The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

It’s hard not to listen when the universe sends us its messages. When I hear on several occasions, “Where’s the hope in what you are saying?”, I can’t help but pay attention.

Here are a few recent examples: Last week on social media, several friends and I were exploring the intertwined history of constitutional rights and racism, when one person said, “I agree with what you are saying, but where is the hope?” The other day, a case conference facilitator suggested the same thing as my group gathered to hear notes from my colleague’s work: “Listen for the hope in this session.” And last week a patient said to me, “Your plants look so healthy; I kill all of mine.” When I responded to him about the way life and death seem so close together, something inside me felt like I missed something important. Later, I realized that I missed a chance to name his hope that I could help him become healthy, just like my plants. So, I am asking myself, where is the hope in my words, work, and actions; and what is hope, really?

In my work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist helping to unpack the deeper issues beyond behavior change, and as a person in society working toward uprooting and exposing white supremacy, I get down in the dirt quite often. To me, coming face to face with truths is a liberating and hopeful practice, even though this practice often feels painful and disorienting. Exposing something we wish to hide from ourselves that perpetuates destructive (and deadly) patterns is a powerful endeavor, which often feels terrible. After all, there are often several reasons we keep these truths inaccessible, including that we may discover we’re implicated in our own trauma and painful experiences, as well as the trauma and pain of others. Most of us are hardly ever sure we can bear knowing this kind of truth.

Even when we come into direct contact with the pain of being human, there is still room for hope. But it feels important to me to distinguish hope from something more like an idealistic optimism. Author Rebecca Solnit describes this well: She says that optimism and despair are two sides of the same, predictive coin. They both imply an expectation that we know how things will turn out: They will either be all good or all bad, without any room for uncertainty.

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"What happened?!" When Social Anxiety Is Your Growing Edge

"What happened?!" When Social Anxiety Is Your Growing Edge

If you’ve ever spent a night (or a week) turning over and over in your mind what you might have said to someone that you regret, you are not alone. So many of us suffer from social anxiety, and from a gripping fear that we are “too much” of something that others cannot tolerate. 

Too moody?
Too intense?
Think too much?
Too political?
Too… weird?

Yeah, all those are things lots of us worry about.

When the What happened?! anxiety hits, it can be really hard to remember that every interaction is a dynamic interaction. We are dynamically experiencing our relationships, meanings, interpretations, sensations, and identities all the time. In social interactions, we are functioning on a spectrum of risk-taking where, by saying what we feel, we might end up feeling like we said the wrong thing.

(It’s okay. Really. We are ALL susceptible to this.)

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When Shit Gets Hard

When Shit Gets Hard

Shit gets hard.

I don't think words can truly express what it feels like when shit gets hard. Sometimes it comes and goes, and sometimes it lingers on. This is for you to read when you're not feeling okay.

A few things first:

Please eat, right now, if you haven't in the last few hours.
Please drink water.
Have a treat.
Find something snuggly to wear or get under the covers (if you're not there already).

Thank you. I know those were probably really hard to do. If you need to stop here, that's okay.

If you want to keep reading, I have some affirmations to share with you:

 

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on shame and being seen

Pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott has said, “It is a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.”

We love to hide, to have our own private psychic and emotional lives, but most of us don’t wish to be forgotten by the world. Most of us wish, and desperately need, to be found. But what is it to be discovered, and yet to have no power over the way in which you are seen? Is this what makes up the roots of shame, loneliness, terror, and oppression?

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Learning to Love (and listen to!) Your Body

 Keith Haring, "Untitled," 1985. Feeling pulled in many directions? Learning to love your body might help!

Keith Haring, "Untitled," 1985. Feeling pulled in many directions? Learning to love your body might help!

The Learning to Love Your Body group is kicking off this weekend, and I’ve got some pre-work for people who are registered and signed up. But in case you’re wanting a taste of what this group is about, I’ve decided to share it here so that you can feel fed and engaged by the possibility of living a life where you cherish, love, listen to, and enjoy your body.

