Dear Subversive Shrink,

I spent years in graduate school. I spent tons of money and time to get a fancy degree, and years later I find myself often wondering if I am “cut out” for the work that I do. I’m young, but I have zero interest in going back to school to try again at picking the right career for me. How do I overcome this impending burnout?

sincerely,

Asleep at the Wheel

Dear Asleep at the Wheel,

I feel your pain—as someone who shares the badge of grad school survival, I extend an imaginary empathetic pat on the back to you. The “American Dream” promised prosperity and payback for the efforts deposited into the system along the way. Many of us have either entered school in the waking reality of this myth or, like myself, graduated college right into the depths of the Great Recession and a dream deferred.

I was recently having a discussion with a colleague about the mindset of scarcity, or the constant creeping sense of fear of loss or lack of resources. Scarcity resonates with me as a product of the post-recession’s hypervigilance. We are so afraid of scarcity that we exist in scarcity at all times … often needlessly. This is not because we are mentally ill or incapable—it is because we have been raised by in a traumatized social schema.

The antidote to scarcity is adundance. An abundance mentality consists of gratitude and joy in the smaller yet powerful sensations of growth, along with a willingness to enter boldly and courageously into our fear and choose to move through it. It also means knowing our worth and what we bring to the world and being willing to seek spaces and opportunities that feed our souls and cultivate our gifts. So I ask you this, Asleep at the Wheel: How can you place your scarcity mindset on the shelf and practice abundance? How would that change the choices that you’ve made in your work and beyond? What risks would you take if you could feel your fear and do it anyway? 

In solidarity,

The Subversive Shrink


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Dear Subversive Shrink,

Over the course of my professional life, it has come to my attention that some people whom I’ve corresponded with have been outed as rapists or abusive people. A few in particular have good standing in their communities, and their abusive personalities are not known outside of a select group of people. I consider myself to be an ally and, as a self-identifying cis-male feminist, and someone who has not myself experienced abuse of this kind—strive to hold people accountable for their actions. My question is this: Is it appropriate to divulge information about abusive people in a professional setting? Additionally, what sort of communication is effective in combating rape culture in a professional setting?

–Concerned Ally


 

Dear Concerned Ally,

It’s disquieting to discover the cracks in the façade of our communities, especially when we feel an isolated awareness that others within our shared system are not apprised of inner realities. It’s an important yet intricate call to action.

My first consideration feels a bit dialectic: Do we use non-consent as a weapon against abusers? In this instance, would it be ethical to share private information about someone’s interpersonal issues without their permission? In that case, are we re-capitulating the harmful dynamic? My spidey senses tingle on this thought and indicate that “outing” people rarely seems growth-inducing. However, as an ally, we must name those once-shameful, hidden social issues that are allowed to fester if the empire of silence rules unchecked. As Audre Lorde said, “The masters tools will never dismantle the masters house.” In this case, outing abusers and shaming them is using their own weapons against them. To be better allies, we must craft better tools.

It feels important to note that your professional culture and ethics are major considerations. In my line of work, abuse and risks to safety often require reporting. If your workplace has an ethics code, brush up and become empowered via information. Know what you are expected or required to address and how. Also, explore your workplace culture and the safety of reporting and know who will support you. It takes a village to be an ally!

Jackson Katz, a fellow male-identified feminist, arrived at what feels like a realistic roadmap for alliance against abuse and gender violence (jacksonkatz.com/wmcd.html). Here, he stresses the need to invite accountability directly with abusers alongside systematic social justice advocacy. This is hard work that requires a balancing act of compassion and assertiveness. It’s mental and emotional gymnastics indeed, and it’s the first of several critical steps to being a part of further deconstructing the rotting foundation of patriarchy.

In solidarity,
The Subversive Shrink


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Dear Subversive Shrink,

I have a family member who is quite patriarchal in an almost WASP sort of way, and I’m seeking to reevaluate how to respond to their expressions of their ideologies, with which I disagree. On one hand, many years ago, I was inspired when Jello Biafra advised to simply talk to somebody when they hold views that vary from one’s own to facilitate understanding of others’ perspectives. On the other hand, partly due to the atmospheric pressure to respect one’s elders, even slight challenges to their staunch views and (very) problematic political/religious/sociological statements fall to their reactive disregard for contrarian points as they flex their unilateral interpretation of their religion.

This person is older, and their views on how the world works or should work have been inculcated in their mind through their lifetime. It’s philosophically important for me to engage in a productive dialogue with people to offer a perspective that challenges the unilateral thinking of others. When the other party won’t listen, however, is it worth it to have these conversations that don’t necessarily have any bearing on the relationship between the two people? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Or, should I offer points that challenge their views on individual topics and attempt to have a productive, mature conversation, regardless of how they react?

-Dialoguerre


Dear Dialoguerre,

It’s been a common misattribution that Voltaire stated, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It was, in fact, biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall who coined this phrase to encapsulate freedom of speech in her Voltaire biography. As infuriating as this assertion seems, it feels like it helps to manage the tension of being a practitioner of social justice in an oft unjust world. It does not, however, attend to the harm one absorbs when they defend (let alone tolerate) the problematic beliefs and statements of powerful others.

