Do You Think You're Pretty?

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icalledshotgun asked: Hi! This is a question about your former career as a couples/family counselor. Did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it? Do you have any suggestions for new people in the field? I'm going to school to get my MSW with an emphasis in family/marriage counseling. Ultimately, I want to open up my own practice and be a family/marriage therapist. However, I'm getting bummed out with the possible low paying jobs that I will have to endure before the private practice.

I really really really loved what I did. Absolutely. I worked in the field for just over six years and they were fantastic, terrible, tiring, wonderful years.

It is true that opening up a private practice is a lot of work, and usually, to build a private practice, you’ll be seeing those clients in the evenings, after a full day of work. You will take on really low paying jobs, and your office may be a fast food restaurant, or tiny and crawling with bugs, or shared with four other people. This is how it goes. 

I stopped seeing clients for a variety of reasons, preventable and unpreventable. 

1) I chose to work with more intense populations, and they just wear you out after a bit. Then when I tried to work with less intense populations, I found myself angry that they were so burdened by such tiny things.

2) I thought I was taking care of myself, but I really wasn’t. I poured myself into my work, every ounce of myself, to the exclusion of everything else. I think that’s pretty standard for your first year of being in the field, but I didn’t pull back and refocus on my own life after that. That is important.

3) I got extremely sick and had a hard time going back into it full throttle after that. 

My advice to you is to take care of yourself- most programs will have a class devoted to self care for therapists, and you should ask your clinical supervisors too. Pay attention to those things, because they will save you from yourself.

You’re no help to anyone if your own emotional health is in shambles. Therapists have the difficult job of keeping themselves healthy in the face of handling everyone’s problems. But it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. 

People quit extremely high paying jobs because they feel like nothing they’re doing is making a difference. You are setting yourself up for a career that pays in ways money cannot. It’s the best. 

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Anonymous asked: I have very unreasonable paranoia. I get anxious about: people hearing what I about them even if there is no way they did, me or loved ones getting a horrible disease or into a car accident, having caused a car crash even though I KNOW I didn't, being pregnant even though I NEVER had sex, my car or bike being stolen even though I made sure I locked it 3 times, thinking my grandma is dead when she's asleep and I don't hear her breathing. Why is my brain doing this to me?

This is just free-floating anxiety, and your brain is looking for a home for it. I have had every single one of these paranoid obsessions at different points in my life. It’s the result of a lovely, hyperactive brain and lack of places to exorcise your demons. You should be proud of it, because I bet your brain serves you extremely well in other areas of your life. Just not so much in this one. 

If you don’t already, start exercising (ha ha exorcising and exercising) to help get you out of your own head, and go to see a therapist. You aren’t crazy, but learning to silence that constant anxiety-voice takes more than I can impart in a Tumblr post. 

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If you’ve ever sat next to someone on a plane who used your every move as an invitation to talk to you, congratulations: you now know what it’s like to be a woman.

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From the vault: on not liking sexual experiences.

Originally posted to Gynomite on March 13, 2013. 

I watched the most recent episode of Girls last night, and like many of you, I found it to be completely devastating. They really put all the girls, including Adam’s girlfriend, through the ringer. If you haven’t seen it, Adam gets drunk and starts getting kinky with his new girlfriend- something we’ve seen him do many times with Hannah- and she starts off being kiiiinda into it, but starts shutting down pretty quickly. He doesn’t seem to notice. By the time he ejaculates on her chest (something that has never been shown on TV before), she has essentially gone away inside.

As she wipes herself up and puts her dress back on, she says, quietly, to herself as much as him- “I don’t think I like that. I like really didn’t like that.”

The Internet has been exploding with people debating whether or not the sexual experience depicted in Girls was rape, was consensual, or was “gray area rape”, a term that encompasses everything that is not forcible rape but does leave one or more parties feeling disrespected, taken advantage of, or assaulted.

Natalia’s muttering to herself while cleaning up really resonated with me, because I’ve said the exact same thing to myself many times after a sexual experience- while driving home, while staring at myself in a bathroom mirror, while lying in bed facing the wall, while getting dressed, while crying, while laughing. I have had a lifetime of sexual experiences, and within those experiences, I have

  • been taken advantage of
  • taken advantage of someone else
  • cheated
  • been the person that made him cheat
  • felt so sexually satisfied I could sing to the heavens
  • felt like a piece of meat that has been discarded
  • felt scared
  • manipulated
  • left the guy begging for more
  • had a guy have sex at me, rather than with me
  • left in the middle of the encounter, freaked out and angry
  • expressed my love
  • expressed my anger
  • distracted myself
  • connected to someone so deeply that it felt like magic
  • never once looked at the guy’s face
  • seduced
  • made a point to not move one inch during the entire encounter, just to see if he would notice.

