When Sex Abuse Victims Become Adults & Avoiding Help/Work Burnout – Katie Vernoy LMFT

When Sex Abuse Victims Become Adults & Avoiding Help/Work Burnout – Katie Vernoy LMFT

LMFT therapist Katie Vernoy and Paul respond to listener questions around the topics of 1) How childhood sexual abuse affects the survivors when they become adults and 2) How can people avoid job or helping burnout. They talk about the specifics of self-care and coping tips, acceptance vs approval, forgiveness, anger, misguided generosity, overprotective parents, people who can’t say no and is it possible for a younger child to sexually abuse an older child?

Katie’s website: www.evolvetothriveconsulting.com 
Katie’s Facebook group for helpers to combat Sacrificial Helping, called The Helping Collaborative: https://www.facebook.com/groups/helpingcollaborative/ 
Katie’s Twitter: Katie Vernoy
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy, to experience a free week go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by Bombas socks.  For 20% off your 1st purchase go to www.Bombas.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by BlueApron.  To get your first 3 meals free (with free shipping) go to www.BlueApron.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by the Scott Alan Turner Show.  To learn how to better your finances go to www.ScottAlanTurner.com/happy
To help out our podcast thru one-time or recurring monthly donations, or donating Frequent Flyer miles go to www.mentalpod.com/donate

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Episode notes:

Katie's website: www.evolvetothriveconsulting.com 

Katie's Facebook group for helpers to combat Sacrificial Helping, called The Helping Collaborative: https://www.facebook.com/groups/helpingcollaborative/ 
Katie's Twitter: Katie Vernoy
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy, to experience a free week go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by Bombas socks.  For 20% off your 1st purchase go to www.Bombas.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by BlueApron.  To get your first 3 meals free (with free shipping) go to www.BlueApron.com/mental
This episode is sponsored by the Scott Alan Turner Show.  To learn how to better your finances go to www.ScottAlanTurner.com/happy
To help out our podcast thru one-time or recurring monthly donations, or donating Frequent Flyer miles go to www.mentalpod.com/donate

Episode Transcript:

Transcription services donated by Accurate Secretarial LLC. You can find them at www.AccurateSecretarial.com.

 

Welcome to Episode 333 with my guest, therapist Katie Vernoy. Support for today's episode comes from the Scott Alan Turner Show. Scott's the financial rock star who went from a money moron at age 22 to a self-made success 13 years later by using the same ideas that he shares on his show. He'll help you get out of debt faster, save more money, and move towards financial independence by improving your financial intelligence. You can get his bestselling book on audio book for free by visiting ScottAlanTurner.com/happy.

I'm Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, a place for honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. I’m not a therapist. I'm a jackass. I forgot to tell you guys, I got my jackass license. It finally came through. There's so much red tape in becoming a licensed jackass.

You know, I just felt like it was time to move up because I had just, I just felt like I had been a fuck stick for long enough and why not just go to jackass school just for, you know, one semester and see if I can't get that license, and it looks like it's going to come through.

This [chuckles], this is an Awfulsome Moment that I want to read to you guys. This is filled out by a woman who calls herself My Stripper Name is Fluoxetine, formerly Celexa, and she writes, it's about an hour after I filled out your I Shouldn't Feel This Way survey, wondering what good I'm doing and whether it's worth all this trouble to keep myself alive.

Just now, out of the blue, a friend asked to play a stupid iPhone game with me, beer pong played over text message. Little games like this always cheer me up and I couldn't stop laughing, because it meant that someone was thinking of me and wanted to say hi. It's always the dumbest shit that keeps me alive. I love that. I love that.

We have a, for those of you that didn't know, Herbert passed away about, I guess it'd be about 10 days ago, the 15th he passed away, and so now we have a little shrine. We got his ashes back, and it's [chuckles], it's so adorable and it's also so kind of heartbreaking. I had never read that poem, Rainbow Bridge. Apparently everybody in the universe had heard of it except me, and somebody said, read it, you will cry. And, oh, it's so beautiful, if you've never read that poem. I think you've got to be a dog or animal lover to really be moved by it, though. I think people that aren't animal lovers would just be like, ooh, Jesus [chuckles], that's a little, that's a little saccharine.

I'm back in, I'm back in marshmallow land. I bought three jars of Jet Puff, whatever the fuck you call it, Marshmallow Crème. I was in the grocery store and I was like, I'm not going to buy it, I'm not going to buy any Ben & Jerry's, and it's just like somebody just, like a robot was controlling me and just turned me down the freezer aisle and then, next thing I know, I'm like, yeah, I'm going to get one jar of the Marshmallow Crème. Yeah, I might as well have two because, you know, I might eat that first one, I might as well get three because [chuckles], three fit perfectly on the shelf. And that's all right, you know. Progress, not perfection.

I, obviously I'm dealing with some kind of feelings that I don't want to feel, but how do you know the difference between enjoying something and something being just a bad coping tool? For me, I think it might be because I eat it standing over the stove like an animal, and it's right before I'm about to go to bed. But I don't know, I discovered the Ben & Jerry's, their slices. It's [sighs], fuck you, Ben and Jerry.

I actually met, I don't know if it was Ben or Jerry, but it was when they were just first going national with their ice cream, this is how old I am [chuckles], I want to say it was like 1980-, it was the early '80s, and I was on break from lunch in downtown Chicago and I, I was a college student and I had a summer job working downtown, and I remember going out for my lunch and there was this ice cream truck, and it said, Ben & Jerry's, and they were giving out free samples. And this guy handed me a sample out of the truck, and I looked at him and then I looked at their picture on the truck, and I was like, you're one of those guys, right? He goes, yeah. That's my, that's my brush with fame [chuckles]. I'm trying to impress you through ice cream stories.

Anyway, I'm trying to do what I've learned in support groups, which is when I'm reaching for old coping skills, coping tools, try to ask myself what is it that I'm feeling that might be uncomfortable, and it's hard because I don't, I rarely get angry. The only times I really get angry is when I'm playing hockey and it's, for the most part, I don't even get angry there anymore.

When Herbert died, that's about the only time I've cried. You know, it, how do I explain this? I've cried about my divorce and I've cried about Herbert, but obviously those are, it makes sense to cry about those things, but I don't cry that much, oh, I do cry about shit. Oh, I’m so wanting to rewind this right now.

My point being, the emotions that I think I deal with more than anger and sadness is emptiness and numbness, not feeling something. Somebody mentioned that in my support group tonight, and I was like, oh, my God, yes, that's it. And it's so hard to put your finger on those because, in many ways, they're both the absence of something. And so you can easily call it boredom, but I don't know. I'll talk to my therapist about it.

Speaking of my therapist, I love BetterHelp.com. If you guys are interested in checking out online therapy, I highly recommend it. I've been working with my therapist there, Donna, for, eh, six months, nine months, something like that, and I love it. I love it. So, if you want to experience a free week of online counseling to see if it's right for you, go to BetterHelp.com/mental. We'll put a link on the show notes for this episode. Fill out a questionnaire and they'll match you up with a BetterHelp.com counselor, and then you can see if it's right for you. And you need to be over 18.

I want to read an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a guy who calls himself I'm So Codependent That My Failure to Come Up With a Good Nickname Will Upset You [chuckles]. It has upset me greatly, which is why I'm not going to read your Awfulsome Moment. How cruel would that be? I think he'd get over it, Paul [chuckles].

He writes, while she's getting ready for a barbecue, I just overheard my sister tell my nephew that she doesn't want him to spend too much time on the computer since it could make him lazy. I think that's a veiled reference to me, since I'm always on my laptop.

Maybe I should tell her that I don't have a single game installed and that almost every free moment I have has been spent looking for a meaningful job that doesn't either treat me like shit and, oh, yeah, researching and working to create a project proposal to organizations such as the United Nations and the Peace Corps to address the issue of mental health with refugees and deported individuals around the world.

All of that is under a haze of depression and anxiety, which just makes me want to go and hide under a rock. Tired? Yes. Exhausted? Absolutely. Lazy? Fuck off. I hope she enjoys tossing Frisbee around at the lake while I'm working on an action plan to help empower vulnerable people. But I won't tell her all that because somehow fighting governments and bureaucracies to make the world a better place is easier than correcting a misunderstanding in my own family.

 

[Show intro]

 

PAUL: I'm here with Katie Vernoy, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist. I met her at a mental health event, and we exchanged information and I'm so glad that you are willing to come on the podcast and try to answer some listener questions.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. I'm glad to be here.

 

PAUL: Your two areas of expertise or certainly that you like to deal with in clients are the adult repercussions of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and how people who are in the helping either profession or doing it a lot in their daily lives can keep from burning out.

 

KATIE: Absolutely, absolutely.

 

PAUL: Here, let's do this one. Are there any symptoms regarding burnout? I experienced it as a recruiter only because the people described their stories to me.

 

KATIE: I think-, burnout can happen in a lot of different ways. Sometimes burnout can be from doing more than you really can, so you work really hard all the time. You don't have appropriate self-care. There is times when you're working for someone that maybe you don't respect or who doesn't respect you.

