Tag Archives: judgement

Your Best Friend Tells You They Are Kinky

leather pride flag
Credit: Leather Pride Flag image by Marcus Schmöger and António Martins, 31 March 2005

by Carrie Jameson, LCPC

So, your best friend tells you they are kinky and/or they practice BDSM (Bondage and Discipline [BD], Dominance and Submission [Ds], Sadism and Masochism [SM]). Whether it is your best friend, a sibling, parent, or child,  you may want to be an ally, but simply don’t know what to do or say.

Before you go further, it might be helpful for you to try the following thought exercise.

THOUGHT EXERCISE
Think back in your life to something that was special or precious. Remember how you felt. You may have wanted to tell someone close or trusted about this precious thing, experience or person, but maybe you were nervous too. Ask yourself the following questions and make a note of your answers:

  • What did you feel in anticipation of telling them?
  • What kinds of thoughts did you have before you told that person?
  • How did you prepare for the conversation?
  • What were your concerns? What was at risk for you?
  • How did you hope that person would react?
  • How did they react and respond?
  • What did you feel afterward? 

In the exercise above, you might have felt concerned, anxious, afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed about what you had to say. In the same way, it is often difficult for people to disclose their interest in kink or BDSM to friends, family, and loved ones. They may have many concerns and fears about how you will react and worries about how this new information will impact your relationship. In your role as a confidant, your response to your friend or loved one may add to feelings of fear and shame or may help to alleviate them. In part, it’s up to you.

Remember, it very likely took a lot of thought and courage for your friend or loved one to come out to you. It is still uncommon for our society to talk about sexual topics openly. BDSM is often judged and labeled as “not normal” or “wrong” by mainstream culture. Your friend or loved one is sharing a part of their life that is likely very important to them—how will you respond?

ABOUT BDSM
For some people, BDSM or being “kinky” is an identity. For some, it is an orientation. And, for others, it is both orientation and identity. Still others may consider it more of a leisure activity or serious interest (in academic research, also referred to as serious leisure) but not necessarily an orientation.  People may practice BDSM for fun, as a spiritual practice, to explore relationship dynamics, as an aspect of their sexuality, and for many other reasons. For many, it is a deep and profound experience. The person disclosing to you likely has their own way of thinking about kink or BDSM and how it fits for them, their interests, lifestyle, and identity.

HOW TO BE AN ALLY
Here are some suggestions for providing support and responding to a loved one, if they share their kink or BDSM interests with you:

  • Be curious. Ask questions if you want to understand something. You may even want to ask your friend or family member what it was like to disclose this information to you and how you can support them.
  • Trust that your friend or family member knows what they are doing, from a psychological and physical safety perspective. If you have concerns about their safety or well-being, you can share your concerns—but ask first to determine whether they are open to discussing them with you.
  • Don’t assume you know what BDSM or kink is for your friend or loved one. BDSM and kink are broad umbrellas terms that encompass many different practices and activities.  Many people have interests in some but not all of these.  It is especially risky to base your opinions, reactions, or impressions on popular media or pornography (books or movies like 50 Shades of Grey or Secretary, for example).  Instead, ask your friend or loved one how you can learn more.
  • It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Honor your feelings (and recognize that your friend or loved one may have different feelings). Go slowly in conversation if that helps; or talk a bit and then agree to return to the conversation at a later date, if that feels right. Set limits on the type or extent of detail you want to hear about someone’s kink or BDSM activities. Be direct and state your preferences—for example: “I would like to know about the club you attend but please don’t share graphic details of scenes with me just yet.”
  • Don’t assume an interest in BDSM or kink is related to past trauma or any psychological dysfunction. In fact, studies have shown that people who participate in BDSM show lower levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other psychological concerns.
  • Resist blaming kink or BDSM for other issues. Don’t assume your friend’s relationship challenges or psychological difficulties are automatically related to their kink practices.
  • Honor the trust shown to you. Remember this person trusted you with a confidence. Don’t out them (i.e., disclose this information) to others without their consent. They may have told you, but may not want their participation in BDSM more broadly known.
  • If you want more information, you can also do some research on kink and BDSM. Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s When Someone you Love is Kinky may be a good place to start. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) website also provides a variety of articles and resources. You may want to ask your friend or loved one about other resources they would recommend.

Read more of Carrie’s posts here.

