"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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Growing Stones and Becoming Courageous Like Georgia O'Keeffe

Growing Stones and Becoming Courageous Like Georgia O'Keeffe

Courage and fear are awkward teenagers at a school dance. When fear steps on courage's toes, courage tends to banish fear to the sidelines with the wallflower, declaring that just messes everything up and should just be ignored and pushed aside.

That might work for a while, until fear takes on a Carrie-type rage, setting fire to prom night.

Fear is a powerful emotion, sometimes more powerful than courage. Embracing your fears can help you step into the most frightening aspects of your life, especially as you get to know yourself on a deeper level. Here's a piece I wrote recently for Psyched in San Francisco, riffing off the Georgia O'Keeffe quotation: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

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Self-Care and... Social Media Boundaries

Self-Care and... Social Media Boundaries

Social media can be pretty overwhelming. You want to stay in touch with your friends and family (and super cute fuzzy creatures and squishy baby faces), but the incessant memes, the violent articles and videos, and the stunted conversations can feel triggering, impersonal, and traumatizing. In my latest article for Psyched in San Francisco, I share my perspective on how to cultivate your social media in a way that offers a replenishing space for self-care, rather than increasing burnout.

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On Healthy and Fulfilling Relationships

“Lovers embrace that which is between them, rather than each other.” – Kahlil Gibran

  even just a small impromptu note from one friend to another can remind you why you are connected to each other.

even just a small impromptu note from one friend to another can remind you why you are connected to each other.

Being in relationship with another person is a complex and deeply personal experience. Sometimes you may feel completely in sync with them, while other times you might feel disconnected, out of touch, and even hurt. Relationships can be fraught and they can be smooth; since we don’t really have much (okay, ANY) control over other people, when we become willing to risk being hurt in order to get the benefits of being connected, a lot of unexpected emotional stuff can come up.

When it comes to relationships, there are layers about the other person(s), as well as things that exist between you, that can feel very difficult to untangle from your own relationship with yourself. We spend much of our childhood taking in the expectations of others around us. Often, we feel the power of others “naming” us, both literally (our parents usually give us our names) and figuratively (“You are so picky at dinner!”), which can seem like the truth when we’re so young. As we grow older, the people around us may change, but the messages from childhood remain, and influence how we relate to the world and the people we’re close to.

So let's try on the possibility that what can help us have more fulfilling relationships is to embrace that which is between us as well as each other and ourselves. The best way to start feeling fulfilled and healthy in your relationships is to learn what it's like to feel fulfilled and healthy with yourself. Learning how not to be afraid of yourself, how to listen to yourself, how not to hide things away from yourself-- all of this can help you feel connected to you, and this will radiate through into your relationships with others. If you’re critical or intolerant of yourself, you’ll probably be critical and intolerant of others. If you cut off or ignore parts of yourself, you’ll probably cut off or ignore parts of others. If you allow yourself enough grace, enough forgiveness, enough space to allow yourself to be fully who you are, you will be able to do the same for the people you love. You’ll become one of those people you love. And that’s the key to all of it.

Here are some questions that might help you think about how you respond to people you love in situations where you’re triggered. Since these questions might evoke somatic or unconscious responses, it might be easier to think about them as you walk, or talk them through out loud with your therapist or confidant. Journaling in a free-flowing and non-judgmental way can also help you sit with some of the more uncomfortable feelings that might come up. I also suggest you pay attention to your dreams in the next few days, noticing places where you have interactions with people, where you feel safe, and where you feel scared.

What happens to you when you’ve had a rough day? When you’re preoccupied with something, like the interaction you had with someone in the grocery checkout line or a pending situation at work that you feel unsettled about- how do those feelings leak through into your interactions with people close to you? How do you respond when your partner is irritable, shows their vulnerability, or closes off? These are all micro-interactions that occur constantly between people, and it’s really easy to get caught in the emotional web of our expectations, fears, wishes, needs, and triggers and forget how to think together, and share together with another person. Noting when these happen for you can help you create a little more room for yourself when you’re feeling caught up in these emotions.

And: Who are you connected to in your life? How do you feel when you’re with them? Do you sometimes wish you could be alone, and not need other people, because maybe it’s safer that way? How do you, or could you, balance alone time with connected time? How can you find ways to be yourself in all the relationships you consider meaningful? What relationships might need to change if you were to feel more comfortable in them, and how might they change? How might you need to change to be more flexible in your relationships- or more boundaried?

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.

Asking Friends for Relationship Advice? Here's More.

Relationships are as unique and personal as the people in them. In the course of a lifetime, they are always starting, shifting, growing, retracting, and redefining themselves. Even ending a relationship leaves shadows of your former lover that can continue to touch you in the most unexpected circumstances. Given that most of us (though not all) desire relationships, we still feel like there are things we know and don’t know about what makes a relationship solid.

I polled a few people on social media for some advice from their personal experience about what makes for a kind of relationship they are willing to work for, and was fascinated by the diversity of experience, as well as the common threads. 