And so the work can feel really hard, even if it's something that you're passionate about, like recruiting or a helping profession of some sort. And so, what can show up is that Sunday dread of Monday, when you work a Monday-through-Friday job. It can be really not having much energy or, it can actually really look like depression at times, where there's just not a lot of energy, there's not a lot of positivity. There's a lot of complaining that can happen and really not enjoying your work anymore.

And sometimes it's, you know, it could be that you just never enjoyed your work and maybe you need to look at a different one, but I think a lot of times the symptoms can be physical. You feel run down. You get sick a lot. It can be emotional. You don't care about your work, even if you've really cared about your work. You look forward to cancellations or kind of snow days, so to speak, you know, oh, it's so great, you know, the electrical system went out, we had to go home, you know, super excited to not work versus to work--

 

PAUL: Oh, my God, I got hit by a car, I don't have to go to the meeting.

 

KATIE: Oh, and I, there was actually people that we would talk, because part of it is I became really burned out when I was working in community mental health, and the two of us would talk about, well, what would actually get us out of work for long enough, like we were concerned that breaking a leg wouldn't be sufficient--

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: --because then we would still, we would just get a cast and then have to go to work and be in pain. So we were trying to figure out, what could actually get us a sufficient amount of time off so that we could rest, because there was just too much work.

 

PAUL: I would say that's a good sign.

 

KATIE: Oh, yeah, it's a great sign of burnout, for sure.

 

PAUL: Any other signs?

 

KATIE: I think I, listing them, I would have to, you know, kind of think through, but I think, really, if someone is feeling like they hate their job, they're exhausted, they're unhappy even when they're not working, they just don't feel good all the time, and I think really when you start getting really sick and fantasizing about sick days and time away and all of that, I think that's really critical.

For me, when I figured out that I was burnt out, is I was in a job that was no longer really fitting for me and I was looking for new jobs, and I would be exhausted by the end of the job description of the jobs I was looking for, and I was like, oh, yeah, I can't do this work right now.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

KATIE: I just can't even imagine int.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

KATIE: So, yeah, it can be pretty intense, and I think you can usually tell that you're burnt out, but like that kind of, when you're on your way, I think that part can be really hard to figure out because you're like, well, I just, next week will be better or, you know, those kinds of things. It's wanting to kind of keep imagining that it's going to get better and not realizing, wait a second, you know, it's not getting better and I still feel crappy and I don't like what I'm doing.

 

PAUL: And I would imagine that people who have addictions, those addictions flare up.

 

KATIE: Oh, absolutely. I think it can be something where you go home and, you know, on a good day when you're not feeling completely drained and exhausted and that, you know, the headache behind your eyes and your head feeling like it's going to explode, you know, on a normal day when you're feeling good, it's like, okay, great, I'm going to go work out and I'm going to do those things.

And when you've got just the stress and the ready to give up, I mean, it's easy to turn to, you know, kind of old coping mechanisms, and that can be, I need a drink, I need something else, you know, I don't want to go in tomorrow, I've got an excuse, you know, so it can definitely, I think addictions and coping behaviors that maybe even you're trying to, unhealthy coping behaviors that you're trying to change can really be hard to resist.

 

PAUL: Would you also say that any activity that in moderation would be a nice way to take a break from your life suddenly becoming compulsive. You know, for instance, like one of the things I know I did when I didn't want to deal with issues in my life is I would get on the Internet and I would look at parcels of land in the Pacific Northwest, knowing I probably couldn't afford any of them and wouldn't go through all of it to get it, but positioning myself, imagining myself getting this, and I would spend hours just comparing and going, oh, yeah, you could put a cabin here.

And it wasn't, you know, a half hour. This was hours of doing this night after night after night, and I couldn't see at the time that I was really just not dealing.

 

KATIE: Yeah, I think that any way that you escape, whether it's, for me it's reading. Like, I could read hours and hours and hours, and the same books over and over again, just, you know, continuing to read.

It sounds like for you it was finding the place that you were going to build the cabin and run off to and be off the grid and all of those things. I think when you're really looking to escape from your life, anything that you're doing that really completely takes you away from long periods of time is something to look at, you know, is this really helpful.

You know, if you were truly looking and comparing and going to buy a parcel of land and you were comparing prices for lumber and construction companies and all those things, and it was actually a project that you were doing, great. But if it's, I'm going to live in this fantasy because my life isn't what I want it to be, then it can, it takes time away from you being able to productively create the life that you want.

 

PAUL: And I just realize you said let's start with the CSA questions first, and I went right into a question about burnout.

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: It's really hard to divide them up in some ways because I think that there's a lot of the same things that show up.

 

PAUL: And the order I got them in from the listeners, they're all mixed in together, so given my horrible memory, I will probably bounce back and forth a lot--

 

KATIE: That's perfectly fine.

 

PAUL: --as we go through these.

Somebody wrote, and I assume this is about CSA, childhood sexual abuse, how to get rid of the anger. I dream of traveling the country killing sex offenders. Don't worry, I'm not going to do it, frown.

 

KATIE: [Chuckles] I think that's a tough one. It probably depends where the anger is coming from. For folks who are generally kind of angry with the world, it's not related to CSA, where there's anger that's, you know, whether it's irritation, it's irritability, if it's burnout, you know, that type of anger you can get rid of by self-care and improving your mood.

When the anger is directed because of an experience you've had or an experience of someone that you care about, where they've had an abuser in their life, whether it's sexual abuse or physical abuse or even emotional abuse, I think when you've had that experience and you see the impacts on your life, on the life of the person that you care about, it can be really easy to be extremely angry with everyone who identifies or could be identified as an abuser or predator, a perpetrator.

And I think, for me, because obviously I've heard a lot of stories, and there's part of me that wants to go around and crusade and do the same thing, not that I would, frowny face, but I get that anger because I can see these amazing, mostly women, but men and women who I've worked with who have these amazing, beautiful stories about, you know, how they've been resilient, all those things, but the fact that they had to be resilient pisses me off.

You know, it's certainly uncovered some strengths. You know, we can talk about how people can find themselves and their core gifts when they have to face these really horrible things, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't want them to have happened.

 

PAUL: Right.

 

KATIE: And the people who have perpetrated these things are people who I'm angry with. And so for me, especially my first job, was working with kids who had been removed from their homes because of this type of abuse, and I thought, there is no way I am ever going to be able to work with perpetrators.

And I really don't, but I've been able to move a little bit more towards being able to forgive, not all the way to forgiveness in some situations, but more to the place where I can start kind of seeing, you know, how I can let go of the anger and that I realize that, by and large, these are folks who have had the same thing happen to them. They've had, they had some sort of sexual abuse or some sort of abuse perpetrated against them, or they had some really confusing boundaries growing up. There may be other things that have happened to them where that was what they turned to.

You know, I think that there's different beliefs about, are people evil and all of those things. I have trouble saying that people are evil. I believe that there's been some pretty gnarly things that have happened to them, where something that doesn't seem okay to me seems okay to them. And I think that, for me, that's kind of, I try to understand how they may have come to that place where that seemed like an option.

 

PAUL: I do, too, and I have a lot of strong opinions on forgiveness because I believe that telling somebody they should try to forgive, I want to slap the person that said that. I believe forgiveness is just something that, if it comes as a byproduct of the processing and the healing, fantastic.

 

KATIE: Mm-hmm.

 

PAUL: But it's an emotional byproduct, to me, not an intellectual pursuit.

 

KATIE: I think that's a really good point, because I've got some clients who are beating themselves up because they can't forgive, and I talk to them about how it would be normal that they would have difficulty forgiving, because there's some pretty awful things that have gone down.

And I think there's a lot of different religions or faiths or cultures that forgiveness is the end-all peace, and I think that there is a really beautiful thing that when you have that emotional byproduct that you can forgive, but to not forgive yourself because you're having difficulty forgiving your perpetrator doesn't help you.

 

PAUL: No. And how do you process the anger unless you've gotten in touch with it at some point?

 

KATIE: Absolutely.

 

PAUL: I had to process the anger I had at my mom. I forgive my mom. I don't hate her. I can't have a relationship with her for other reasons, but I understand that she's, you know, somebody that, she is the way that she is. I don't condone what she did to me, but I don't see her as a malicious person, and so it, that's how I got to the place of forgiveness.

 

KATIE: Yeah.

 

PAUL: And sometimes I would backslide and all of a sudden I'd feel a wave of anger again, but that's my personal experience with it.

And I know that the more that I dove into my support groups, the easier it was for me to see, not only her but just anybody that causes me anger in my daily life, people I don't even meet, just public figures, it made it easier for me to have acceptance, not approval, but acceptance that that is just the way it is and I can't change it, but what I can do is speak about it, protect myself, and try to help those who have experienced it.

 

KATIE: Yeah. I think that's a really good point, because when you talk about acceptance, I think too many people equate acceptance and approval. If I accept that that's how they are, then I'm approving them. And I said, well, no, I don't think that's actually true. I always jump to Hitler because Hitler has done such horrible, evil things, right.

 

PAUL: I've not heard of him. Who is he?

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: And it's like, well, do we forgive Hitler? You know, if we think about what Hitler did to society and we think about what a perpetrator has done to a child surviv-, you know, a person who has survived sexual abuse, there's some huge, huge atrocities that have been committed by these perpetrators.

And yes, it may have been one person to one person versus one person to a ton, but I think it's that the impact on the individual who experienced the abuse can be as much of an atrocity as that.