I have a wealth of experience, and what that experience has given me is a clear picture of what I do and don’t like sexually.

In my estimation, I have never been raped.

I don’t say this as a judgment on people who have been, or as a brag, or to let you in on “who I am” (because whether or not you’ve been raped doesn’t inform who you are), or anything other than stating the facts. I have experienced things sexually that might be considered “gray area rape”, but I don’t consider them assaults as much as I consider them lessons. It is not the world’s job to make me safe and comfortable- I create my own boundaries as I learn from experiences. (Experiences, not mistakes.) (But also mistakes.)

I also understand that the definitions are completely subjective, and I am not here to tell anyone else how to experience their own sex lives, or assaults, or TV shows about sex lives or assaults. What follows is merely how I feel about myself, and refers to sexual encounters similar to the one shown on Girls, where the girl slowly realizes she isn’t into it but doesn’t speak up or stop the sex.

I write a lot about communication, and most recently, about the danger of expecting a person you are in a relationship with to be able to read your mind, or read your body language. The gist of it is that it can be a disappointing cycle to constantly be let down by other people’s actions when you have never communicated how you want people to act around you. I think it’s important for us (as a human race, but also as a gender) to value clear communication. Clear communication puts us in control. It gets us what we want, and if we don’t get what we want, at least we know it’s because the other person chose not to listen, and not because we didn’t ask. This is what bothers me about xoJane’s thoughts on Adam and Natalia’s sexual encounter:

“She should have just said no,” people say, placing the responsibility firmly on the woman involved — but why? Why is the responsibility on her to say no instead of on the initiating partner to secure a yes?

To me, that consent is on both people. Saying that women hold none of the responsibility to assent to sex is as bad as saying that women hold all of the responsibility to assent to sex. Yes, the guy should be reading your body language and responding to it. Yes, it’s good to check in to see how the sex is going, dudes. But if it’s a dude’s job to make sure we’re still on board, aren’t we once again just making women the passive “receivers” of sex, waiting to be asked if everything is okay?

If there are gray areas in victimhood, can’t we be open to the idea that there are gray areas in perpetratorhood as well? Is it possible that sometimes men aren’t aware of how we’re feeling if we’re not speaking up? Can we make it important for men to look for nonverbalsand for women to keep men informed during sex? I don’t want to take away from the heinous act of sexual assault, or place any blame on a victim, but I just don’t know what we gain out of making something that we’ve called “gray” so black and white. In the situation we saw in Girls, both parties were initially fully participating in the sexual encounter, so why was it on Adam alone to figure out that she wasn’t into it?

I tend to read a ton into other people’s body language- I am constantly analyzing anything that is not verbal communication to see how the person “actually” feels. It’s something I’ve been trained to do both in my family, where non-verbal communication is very loud, and in my training as a therapist. But it’s not something everyone is skilled at. It’s not even something everyone realizes how to do. So often, when I’m in a situation where things feel non-verbally loaded to me, I will try to picture the scene as if a camera was watching it- as if we were on our very own reality show. Would a person watching at home be able to tell what I’m feeling in this situation? Would a camera be able to tell the emotional feeling in the room? If not, that’s when it’s time to speak up. A camera on Adam and Natalia (because it’s a TV show) would have seen a girl who slowly starts participating less until she is just lying there. You would have seen a guy that likes his sex dirty. You would have seen a bad sexual encounter, but you would not have seen a rape. You would have seen a girl realizing that this new boyfriend makes her very uncomfortable. As The Gloss perfectly put it:

“Adam may not be a rapist, but he sure is an asshole.”

At this point, you may be like “Why are you so fucking concerned with making sure that guys don’t get called rapists? Why are you putting this back on women? Aren’t we blamed enough? Aren’t you a feminist?” Yes, I am a feminist, but as a therapist, I’m not in the market to support a paradigm shift where everyone feels victimized. To me, being a victim means that you are helpless, that you have had traumatic things happen to you, and that you have to learn to rebuild from them. Why are we so hepped up to shift bad sexual experiences from being lessons we learn about our sexuality to situations in which we are traumatized victims?

I think that discussions about “gray area” sexual situations are incredibly important, but I don’t know that calling them all a type of rape is helpful to the larger conversation.