Sex Work & Sex Workers 101

Photo Credit: John Major QMI Agency

by Rami Henrich, LCSW, Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D. & Cassandra Damm, LCSW

It has been a pleasure and very enriching to be working with the folks at SWOP Chicago, the local Sex Worker Outreach Project, to develop a support group for sex workers. Cassandra Damm is a social worker who volunteers with SWOP Chicago and co-authored this blog post which is the first of a series exploring the issues confronting sex workers.

Why Talk about Sex Work?

Often referred to as “the world’s oldest profession,” sex work has been a controversial and misunderstood trade throughout human history. Today, sex workers face various forms of discrimination and life-threatening danger, compounded by the fact that many types of sex work remain criminalized in most countries. Without laws protecting their well-being, sex workers can become the victims of violence, abuse, hate crimes, and trafficking. For these reasons, a number of sex workers and their allies around the world have recently undertaken efforts to reform, decriminalize, and even legalize the profession. Criminalization compounds the risks sex workers face, and there are few outlets offering support to sex workers.

Supporting sex workers starts with embracing the reality in which these individuals live. To understand that reality, we must be willing to question our assumptions, let go of our judgments, and learn the facts about sex work.

What Is Sex Work?

While many people who identify as sex workers trade sexual services for money or goods, the term “sex work” is an umbrella term used by individuals working in various forms of erotic and sexual labor. Dancers may exchange erotic or emotional labor and maintain specific boundaries around sexual touching or groping. Nude models or porn actresses may exchange erotic modeling or sexual performance for compensation without having direct contact with clients. Phone sex operators and adult cam models exchange sexual and emotional labor virtually, with or without the use of their image or body.  Professional BDSM (bondage, dominance/submission and sado/masochism) providers offer fetish and fantasy fulfillment for their clientele.

In addition to understanding the range of titles and behaviors that comprise sex work, it’s also important to understand that “sex work” is a political term. Industry advocates recently coined this term as a means to group activities that involve all forms of sexual labor. This grouping created a political identity that makes building support networks easier and unites people for political action. That being said, it is also important to note that not everyone who engages in sex work identifies personally as a sex worker—and some may not even be familiar with the term.

Who Is a Sex Worker?

A sex worker is anyone who exchanges explicit or implied sexual services for money, shelter, food, drugs, or other material goods. As noted above, not everyone involved in the sex industry identifies as a sex worker, some choose instead to use titles or the language their clients use. Sex workers include strippers, escorts, sugar babies, cam models, porn performers, and phone sex operators, pro dominatrixes—to name only a few. Many different types of sex work exist, and the people who work in the industry are as diverse as the rest of humanity. Some ways sex workers might refer to their work include “dancing,” “going on dates,” “sugaring,” “hooking,” and so on.

Because of the profession’s legal status and general societal attitudes regarding sex work, members of the industry seldom choose to disclose information about their jobs, clients, and experiences. If they reveal anything at all, sex workers tend to keep the details secret. In all likelihood, you will not be able to tell whether someone is a sex worker or not, unless they volunteer the information first.

How Can You Support Sex Workers?

  1. Educate yourself about the issues and risks facing sex workers.
  2. Recognize the forms of sex work go on in almost all communities.
  3. Challenge your assumptions about who is a sex worker.
  4. Visit SWOPUSA.org or SWOP-Chicago.org to find out more.

In an upcoming article, we will explore why sex workers need support, and share several ways you can be an ally and make a positive difference for members of the sex trade in your state, city, and community.

Every month, Lifeworks Psychotherapy Center hosts a Sex Worker Support Group for individuals who identify as sex workers. Co-sponsored by SWOP Chicago (Sex Worker Outreach Project), the Sex Worker Support Group (SWSG) group is open to anyone who has previously or is currently working in the sex trade. (For the safety and protection of participants, this group is not open to consumers of sex industry services.)

For more information on the Sex Worker Support Group, visit our Events page here.

Managing Fear After the Election

hope
Photo Credit: HOPE by Gedalya AKA David Gott via Flickr CC BY 2.0

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

Managing fear has been difficult for many people in the days following the 2016 US Presidential Election.  No matter which candidate you supported, you may find yourself overwhelmed by distressing news reports, tense conversations with loved ones, and your own complicated feelings.

LifeWorks is an explicitly inclusive therapy practice that welcomes all people. We know how painful the past few weeks have been for many individuals in the populations we serve. Whether you are feeling frozen and frightened, angry, apprehensive, saddened, emboldened, or an intense and unpredictable combination of various emotions, here are a few things you can do to help yourself stay grounded, resilient, and open—now and in the future.