First, have you seen Jes Baker’s talk about the Social Impact of Body Love on Everyday Feminism? If you haven’t, take a look here. We’ll be talking about this video on day two of the group, but it’s so ripe with content that it’s worth watching a few times over. Some of the statistics might surprise you. (Did you know that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat? And that they’re more afraid of being fat than they are of cancer, war, or losing both their parents?) Jes Baker also has an awesome blog at www.themilitantbaker.com.

Next, I’m encouraging everyone to purchase or borrow a copy of Embody by Connie Sobczak. I’ll be using some of the exercises from this book in our group, and we’ll be reading passages from the five Core Competencies of the Be Body Positive model. We’ll start with learning how to Reclaim Health, meaning, how to live in a way that prioritizes a holistic view of health with you as the expert of your body. Practicing intuitive self-care, cultivating self-love, declaring your own authentic beauty, and building community are the remaining competencies, and we will explore how to integrate these in your life in the Learning to Love Your Body group.

Finally, here is a set of questions to get you started on the path toward learning to love—and listen to—your body!

Start by finding, borrowing, buying, or making a journal. Think about your answers to these questions and write down your responses. Take as much time as you like and be as messy and incoherent as you wish. Nobody will read this except you. We'll talk more about these ideas and will have more time to explore them in person, but to get your mind working, try these on:

1. What kind of messages have I received about my body throughout my life? Where do they come from? What do I believe about my body and other people’s bodies?

2. What do I wish I felt about my body? If I felt free enough to be in love with my body, how would I know? What would be different in my life if I felt more love for myself and listened to myself?

3. What might be blocking me from loving my body and living fully in my life?

If you’re not planning on participating in the group, or not able to make it in person, try this exercise with a friend or two. When you set into your intentions and allow your creative self to come forward, you might like to light a candle and some sage, juniper, or copal, and carve out about 20-30 minutes to write in silence. If you and some friends sit down to do this together, try setting your individual intentions out loud with each other in just a few words, and then when you’re finished writing, share what your process has been and what you have learned from responding to the prompts.

If you'd like to learn more and see a video where I describe more in-depth the intention and practice of the group, visit my page Body Love Group. You can also call me at 510-594-4035 or send me an email at therapy@mollymerson.com . I look forward to hearing from you!

To cite this page:Merson, M. (2015) Learning to Love (and listend to!) Your Body. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2015/02/02/learning-to-love-and-listen-to-your-body/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts

There is something about intention setting and new year reflections that requests a video blog in addition to a written piece. In this video, I talk about getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings, about reflections, and about creating space within yourself for light, warmth, and manifesting your own creative spirit. Just like in a written blog, these prompts I offer are meant as starting points for a deeper process with your therapist, mentor, community, or spiritual guide to help you understand where your creative self can flourish and how you may be holding yourself back from what’s right for you in your life.

In case you are unable to play the video, here is a synopsis, including the prompts:

Reflections can be done at any significant moment in your life, including the New Year, either solstice, birthdays, or – a very profound experience – on death days. When someone who has been a guide or mentor to you has passed, it can be very meaningful to reflect on your year with that person’s wisdom in mind. They can help you see what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed, and perhaps offer a redirect for you as well, if that’s something you’re looking for.

For this exercise, get comfortable and give yourself enough space mentally and obligation-wise to focus on journaling. Grab a pillow, blanket, cup of tea—and a candle (if you have one), matches, and a pen and paper. We will be doing a bit of journaling right now.

Light your candle, get situated, and get ready to write!

First prompt: What are 10 events or situations that have been significant to you in the past year? People you’ve met or lost, relationships, events, lessons, anything that stands out to you as a growth point. Whatever comes to your mind is probably what can go on this list, as well as things you remember later on, spurred by this exercise. Give each person/event/experience its own line, and spend time meditating on what was significant about them for you.

Second prompt: What would you like to see manifest in the new year? What wish, vision, and intention is inside of you itching to be set free and come alive? What would you like to create in the coming year? When you find yourself sitting here, this time next year—what goes on that “10 Significant Situations” list?