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

KATIE: And I think people understand, like, well, of course not, why would we forgive Hitler? But people think, well, you should forgive your mom or you should forgive your dad or you should forgive your whatever.

It's like, well, I get that, and I think that if you can get to that place where you can understand that maybe they were doing the best they could, maybe there's something that was going on for them that this is how it showed up. Maybe this is just how they are and I can't expect something different, then you can potentially go to forgiveness. It wasn't necessarily malicious. It wasn't necessarily something that was designed to hurt me, but it did.

 

PAUL: It did. And I think once you practice acceptance for the things that you don't have control over, it allows you to be much more efficient in your life because you then focus your energies on what you can either influence or control and stop living in a state of insanity, of wishing that things were different.

 

KATIE: Yeah, I think a lot of anger comes from wishing that people could be different or things had been different. I think with folks who still have some sort of relationship with a perpetrator of sorts, whether it's physical, emotional, sexual abuse, it's always wishing that they could be different, wishing that they could apologize.

And I'm not saying that some people don't change and there are those interactions, but the anger comes from, I can't believe she's still doing this, I can't believe she's still this way. It's like, well, she's always been this way, and your expectation that she could be different is setting you up for disappointment over and over and over again and it gets you really upset.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

KATIE: And so I think being able to accept, this is how she is, this is how this person behaves, this is what I can expect from this person.

 

PAUL: And we're talking about situations where it is now an adult that has autonomy over their lives--

 

KATIE: Yes.

 

PAUL: --as opposed to a child who is, has to live there and is afraid to contact the authorities or talk to somebody else--

 

KATIE: Yeah, I mean, there's a whole different set of things to talk about with minors, of course.

 

PAUL: I had some other point to tag on to that and I can't remember what it was. Oh, yeah, expecting somebody, being resentful at somebody who you want to change, you know, and then you experiencing all these negative emotions. I heard somebody say one time, resentment is where you take the poison and expect the other person to die.

 

KATIE: Yes. Yep, yeah, absolutely. And I think it's something where, you know, there's a resentment piece, but there's also this kind of ongoing disappointment and kind of re-experiencing this hurt. Each time they behave the same way, it's another, it's kind of the death by a million paper cuts. It's like, well, you've already had all the paper cuts. Step away from the paper.

You know, this person is not going to behave differently unless they show that they can, and so don't expect that they're going to behave differently because each time you put yourself back into that situation, where they're behaving the same way, you're getting disappointed, you're getting hurt, you're getting all of those messages that oftentimes are pretty negative reinforced.

 

PAUL: How different do you think society would be if the average person had a great grasp on understanding boundaries and consequences?

 

KATIE: Oh, my gosh [chuckles]. It would be amazing.

 

PAUL: I feel like that would be the greatest educational tool our society could have.

 

KATIE: I think it's in the top 10, for sure, because I think being able to be mindful as well and thinking through, I guess it's boundaries and consequences, too, but being able to understand the control that you can have over your responses to things, I think that would also be really, really helpful, because I think a lot of folks kind of dive into this kind of hurricane of emotions and don't recognize that there is some point sometimes that you can choose not to dive into the hurricane.

 

PAUL: Yeah. Let's see, what's the next question on this topic?

How can adult survivors better deal with their children growing up, quote, normal? I find myself restricting my kids out of fear, things like sleepovers and walking to a friend's house. How do I know when I'm being too overprotective? What a great question.

 

KATIE: Oh, it's a great question, and it's a tough one. I don't know that there's a lot of right answers. There's some wrong answers. I think completely shielding your children from the world sets them up to not be able to make decisions.

And so I think oftentimes what I've seen is that typically moms that, because I mostly work with women, but I think parents who have had childhood sexual abuse or even, you know, kind of physical or emotional abuse that really led them kind of to this place of not trusting the world and not trusting too many people, I think they want to shield their children from that, and so they become overprotective in a way that doesn't teach their children kind of the general life lessons, how do I make a decision? How do I know if something's safe? How do I do those things? And so I think--

 

PAUL: How do I deal with failure? How do I deal with hurt--

 

KATIE: How do I deal with failure, how do I heal with hurt, all of those things--

 

PAUL: --humiliation, yeah.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. And I think not being able to self-soothe and not being able to take care of themselves is one piece, but not being able to identify potential red flags, not being able to make good choices, I think those are things that I think a lot of parents don't think about.

I have had, you know, oftentimes, unfortunately, I'll get second generation into my office because Mom had some sort of childhood abuse, some sort of something that led them on this path where they wanted to be really protective of the kid, and the kid ends up going into a car with somebody that shouldn't have gone into, not being able, not seeing the signs that this really nice guy that's saying, come over here in the alleyway, is not somebody you should spend time with.

And so, when especially I think there's that kind of the societal helicopter-parent thing that happens, and then if you add to that your own history of childhood sexual abuse, then it's like, I want to shield them from everything, but then once they have any kind of autonomy, whether it's rebelling in high school or going off to college, they're sitting ducks, and it's awful. I mean, you know, it's--

 

PAUL: So, it actually winds up backfiring.

 

KATIE: Oh, completely, completely.

 

PAUL: Because they haven't had a chance to use these tools or--

 

KATIE: Yeah, no, they haven't been able to use the tools. They've not had to make the decisions in the lower-risk situations. So, if I'm at a sleepover and my mom has talked to me about what's good and bad touch, what's okay and what's not okay, how do I behave following the morals and values of my family.

And something weird happens and it's, you know, some girls and there's a babysitter and it's Mom and it's, you know, it's pretty low risk and it's parents that the mom knows, if I don't get, if the kid doesn't get to do that and then come back and say, Mom, there was something weird and I'm not sure and, you know, they were saying we should put, you know, Suzy's hand in a glass of water and it was supposed to make her pee and I felt uncomfortable, I felt like I crossed a boundary, like if you don't have those conversations [chuckles], then there's not the mini conversation, the tiny, little conversations about boundaries, about consequences, until, oh, Mom, I went to a party and somebody roofied me and I don't remember what happened. And I've heard that a lot from kids from overprotective parents.

And so I think it's getting a mindset of, I know that this is going to be extremely painful to me, and we can't control what happens. I can't promise that you give your kid every tool in the book that they are going to be safe, because not everybody's safe, you know. There's things we can't control.

But if your kid knows what to look for, knows how to reach you, knows what kind of support, when to get support, what's okay and what's not okay, if your kid has those tools, has had some chance to test them out when they're young enough that they're still going to seek you out for support and guidance, they're going to be lost. So, it's kind of a mindset thing.

It's really like, how do you set your kid up and recognizing, I had one client who was open with her daughter and was like, I'm going to be uncomfortable with this, and so I'm going to need you to check in more, I want you to be able to do these things, but I'm going to need you to check in more.

 

PAUL: And you think that's okay.

 

KATIE: Mm-hmm. I think if you have to check in every two seconds and you have to have the GPS on and like, I mean, if it's something where it--

 

PAUL: Within reason.

 

KATIE: --but if it's like, hey, you know, when you're going from one place to the next, just send me, shoot me a quick text, you know.

 

PAUL: Makes sense, makes sense.

I am both a child incest survivor and a massage therapist. So, how do us empaths avoid being taken advantage of at work? We want to help people, but then others abuse our good, helping nature.

 

KATIE: I love this question. It is basically why I do what I do, so let me dig into this one a little bit.

I call it sacrificial helping syndrome, or what's the way I've described it? Misguided generosity. Especially as an empath, as a healer, as a person who is very sensitive to all the different possibilities when you've had childhood trauma, your fight-or-flight response is more easily triggered. You're going to notice more of the potential dangers that other folks might not notice because of that kind of heightened awareness.

Sometimes your heightened awareness is more about triggers than it is about real dangers, and so you can, you know, want to make sure that you're testing that out. But in everyday life, you're just more aware, right? You're just more aware, you're more on, because you know that there's real dangers out there. And then if you're also working to heal and help people, you're going to want to be there for them and have a heart for them, because there's a connection, an attachment to, I want to be a helper.

You know, and some of it I think goes back to, I wish somebody would have helped me in a different way, and there's a lot of different reasons so I won't dig into that too much. But I think what often happens is there's this idea that my worth is through my ability to help, and I think a lot of people take advantage of that. I know that for myself as a therapist, as a coach, you know, all the things that I do, there's times when I'll go way above and beyond and I'll have a lot of folks who want more and more from me, and I have to figure out how to set boundaries, because if I don't then I'm not going to be able to help anybody.

 

PAUL: How often do you find people who have difficulty regulating their helping were raised in environments where they were discouraged or shamed for expressing needs?

 

KATIE: That's a really good question. I don't know that I've explored it in that way exactly, but if I think about it--

 

PAUL: Because I think a lot of people that become the can't say no to being the savior, the whatever, I think it's clearly a way to--

 

KATIE: Yeah.

 

PAUL: --to not feel some type of shame for wanting to have a break.

 

KATIE: Yeah, no, I think there's definitely something there. I'm thinking about it, and that does line up a lot. I'm just kind of thinking through kind of the different conversations I've had. I think that there's, in my experience, it's that, whether it's shame or just kind of not being allowed.