1. Know that You are not Alone with Your Feelings.

Fear and helplessness can be extremely isolating, especially if it seems as though those around you don’t understand your experience or share your perspective. Remember that you are not alone. Your emotions, however enormous or volatile, are valid and yours. There are many in the US and around the world who share your feelings.

2. Seek Company with Friends and Family with whom You Feel Safe.

Surround yourself with supportive, compassionate loved ones. Cultivate a community that allows for safe dialogues. During periods of uncertainty, time spent with those you care about can provide you with a renewed sense of energy and remind you that you have others to lean on.

3. Engage in Building Your Community.

Look for ways you can get involved in your neighborhood, your city, or even your state. Your community is larger than your circle of friends, co-workers and family members. No matter where you are, there is likely an organization nearby that needs your support and can provide volunteer opportunities in line with your values. If you can’t find the organization or volunteer role you’re looking for, consider ways you can fill that void in your community. Many people find positive, community-building work to be deeply validating and empowering. Every little bit counts.

4. Get Involved in Productive, Life-affirming Activities. 

Focus on activities that allow you to feel purposeful, engaged, and fulfilled. Regardless of the news or your perspective on politics, you always have the ability to stay connected to your inner sources of strength.  Involve yourself in activities that give you a sense of vibrancy and hope. For example:

Move Your Body.

Dancing, hiking, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, and other activities that directly involve your body can help you harness and release anxious thoughts and feelings. Give yourself time to engage in the physical activities that help you feel grounded, dynamic, and calm.

Do Something Outside.

Nature is deeply soothing for some people. If you feel pent-up and on edge in an urban or suburban space right now, try spending some time in nature. Allow yourself to fully engage your senses, enjoy the present moment, and find wisdom and peace in the outdoors.

5. Speak about Your Fears with a Professional.

You may be feeling stuck and unsure about how you can look to the future with optimism. Therapy is a safe space for you to express what’s troubling you and to learn effective strategies to cope with feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety as they arise.

THE WORLD NEEDS YOU!

No matter who you are, you are important. Your self-care matters. Fear can cloud our capacity to see a way forward. The steps listed here may help you return to yourself and gain a new sense of clarity about who you are and what comes next for you. The world needs your voice however you choose to express it.

Take time to process your experience alone or with some one who cares.  Resist the urgency to action, if action does not feel right for you. Even in silence or meditation, your awareness is important for the wholeness of the world.

You may be experiencing many different emotions right now. Remember that believing that you have the capacity to navigate whatever comes your way or to find help and community to support you in doing so may be the most important thing you can do right now.

Building Trust

building trust

by Julie Diamond, Ph.D.

Julie Diamond, Ph.D. is a colleague and former therapist, who has turned her attention to the issues facing organizations.  In the blog below she talks about a human dilemma that is not limited to work life – trust. As you read it, consider where in your life trust is missing and what you might do to build it or break it.

Last month, The World Summit on Organizational Development met here in Portland, Oregon, my home town. Among other things, I had the pleasure of attending this plenary session byAdam Kahane“Doing Organizational Development Beyond the Organization: What It Takes to Solve Today’s Toughest Problems.” 

I loved his talk. It was insightful and practical. And funny. Speaking of collaboration, Kahane put up a slide listing requirements for effective collaboration among diverse and even antagonistic stakeholders. The usual suspects were there: common vision, agreement on goals, trust, etc. And then one by one, he debunked them. The reality of what it means to collaborate in the 21st century is this: knowing how to have conflict, working without trust, and foregoing the luxury of shared goals and visions.

And then Kahane said this, a phrase I’ve used many times: trust is not a precondition to working together, it’s the result. Let me say it again: trust is not a precondition, it’s an outcome.

The assumption that we begin with trust, is not just naïve, it’s also not possible.

And yet, I hear it all the time with the teams and organizations I work in and with. When I ask what the problem is, people often say “We don’t trust each other,” or “we need more trust on this team.” I don’t get it. The lack of trust is the result, not the cause. How can there to be trust before teamwork?

When people speak about trust in this way, they’re not talking about building teamwork but guaranteeing it: “First create the conditions for perfect success by demonstrating you will never disappoint me, thus proving to me you are 100% trustworthy, and then we can work together.”

Life doesn’t work like that. We cannot place our capacity to act and succeed in the actions of another. We cannot mitigate risk. We cannot guarantee success at the outset. Not in the workplace, and not in relationships. We get involved with untested people. We commit, marry, sign a mortgage and have children with people who have not been vetted. Why? Because it takes a long time to really know someone.

