves and make sense of where they want to go. SMART goals (and objectives) are like the compass for change, making sure someone doesn’t lose track of where they are and where they are going. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.  

Specific

Meaning each goal focuses on 1 thing the person wants to improve. Saying “I wanna be a less angry person” doesn’t do anything here. It’s too general. A more specific goal would be “I want to stop getting into arguments with my coworkers”. Being clear and specific with goals is very important to keeping a person’s motivation going. If a goal feels too big, impossible, etc., people are more likely to burn out or give up on changing. Keeping the goals specific and easy to keep track of makes them easier to accomplish. 

Measurable

Meaning can someone measure their progress with this goal and how will they know when they have accomplished this goal? That 1st goal (“I wanna be a less angry person”) is too general to measure progress. How would someone define “less angry”? What would that even look like? The 2nd goal (“I want to stop getting into arguments with my coworkers”) is easier to measure someone’s progress with. Someone can literally track how many arguments someone is getting into and watch as the number goes up or down. 

Achievable

Meaning how realistic the goal is, depending on the person’s situation. How do they plan on getting this done and what do they need realistically to do this? Do they need to start taking classes, buy some books, consult with some people, etc.? 

Relevant

Meaning is this goal even related to the thing they want to change? Is this goal actually helpful to the person’s growth and/or to the person(s) affected by their actions? Is this the right time for this goal? 

Time-bound

Meaning there’s a realistic deadline by when either the goal will be achieved or someone will check in by that time to see what to do next. What can the person do today to make working towards this goal easier tomorrow? Every SMART goal has at least 2 objectives (mini goals) to break down the goal into smaller, easier steps. 

The great thing about someone organizing their goals for change into something like SMART goals is it helps them organize and make sense of a process that can feel very huge and overwhelming. Taking the time to plan the next steps sets a solid foundation for change and helps a person remain accountable to themselves and to the people around them. And someone organizing their life into SMART goals, in general, is a great way to approach other things they want to accomplish in their life.

There is always going to be someone promising change or promising to change. And it’s important for us to be able to know how to recognize this process/work in others when it’s time to hold people accountable for their actions. Awareness is always key. And taking the time to stop and critically think about a situation is 1 of the tools that will set us free. Change is a process that lasts someone’s whole life and knowing more about the process of change and what change looks like will help you figure out if someone is really walking the walk. Remember that motivation for true, long-lasting change comes from within and with the understanding that 1)forgiveness is not mandatory and 2)that there are justifiable social consequences (For example: other people setting their own personal boundaries aka “cancelling”) that happen as a result of their actions. We as individuals must hold ourselves accountable and push ourselves to grow everyday towards the better future we want. And we as a community must hold each other accountable so we can create the environment for the growth and trust in each other that makes the true change we fight for possible.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be a Reader’s Request on Sunday 4/14/19, covering 1)estrangement after you’ve cut off contact with family, and other people who were once close to you, 2)mourning the lost relationships of still living people, and 3)how to manage the people in your life who still have connections with those estranged people.

Is It Time to Leave Your Therapist?

The ending of any relationship is hard, but it feels especially difficult and unique when it’s the professional relationship between a client and a therapist. Whether the relationship was new and you were just feeling them out or you’ve been seeing them for years and they know your everything…there’s just something so unique and special about this kind of professional relationship. The dynamic/working relationship between client and therapist is so powerful and amazing when done right. It’s so intimate and yet, again, if done right, there are boundaries in place that create a special space where people, as clients, can feel safe enough to really get raw and real and do the deep work that needs to be done to change their lives. That all said, there are solid reasons to think about ending your current relationship with your therapist: there’s no chemistry, the therapist said something offensive and you want out, you’ve been working with them for awhile, feel like you’ve been in a good place, and want to reduce sessions, etc. Knowing if it might be time for a change and/or what kind of change is needed can feel very complicated. I wrote this piece to help people who feel like they need a change or like they have hit a plateau in therapy and need some options of what they can do at this point. FYI: Answer the reflection questions throughout this piece like you’re having a conversation with someone you trust. That will help you answer with enough detail to get the most out of it.