So, there's not necessarily completely shame involved, but it's not ever really--

 

PAUL: Not encouraged or shown how to--

 

KATIE: --not encouraged to express yourself or shown how to ask for needs appropriately or those kinds of things, and kind of stepping into some sort of a caregiver role, whether it's taking care of parents because parents were incapacitated in some way, taking care of younger siblings, taking care of older siblings sometimes, just depending on the roles in the family.

When there is a requirement to care for others as the role in your family, whether it's you're shamed if you have any needs or your value is from helping, I think there's a natural transition into being a helper and a huge, huge tendency to have a difficulty to say no.

And I think oftentimes, when people say no or try to say no or consider saying no, what comes up is, if I say no they won't like me, if I say no then I have no value, if I say no, it's too hard, there's potentially conflict, there's potentially pushback, and there's also this idea that I want to help, so I need to say yes. I need to, you know, I want to be of value, and even helping is how I connect with others because I can't just sit here and be. I have to be helping, because that's what I do. I love to help people.

And so I think, what I tell people, part of it's mindset. It's thinking, okay, I was joking with somebody that I'm going to write a book on sacrificial helping, that I'm thinking about kind of how I would do that because I think so many of us sacrifice our own well-being to help others, but I'm thinking of a chapter and I'm calling it, You Can Only Jump on One Grenade, and it's really, if we help person X for a million hours, person Y comes up and actually really needs our help, there's nothing left to give.

And so it's looking at, who do I help, who do I bestow this gift of helping on, which a lot of people have a hard time seeing that they've got something of value to offer, but if you can get your head around, I have something very valuable to offer, who do I choose to give it to, because I can't give that to everyone.

We’re like pitchers of water. Like, you can only pour out so much before you go back and fill back up. You need to be able to take care of yourself. You need to have downtime. You need to be able to choose what you do, but in each little moment this person wants something from me, I usually give that help to them, and to say no to them is really uncomfortable.

 

PAUL: And sometimes you wind up pouring energy into a person who just really only wants attention and to have an audience and does not realize that they are draining.

And being in support groups where sometimes you mentor people, I've gotten pretty good at recognizing that type of person and putting the ball back in their court by saying, if we are going to meet for coffee and I'm going to help you with this thing, I will help you on a week-to-week basis contingent on you doing the things that I suggest you do to help, you know, your personal growth.

 

KATIE: Yeah, and I think it's requiring something from them and not doing everything for them. I think that's awesome, because I think so many people will keep, they'll take on the other person's crisis, the other person's needs and make them their own, and so they're rolling with it and they're doing more for this person, and it really isn't helping anybody.

 

PAUL: It's like the overprotective parent.

 

KATIE: It's like, yeah, you're not empowering the person to handle their own problems. You're not giving them the tools to be able to manage their own problems, and then it's also the relationship is reliant on you continuing to be in this role.

 

PAUL: And they don't get to see the consequences of irresponsible behavior on their part.

 

KATIE: For sure. Irresponsible behavior and using someone.

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

KATIE: Because if you're in the role of helper and you're there and you're, okay, one more time, and, yeah, yeah, let's do this, and sure, I'll bring my truck and I'll help you move, and yeah, I'll help you find a job, and if you're doing that and you're constantly being drained and you're becoming resentful and all these things, you're becoming a less effective helper, but you put on the smile, you say, sure, I can, but they believe that that's acceptable behavior and they can't develop other relationships with people who aren't as nice as you.

 

PAUL: Yep. And then they think you are, you know, a bad person because you haven't taken their fifth call that day.

 

KATIE: Yes. Yeah, I think it creates this dependence that's really not healthy.

 

PAUL: Two things that really helped me when I started going to support groups and had to learn how to draw boundaries was, you don't have to return every phone call instantly, and compassion for other people is great but not at the expense of compassion for yourself.

 

KATIE: Yes. I full-heartedly agree with that.

 

PAUL: All right, next question. How about when you hear news and you think about how that will affect the people you're trying to help, how do you not lose your mind? Oh, no, this is a help one. I want to find a CSA one.

If she considers children younger than the victim capable of being abusers and how to stop feeling like a fraud if you've experienced this as I have. What a great questions, and I've read some surveys on this and those people struggled with that idea.

 

KATIE: So, let me make sure I'm understanding the question. So--

 

PAUL: This person was older than the person who sexually abused them--

 

KATIE: So, as a minor, as a child, the abuser was younger.

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

KATIE: Let me take a second [chuckles]. I think with that there are guidelines and parameters that people have put into place to try to categorize and understand sexual abuse, other adverse childhood experiences. There's actually a great study, I don't know, have you heard of Vincent Felitti's Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey?

 

PAUL: Nh-nuh. No, but I have his first two albums.

 

KATIE: [Chuckles] He was doing a weight-loss study and there was a participant, or maybe more than one participant, who had lost a ton of weight, success, and then they checked up six months after the end of the study and she had gained all of the weight back and more.

And fortunately, they asked the question why, and it was she had had childhood sexual abuse. And what they uncovered was that there were certain adverse childhood experiences that would impact later medical and mental health.

 

PAUL: Attention from the opposite sex.

 

KATIE: Potentially, but like even talking about cancer. You know, like there's, it was Kaiser Permanente that was doing this study, and they had all of the medical records, so they had this Adverse Childhood Experience Survey, which is 10 questions, and it went through, were you sexually abused by someone who was four years or more older than you. This is why I'm bringing this up [chuckles].

 

PAUL: I see.

 

KATIE: I'm coming around, I promise. And so it also had like, did your parents get divorced? Did you have someone in your family commit suicide? Like, there was a lot of adverse childhood experiences, did somebody go to prison. And the more of those that you had, so, you know, if you had one, you were more likely to have two, and on and on, but the more that you had, the higher your chances of these other consequences, you know, substance abuse--

 

PAUL: Depression, anxiety--

 

KATIE: --depression, anxiety, but also inflammatory diseases, cancer, just not feeling good, like a lot of the medical concerns, too, so it really tied that both, you know, these adverse childhood experiences led to mental health but also medical problems afterwards.

So, the reason I'm bringing that up is it's a cool study, but I also use the survey in my group with women who have been survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and I had a woman who was like, the person who abused me was my same age, do I not count it? I was like, of course you count it. What that person did to you was hugely impactful.

And I think, to me, there are ways that we define it that help with the study, that help with whatever. I'm not doing this study. I don't have to say, well, oh, was the person who provided, you know, who perpetrated sexual assault on you, were they older enough, or were they older than you? Like, I don't think it matters. It's the consequence--

 

PAUL: Was it unwanted, and did you feel, were you--

 

KATIE: Absolutely.

 

PAUL: --have difficulty advocating for yourself and regret that the situation happened or feel pain about it.

 

KATIE: And I think what it really boils down to is, I think that whether the child was four years older, whatever, I think that's really lazy shorthand for was there a power differential, was it unwanted. Well, if it was unwanted and it was a kid who was younger than you that you had the power to beat up, you may have done that, but if you did not have the power to stop it, for whatever reason, there was a power differential that needs to be respected.

 

PAUL: And one of those power differentials could be that you were raised in a home where you were discouraged from having needs and advocating for yourself and you couldn't find the words.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. And I think that's a thing that can be really hard, is that people can look at it and say, well, why didn't you say something, well, the kid was littler than you, all those things, all of that's B.S.

 

PAUL: Total B.S. And it could be that it was an interesting experience for the first five minutes and then something changed.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. It can go from experimentation beyond pretty fast, especially if it becomes not consensual.

 

PAUL: Yeah, and the trauma could have happened so quickly and without warning that even if you did want to say something you're still traumatized by it.

 

KATIE: Absolutely, absolutely. I think the ages don't really matter. I think that there are times when, you know, people think it matters, but I think in truth what really, really matters is, what was the impact on you, how were you able to move forward, you know. And the perpetrator is kind of less important to me than the person I'm talking to.

 

PAUL: A separate issue, in my mind--

 

KATIE: Absolutely.

 

PAUL: --the, one of the worst things people misconstrue is the prosecutability of what happened to them, conflating that with, as if that should directly equal how much damage they're allowed to feel.

 

KATIE: Yeah.

 

PAUL: And that is, I think, so many people suffer because they're like, well, if I took this person to court, I wouldn't win, so I need to get over this.

 

KATIE: Yeah, I agree. It's not the same thing.

 

PAUL: No. And it puts a huge wall up in front of yourself to heal because you're going to feel shame expressing your pain. You're going to be second guessing yourself. And for me to heal, the first thing I had to do was to stop second guessing myself long enough to let the tears out.

 

KATIE: Yes. Yes, absolutely, absolutely. I think if anyone has an experience that happened to them that was traumatizing to them, that they felt they had no power, that they were feeling at risk, whether it was, you know, some sort of victimization, you know, a risk of, you know, kind of the sexual pieces or risk of losing their life or any of those things, that's a trauma.

And so how that came about, who was the perpetrator, it doesn't matter to me.

 

PAUL: No. Processing the feelings and the healing, that's what it's all about.

 

KATIE: Yeah. Well, and understanding that it's hard to be inside someone else's head, and so if somebody is trying to understand what you experienced, and most people want to try to just have it go away, well, it wasn't that big of a deal, it was this or that, it was another kid or it was this, you know, it doesn't matter.

