Book Review: Yes Means Yes; Visions of Female Power in a World Without Rape

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Last month was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, folks! As statistics and stories flood social media this month, I found myself having an odd reaction. Yeah, we know it's a problem. We've known how big of a problem it is for a while now. So why the heck is this still happening?

So I turned to Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti's book to see if they could offer me some insight.

"Yes Means Yes" is a collection of essays written to address sticky topics involved in sex and sexual assault. Categories such as "Is Consent Complicated?" "Fight the Power" and "Healing to Yes," make it easy to navigate through the essays to find something that you connect with.

My favorite thing about this book is that it's written and constructed by real, everyday people who care about the culture of sex in our world. Far from a dry text book, "Yes Means Yes" uses colorful language and rich tones to get to the meat and potatoes of what the authors are trying to say. It's real.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the positive perspective employed to look at the all-too-sensitive subject of sex. In Beyond Yes or No: Consent as a Sexual Process, Rachel Kramer Bussel shows us that the common phrase "no means no" only perpetuates the negative thoughts and ideas surrounding sex in our country. Why should I focus on being responsible for saying no, when I can be empowered to say yes? Same situation, very different takes. Consent is sexy!

Often, commentary on rape and sexual exploitation can fall into being very gender-normative; the language they use can perpetuate the myth that only women are sexually assaulted. While the statistics reflect that it's far more common for women to experience sexual assault, the book uses the non-gender-conforming pronoun "hir" to reflect the fact assault is a problem across the board, not just for women. 

One criticism that I would offer to the authors concerns the category "The Right is Wrong." While it's true that many politically and social conservative groups have contributed to rape culture, they're certainly not the only culprits. Sexual assault and the way we view it is an issue across the board, regardless of political leanings.

Check out this book that challenges us to consider the underlying issues of rape culture in addition to sexual assaults themselves. And if you'd like to reach out and talk about sexuality or sexual concerns, give us a call. Yes means yes!

Self-Esteem in the Age of Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It offers us opportunities to stay connected to far-away loved ones, gives us a platform for our passions, and fuels new creativity and career opportunities. It's called social media. So it keeps us happily connected to our society, right?

Maybe not. Amanda Forest and her adviser Joanne Wood conducted a study at the University of Waterloo in 2012 concerning the ties between low self-esteem and Facebook usage. They found that people who thought of Facebook as a safe place to express thoughts often struggled with low self-esteem and a negative outlook.

It's possible that social media platforms encourage people suffering from low self-esteem or social anxiety to draw further away from face-to-face interaction that might be difficult for them.

In fact, a University in Sweden found evidence to suggest that our self-esteem and Facebook usage, either negative or positive, was negatively correlated; as Facebook usage goes up, our self-esteem goes down.  Women were more likely to show this pattern, and were more likely to use Facebook to discuss their unhappiness.

Putting your thoughts and feelings on pen and paper can be a great way to process negative emotions, so why is it that expressing our worries in the virtual web of society is tied to low self-esteem? Having a Facebook profile is similar to having a billboard about yourself that you change and update regularly. While everyone has their down days, those of us who are typically more well adjusted would use our own personal billboard to advertise our best side, and save the more vulnerable pieces of our story for the closer, more intimate connections we have in our family and best friends.

Someone who is feeling isolated and alone in their life, discouraged from the vulnerability that is so crucial for these close friendships, might use Facebook to find connection while allowing them to avoid their struggles with social anxiety. Furthermore, the constant perusal of other people's achievements that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make all too possible, can perpetuate the vortex of comparison that often fuels our negative self judgements.

So what's the moral of the story? Facebook and social media may seem like a great outlet for our struggles, an easy way to connect with others while remaining safely behind a screen, but it's not a substitute for one-on-one connection. In fact, the assumption that it is might be more dangerous than you think.

So, while we'd love for you to like us on Facebook, we'd also love for you to give us a call and come chat about any self-esteem issues this post has stirred up!

Happy surfing, Facebookers!


C'mon get happy! Home-made self-soothe kits

As therapists, we're typically of the mindset that you “can’t go ‘round it, gotta go through it.” We know that addressing your discomfort head-on is the most effective way to change it.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve a break every once in a while! Those negative thought-loops are exhausting, and you deserve five minutes of peace.  Check out this easy, logical self-soothe kit, and try it out this week.

The goal behind this kit is to flood your brain with positivity so that you run out of room for the negative. If you can find something that sends soothing messages through each of your five senses, your brain will be too busy processing that positive information to fixate on the things that are troubling you. Is this a long-term, cure-all? Nah. Is it an easy, effective break from your stresses? You betcha.