Checking in

Reassessments:

If you’ve read at least 2 of my pieces in a row, you already know that I’m a huge fan of self-reflection, checking in with yourself, and having a deeper understanding of yourself. If you need some help, here is my life reassessment piece where I explain how to look at your entire life and get a solid sense of where you are so you can figure out where you need to go. Checking in with yourself every 6 months to a year wouldn’t hurt. Now, if you have a therapist, you should be checking in formally via a reassessment approximately every 6 months to compare thoughts on your progress and to check on your treatment plan (your plan and goals for therapy). This is important because you want to avoid losing track of what you came to therapy for and losing direction. If you have ever found yourself going to therapy, but having no clue what you are doing there, or how it’s even helping, or what the point of it was, etc., that’s a sign that the direction of therapy was lost at some point.

Questions to Reflect on:

  1. Does your therapist check in with you about how therapy/your treatment is coming along?
  2. When was the last time you saw your treatment plan?
  3. How would you describe your treatment plan (your plan and goals for therapy) in your own words?
  4. Where would you say you are in your treatment as compared to where you were when you had your first session with this therapist?

Reassessing With Your Therapist

So you did some thinking and reflecting on your own, collected your thoughts a little bit, and now it’s time to bring this to your therapist. One way to start this conversation is asking when the next reassessment is or asking to go over the treatment plan and talk about your progress. This should lead to a conversation where you, with the help of your therapist, compare where you are with where you wanted to be by this time. And this is also where you reflect on the work that has been done in therapy up to this point and even talk about how the dynamic/relationship between you and your therapist has affected your treatment. In psychotherapy, this is called metacommunication. Metacommunication is when you and the therapist both take a step back and talk about your therapeutic relationship/dynamic together and it’s effects on your treatment/work in therapy. A lot of the time, a client and therapist talk about the other parts of the client’s life, but like any other relationship, it is important to check in from time to time. Metacommunication can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but it is a necessary part of the work. If your professional relationship with your therapist has issues, however big or small, at some point, it is going to start having an effect on your work together and your experience of therapy as a client. And nothing should get in the way of that time. That’s your time. And it should be used making the best of what therapy has to offer for you. Anything less that takes away from you and your growth.

Ideally, your therapist should welcome the opportunity to talk about your professional relationship. We, as therapists, are trained to do this anyway and we have been trained to see this as the learning opportunity that this is. I’m going to wish for the best and think that your therapist will do as they were trained…but if they don’t, and you asking about your progress in therapy turns into a power trip, then that experience taught you something about this therapist. And that kind of information, that bit of knowledge, is important in deciding the future of your professional relationship with them. Like I said, any therapist who’s really about it will use this metacommunication time to see if your treatment needs to be updated (does something need to be taken out of treatment, need to be changed, and/or do you need something new?) or if you need to reduce sessions to monthly, etc. This is a great time for the both of you to work together and get to the bottom of what’s going on for you.

Questions to Reflect On:

  1. Is there something you wish you could receive more or less of from your therapist?
  2. How do you feel about your dynamic with your therapist?
  3. What kind of rapport/bond do you have with them? What vibes do they give you?
  4. How does your therapist make you feel?
  5. Is the kind of treatment you are currently experiencing still working for you or do you think you need different kinds of psychotherapy or a different kind of therapist?