 

PAUL: And the intent of that other person in terms of healing doesn't matter in the, certainly in the beginning, you know, because it'd certainly be, in my opinion, something that you are curious about. I would love to know what was going through my mom's mind when she crossed boundaries. I will never know. But if I waited to get that answer before I started processing things, I'd still be at square one.

 

KATIE: Yeah. I think that there's a lot of things we can't know, and I think being able to fully understand your experience, and I think oftentimes even just being able to look at it again as an adult, it can really shine some light on it, because if we only have a child's understanding of it, sometimes there's not fully words for it. There's not really an understanding. It's hard to process it if you haven't actually taken a look and talked it through a little bit.

I think, I really, you know, oftentimes I think there's a lot of really great support groups and those kinds of things, but I, obviously I'm a therapist, I highly recommend talking to a therapist through those traumatic experiences so you're not re-traumatizing yourself but, rather, processing it.

 

PAUL: And having somebody that can tell you, I see a lot of people, I went to school for this, and your pain is valid.

 

KATIE: Mm-hmm.

 

PAUL: Let's embark on you feeling better.

 

KATIE: I think, yeah, and I think that's a really good point, because I've had some clients come to me who have gone to other therapists even who were visibly shocked or impacted by the story, and I'm not saying that I'm going to [chuckles], you know, that I don't express my feelings and have, you know, a face that's expressive, but I think, if you don't go to a therapist who specializes in trauma and if you don't go to a therapist who specifically specializes in sexual trauma, there are times that therapists don't get it.

 

PAUL: And they may re-traumatize you by minimizing what happened to you.

 

KATIE: By minimizing or by kind of experiencing more of your emotions than you're ready to experience.

 

PAUL: Oh.

 

KATIE: Oh, my goodness, wow, that, oh, how did you survive that? You know, I think it's that, you know, kind of, and I'm sure you've seen that with other people, if you've told your story and there somebody that just is so visibly responsive, it kind of hits your buttons, too, and a therapist isn't supposed to, you know, unsettle you in that way necessarily. I think there's tactics to help people get in touch with their feelings, but if you feel like you have to take care of your therapist, that's a problem.

 

PAUL: Yeah, definitely. And I think a lot of abusers don't even fully understand what it was that, the reasons why they were doing, you know, I think most of them understand that what they were doing was wrong, but I think a lot of them don't know why they feel compelled to do what it is they're doing, so driving yourself crazy, wanting to know a definitive answer, that person might not even know, the person that hurt you.

 

KATIE: Yeah. And I think that's why the perpetrator, to me, I think there's some important pieces in trying to understand what you can't understand, those things can be very helpful, but I've had folks who wanted to confront their perpetrator and, if that's part of the process, that's fine, but the expectations have to be reasonable.

The person may understand, know what they did is wrong and feel a lot of remorse and are able to have that conversation, or they may be completely without remorse and it could be a really, really difficult situation. So, I think it's being able to understand from your own perspective what's happened, how you're going to move forward from it, and it's less important about the perpetrator, but everybody's going to ask, why would they do this, why did they do this, why would that be okay?

And I think some of it is coming to a conclusion that, you know, people do things that hurt other people because they're in pain.

 

PAUL: Hurt people hurt people, right?

 

KATIE: Yep.

 

PAUL: Isn't that how the saying goes?

 

KATIE: I think so.

 

PAUL: Let's see what the next one is.

Any suggestions for good coping mechanisms would be appreciated in both cases, both for a person feeling burnout and for somebody who is an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. Coping is great. I think the best thing that I can offer is that not every coping strategy is going to work for every person, and not every coping strategy is going to work the same for every situation. And so, it's figuring out when you're feeling down, what are the coping strategies that are going to raise your energy level, that are going to bring you up? When you're feeling stressed out or angry, what are the things that'll calm you down?

If you're feeling down and start listening to Yanni, that's just not helpful.

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: Unless you, like Yanni is really your jam. But the--

 

PAUL: Even if you're at the Acropolis?

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: I think it's something where being able to identify, do I need to upregulate or do I need to downregulate, you know, do I need to get more energy or do I need to calm down, and incorporating coping strategies that match with that. So that's one thing.

I think the other thing, I like to call proactive coping. Now, it's technically self-care, but I actually like to call it proactive coping because I think, especially when you know you're going to walk into a situation that's triggering to you or into a situation that's stressful to you, you can go in and say, oh, this is going to piss me off, I'm going to be so stressed out, there's this and that, ugh, you're preparing to be upset.

 

PAUL: Mm-hmm.

 

KATIE: You're preparing to be stressed out. You're preparing to be disappointed. Whereas if you go in and say, okay, I'm going to a family event, I know that people are going to be asking me questions that are really uncomfortable to me, there's going to be people who I've got some history with, some drama with, so I'm going to proactively cope.

I'm going to make sure that I have a good night's sleep. I’m going to drink my cup of chamomile tea before I take off. I'm going to wear my outfit that makes me feel really great. And I’m going to walk in and I'm going to take a deep breath and I'm going to keep breathing the whole time as I'm walking in.

So, it's setting yourself up saying, I know it's going to be tough, but I'm going to do something different so that I've got all of my tools in my toolbox, ready to handle the situation.

 

PAUL: So you're saying snapping and then pealing out of the parking lot would not be the best coping tool?

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: Saying, fuck you all, as you roll the window down?

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: I think that can be good coping in some situations.

 

PAUL: Can I throw a couple in that have helped me?

 

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely.

 

PAUL: If you can afford it, stay at a hotel, if the people that you're staying with are triggering to you. And if they push you on it, to say, please respect the fact that I need my space, I just sometimes need time to be away from you, or away from people, but it's not, it has nothing to do with you, don't take it as a slight to you.

 

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you're able to set up the boundaries up front and give yourself some space, I mean, that's absolutely proactive coping. I think reactive coping in that situation is having your list of hotels that you're going to stay at if it feels that you can't stay at the house.

 

PAUL: Another one is talk to a couple of close friends before you go to it, let them know you're going to be going to this thing and say, if you can, are you available for me to call you if I get totally stressed out in the middle of something.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. Yeah, I think activating your support system is critical. You can have them, can you text me at this time, so I can remember to take a breath, I can have an excuse to take a call, it can give me an out. You can, can I talk to you afterwards so I can process it with you, can you be available for that.

I think being able to activate your healthy support system, whatever you're walking into, whether it's a family event or not, I think is so key, especially for folks who that's the way that they process things, is with other people.

 

PAUL: The other two things that help me is I remind myself over and over again that I can't change people and I picture people that trigger me as little children in adults' bodies and--

 

KATIE: Oh, beautiful. I love it [chuckles].

 

PAUL: --just make, I take it less personally because then I go, oh, they don't know. They just don't know, or they haven't learned, they haven't learned yet.

 

KATIE: Yeah. You can say, oh, that's adorable, what an adorable little tantrum they're having.

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: And I always remind people, use the bathroom.

 

PAUL: That's a good one.

 

KATIE: If someone is bothering you, go to the bathroom. Washing your hands with nice cold water can help physiologically calm you down, getting away can calm you down.

 

PAUL: Pretending that you have a phone call coming in, say excuse me, I got to take this, and having a nice long fake conversation. Make it convincing, even turn it into an argument and throw your phone against the wall. Nobody will ever second guess that that was a fake conversation.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: Commit to it, that's what I'm saying, commit to it--

 

KATIE: Full commitment, full commitment, I like it.

 

PAUL: Teachers of children with trauma, advice, question mark.

 

KATIE: Okay, teachers of children who have trauma. I think it can be hard to identify if a child has had trauma. If you know as a teacher that one of the children in the classroom has had trauma or several of the children in the classroom have had trauma, I think it's recognizing that there are going to be things that don't necessarily make sense that are triggers.

So, standing over the child, potentially putting your hand on their neck, or touching their shoulders or whatever, using a tone of voice, there can be things that are triggers, that can be like, oh, the child's being awful again and they're acting out and all those things, but I think understanding that the child's acting-out behavior could be them not being able to self-regulate and coming up against triggers that maybe you aren't recognizing.

It could be that there's another kid in the class who is either someone that can be kind of a self-soothing partner or who is triggering them, and so it's identifying, what are the types of things that are actually triggering them and not assuming that they're acting out but that they're having an emotional dysregulation because of something that's going on.

Now, it could be they're bored or it could be that they just don't like this lesson or they are struggling, so it could be kind of the typical stuff, but if there's also trauma, I think being able to identify, what are the triggering things, what are the things that help calm them down, are there people, you know, even being open to having some different options, like they can go take a walk outside.

They can go to the nurse's office if they're really triggered so that they can calm down, because trying to have some quick intervention within the classroom, where you can, you know, if you've got a good relationship, you can kind of do that, okay, you know, take a moment, I'm going to walk away, draw or, you know, whatever their coping is, that can work.

But if it doesn't work, if they're so triggered, they're so emotionally dysregulated that they're going to disrupt the class and they're going to continue to escalate with you, giving them the space or the opportunity to go somewhere else to calm down can be really, really helpful, whether it's a counselor who they have a good relationship with, whether it's just sitting in the nurse's office, getting a drink of water, you know, whatever it is.

