Conversations in Therapy about Body Terrorism, Rape Culture, and Sexism

Conversations in Therapy about Body Terrorism, Rape Culture, and Sexism

(CONTENT WARNING: RAPE CULTURE, EMOTIONAL/VERBAL ABUSE, SEXISM, BODY TERRORISM)

This week, video and audio footage was released from a hot mic recording of one of our US presidential candidates.
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An abuser might say, "These things he says are just words. They aren't as bad as actions." That's simply not true when it comes to emotional abuse. Even "just words" that resemble old traumas can shut people's cognitive functions down, as though the old trauma were happening in the here-and-now. People go into a fight-flight-freeze-appease state. If you know someone with this kind of history, it is so incredibly important to choose your words carefully, kindly, and with compassion. This presidential candidate is not taking care of, or responsibility for, the impact of his own words.

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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.

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.

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.