When It’s Over

If you are in the situation where you are not getting want or need in therapy and feel like you need another therapist, don’t be afraid to move on. Unless you are legally mandated to be there with this specific therapist, nothing (other than money) is holding you. I know it can be tiring to keep window shopping for therapists. The effort is worth it though. The healing power of therapy won’t be fully there if the relationship between client and therapist isn’t right. So if you don’t think the relationship is worth trying to fix, then it’s time to move on because you aren’t going to get anything out of therapy otherwise. Can’t drink from an empty cup. You checked. The cup is empty so it’s time to move on. For a lot of people, the idea of breaking up with your therapist feels like a big deal. And it is. But at the end of the day, you are a customer and they are providing you with a service. Again, unless you are mandated to work with them, you are well within your right to find a therapeutic relationship that has more of what you are looking for. Ideally, it would be cool if you and your therapist could have a final session to process the termination, i.e. the ending of the relationship, but if what happened makes you never want to see the therapist again, i understand. It’s similar to what I talked about in the piece here about setting boundaries with toxic people in your life, setting boundaries requires you to have compassion for yourself and your needs. Seeing your unhappiness as something worth dealing with even if many people have ignored it in the past. Maybe it is time for a change.

The ending of relationships doesn’t always have to be negative. You and your therapist could have clicked in a major way and y’all could have spent many sessions, putting in some serious work on your wellness. So why end it? Sometimes you want to reduce your sessions or end sessions because you feel like you’ve been in a good, stable place for a while. Maybe you have been working with this therapist for months and/or years and you both looked at your treatment plan and all the short term and long term goals you set for yourself have been checked off the list. And let’s even say you both tried to brainstorm some new goals and couldn’t really think of anything serious. That’s a solid sign that you’ve probably gotten enough from from therapy at the point in your life. This is a great topic to bring up in some metacommunication with your therapist. Use some mindfulness techniques, reflect alone, talk about it with trusted people, with your therapist…if you feel like you have gotten enough from therapy at this point, it may be time to start reducing sessions from every week to 2x a month, etc. until you reach your agreed upon last scheduled session. The termination process is ideally an extended mutual process between therapist and client where time is dedicated to process the end of the current professional relationship (as a loss/end, as a beginning/new chapter, etc). It’s a bittersweet time. You and the therapist are sad to see this phase of the relationship end, but also looking optimistically towards the future.

After the Goodbye: Starting Over & Booster Sessions

Having to start over again can be so frustrating. And tiring. I feel that. This might have been the 3rd or 4th therapist you’ve tried and you’re wondering if it’s even worth all this effort.

It is.

And I’m saying that both as a psychotherapist and as someone who has been in therapy personally. Finding a therapist who you can work with can really make a huge difference in your life. Having the space and the opportunity to work through things that have been sitting with you for months and/or years is life changing. Like any other service in this capitalistic society, you unfortunately may have to continue to search and sort for awhile until you find the right therapist for you. It’s worth the search. (Maybe I should write something about how to tell if a therapist is a good fit in the first 3 sessions…)

Now, if you had a great relationship with your therapist, just because the current relationship is ending, doesn’t mean that you will never see your therapist ever again in life. It doesn’t hurt to have a therapist on tap for booster sessions. It’s nice to know that you can always come back and that you have someone really there in your corner to help you figure out how you want to move through life. Therapy and mental health and wellness is a continuous, life long process just like physical health. Best case scenario, you could go to therapy regularly with a trusted therapist like having check-ups with your Dr, except focusing on your mental health.

Being stuck in a rut, stagnation, is opposite of growth and healing. As I mentioned previously, it is always important to check in with your therapist if you feel like you are no longer getting (or have never gotten ) anything out of therapy. An ethical therapist would appreciate the check-in and would see this as an opportunity to update the treatment plan with you to make sure that your work together continues to be helpful. Regardless of the reason or specific situation, there will come a time when professional relationships between therapists and clients have to end. Hopefully this piece helped to make starting the process of saying goodbye feel less complicated and explained some of the options you have in these kinds of situations. These endings have the potential to be the healing new beginnings you have been really needing and looking for.

Thanks for reading. The next piece on Sunday 3/10/19 will cover the process of change.