And what about us? We’re also unproven. We don’t know ourselves fully either. We cannot know who we will be in five years. Life changes us. Loss, grief, financial and family struggles change our value systems and our outlook. Even moment to moment, we cannot be fully honest about our motivations and feelings. We have limits, conflicts, and stresses of which we know nothing.

And this brings me to the second problem with trust. If we do make the conceptual leap I’m describing, and see that trust has to be earned, the next misconception involves how to earn it.

How do we earn trust? By proving ourselves trustworthy of course.

But that’s impossible. No one is ever fully trustworthy. The dirty little secret behind the billion dollar “trust and teamwork” industry is that being fully trustworthy is not possible.

We’re going to disappoint people. We are going to prove ourselves untrustworthy. As long as there is some part of us of which we’re not fully aware, as long as we are growing beings, we will have blind spots. We will say one thing, feel another, and do yet another, without being cognizant of it.

  • We say yes, and override our exhaustion, because we don’t want to disappoint people, but we don’t have the energy to follow through.
  • We agree to help because we’re driven by a need to be useful, but we’re over-committed and drop the ball.
  • We are desperate for recognition so we join a team with a high profile but feel out of our depths and can’t really deliver what we’ve said we would.
  • We get hurt when our idea is rejected, and then become unconsciously obstructionist and difficult to work with

There are a million reasons why, in any given moment, our behavior undermines our trustworthiness.

So, how do we build trust? Whom do I trust, if no one is fully trustworthy?

I trust people who make mistakes, fail to meet their goals, let me down, and can admit it, apologize, and be honest about their shortcomings.

Trust is developed not by avoiding mistakes and conflicts, but by making and repairing them. Trust is not developed by making good on your word, but on what you do after you break it.

Here’s what builds trust, in my experience:

  1. Stop measuring trust as an all or nothing deal. I can be trusted for some things, but not others. Know what you can’t be trusted on, and make sure people know that. Befriend the fact that people are inherently unreliable, and learn to work with it, instead of pretending you can prevent it.
  2. Learn how to identify and admit your shortcomings. The more we know our limits, and can discuss them with others, the more forewarned and thus forearmed everyone is. Our desire to be perfect makes us hide our shortcomings, and this makes us untrustworthy.
  3. Master the art of apology. People who cannot apologize are protecting themselves at the expense of the teamwork. Apologies are not just admitting wrongdoing, and saying you’re sorry. Apologies must also include understanding, and expressing your empathy over the discomfort or difficulty that the other person experienced as the result of your actions. Unless you know and feel what your actions resulted in, you’re not really apologizing.

We will disappoint each other. But it’s what happens afterwards that builds trust. If you can have an honest conversation about your own and the others’ limitations and issues, the things that make you both untrustworthy, then you have just put into place the foundation for trust.

What is Marginalization?

PIC-0245By Rami Henrich, LCSW

What is marginalization? Have I ever been marginalized?  And, how would I know if I had been?

Do you often feel different from others?  Like you don’t quite fit in?  While some feelings of not fitting in may be related to your personal psychology, some of these feelings can come from the world around you. Marginalization often occurs when an individual or group minimizes or disavows the legitimacy, rights or privileges of others who are believed to be somehow different from the mainstream. Individuals and groups can be explicitly or implicitly marginalized.

Marginalization often occurs outside of ordinary awareness which means we do not notice when we are marginalizing ourselves or others, or when we are being marginalized.  Internalized marginalization is the experience of oppressing one’s self with inner criticisms or judgments. For example, I used to blame myself for putting my children in a position where they might feel like outsiders because I had chosen or created an unconventional relationship within which they also had to live.

For polyamorists, like other non-mainstream groups, marginalization occurs daily in small and large ways inside their relationship, from extended family members, and from the world. We live in a culture that places high value on monogomy and often fails to recognize or anticipate relationship structures that fall outside of the traditionally accepted survey categories: single, married, or divorced.

Our culture rewards and reinforces these familiar relationship structures in big and small ways. For instance, most athletic clubs offer family memberships and substantial savings to nuclear families but not to alternative ones. The majority of teachers and school administrators tend to react awkwardly when three adults show up for parent’s night. And the law has yet to fully legitimize homosexual and polyamorous relationships by sanctioning their unions with the same rights and privileges of married heterosexual couples.

Marginalization…sometimes so subtle and implicit, other times so gross and explicit. Have you noticed marginalization in your world?  What are your experiences with marginalization?

 I would love to hear your experiences and I am sure others would benefit as well.