Third prompt: What limits you? What do you feel is holding you back? What would you be doing if you felt like you were good enough and capable enough? Where can you offer more love, gratitude, patience, and compassion for yourself? What do you need in your life to help you manifest the wishes and dreams that you discovered in the second prompt? **I would add here, which I neglected in the video: In addition to working on offering love, gratitude, and compassion to yourself, where can you offer this to the world and your community? How can you help your community flourish and manifest the visions that benefit us all? This is by no means exclusive of growing, cherishing, and developing yourself. These go hand-in-hand.

Life is full of surprises. We spend so much of our life dealing with what is right in front of us, and it can be challenging to find time for reflection. You have chosen this time, whenever it may be, to reflect and honor where you are and how you got to be here, as well as were you dream to go. In doing so, you are offering something beautiful, loving, and wonderful to yourself that will help you step into the unexpected that this new year will bring with grace and compassion.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/12/26/intention-setting-three-journal-prompts/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

Learning To Love Your Body: A Workshop for Self-Love

Are you wishing you could love yourself in a way that makes you feel strong in your own skin?
Are you craving a loving relationship with yourself and your body?
Are you looking for take-home tools to help shed that inner critic?
Do you want to find resources inside you to help you make authentic and informed choices about your life and your needs?

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So much of our lives are spent trying to understand how we fit in to the environment around us. It’s a survival technique, for sure- but as we grow older, we start to realize how detrimental it can be to keep surviving in that way. If we haven’t learned—or have lost along the way—the ability to check in with our bodies and our hearts to discover what really, truly feeds us, we can rely too heavily on the outside world to make our decisions for us. This can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, intense stress, and feeling like we can’t go on this way. That’s because we can’t, and shouldn’t! It is possible to discover how to deeply listen to yourself, and do so in a way that makes you feel alive and connected.

This group offers a variety of practices to allow a recalibration of your connection to your body in the service of loving yourself and living the life that’s best for you. It is a time to recognize your body as a sacred space that holds vast information about who you are, what you need, and how to stay present with yourself in deep acceptance.

The group is limited to 7 people, all of whom will be interviewed and asked to complete a survey about their interest in the group. We will meet for five Saturday mornings, including one outdoor session, and one Friday night. This will give us a chance to practice our work at different times of day, so that you can identify how your body feels during the day, evening, and in different environments. We will have check-ins and some process around our explorations, and journaling will be encouraged. Some of the exercises will include: guided visualizations, a meditation guide from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, collage and vision board creation, and some exercises from the recommended reading, “Embody” by Connie Sobczak. During our outdoor session we will conduct a “walk + write”, where we’ll gather together, state our intentions, and be guided through an ecotherapeutic understanding of connecting with nature. We’ll have the rest of the session to wander through (or stay still within) the natural space and write our sensations in a journal.

The intention of the group is to support a loving and connected relationship to your body. Your body is always with you at every second of your day, and holds great information for you at all times. Developing this connection with your body will help you grow your self-compassion and self-acceptance, which can be a useful ally in your struggles with a cruel and punitive inner critic. Listening to your body can help guide you to what is right for you in your life.

Dates: Saturdays October 18, November 1, 8, 15, 22 from 10:30-12
Friday October 24 from 5:30-7
(One Saturday will be spent outside in a location TBD for a nature-based “walk + write”)

Location: South Berkeley, CA

Cost: $300 for the series plus $25 for the initial in-person interview

This group welcomes people of all genders, sexual orientations, cultural identities, and body sizes and abilities. The group space is not wheelchair-accessible, therefore another space may be arranged if needed.

Call Molly Merson, MFT for more information about participating in this group. 510-594-4035 or therapy@mollymerson.com

Molly Merson, MA, MFT#52483 is a licensed therapist in Berkeley, CA. She does deep process and in-depth therapy with folks struggling with difficult feelings, inner critic, mood fluctuations, feeling like an outsider, and finding satisfying relationships. Find out more about her at www.mollymerson.com or call 510-594-4035 for information about her work and practice.