And obviously it's going to be different at different schools, what's available, but it's recognizing that the dysregulation isn't because they're mad at you. It's because they're triggered.

 

PAUL: Would it be recommended to ever pull that kid outside out, you know, maybe out into the hallway and say to the kid, you know, what's going on, talk to me, is that something that would work? I don't know. I’m not a teacher--

 

KATIE: I think it can, yeah, I think it can. I think that, you know, I guess that's kind of part of the assumption, is that there's been those conversations--

 

PAUL: I've seen a lot of after-school specials.

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: I think that for kids who are struggling, I think oftentimes there is official processes that happen, you know, whether it's an individual education plan or a behavioral plan or something of some sort, where there's been some exploration, I think finding out what's going on, if there is a relationship with the kid, being able to say, hey, what's going on, and exploring it I think can be great.

I think if there's not a relationship, making someone talk about why they're triggered can also be triggering, I don't want to talk to you, I don't trust you, I don't trust anybody, I don't trust adults who look like you, I mean, there's--

 

PAUL: So then would it be better to say I just want you to know that I'm a safe person to talk to and if you ever want to talk to me about anything, I'm here for you?

 

KATIE: Yeah, no, I think that that's, showing a willingness and availability to talk, to, you know, I think saying, hey, what's going on, oh, I don't want to talk about it, well, if you ever do, I'm here, like I think you can do that. I think if it's, what's going on, you need to let me know what's going on, I mean, obviously there's very different tenors to those two different conversations.

And I think the people that I've felt were really allies in the schools when I was working with children and working with therapists who were going into the schools is folks who were open to those conversations, who were open to learning about, how do I work with these kids, I want to keep this kid in my class, they've got the educational, you know, they're developmentally at the right spot. They've got the intelligence to do the work.

They're just acting out, and I think it's because of this, you know, and I think also finding your allies in therapists and school-based counselors and those kinds of things, because I think they have the knowledge to be able to help you decipher what's going on with the kid's behavior.

 

PAUL: And one of the reasons why I ask is I've read more than a few surveys where somebody shared a moment in childhood where a teacher was the first person that they opened up to.

 

KATIE: Absolutely, mm-hmm.

 

PAUL: And it changed their life for the better. I also imagine that there are some teachers out there that are predators and that's, you know, one of the ways that they get to kids, is they pretend to be their extra-close special friend, because they recognize that that kid is troubled and shut down.

 

KATIE: Yeah. I think that's a good point. I think that figuring out how to support kids and figuring out who are the actual safe adults and what's okay and what's not okay, and I think opening up communication is very critical.

Because yeah, I've definitely had a lot of folks where the first person they told was, maybe it was a teacher or a tutor or, you know, somebody that was not their parents because their parents maybe were involved or their parents were not involved at all and it was Uncle Joe, you know, like it's, you know, if the parents were engaged, then sometimes it was the school that was helpful.

And then there was other times when the school was doing abuse of their own, so, maybe if it wasn't sexual it was physical. So, yeah, I think it's, who's safe, let's hope kids figure that out.

 

PAUL: This one is about burnout. Regarding burnout, working in the veterinary field and dealing with, oh, euthanasia, death, necropsies, I don't know but it's be a great name for a band, yeah, I can't imagine, whenever I'm in the vet, I always think, how do these people deal with seeing cute little animals in pain or being put to sleep every fucking day.

 

KATIE: Yeah. Yeah, I think with a lot of the helping professions, we see people, animals at their worst. We see people in pain. We see people or animals dying. We see a lot of, the things that I think society doesn't necessarily feel comfortable with. A lot of people have asked me in my therapist work, like how can you hear these stories all the time and still be okay, and I think it's, there's obviously people have different things that they are dealing with and different things that are kind of manageable for them.

But the way that I manage it and the way that I have talked to other helpers and how to manage it, is really to understand that you don't want to completely disconnect from your emotions, because I think that's what happened when I first got into this work. I was reading all these stories, because I was working in a group home for kids who had been removed from their home because of sexual abuse and physical abuse and that kind of stuff.

 

PAUL: Oh, you jumped right in, huh?

 

KATIE: I did [chuckles]. And so, for me, like I would go home and I'd be crying and I'd be so upset, and then at a certain point, especially once the kids started biting me and beating me up and peeing on me and all that good stuff, I kind of got this really thick skin. And I think that can lead to really, really bad burnout, too, is just not being in touch with your feelings at all.

I went to this movie and all the people were crying and it was about, you know, a kid whose mom was in this, the mom was in jail but there was a lot of, you know, abuse, and I was just like, I don't know that that's realistic. Huh, everybody's really upset about this, and this does not seem okay [chuckles]. I have no emotions whatsoever.

And so I don't recommend that because I think that's, that stunts your own emotional expression and those kinds of things, so we still have to be in touch with our emotions and recognize that we're facing something that's truly sad. This is something that's sad and it's okay if there are times when you need to cry, that it's okay, it's okay.

And I think with therapists especially, it's like, well, I'm supposed to be so professional and I can't do this, and I don't necessarily cry with my clients very much, but I certainly am able to hold the space and then sometimes afterwards I'll cry. I'll be like, wow, that was really intense, just imagining this person who I care about, who's sitting in the room with me, is having, had all these things that happened and how do I not cry about that? How do I not have an emotion about it? I have to.

 

PAUL: And I can tell you, seeing a tear roll down a therapist's face when you're talking about stuff is very, very validating.

 

KATIE: Absolutely, because we're in it together, we're experiencing. Now, if the therapist starts crying uncontrollably, that's a different thing--

 

PAUL: That would have made me uncomfortable.

 

KATIE: Yeah. All of a sudden then you have to take care of the therapist again. So, I think when it's, it's something that, you know, there's euthanasia, there's animals who are very sick, there's all of those things, I think it's recognizing that this is tough stuff. It may be less tough for you because you see it all the time. You know, you're in a professional role so there's a little bit more professional armor. It's not necessarily your pet so there's a different relationship. So, there's ways to understand, you know, kind of where do my emotions fit in here a little bit.

But I think it's really about self-care. I mean, it always circles back to self-care, which is how do you feel your own emotions. Don't take on the emotions of the people around you, because I think that's really what can become overwhelming. If you're crying and I'm, my face is sad and all those things, my body is getting kind of a transfer of your emotions, whether I'm sad or not, because I can be present and I can see your sadness, I can honor your sadness and not feel sadness. But if my face is, and I'm--

 

PAUL: I see.

 

KATIE: --my body starts registering, this is sadness, you're sad, and the--

 

PAUL: So it's the way you take it in that's--

 

KATIE: Mm-hmm.

 

PAUL: So, having a consciousness, an awareness, a presence as the situation is in front of you, is how you do it.

 

KATIE: Yeah.

 

PAUL: Because I was just thinking to myself, how do you have any control over what you're feeling when you're presented with something?

 

KATIE: Well, and I think part of it is, is being able to ground yourself, and especially for me with working with, you know, childhood sexual abuse, I am safe, recognizing I'm in this room, I'm safe, what this person is talking about is sad, is hard, there's a lot that we have to unpack here. I start looking at what is my role here, how do I take care of this role, but for me, I consciously don't think, how would I deal with that.

 

PAUL: Because it's not about you.

 

KATIE: It's not helpful. It's not helpful to think, well, how would I deal it? I might later, but in the moment it's, how is this client handling this, what am I seeing, and really getting some clinical distance but also being emotionally present, saying, wow, that's really tough stuff.

 

PAUL: So, it's a real balancing act.

 

KATIE: It's a balancing act, and I think it's something that a lot of people in fields that are not therapy don't learn how to do. Part of it's even just grounding and having a neutral face versus recognizing that if you frown, if you, you know, if you mirror too much that the emotions will become yours.

 

PAUL: And I can tell you from my experience that was something I was scanning, and probably do still scan constantly, is any facial expression when I'm sharing something or asking a question--

 

KATIE: No.

 

PAUL: --where I'm insecure, and that, seeing empathy and caring in moderation on my therapist's face has been hugely healing.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. And I've actually, I think, you know, I don't think that you should have a blank face. I think it's more of a neutral and a soft face.

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

KATIE: Because you've had the people, oh, that's so sad--

 

PAUL: Yeah, I've never had that and would not want that, yeah.

 

KATIE: Well, not as a therapist, but like other people who, you know, who are just there in it with you, just, you know, you can see all of the emotions on their face and it's clear that they're kind of, it's like they're dragging the emotion and be like, oh, this is now mine. And I think that having a soft face, having more of a neutral face is important.

Now, the reason I'm continuing with this is I think what you described of scanning and wanting to kind of be able to read the therapist I think is something that I've talked to my clients about because I'm not a Freudian blank-slate therapist, because I don't think it's helpful for people who have had childhood trauma.

If you don't express any of your own opinions or any of your own emotions, you don't have, if you're not a real person, then the other person is kind of stuck guessing, am I okay, because it's not a fully developed kind of relationship. And the therapist relationship is unique, but I think having a fuller relationship where you know a little bit of who I am, within reason, and I know who you are and we're interacting as human being is much better than being completely blank.

So there's, again, that balance of, how do I make sure I'm only experiencing I'm own emotions, I'm being empathic, but I'm also being a human being [chuckles].