Basic Crisis Intervention: ‘Cause Sometimes All We Got Is Us

I’m sitting back and letting myself be in awe for a moment at how messed up the world is on so many levels and in so many areas that I even have to write this piece. The same way that I mentioned in the drugs 101 piece here that we often have to rehab ourselves, very very often, we are put in situations where we are also the ones literally saving our loved one’s lives. Many people are out here doing heroics for themselves and their squads with little to no support from medical and mental health professionals due to financial reasons, systemic and interpersonal bigotry, etc. Queer people & people of color (ESPECIALLY queer and trans people of color) are often doing the healing work in our own communities because there’s often no culturally-competent, ethical, and affordable providers around. This piece covers how to support your friends and loved ones as they work to recover right after a trauma and/or a crisis while also trying to find appropriate medical and mental health professionals. You are not their therapist or their doctor, but you can give them short term support while they are trying to lock down long term professional help. This is definitely a in the mean time and in between time kind of piece.

Before I get into crisis intervention, I’m going to list and link a few related pieces that I think you should read before doing this kind of emotional, psychological, physical, etc. labor for your loved one(s). One important thing to learn and never forget before taking on this kind of work is: The best way to help and the best place is start is ALWAYS asking the person in crisis what kind of support they need and going from there. Your role isn’t to save them (savior complexes both take the humanity out of the people you are trying to help and treat them like children. They are grown adults. They don’t need you to tell them how to live or need you to baby them. They aren’t SIM characters. They just need a boost while going through a rough situation like you would in their place). One more time: Your goal is NOT to rescue them. Leave that savior mess at the door. Not only will taking on that unnecessary burden burn you out, frustrate you, and possibly turn into resentment over time…it’s also not what the person in crisis needs or probably even wants. They may not know what they need at first, but go at their pace. This isn’t about you. It’s not about you “wanting your friend back” as soon as possible so you can hang out like you used to. It’s not about you wanting to see them happy because it makes you feel better. This is about their healing, at their pace, with them at the lead. 

  • Boundaries 101: This piece covers what boundaries do and how to start setting solid personal boundaries. This intro piece to how to set boundaries will help you be able to be there for your friend(s) while also saving enough physical and emotional energy for yourself.
  • Boundaries 201 Part 1: This post explains how to take the ideas and skills learned in the intro to boundaries piece and how to apply them to your family life and other close relationships. Specifically, how to set boundaries around toxic and/or abusive people in your life.

  • Boundaries 201 Part 2: This Part 2 explains how to use boundaries as tools to make your relationships with your loved ones even stronger and longer-lasting.

  • Mindfulness: This piece covers how mindfulness strategies and techniques can help you become more aware of your emotions and what’s going on in your body and mind. When dealing with a crisis situation, one might feel tempted to block out emotions and try to power through the crisis. This might be a decent very short term solution, but what happens when there’s crisis after crisis back to back in your life? Now, it’s been months and/or years of dealing with different kinds of crisis going on and you have no breaks. Pushing down your emotions doesn’t make them go away. They just come out in other ways like constant body pain, mood swings, poor sleep, poor eating, being easily agitated, high blood pressure, etc. Emotions and stress that are never handled can literally kill. 

  • Suicide: A significant number of people in crisis can experience a wide range of suicidal thoughts/feelings: wishing to not be alive, wanting to fall asleep and never wake up, thinking about specific ways they could end their lives, etc. This post explains what suicide is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention. Understanding what suicidality really is and what it really means will help you figure out how to give your loved ones the kind of support they need.

  • Mental Health and Hygiene: This piece talks about the the impact that mental health can have on our routines/hygiene habits and practical suggestions for if/when you notice changes in your ability or your loved ones’ abilities to keep up daily routines. This may be very important especially in the beginning of the crisis situation. Being able to have empathy for the person in crisis and for yourself, a caretaker, is going to be incredibly important.

  • Self Care: This post covers what self care is and how to build and maintain a solid, healthy relationship with yourself. Everyone involved is going to need to pay special attention to self care. The person in immediate crisis may need help finding and/or going back to the self care strategies they have used in the past. Caretakers will need to continue Investing in themselves and doing what they need to do to recharge and love on themselves while showing love and empathy to others. 


