I was talking with a therapist friend today about our personal relationships with authority. We were sharing that, as therapists, we have a particular authority that we as non-therapists might also rail against. As therapists, we have authority in the room. Whether we like it or not, there is often a power differential in the clinical hour. But that authority does not have to be a toxic one, and in fact, can become the very container in which to support profound transformation and growth. Here’s how I think that can happen.Read More
In the wake of the Oakland Ghostship Warehouse fire, many artists, community members, friends and families are in mourning. Even in my grief, I am inspired by the DIY creativity of the artists of Ghostship and many of the other warehouses across the globe who live under the radar, coming alive in art and community. I think, too, about the subversive and underground nature of therapy, and what a radical act it can be to know yourself on a deep level.
Therapy isn't about making people play by the rules. It’s about helping you learn about yourself, in all your weirdness, your queerness, your creativity, in all that you are just as you are. Your dreams, your shame, your fears, your anxieties, your nightmares, your traps, your stuckness. Therapy is here to help you make sense of past experiences, not to bury them. Therapy is here to help you make sense of confusing and difficult feelings so that you are not at the whim of their chaos and destruction. Therapy is a lot like art in this way.Read More
What is psychotherapy? How does it work? What- and who- is it for? There are so many ways to answer that question, so I asked a handful of colleagues to share their perspectives. Here is what they had to say.Read More
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?Read More
“Lovers embrace that which is between them, rather than each other.” – Kahlil Gibran
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org . 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.
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.
Sometimes, the hardest part of looking for a therapist is getting up the courage to call someone for the first time. You know you need to talk to someone, but who? And how do you know whether they’re the right fit for you? The truth is, relationships (even therapeutic ones) take some time to develop. Fit plays a key factor in whether you are going to feel comfortable and cared for enough to stay through the more challenging experiences of therapy, and whether the treatment will be a useful and helpful experience for you. Not to mention that in Berkeley, CA and the surrounding Bay Area, we are completely inundated with therapists, many of whom have similar specialties and theoretical orientations. This can make it a bit more time-consuming to weed through the bounty and find just the right match. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a therapist, to help you feel more confident when you make that first call. Website/Web presence. These days, most therapists have a website. Even if they don’t, there should be some kind of web presence, such as a listing on Psychology Today or a bio from a professional talk. If you don’t have a name of someone yet, search Psychology Today or GoodTherapy using some filters that best fit what you need. If you do have a name already, take a look at their website and ask yourself if the content and the style resonates with you. Is there a video you can watch? Are there articles you can read? Do you have a sense for the way this person thinks about clinical issues? What are their values? How might they approach the problem you’re bringing in to therapy? What is this person’s specialty? Would you feel comfortable telling this person the things that trouble you?
Personal referrals. If someone who knows you can personally recommend a therapist to you, chances are that the therapist will be a good fit. I still recommend doing the legwork to check out their online presence, but clients who are referred to me through friends or colleagues tend to already have a good feeling about the possibilities of our work together and have more of a sense of safety coming in the door. However, I would caution you against going to see the same therapist as a good friend of yours is seeing; there are ethical boundaries there that could potentially compromise the integrity of the therapy. I personally do not work with close friends or family members of my current or former clients, unless in the context of family therapy.
Think about what you really need, and what you already know about yourself. As you’re looking for the perfect therapist for you, think about what is likely to help you and what you are looking for. I find that journaling this out can be really helpful. Here are some questions you can think about as you’re searching, that can help you narrow down your choices. Think honestly about your answers to the following: Why am I reaching out? What might I want to get from therapy? What kind of time commitment am I willing to make? How much am I able to pay? Is it more important that I find someone on my insurance panel, or that I find a good fit quickly? Am I willing to talk with my new therapist about what I need from them? Where are they located, and how far am I willing to travel? What time of day do I need to be seen?
Email is fine—a call is better. A lot of people prefer to use email for first contact, which works well—you can get your message across thoughtfully and clearly, and it’s sometimes easier to make contact that way because it can feel like there’s less pressure. That said, I do highly recommend telephone contact for first contact, for your sake. You, as the client, can get a much better feel on the phone than on email from your potential new therapist. It might also be helpful to practice communicating what you’re looking for and setting limits in support of what you need. When you call, check in with yourself: does it feel as though the therapist hears you? Do they have time in their day to call you back? How quickly do they respond to your inquiry? Most therapists take the weekends off, but standard practice is to return calls within 24 hours. If the therapist takes much longer than that (barring weekends and holidays), you might consider looking elsewhere for your perfect fit.
When you call, check in with yourself often. You are talking to a trained professional if you’re calling a licensed MFT, LCSW, or PhD/PsyD. In addition to looking for credentials and theoretical orientation (if that matters to you, which it may or may not), you’re looking for someone whose style and presence resonates with you. Feeling connected to yourself while calling can help you decide whether you feel connected to the person you’re calling. Nerves can most certainly get in the way and fuzz up your radar if you feel anxious about meeting new people and nervous about reaching out for therapy. Try taking a few deep breaths with your feet firmly planted on the floor before you call to help center yourself. If you get a sense that the person is taking the time to really listen, chances are you have found a great fit already.
The therapeutic relationship is a vulnerable, brave, and deeply connected one. It’s essential that you feel met by your therapist, and if you don’t, that you both can talk openly about it together. If your therapist is unable to adjust to meet you where you are at, perhaps it is a sign to move on. Check in with yourself, have patience with the process, and remember that this is a journey you’re on to help you feel more alive and connected in your world, and journeys often require transitions and changes—but only when you feel ready.
(More tips on finding a therapist here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/)
I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.
To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) How To Find Your Favorite Therapist. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/09/28/how-to-find-your-favorite-therapist/
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/