 

PAUL: And I think for a lot of us early in therapy we're still skeptical, so we're waiting to see the bullshit, and so if somebody's a blank slate to me, completely blank slate, then I'm not going to believe anything, because I'm going to say, well, this is just something they learned to recite.

 

KATIE: So, just because I want to make sure I answered the question, though, for the woman who, or the man or whoever was in the veterinarian situation, I think it's recognizing that there's self-care that's required, giving space if, you know, I think there is probably times it's great to be working in a veterinarian's office. You get lots of animals and all these things and there's the shots and, you know, all those things, and then there's the times when it's really, really hard and recognizing, I need to be extra gentle with myself and being okay to have had a reaction.

I think too often people who work in the medical field and the helping fields, they pretend like they have to be impervious to this stuff, and that doesn't help anybody, because then there's not the support of, wow, that was a tough day.

 

PAUL: Yeah, that makes sense.

 

KATIE: It's like, oh, can you believe that, da, da, da, da, you know, like it can become into this more, not macho, but almost like, let's make it all a joke [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Yeah, glib, dark sense of humor, yeah.

 

KATIE: Yeah.

 

PAUL: After spending 18 years in radio, my work has always defined me. Two years ago, my station changed ownership, flipped formats and laid off 38 people, myself included. Being in mid-management, I took it very hard and felt I'd let my staff down, even though it was beyond my control. Ever since, I just haven't had my mojo and can't get out of my rut. Any suggestions?

To me, it's unclear whether it's their personal, their professional rut or their personal guilt about having to lay these people off. What's your take?

 

KATIE: I mean, I think there's a lot that we don't know about from this question, so I'll go based on kind of my own assumptions. But I think when you're in the role of a manager there's a lot of responsibility that you take for the people who work for you, I think if you're a good manager, that there's that thought that I want to make sure that what I'm doing is going to support these people who were doing the work that needs to be done.

And when you're not able to keep those jobs, and I think even personally having a layoff and also having to lay other people off at the same time, that's a trauma. It's, you know, especially if your identity is in the role that you've played, if you felt responsible for these people who are now having to look for other jobs, there's a big possibility to have trauma, because depending on the environment before the layoff and what the layoff meant and all those things, there can be stuff to process there.

And I think there's also that piece of, if your identity was this and now there's not a chance to be able to do it, how do I redefine myself? How do I find my next iteration? And it can feel really overwhelming.

And if you've, if you're really tied, like for folks who are really tied to their professional persona, I am someone in radio, I am a manager in radio, and you lose that, if you don't have the other pieces filled in, it can feel like you've just lost yourself completely.

You know, folks who have a lot of hobbies and other passion projects and relationships and family members and all those things, you know, I'm not saying that this is always going to protect from that, but there's other places to, you know, focus your attention on these other relationships, on these other things, but if you've been working really hard at your job and you're spending tons of time there and then it's just gone, you have to kind of create a whole life again.

And so I think being able to identify, okay, who am I, how do I want to continue forward, what are the things that I liked to do that I can do again, what are the things that I didn't like to do that I don't want to do again, and being able to kind of think through like, what are my next steps, can be helpful.

If you find something that sparks that excitement, that sparks that mojo and says, you know what, I really want to do that, that would be super exciting, if that's not possible, if it's like, well, I've done all those things and I've taken a million quizzes and I've talked to a ton of people and I just can't find anything or I found something that probably would work and I've sent out applications and I'm just not that excited about it, I think if it's something that there's just the mojo is really not coming back no matter what you try, it may be time to talk to a therapist and say, hey, I think I'm suffering from some depression or I think that there's some anxiety that's come in or maybe there was some trauma.

Like, I can't diagnose this, but I, you know, if there's not progress being made with kind of purposeful planning and exploration, I think it's time to talk to somebody who can help.

 

PAUL: It sounds like a lot of things could be put under the umbrella of, you know what, maybe get off the couch and stop obsessing about it and talk to somebody about it.

 

KATIE: Well, I think people can live in their heads really, really well.

 

PAUL: Really well.

 

KATIE: And I think if, I don't know many people who living in their heads is really a good thing. I think oftentimes there is a lot of anxiety, there's a lot of depression, there's the negative, you know, whether it's, oh, my gosh, I don't know what I'm going to do, I'm like, la, la, la, la, la, and being really worried, or if it's, I'm never going to do anything, I'm never going to amount to anything, and all those negative messages that maybe you've gotten from different places throughout your life. It can, you sit there, if you're on the couch or you're in your head, that's where it goes.

I think being able to have purposeful activity, even if it's something completely unrelated to where you want to end up, just purposeful activity that starts putting a focus somewhere else can be really, really helpful, but being on the couch in your head, not helpful.

 

PAUL: And in closing, give us just a couple of tips for people who have never really thought about self-care and maybe a couple of suggestions for ways they can ease into doing it or, at the very least, thinking about how to find ways to practice self-care.

 

KATIE: Okay. I think the first thing is figure out what works for you. I think too many people say, okay, well, I must do yoga because that's what everyone tells me to do, or I need to meditate for 30 minutes a day, and then I also need to make sure that I'm going to the gym and I'm eating the right foods and it must be a gluten-, dairy-free diet, maybe paleo, like there's so many suggestions [chuckles] that may or may not work for you, so figure out what works.

So if it's, I love going outdoors and hiking, that's one for me, and so I say, that's healthy. It gets me some sun. It gets me some exercise. I love being outdoors. So, I'm going to incorporate going for walks and hiking as my self-care. If people hate going outside, then don't do that. That's not for you. So, figure out what type of physical activity feels good, so there's that part.

And then I think it's also looking at making sure that you're getting enough sleep, and that can be different for different people. Some people need 10 hours, some people need seven. I think most people need more than four, so we need to get more sleep.

Making sure that what you're eating is as nutritious, feels good. That, I'm not a [chuckles] nutrition or registered dietician so I can't speak to that, but I, you know, make sure that the food that you're eating is good, so take care of basic needs.

I always say to folks, if you're thinking about self-care, think about a baby that hasn't gone to the bathroom, hasn't--

 

[Chuckling]

 

KATIE: --hasn't fed, hasn't slept, that's us inside. We just don't, you know, when we've not had those things, we're like the little baby crying on the floor. Like, we need to take care of basic needs and make sure that we're doing it consistently, so scheduling meals, scheduling sleep time, scheduling making sure you have enough water, all those things to take care of basic needs.

And then I think it really goes to, what are the things that feed your soul? Some people hate yoga. Some people hate meditation. Some people are more, you know, they like different types of things. Some people, you know, like to do their meditation within their faith practice, and there's a lot of different ways to kind of address spiritual self-care.

I think some people love time to go spend with a ton of people. Some people would rather have a few close friends and more kind of time for solitude. So, I think it's figuring out what works for you and putting it in.

 

PAUL: And I would say, take note of how your body feels after doing that. Do you feel more energized than you did before? That's how I know support groups are good for me, other than my life working out better, is I feel more relaxed and alert and happy after I leave there.

 

KATIE: Absolutely. I think that's good. I think sometimes when you're shifting habits, like if going to the gym is your thing, you may not feel energized afterwards, so if you're feeling like overall I'm feeling better, so you might want to test some of those tings out, but I think generally, if you're feeling energized, if you're feeling fulfilled, if you're feeling positive, it's something that you need to keep in your schedule, and I think it's making them non-negotiable.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

KATIE: You can reschedule but you cannot cancel, and rescheduling is not the best because oftentimes it'll just keep being pushed off.

 

PAUL: Katie, thank you so much. If people want to get a hold of you, what's the best way to do that?

 

KATIE: I have my Web site, which is EvolvetoThriveConsulting.com. That's where I work with the burnout. I also have a phone number, 424-241-3205, or you can reach me at Katie@EvolvetoThriveConsulting.com.

 

PAUL: Thank you, Katie.

Many, many thanks to Katie. I really enjoyed talking to her and would love to have her back on the show. This episode that you just heard, and are still hearing, will soon be transcribed and available on our Web site. Many thanks to Accurate Secretarial for donating their time and helping out the show. It is very much appreciated.

And speaking of helping out the show, one of the things that we can always use in addition to monthly donors, etc., is frequent flyer miles so that I can go record non-Americans again, like I just did. It's super expensive to travel outside the country, and we don't really have a budget for it, so it would be great.

If you had frequent flyer miles to donate, either e-mail me through the Web site or go to our support the show little drop-down menu and there's a whole thing about how to donate frequent flyer miles. I just found out that United charges you to transfer frequent flyer miles to somebody else, and it's like the cost to transfer them is as much as it would be to buy a new ticket, possibly even more expensive. It's [chuckles], they are really, really testing their clientele.

Which leads me to my next thing, which is I love when corporations have a heart, and Bombas socks has a heart. Bombas was started when two guys, Randy and Dave, heard that socks were the number one requested clothing item in homeless shelters. So, for every pair of socks that Bombas sells, they donate a pair to those in need, which is awesome.

And then this is kind of funny. Dave promised Randy that he'd get a Bombas logo tattoo when they donated a million pairs of socks, and he thought it'd probably take about 10 years. It took two and a half, and now Dave has a Bombas tattoo and a good story to share about it. I love a good tattoo story.