Establishing Safety

The first part of crisis intervention involves creating a safe space, both literally and figuratively, for the person in crisis. Depending on the situation, especially if they just experienced something traumatic, the person literally might not feel physically safe. They might look really alert, tense, and/or seem totally unable to relax. They might check the locks and windows at night. It may be really hard for them to fall asleep or stay asleep all night because of scary dreams, memories, anxious thoughts, etc. So an important first step involves working with the person in crisis (as a team. Don’t assume. Don’t put words in their mouth. Remember, they take the lead.) to create a space where they feel safe enough to sleep. 

Creating a safe space for sleep might include: 

  • Creating a comforting nighttime routine to rebuild the sleep pattern/cycle

  • Using nightlight or having a dark room, depends on the person’s preference

  • Avoiding physical activity (that might take the heart rate up and trigger a panic attack in some people) or anything stressful right before bed

  • Watching calming TV, reading, music, etc. around bedtime

  • Warm baths or showers before bed

  • Meditation and/or other kinds of mindfulness right before bed

These are suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Again, the person in crisis would know what is comforting and helpful for them. They might not be able to sleep alone. They might be afraid to be alone in general. They might need to talk about what happened a lot. They might need a lot of alone time. You can be their support in getting whatever they possibly need to feel safe and secure.


Coping Skills

Relatedly, your loved one(s) in crisis is going to need help dealing with what they are going through. This might look like helping them remember the ways they have coped with crisis situations in the past. A crisis counselor, at some point, would make a quick list of their past coping skills. That’s basically their current options right now. Are those coping skills still working? Does the person need an upgrade to those skills and/or brand new ways of handling stress, etc.? One of my former clients used to call his coping skills “tools in my toolbox” and I always thought that was a great way to describe it. Look at the different ways you handle stress and problems as tools that can be kept, upgraded, and/or replaced. The right set of tools can really make the difference while someone is trying to get back on their feet.

Some other suggestions on getting by on the day-to-day while in crisis include:

  • Take it day by day with everyone being as gentle as possible with themselves and each other. And being forgiving of one’s limitations. You are possibly not going to be able to do everything in 1 day. You are probably not going to be able to move with the same energy immediately like you did before the crisis. And that’s ok. Healing takes time. How much time? However long it needs.

  • Listen to your body and don’t force anything. Sleep when you’re sleepy. Eat when you are hungry. Move when you have the energy. I talk about how to strategize getting stuff done with your limitations (instead of despite your limitations…because working with yourself is just easier) in the mental health and hygiene piece I linked at the beginning so check that out for information.

  • Many ppl use alcohol and other substances (legal & illegal) to help them fall asleep, coping with anxiety, etc. I would ask that, if you feel the need to get that kind of help, please try to keep in mind that it’s a short term bandaid and can only be useful while you’re getting other self care strategies together and/or using multiple other self care techniques at the same time. Whatever is making it difficult for you to sleep, etc. will still be there when the sleep medication/substance wears off. So take this time to start getting prepared to deal with whatever is at the root of your sleep, etc. issues. That way, if/when the side effects of the sleep medication/substance start to outweigh the all the benefits, you already have a Plan B in place.

  • Talk to people you trust. Whether that’s your friends, family, therapist, social group, etc. Venting and/or working through your feelings and thoughts is an important tool for many people.

  • Keep a journal (or notes on your phone/computer). It could be a helpful way of working through thoughts and feelings. It’s also a great mindfulness and grounding exercise. Crisis situations can often make people feel uncertain, confused, disconnected, etc. and being able to return to your thoughts and reflect on that at a later time (alone or with people you trust) can be a great way to clear up what is feeling foggy.


Safety planning 

Check out the depression piece here for more info on safety planning and links to resources/hotlines. This is a basic safety plan, with open ended questions to assist people in customizing their own unique plan for their situation.  

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?

Step 2: Self-soothing.

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: Looking for help.

Who can you ask for help? And what kind of help do you want from each person? Friends, family, case workers, etc. Do you wanna vent or process feelings/thoughts/memories/nightmares? 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 money or transportation? Do you need help filling out paperwork?