1. “Do not, under any circumstances, take my advice,” “Don’t do it,” and “Don’t listen to me” made me laugh, but also deeply resonated. We seem to feel that if we aren’t in the perfect relationship, or have had a history of things “not working out,” that we are less-than in terms of what we know about relating. This just isn’t true. Relationships are full of risk, and sometimes when they don’t work out we do the most learning about who we really are, if we allow ourselves to stay with the vulnerability of the feelings we have. Likewise, avoiding relationships can mean staying safe and protecting your heart, and there is nothing wrong with choosing your own safety and security over the risk of intimacy. That said, if you feel as though taking the “safer” path is causing feelings of isolation and depression, you might not actually feel as good about being alone as you think you do. This is a good time to talk to your therapist about the tension between the parts of you that want to stay “safe” and the parts of you that want to feel intimacy and connection.

2. "Be happy instead of right.” “Keep up the sex and the appreciation.” “Communicate honestly and often.” “Two things: No one else is responsible for your happiness, and never stop courting each other.” “Listen, especially when it's hard to do so.” All of these seem to speak to being grateful for and appreciative toward your partner(s). It’s said that showing gratitude and appreciation for someone else actually increases your own gratitude and appreciation for yourself. Growing your self-love while in relationship can also help you stay engaged and connected, and can help you work through disappointments when your needs are not met. 

3. "Take the time to have the uncomfortable conversations. Articulate and follow through on bettering yourself in the relationship. And maintain a healthy sex life by adhering to a GGG (Good, Giving, Game) mentality. And find someone with whom you can mutually grow and evolve.” This makes me think about how both (or all, if in a non-monogamous relationship) people need to be fully invested in the relationship to allow it to take shape and be an element of support in each person’s life. “Bettering yourself” in the relationship takes time and direct communication about what each person needs from the other, and an understanding of what’s yours to deal with and what’s your partner’s to work on. Sex can mean putting your body and your well-being into someone else’s hands (literally and figuratively). Consent means knowing, naming, and being respected for your limits, boundaries, and needs. It means listening deeply to your partner(s) and responding to their needs, limits, and boundaries. In this way, sex (whatever sex means and looks like to you) is excellent practice for deepening the trust in your relationship.

4. “Have shared values and interests. Be committed to being accepting, affectionate, considerate, kind and communicative and expect the same from anyone you date. Don't accept anything less. Don't give anything less. Don't date someone you want to change. Physical chemistry is important; it should be as much a priority as those other things.” I really feel like this piece of advice is about valuing yourself. Know what you need and want, and know that you are worth it. When you believe in your own worth and value, there is room to trust yourself to make the right decisions in the moment.  In Katherine Woodward Thomas’s book Calling In The One, she writes that in order for you to bring the right person into your life, you must make space in your life for them. “There is a huge chasm between wanting to find your ideal partner and being truly available for that partner when he or she [or ze, or they] appears,” she says. Make it a practice of getting to know yourself, and there will be more room for another person to step in there with you if you want them to.

5. “Listen, be kind, be open to growing together as well as individually. Laugh together. Make time for each other and the relationship. Recognize that there is you, the other person, and the relationship - all separate entities, but interconnected. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” The last line in this advice is worth highlighting again and again: When we are overwhelmed, we shut down. When we shut down, we can’t listen. When we can’t listen, we can’t understand. When we can’t understand, we can’t connect. So this idea of seeking to understand first—even if you think you’re right, and the other person is wrong, setting that down for just long enough to try your best to understand your partner(s) will actually allow you to start to re-regulate your overwhelm, calm yourself, open your heart, and this practice offers another opportunity for communication rather than a dead-end street.

6. “Your partner is not your parent. They can't anticipate your every need as a mother is with their infant. You have to ask, be vulnerable and share - a lifelong process of loving and caring for each other.” You and your partner(s) may be intensely attuned to each other, but I guarantee you, neither of you can read each other’s minds. Your limbic systems may be aligned and you may have an exquisite sense of body language and verbal cues, but always always always strive to be an active participant in the loving process by sharing and receiving real-time communication.

7. “Have goals as a couple. If at any time your dreams don’t match up, solve the vision issue before moving forward with other relationship milestones. i.e. don't move in with someone who doesn’t share your visions of the future 5, 10 or 15 years from now.”“Have your relationship shit sorted out before you have kids. And don't have kids expecting that to mitigate your relationship shit.” And on the other hand, we have: “Make a baby! It's the best! And twice-weekly therapy for the both of you! And get a housekeeper!” What is your vision for the future? Do you talk about all the gritty, raw, and hard stuff? If you do want, or have, kids- practicing communication will be ever so important with your partner.

8. “This thing people say: "If it’s meant to be, it should be easy"-this is not necessarily true! Great relationships can require some hard work. Find someone you want to do the work with and who is willing to do the work.” Great relationships really are hard work. They aren’t excruciating and they aren’t about sacrificing all of yourself for another person. But if you are really “in it,” all of your old patterns will arise, and all kinds of unexpected situations will present themselves. It’s up to you and your partner(s) to grow your strength together by facing (and caring for) the parts of each other you wouldn’t present to the rest of the world. If the goal is to be with someone who sees and knows and accepts all of you, you have to learn to be comfortable being all of you with that person, and letting the other person be all of themselves with you. Try being vulnerable- pace yourself- and take a risk. You might have a better chance of finding someone with whom you can really, truly get what you need.