Example Self-Soothe Kit

1.       Sight – I like forest scenes

2.       Sound – I like the sound of rain

3.       Smell – Lavender and Vanilla are my favorite scents

4.       Taste – I love chamomile tea

5.       Touch – I have a stuffed rabbit I’ve been cuddling since forever

With self-soothe kits, you want to do two things. The first is to make your entire list accessible. The second is to put all those things in one place, so that when you’re feeling crummy, they’re easy to find. For instance, with this example kit, I might download a forest screen saver for my laptop, a white noise CD with rain sounds on my iTunes, grab a lavender candle from the drug store, be well stocked on chamomile tea, and have my StuffyBun at the ready. To keep all this stuff on hand, I’ll probably keep it in a shoe box near my desk. That way, when I’m feeling low, I don’t have to task myself with gathering the items.

Good luck, and happy soothing!

5 Way To Communicate More Effectively In Your Relationship

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People communicate all day every day, in many different ways. So... you'd think we'd be better at it! Couples struggle with communication in all different stages of relationships. Check out these tips for healthier conversations, then take them home to shoot the breeze, babble, gab, chat, catch up, yammer or negotiate!

1. Speak From Your Own Experience

What did your sentences look like the last time you fought with your partner? Let me take a guess… “You never take the trash out!” “You’re always nagging me.” “You said you’d come with me to this party, and then you didn’t!” It’s’ pretty common for us to jump straight to pointing out the flaws in our partners’ behaviors, because those are the things we’d like them to change. But take a minute to check yourself about what it feels like when someone speaks to you that way. When others start their sentences with “you” and then follow with an accusation, we’re put into defense-mode pretty quickly. When we feel defensive, our focus is on ourselves, and not our partner. We lose the perspective to address the issue. Next time, try speaking from your own experience, and starting your sentences with “I.” “I would like you to help me take the trash out more often when I’ve been working all day,” is a LOT more approachable!

2. Make Time to Take Time

Our emotions get the best of us. It happens. Sometimes we’re more likely to communicate effectively when we’ve had time to diffuse and consider what our message really is. If a problem arises in your relationship, it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge the issue and then take some space before you address it fully. Keep in mind that your partner may need to take space as well; just because you feel ready to talk doesn’t mean they are ready yet. As much as you would want to be given the space you need, offer that to your partner.

3. Stick to the Original Message

Human communication is often like two machines working together. Machine A outputs a message, Machine B puts the message through a number of filters and processes it. Then, Machine B sends its response, and Machine A filters it and processes it. The tricky thing with this equation are those pesky filters: our values, experiences and emotions. It can be really easy to think you’re responding to your partner’s message, when you might be responding to your own emotions or thoughts. Make it clear with yourself and with each other what the original message is, and re-direct yourselves back to it when you feel off track.

4. Make a “relationship goal” about the problem

Often, when I work with couples, I challenge them to think about their relationship as a third entity, separate from their individual selves. What does the relationship need at this time? If Johnny wants Sue to cut back on her time spent at work, and Sue doesn’t like how often Johnny plays in his band, what The Relationship wants is more quality time. With that in mind, Sue and Johnny are on the same team, rather than battling it out against each other.

5. Listen

The most simple and the most difficult task. It’s easy for us to get caught up in saying what we want to say and saying it the right way. When conversations aren’t going well, we often default to thinking about what we can do or say differently to change it. Take a deep breath, be courageous enough to live in the uncertainty, and listen to what your partner is truly saying to you.

These tools are a good starting point for learning how to communicate with your partner, but it's hard work to change patterns that have existed for a long time. Give us a call or request services if you need a little more information, and some guidance on how to use these tools.

Now get to gabbin'!

A Love Letter to Survivors of Sexual Assault

Dear Client,

It took me a long time to start this letter. What could I possibly offer to you that would be of any value? You who has known pain beyond measure, fear beyond belief, and strength to bear the two.

Should I tell you I’m sorry? No, that is useless to you. What good is my sympathy for your suffering? It offers no relief.

Should I tell you that you will be OK, because I know it to be true? No. You don’t feel OK right now, you will think me a liar.

Should I tell you that I understand, and that I know what you’re going through? No. I can never fully comprehend the unique nightmares that plague you. I do not live inside your mind. I could never fully know.

Should I share with you my own story, that you might feel less alone? No. You are not alone, but your story is your own, and no one else’s experience will change the past.   

These are gifts that are worthless to you.

So I will tell you thank you. Thank you for trusting me with this piece of your heart. I know your attacker took your choice and your power while they were sexually assaulting you. And so I know what it took for you to offer me this piece of yourself. I honor the offering, I honor this piece, and I honor the whole of you.

I will honor your story by listening with my soul. And I will remind you tirelessly of the strength and courage you possess. I will speak to the part of you that knew you deserved healing and peace, the part that whispered to me: help. I will help you remember why you want to feel better, and help you to remember your worth.

I will prop up your power and your strength with my own unfaltering belief in you, until you are ready to stand unaided once more.

“You have no idea how hard I looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean? Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me.” - Rumi

 I have no gifts to offer you. You are the gift.

Thank you.