Step 4: Emergency services

Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? If you don’t, who can you call that you trust to get you to a safe place? 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?

The fact of the matter is, more often then not, marginalized people have to heal ourselves. And many times, especially for queer and trans Black people, it is friends and chosen families who are relying on each other to survive traumas, personal crisis, systemic oppression, health issues caused by environmental racism, etc. Squads and chosen families are out here doing their best to hold each other up long after biological families have failed them and all while the system works as it was intended to. Shout out to y’all. This piece is dedicated to the work you all do. And hopefully in this piece, you saw a healthier way to do what you have always been doing.

Thanks for reading. The next piece will cover termination: for people wondering if they should and/or how they should end their therapeutic relationship with their therapist.

Life Reassessment: Checking In On Your Life For the New Year

So here you are in the new year. Congratulations by the way. Regardless of anything else, you made it to 2019. The new year is a great time to really look at where you are in your life. I’m a huge supporter of people reflecting over their lives and taking stock some time to time. In psychotherapy, the therapist and client look over the client’s life approximately every 6 months, not just to see where the client is at, but also to make sure that what they are working on in therapy is still helpful. Taking that idea outside of therapy: this is a great time in the year to see if what you’ve been doing and what you have going on right now is still working for you. Are your coping skills still helping you or are they getting in the way? Are there other things you could be doing to improve your life? What things are working for you and what do you have on lock? In this piece, I want to show people how to do their own life reassessments so they can start to really look at where they are and then make moves to live their life with more intention, purpose, and satisfaction. These are open-ended questions for a reason. Answering them with 1 or 2 words isn’t really gonna get you much out of this. Answer the questions like you are having a conversation with someone. That should help you answer with enough detail to really make the best use of these kinds of questions. This is the kind of effort that really could set your new year off right.

(Important reassessment tool: Mindfulness strategies. Finding the techniques that best fit their needs can go a long way in helping people gain more self-knowledge and become more self-aware. Deeper, clearer awareness is priceless in a world that purposely tries to create confusion. This post here will help you find the right mindfulness strategy for your needs.)

Self and Identity

This section focuses on who you are as a person. Your inner self. How you see yourself and how you want the world to see you. And what it means to be you. Many people kind of coast through life, not really actively or intentionally thinking about who they are beyond who and what society and the people around them say they should be. While you’re reading the mindfulness post, I also really suggest checking out my piece on socialization here as a helpful starting point to learning what socialization is and how it influences each part of our lives.   

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your gender and gender presentation/expression (gender presentation/expression is how your gender looks on the outside by way of your clothes, body language, etc.)?

  • Do you have any gender-related concerns?

  • What are some of your strengths?

  • What are some things you would like to improve about yourself?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow, and all the barriers/obstacles are gone and there was nothing holding you back, what would you want going on in your life? How could you get closer to that point in this life?

  • What are 3 things you could do tomorrow to get you towards where you want to be?

Family/Home Life

This section focuses on your family (biological relatives and chosen family) and your life once you close and lock your front door. For many, one’s family is their foundation. It is your first set of relationships and, for many, your most long-lasting. It’s a good idea to reflect on what family means to you and the kind of family you want for yourself. Think about what would create a safe and satisfying home life for you and the people you care about.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your average day outside of work/school?

  • How would you describe your home life?

  • Who would you consider to be your family today? In sessions with clients, I’ve had clients document each person’s name, who they are to them, and the quality of the relationship with each person to get a better sense of the client’s family. Feel free to do the same with yourself while answering this question.

Your People

This section focuses on your squad, your social circle, your social support system, and the other people around you. It’s important to take an intentional look at the people and the relationships in your life. The people around you have a huge effect on your mental health, stress levels, sense of happiness, life satisfaction, and your decision making. A solid support system lifts each other up and creates safer spaces for each other in an oppressive world. Humans (with some rare exceptions) generally are social. Mental health wellness depends on some level on the kinds of people we keep around us.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What social supports do you have in your life? Include: family, friends, sexual, romantic, etc. partners, professional/school contacts, any trusted medical and mental health providers, your religious community, any social groups you are a part of, etc.

