Caring for yourself is necessary. Please keep showing up.

Caring for yourself is necessary. Please keep showing up.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." –Audre Lorde

Showing up can mean a lot of things.

 It can mean marching in the streets.

It can mean donating to local groups dedicated to lifting up the lives of people in marginalized communities.

It can mean sleeping in when you are tired.

It can mean supporting good journalism by subscribing to newspapers and magazines who prioritize unbiased reporting.

It can mean reading books, poems, and speeches by revolutionaries who have come before us, and those on the ground working to make sure our hard-won rights are not stripped from us and the ones we love.

It can mean hosting friends at your home who are willing to talk about the hard stuff.

It can mean less visible ways of showing up when staying home is necessary.

It can mean honoring the process of grieving, taking the risk of loving, daring to make space for your voice and the voices of those at risk.

There is room for all of us in this.

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How To Set Goals You Love (and that could actually help you change your life)

How To Set Goals You Love (and that could actually help you change your life)

If something is not working in your life, you probably already know it on some level. You might feel agitated, tired, frustrated, or lost. You also might not feel like there's much you can do about it.

Sometimes, there really isn't much to do but survive your feelings. If you're grieving a breakup, death, loss, or other transition, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to ride the wave and let it pass. But, if you have any ounce of energy to envision the life you want for yourself, I'd like to offer you a space to try it. You might surprise yourself with what you discover.

Here's a goal-setting recipe to try:

Time: 3-5 hours
Ingredients: Paper, pen/pencil, music, creative inspiration (yes, sometimes Facebook counts as a helpful distraction/creative tool.)Task: Set both qualitative (sense of self and values) and quantitative (actionable and measurable) goals for 10 years, 5 years, and 1 year from now.

On the top of a blank piece of paper, write: In 10 years from now, in the year XXXX, I will be X years old. I:

(Then, answer the following questions:)

  1. How will I feel in my work? (This isn't "what work will I do?"- that comes later. We're trying to get a felt sense here.)
  2. How will I feel in my relationships?
  3. What kind of relationships will I pursue?
  4. How will I feel about what I'm doing with my life?
  5. How will I feel when I fall asleep at night, and when I wake up in the morning?
  6. What values do I hold in my life? How will I know I'm making decisions that are in line with these values?

Next, what does this look like practically? Maybe you want to feel more abundant, stable, loved, and confident. What does this look like? What do you need to do to encourage more of what you want? Make a list as long and as detailed as you want here. This is where you can list some actual jobs you might have, like teaching, publishing a book, working as a pediatrician at XYZ hospital, etc. You can also describe your relationships, friendships, home, pets, children, whatever comes to mind.

This section is your chance to really write out the specifics of what you want- how much money you want to be making, what your career and family and relationships with yourself and your partner(s) look like. Does it mean being in therapy more? Going to more concerts? Fewer parties? Buying more expensive clothes? Putting your clothes budget into your savings? What job do you have and what does it pay you? Are you married, and do you have a stable home? Or maybe those things aren't as important to you as traveling, producing films, volunteering at shelters. Whatever it is, what could that look like for you? Write it down.

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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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Boundaries: Saying No in order to say Yes... to yourself!

Boundaries: Saying No in order to say Yes... to yourself!

You're exhausted and drained, trying to keep up with the demands (real or perceived) of friends, family, work, and your inner drive. You long for more freedom, more space to think and relax, but it feels like the world is an unrelenting cascade of needs from other people.

You need help in saying "No".

Seriously. You really don't have to say Yes to everything!

But maybe it feels that way. Maybe it really feels like if you say no to something, you'll be cutting off a relationship, or disappointing someone, or enacting an aggressive and resentful part of yourself that really... doesn't want to have to perform.

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On Shame and Eating Disorders

"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself."
-Anna Quindlen

In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I wanted to share some thoughts on the intersectionality of shame, disordered eating, and body image.

Shame is a big player in eating disorders. Understanding shame starts with becoming aware of what it feels like, what triggers it, and building enough tolerance for it so that you can learn where these voices actually come from (chances are, they didn’t start with you). Shame is often a trigger for a food or exercise binge, or for the forceful power that perpetuates self-disgust and restriction. It’s that lead blanket that keeps you in bed for days on end. It’s the feeling that keeps you from spending time with your friends, because you’re afraid that whatever you say will expose you as being worth rejecting. It’s the part of you that thinks: If I eat this, I am bad. Since I ate this, I am bad. If I don’t run today, I am bad. It may be hard to hear me talk about these feelings, so let me add: While these feelings are real, and they come from messages you’ve internalized throughout your life, they are absolutely not the truth.

When we talk about shame, we are also talking about our capacity to love and to be connected. Sometimes, being connected hurts. We have no power over other people’s minds, feelings, opinions, or behavior- but throughout our lives, we are dependent on others to help us survive. From the moment we are infants needing nurturance, holding, food, love, and warmth, we depend on an “other” to care for us, since we can’t do it for ourselves. Gradually the understanding emerges of an “other” whom we totally depend on but cannot control. Babies will use their gaze, coos and cries, and smiles to influence the caretaking of another person, which develops into how we negotiate relationships as adults.

When we don’t get what we need from this very powerful “other,”  it stresses our bodies out- we go into one of the fight-flight-freeze-appease modes, depending on what we learned works in tough situations. This raises the stress chemicals in our bodies, shifts our hormones, and allows us to “cut off” psychologically and emotionally the part of our self that has needs. This, unfortunately, is the perfect environment in which to cultivate an eating disorder: Cut off and push away the parts of yourself that tell you what you need, because they are too painful to feel without having the power to tend to them.

In recovery and with therapy, you can learn how to reconnect to those parts of yourself that have needs, wishes, desires, beauty, wants, envy, pain, terror, and joy. It can be difficult and painful, much like having your leg fall asleep and then beginning to feel the pins and needles of reawakening. But it's a path to aliveness- of discovering yourself, and discovering what you really love. And, eventually, discovering- through the help of other people- how you have power and agency when it comes to your relationship with your needs and your heart.

And, oh! To really love! And feel the way loving and being loved gets into your bones! What a beautiful feeling. don't let being afraid stop you from loving yourself.

Because, as an adult, you actually can learn to identify, take care of, and celebrate your own needs and dreams. But none of us can love ourselves and be loved in a vacuum. As activist Virgie Tovar tweeted, “Envision the life you want. Find the people who will help you live that life. Love them unconditionally. Repeat."

Your body is your business. Your health is your business. Nobody but you can decide what is right for you. But how can you make real decisions about what is right for you without having access to all parts of you? Learn how to listen to your body, how to listen to what you need, even if it hurts. Because we are all connected, and learning how to let people in who love you and can help you begin to realize how to be wholly, powerfully you. Because you are worth listening to- always.

Reach out to me at 510-594-4035 or therapy at mollymerson dot com if you would like more information about how to learn to listen to your needs, and navigate these overwhelming and distressing feelings.

(And check out this video from NEDA to learn more about how to enjoy media and culture while staying aware of its impact on your well-being.)

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

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 . 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 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.

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