Blame doesn’t have to be firmly assigned and quantified in some situations. In some sexual encounters, the dude doesn’t know how to make love to a lady, the lady realizes it about halfway through and continues, and afterwards, one party has gained some knowledge she didn’t have before. Every bad experience is a teacher.  Not every bad experience is an assault. (Note: some are.) Learning from bad experiences doesn’t mean that you take full responsibility for it happening to you, it just means that you refuse to stop progressing, fossil-like, after something bad happens.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a dude I used to date. We had an extremely uncomfortable sexual encounter- one that ended up being the death knell for our brief relationship. He’s a gentle, wonderful, great guy that is now happily married- just the salt of the earth. We were talking about old times and I told him about how lame and shitty our final sexual encounter was for me, and how it felt weird to continue dating after it happened. He had no idea what I was talking about. He was genuinely shocked that he could have been so unaware, and didn’t even really remember the incident that had become so huge for me. Talking to him about it later taught me another lesson: not every bad sexual encounter is experienced the same way by both people. He wasn’t an evil misogynist villain, and I wasn’t a helpless, broken victim. We were just two people who had different ideas about what was hot.

It felt empowering.

Filed under rape sexual consent girls

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Anonymous asked: Hi Emily -- I'm the girl who met the guy online dating, and you said to go for it if there was something there. We had a month-long thing (he's leaving town, which I knew) that escalated very quickly emotionally and physically until the last few days before we broke up, when we were just crying and holding each other (FOR HOURS). I realize now that I kept trying to convince him I was flawed, and he wouldn't believe me. I'm reeling. What just happened?? There was something there, but what was it?

Hi Emily — me again, the girl who met the guy online dating and had the month-long relationship. On a related note, how the BLEEP do you get over a relationship that was cut off in the infatuation stage? We didn’t even have time to become annoyed with each other. How can I let go of this????

Girl, you are in it. 

Relationships that start with an already-defined end, like moving or an impending death, are always more intense than regular relationships. It’s true in movies, it’s true in life. 

You knew this was going to end in a month, so your brain was freed from the “what could happen with us?” “will I get tired of how he clears his throat all the time?” questions that start creeping into a relationship as it’s going from novel to everyday. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an everyday, long term relationship- they hold some of the sweetest joys on this earth- but there is something about a new love, where the possibilities are endless and ANYTHING could happen, that is intoxicating. 

Your relationship with this guy existed solely in that phase. ANYTHING could have happened between the two of you, but you both knew that it wouldn’t, so you had full permission to see him as this impossible fantasy figure that is perfect for you, mostly because you’d never see that fantasy come true or be proven wrong. 

The love affair you had was with the drama of its time limit just as much as it was with the actual guy. You were essentially in a three way- you, this guy, and Father Time. And Father Time is a seductive motherfucker.

It’s a nasty little trick the brain plays on us, getting us to buy into a fantasy when it has no possibility of coming true. This isn’t to take away from what you guys had during that month, but reframe it in your head a little: you had a movie affair just now. You had an impossible, lovely, time-limited affair that reminded you of just how intensely you could feel. 

Let that be what you get out of this relationship. 

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Anonymous asked: I have a short question, too, actually. Is it ok for an adult (like 30 not 20) working in a creative industry to have mint green hair? What about a discreet nose ring? I know different firms and clients have different feelings but curious about your opinion? I just left stuffy DC this year and I want to express myself finally.

This is a great question. When I decided to apply to grad school, I dyed my pink hair a fairly normal shade of brown, and I took out my labret piercing. I didn’t want there to be any excuse for them to reject me. 

Once I got into grad school, I put a couple of platinum streaks in my hair to show the world I was still me, and I told myself that I’d go back to being more liberal with my appearance at some point, but gradually it became less and less important to me to express myself with my appearance. My work was expressing my creativity pretty well, so it just seemed like overkill. But that was me, and it doesn’t have to be you. If you haven’t had the ability to express yourself through your appearance before, it’s definitely something everyone should experience.

Find out what the policy is at your office, be respectful of it, and get creative with it. If I’m doing something awesome for a job, I tend to respect the corporate policy stuff more than I would for a job I hate. (I once walked out of a job orientation when I was told I’d have to wear khakis.)

I often paraphrase a genius David Sedaris quote anytime myself or my friends have been faced with having to “sell out” to get what you want: you don’t have to suck every dick to completion, but sometimes you have to put the dick in your mouth a little bit. In short, it’s compromise.

Do you have to look totally “normal” in your new job? No. Do you have to go buckwild and look like Courtney Love circa 1995? Also no. You can settle somewhere in the middle, maybe with a faint pastel hair color, or a nose ring, or wearing heels that have zombie faces on them. The rest of your look should be streamlined and professional, not only to balance things out, but also because it’s fucking stunning to see someone who is dressed in a business suit but also rocking dreadlocks. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere. You’re not a kid anymore, rebelling against The Man- to a lot of kids, you are The Man. Show them you know how to be a badass anyway without looking like you’re trying to stay a teenager.