We are all subject to systems of power: Some of us carry heaps of privilege inside those systems, and some of us hold a little power here and there. In addition to our individual privilege identities, we are all steeped in the narrative of the system. One of the things I ask myself when tasked with connecting to someone who carriers a lot of power (and is wearing some dense blinders as a result) is, “How can I locate both my compassion and my confrontation?” In short, can we connect to each other from a space of kindness and empathy while simultaneously facing challenges to our individual value systems?

One of my guiding feminist authors and clinicians Laura S. Brown wrote about the power of “Subversive Dialogues” in the therapy space. I tend to think subversive dialogue belongs in every space. Without these conversations, we’d not have the sociocultural momentum to overcome the torpor of patriarchy. It helps to remember that sometimes, just setting forth the challenge is what matters, not the response you get. Think on a time when something or someone cracked the protective glass on your mind—it was alarming and disquieting, and it was the impetus for change. Perhaps you didn’t immediately respond with revelation and personal growth, and I bet that once you faced the discomfort, you found yourself shifting.

The next time you choose to—and remember, you have a choice—interact with this family member, check in with yourself first. Ask yourself if you feel you can engage in a subversive dialogue and take care of yourself. If not, you can choose to not engage. If you do choose to engage, then perhaps when the problematic, privileged perspective comes forth, ask the following questions: Where did they learn that, who had/has the power and who benefits? These are powerful, iconoclastic inquiries.

Lastly, provide some further reading for this person to engage with. Know that it is not your role or responsibility to educate them. Lay out the welcome mat for them to do their own work and raise their own consciousness. Keep at least one bookmark on your smartphone for an article deconstructing your top five social justice issues and share those links!

In Solidarity,

Subversive Shrink


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Feb-Subversive-Shrink

Dear Subversive Shrink,

This time of year has a plethora of birthdays in my and my husband’s families. Running between not just one or two households, but upwards of four or five has me left exhausted before it’s even started. Remembering the topics I’m allowed to bring up from person to person has become an Olympic sport and by the end of the day if I haven’t been questioned about my college degree or general life direction, I feel as though I deserve a gold medal. Answering questions like, “So what do you REALLY do?” or having to explain why I haven’t bought a house yet is just mentally and physically taxing. My husband just tends to ignore the fact that we’re suppose to bring a side dish AND presents for everyone to each household, leaving me with the brunt of the work and the brunt of the blame when it doesn’t happen. “It’s the wife’s job” they say… Now, as the self-identified feminist and activist, I want to argue with this logic and the fact that his laziness is accepted while me wanting to go skiing instead is seen as the ultimate slight to his family. How do I combat Chronic Family Obligation Fatigue Syndrome and the urge to argue gender (or any) politics at the family table? Ignoring it seems to leave me angry, but arguing seems just as blood boiling.

Anon


Dear Anon,

Roles and expectations are some of the most infuriating constructs we encounter in our everyday lives! They rarely honor us, often subjugate us, and they can be the cause of tremendous harm to our mental health. They creep into our psyches and exert their forces, creating internalized guilt, shame and self-silencing.

First, we must challenge ourselves to not be our own gatekeepers—this means that in order to be an agent of change within your family system, you must first end your personal relationship with guilt and shame. You have the right to have boundaries and to be the owner of your own life first. Ask yourself what you need for the situation to feel more balanced, then you can begin the work of expressing that to your loved ones.

Setting boundaries and reforming role expectations is as much an art as a science. It requires navigating cultural issues, inter-generational traumas and narratives, and your individual values. The first person with whom to work on this might be your partner. Perhaps it’s time for them to be given the gift of greater accountability for family expectations. For instance, ponder what would happen if you negotiated with your partner that they are in charge of the food or another item you’re both expected to bring to an event. A way you might open this discussion could be: “This last cycle of birthdays, I realized how intense all the expectations were, and I felt like my expected role was to manage all of that. It feels important to rework that so that we are both supporting each other and are sharing an equal amount of accountability. If you would take on the task of what we are expected to bring to events, that would mean a lot to me.”

Next, try setting boundaries with extended family, including around how many events you can be expected to attend in any single time period. As author Anne Lamott said: “No is a complete sentence.” It is not only okay to say no to something … It is even an act of radical self-love and compassion. Alongside establishing what is workable for you with attendance, you can’t have some crucial conversations with family regarding what topics are hurtful or issues you’re not interested in sharing unless you bring them up first. Sometimes well-intentioned loved ones haven’t a clue what we need from them, and it can be tremendously helpful to hear someone say, “You know, I’m not really sure where I’ll be with that, so in the future, I will let you know if I’d like to talk about it. Thank you for asking!”

Try those steps to defining your needs with your partner and family, and perhaps the next time those holidays, birthdays and other debacles come around, you’ll have a much more spacious experience!

In Solidarity,

The Subversive Shrink


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