  • What are the significant relationships in your life? What about each relationship makes it important to you? What do you love about each relationship? What parts could be improved? How would you go about telling them this?

School/Job/Career

This section focuses on the time you spend at school, at work, caregiving, doing volunteer/charity work, and any other kind of work you do in your life. Including any and all the work you do, legal or otherwise, paid or unpaid, on and off the books, etc. Especially in this capitalistic society, the kinds of work we do become more than a title, they become part of our identity. Any unhappiness, lack of satisfaction, conflict, etc. in this area of your life can feel even worse because it is so tied up with our sense of who we are and our ability to eat, pay bills, and provide for our loved ones. And if everything is going well, celebrate that and look to your future. What are ways you can grow and improve in your work?

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of student/worker are you?

  • How satisfied are you with where you are in this area of your life?

  • Any issues learning new information or managing your work load?
  • Any interpersonal issues with professors/bosses or fellow students/co-workers? If you are experiencing harassment at your workplace or school, check out my suggestions for documenting it and protecting your mental health in this piece here about deescalating conflict in White-dominated workplaces as a Black person.

  • How do you set and maintain firm boundaries at work/school?

  • Do you do any volunteer work? What kind of volunteer work would you be interested in?

  • Have you lost your job recently? Check out my piece here on making unemployment a time for personal growth and healing.

  • What are some new skills you want to learn? How else can you grow or add more love to the many kinds of work you do?

Health

This section focuses on your mental and physical health and overall wellness. In this “wake up and grind” kind of society, many people are constantly pushing themselves more and more without stopping to check in with their bodies and minds. This isn’t a solid longterm game plan and will get expensive eventually with the terrible healthcare we have in this country. Taking care of your body and mind as you go is working smart. Whether your goals include finishing school, paying your bills, and/or moving us closing to revolution and decolonization, it won’t be possible to achieve if you aren’t investing in yourself now.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How often do you go to a Dr for bloodwork and a checkup? When was your last appt?

  • How often do you get tested for sexually transmitted infections? When was your last appt?
  • How much do you sleep every night and what is the quality of your sleep (on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the best quality)?
  • What is your diet like? Take at the very least 5 days, maybe even a week or 2, and document what you eat everyday (as best as you can), and how you feel on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the highest. Are you happy with what you find? What would be your ideal eating habits?

  • Do you exercise? What does exercise look like for you? How long is each session? How many times a week?

  • Do you have a history of disordered eating, (including any binge eating and/or going without eating with the purpose of losing weight)? What techniques/strategies are you using to eat in a healthier way? Which techniques are working for you? Who do you call for support when under a lot of stress?

  • Are you prescribed medication? How often do you take it as prescribed?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt sad, down, hopeless, not feeling pleasure in most things, and/or not interested in things you used to like/love doing? How often have these feelings stopped you from doing what you needed to do and/or have influenced your decision-making? Do you know the signs and symptoms of depression? See my depression piece here for more info.

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt anxious, keyed up, on edge, irritable, worried uncontrollably, etc.? On a scale from 1-5, with 5 being high? It might be helpful for you to track these feelings throughout the week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or affected your behavior or your ability to do what you need to do?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt angry, in a rage, tense/agitated, irritable, etc.? Again, this is something that might be useful to keep track of for at least a week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or otherwise affected your behavior or your relationships with the people around you?

  • What is your pain level today? And how has it been for the past week? On a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the most painful. How often has pain stopped you from going about your day?