Understanding Your Inner Critic

When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic You know those harsh, penetrating thoughts you have-- the ones that haunt you, even when you do something you love? The thoughts that tell you you’re not good enough, that you should “shut up” and “stop thinking you’re all that”, that try to beat you into submission? Yeah, those thoughts. The ones that hurt.

What if I told you those thoughts were actually there to help you?

Let’s consider for a moment that you are a child, and you’re doing something that feels fun. You’re feeling safe, so you play. You’re in “the flow.” Suddenly, someone shouts at you: “Stop doing that!” and takes away the rusty nail you’re about to put down your gullet.

Now, that voice is in you, reminding you: "Don’t eat the rusty nail!" That’s good, right? But it feels scary to be shocked out of that "flow". Let’s say you didn’t have someone there to tell you that you’re going to be ok. We could even go so far as to say, what if the person chided you, or shamed you for wanting to explore the world around you?

Now, that voice has a chance to grow bigger. It grows louder. It makes you wonder: Well, when I was feeling safe and playing, I learned I was bad. Maybe I shouldn’t let my guard down like that.

That harsh inner critic used to be a voice outside of you, but now it's lodged itself inside of you. It's your armor and your guard, after all.

And then, sometime, when you’re feeling safe, and feeling in “the flow”, and you start to let your guard down, the voice that's now deep inside you says, “DON’T!” And you are brought right back in to an anxious, guarded, vigilant place. You might even start feeling really badly about yourself.

You might start to feel like everything you’re curious about is actually bad for you.

But even though your inner critic might be really loud sometimes, you do have inner resources that can help you. Those resources are intertwined with understanding, and offering kindness and relaxation to, that the harsh, overprotective, and now harmful voice. We can find ways to lessen the harshness and add kindness by getting to know what feels scary, overwhelming, and challenging to you.

We all need validation of the parts of us that soar, and because the harsh critical voice often feels like the “true” voice, it can be easier to find yourself in situations where the criticisms are echoed in the people around you. It can also feel very difficult to accept the warm, kind voices, since they can actually have the opposite effect and make the inner critic louder.

What ways have you found to still the inner critic, for even just a moment?

Sometimes, that critic can feel so powerful that the only thing we can do is distract from it. Watching TV, cleaning the bathroom, going for a run, taking a nap—these are all ways we can distract ourselves from perseverating on the harsh inner landscape. Try to notice this process of distracting yourself from the fearful feelings so that you can make it to the other side. If you can spend just a few seconds identifying that that’s what you’re doing, then you’ve begun to offer some space to breathe and begin to allow yourself the option to feel just a little bit differently.

These moments you offer yourself are an important reminder that what you do best is survive. Sometimes, your survival skills can become restrictive and unhelpful, which can perpetrate more criticism and despondency. It is crucial at these times that you remind yourself, however you need to-- post it notes, a loved one, a video of yourself, or a snap of a rubberband on the wrist-- that there is more to your life than just this feeling, and that this feeling thinks it’s doing its job by protecting you. This feeling doesn’t quite get, yet, that it’s hurting you more than it is doing good for you.

But maybe it can learn, with kindness and time, to trust itself again. And, instead of protecting you, maybe together you both will learn that you deserve to explore, to discover what’s thrilling to you, to try on new things, and to take risks in places that could be healing and delicious for you.

Maybe, paying attention to this harsh, critical part of you will be just the thing to help you unlock what is healing, soothing, and reparative for you. Paying attention to the painful stuff may just be the way to open up new possibilities for you of how you relate to yourself and your world.

For more on letting go and noticing your patterns, I recommend listening to any of Pema Chödrön’s talks, which can be found on the Shambhala Press website. If you are interested in contacting your difficult feelings and attending to your inner critic, I encourage you to call me at 510-594-4035 to talk about how therapy with me could help you understand and work with some of the harshness of your protective self. I provide depth psychotherapy in Berkeley, CA. This piece is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease, and is not intended to provide psychotherapeutic treatment to anyone who reads or interacts with it.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/04/23/understanding-your-inner-critic/