Sex and Sexuality

This section focuses on sexuality and sexual awareness. The stigma and socialization built around sex and sexuality makes this area complicated for many people. There’s always the social expectation and pressures for everyone to play certain specific roles and play by certain rules in mandatory cisgender heterosexuality. Everyone is pushed to be cisgender, allosexual, and heterosexual. Any difference from that: people who are transgender, non-binary, intersex, asexual, gay, bisexual, queer, etc. is punished, held back from participating in various parts of society, killed, etc. And the people who are actually cishet are still forced to play by certain strict gender and sexual expectations for life to keep their privileges…or face their own consequences. Finding your true allosexual or asexual self is so hard in a world that tells you that anything different from what’s expected either doesn’t exist or isn’t even human. To live as you are is revolutionary. To begin to learn yourself and to unlearn socialization is life-changing.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your sexual orientation?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with your current sexual activity?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with the quality of the sex you have?

  • If you have sex, do you experience any pain during sex?

  • If you have sex, have you experienced sexually compulsive behavior, meaning sexual behavior that is difficult to control and that has started to negatively affect other areas of your life like your health, your job, etc. (in ways that are not directly connected to the stigmatization of sexuality and/or bigotry)?

Substance Use

This section focuses on a very, very common coping skill for many people. Let’s be real and honest here. Drug use, legal or illegal, isn’t a problem by itself from a physical and mental point-of-view. Drug use only becomes a problem when your use starts to become chaotic and starts to negatively impact other areas of your life. If you want to learn a little more information about drugs, substance use, and how to know if it has become a problem for you, check out my Drugs 101 piece here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What substances (legal and/or illegal) do you use at this time in your life?

  • When did you first start using each substance?

  • When was the last time you used each substance?

  • How do you ingest each substance (swallowing/eating/chewing/drinking, smoking, vaporizing, inhaling/snorting, injecting, through the skin via a patch/liquid, etc.)? Is there a healthier/safer/less damaging to your body way you could try using instead?

  • How much do you use of each drug? And how often a week?

Spirituality

 This section focuses on the place that spirituality has in your life. One’s spiritual beliefs and/or religious/spiritual community serve as an important coping strategy, social support, and source of deep connection for so many people. Your spiritual beliefs, assuming you have any, should lift you up and give you a sense of meaningful purpose. It would be concerning if your beliefs or community was becoming a negatively stressful part of your life. Like any other area of your life, it is worth reflecting to make sure that you are getting what you need.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of spiritual beliefs do you hold?

  • How satisfied are you with this area of your life?

  • Are there any struggles you have in this area of your life?

  • Any interpersonal issues with other members of your spiritual community?

  • Are you interested in any other spiritualities/religions? What kind would you be interested in?

Self Care 

This section focuses on your relationship with yourself. Self care is a word that’s becoming very popular on social media and in progressive spaces, but many people are not exactly clear on what self care really means and what it actually looks like for them in the real world. That’s how you have people drinking lemon water, but only getting 4 hours of sleep every night, for example. Self care is all the ways you can take care of your mental and physical health. For a deeper explanation of what self care is and how it can help you grow, check out my post on self care here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • When and how do you find time for yourself?

  • How do you nurture, grow, and maintain your relationship with yourself?
  • How do you set boundaries with others and with yourself to take care of your mental and physical health? Check out my intro to setting boundaries piece here for more basic information on what boundaries are and how to set them. Here is a 2-Part series on how to set boundaries with family members as a way to protect your mental/physical health from toxic relationships with loved ones (Part 1 here) and as a way to make your closest relationships even stronger and more fulfilling (Part 2 here).

  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How do you relax?

Any time is a great time to take a fresh look at your life, but the start of a new year motivates a lot of people to take some time and reflect. I personally like to give myself space to check in on my life every 6 months. As y’all know by now, I am huge on self-awareness, self-reflection, and maintaining a healthy, solid relationship with yourself and those around you. Taking steps to live your life as intentionally as possible in a society that is constantly pushing you to check out and live only according to how we were all socialized is beyond a power move…it is life changing. Taking realistic and compassionate assessments your own needs and walking in the spirit of that truth is something I want for all of us.

Thanks for reading and thank you for reading for an entire year. It has been a pleasure to write for y’all. The next piece covers taking breaks between romantic relationships for personal growth.

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.

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.