I always love [chuckles] when you see somebody has a tattoo that says, you know, like, you know, Brad loves Lynn and you can see he's in the process of having it removed [chuckles]. Oh, you just want to walk by him and go, I guess Lynn was a handful, huh?

Anyway, Bombas socks are great. I tried a couple of different pairs of them. I like the ones that go just above the ankles. They're perfect for wearing with high-top sneakers. They have a low-profile one that I really like that goes great with shoes like Vans, and they're just, they're well designed. There's no annoying toe seam. They don't fall down your leg. There's added arch support. They've solved pretty much every annoying-sock problem imaginable, except for crushing spiritual loneliness, but that actually might not have anything to do with my socks.

So, for the best socks in the history of feet, visit Bombas.com/mental. Do it today, you'll get an additional 20% off your first purchase. That's B-o-m-b-a-s dot com slash mental for 20% off, Bombas.com/mental.

And I want to give some love to Blue Apron. I fell in love with Blue Apron when I tried them, I guess it would have been probably about two years ago, and I've been doing them ever since. I pay to have it every week, and it's totally affordable. It's less than 10 bucks a meal. And it's delivered right to your door, seasonal recipes with step-by-step instructions, pre-portioned ingredients, and you can even customize your recipes based on your preferences and select a delivery option that works out for you, and there's no weekly commitment, so you only get deliveries when you want them.

Some of the meals available in June include warm smoked trout and asparagus salad with fingerling potatoes and garlic croutons, spiced zucchini enchiladas with creamy lime and tomato rice, elote-style vegetable, elote, am I pronouncing that correctly, e-l-o-t-e, style vegetable tostadas with summer squash, poblano peppers and cilantro rice, and peach-honey-glazed chicken with mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens and Thai basil. That one sounds really good.

Why do I love Blue Apron? Let me count the ways. I learn cooking skills. I get to taste flavors from around the world. It's a form of self-care. It gets me to slow down and be present in my day. And I get to eat. So, check out this week's menu and get your first three meals free with free shipping by going to BlueApron.com/mental. You will love how good it feels and tastes to create incredible home-cooked meals with Blue Apron. So, don't wait. That's BlueApron.com/mental. Blue Apron, a better way to cook.

We have some surveys. I think we have, lately I've just only been feeling the Awfulsome, the Happy Moments and the Shame and Secrets. I don't know why I felt like I needed to take a break from the other ones. Sometimes I get a little, I don't know, burned out is too strong of a word, but just where I need like a break from certain things. Oh, wouldn't it be nice if you could take a break from yourself? I think that's why they invented comas [chuckles].

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by In the Jungle Melody, and she writes, my boyfriend just informed me that a band that I've been listening to every day to help me with my clinical depression, he just informed me that members of it are racist assholes [chuckles].

That is a bit of a conundrum, you know, what do you do if you like their music but you don't like their worldview? I mean, like what if [chuckles], this is so awful, what if Hitler had come out with like [chuckles], if like today Hitler was alive and he came out with a really fun app for the iPhone, but you didn't know it was him until you had already gotten addicted to it? Like, if you found out right now that Hitler actually invented Candy Crush? I kind of want to go back and rewind that [chuckles], but I'm not going to. The ghost of Herbert spurs me on.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a woman who calls herself So Huh? She is bisexual. I identify as straight but I am bi-curious, which I think counts as bisexual, question mark. That would actually make you bi-curious curious. Oh, we're going down a rabbit hole.

She's in her 30s, raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? One and she reported it, one and she never reported it, and then also stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse.

She writes, stuff happened at age six, eight, 13, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35. I am so sorry that you, wow. She writes, I tried once reporting a psychotherapist who was really inappropriate for four years, telling me when he was feeling aroused by our conversation.

This is so hard to read because I like to think of this show as an entertaining or, at the very least, compelling cheerleader for help, for therapy, for support groups, etc., and when I read something like this, there's a part of me that doesn't want to read it publicly because I'm so afraid somebody out there is going to hear this and go, see, nobody's safe. But I also want people's voices to be heard. So, I feel like I should read it and stop trying to fucking rescue the world.

And plus, it just makes me so fucking angry. I thought you didn't get angry, Paul. Anyway, telling me when he was feeling aroused by our conversations, saying he saw me to the door so he could watch me walk down the hall because my long waist gave me a nice ass, telling me about whom he had sexually abused. That is so fucked up.

Reading my private notes written by other clients about their ritualistic abuse. The investigator was really aggressive and I withdrew my complaint because I was so frightened by how much information she was able to pry from me against my comfort level. I've had other half-assed attempts at reporting, but I would start to say what happened and I'd be met with a whole level of questioning that made me feel really uncomfortable. Reporting has not been an empowering experience.

Even doing an intake form with a psychiatrist about my past sexual trauma isn't an empowering experience. Really, you're going to ask why someone who has been groomed for trauma just took her final college exam after being raped rather than going to the police, really? You want me to explain why I wouldn't submit for a rape exam if I wasn't even going to submit for a routine Pap smear? Shit, I don't want to talk to you anymore.

I am so sorry on behalf of humanity that not only did you have to experience all of this abuse, but then the very people who are supposed to help you abuse you again. And what a sick fuck that therapist is. Oh, my. I try to not be judgmental but when people in those types of positions of authority, which would include parents.

Anyways, she's been physically abused, emotionally abused. She writes, my mom threatened to kill herself in my presence from about the time I was six. When we argued, she threatened to kill my pets or put me in foster care so I would, quote, be raped every day. I ran away to therapy and she made me quit and threatened to sue the therapist because I was a minor. She threw things. She screamed. My dad bruised her up. I was publicly spanked far past puberty with my pants and underwear forcefully pulled off.

It sounds pretty stupid, but I had a brother seven to eight years older who terrorized me daily, popped out behind corners, really aggressive and unwanted pinning and tickling, being stalked in my own home, never feeling physically safe, never figuring out how to get away from him or out from under him when he was spitting on me or making me pee my pants. It haunted my nightmares as a child. No one ever fixed it. I felt powerless over my own body and unsafe in my own home every day. Pretty dumb, but I think I'm really sensitive. I wish I would have figured out a way to outsmart him, but he was really smart, too, and over twice my age.

It is not dumb, and it really sucks that you were raised in a home where you're blaming yourself for being sensitive, where you're worried that these things aren't a big deal and that you should be able to handle them better. I mean, who could handle that? I think even a robot would snap.

Any positive experiences? Yes, I don't want to ruin anyone's job or life or anything. I'm not really sure what that means. It sounds like she's trying to have that balance out whether or not she's going to report somebody. I don’t know.

Darkest thoughts. Killing my disabled child so that he doesn't have to be vulnerable and risk being abused, then killing myself.

Darkest secrets. I engaged in medical BDSM role-play when I was eight. It makes it so I can never run for public office or anything like that because it's so weird. I don't understand why that would, first of all, if you made everybody in politics that had a fetish get out of politics, there'd be tumbleweeds blowing through [chuckles] government buildings.

Let's see. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I like medical BDSM fantasies. How does that make me feel? Sharing that here, I feel nothing, sort of meh, just me all you want, fuckers. I am not judging you.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? I don't know that I have anything I need to say to anyone. I'm really bad at fantasizing about other people's future reactions. I just, I don't know, I have nothing to say.

What do you wish for? Peace, understanding, support and validation. Have you shared these things with others? I don't think people get it. I'm sort of impossible to understand.

How do you feel after writing these things down? A little sad. Anything you'd like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? You, too? Sucks, huh? Yeah.

You are not impossible to understand to me, and I'm going to venture a guess the majority of our listeners, and I hope that you can stop judging yourself and understand that anybody who experienced the horror and the betrayal of trust you have experienced time and time again, anybody would be struggling with those feelings. And fuck anybody that judges your sexual fantasies if you're doing it with a consenting partner.

I have a nurse thing, and I don't think, is that a, no, because it's not BDSM, but it is a medical thing. I think a lot of people have a thing for nurses. I'd be interested to know how many people who have nurse fantasies, like a nurse caring for them and then it becoming sexual, I wonder how many people that have that had a really cold mother or, at the very least, a mother that was inconsistent in her warmth or whatever you want to call it.

Because I'm pretty sure I know where mine comes from, because really the first time I remember feeling seen and taken care of in a moment of real, real need was in the hospital, recovering from an operation on my testicles when I was like 11, and I was so embarrassed.

And I've shared this before on the podcast, but this nurse would come in. I just remember she was from Philadelphia. I don't remember her name. But she made me feel so special and so normal, and she would come in and she would sing songs but she would insert my name into it, and it just, it's the closest thing I think I've ever experienced to what a normal mother-son affection must feel like.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Chelsea, and she writes, and I love this one because it's so simple but it's like the bedrock of recovery, little things like this. And she writes, looking down at my freshly painted toenails, feeling full of helpfulness due to finally showing some self-care.

I mean, that is the way forward, you know. Washing the bedding when it starts to smell, it seems like common sense to the average person, but to those of us that battle depression or lots of other things, it can be like so hard, so hard.

I'm just going to read part of this one. This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a trans female who calls herself Years of Entropy, and she is pansexual, in her 30s, raised in a totally chaotic environment, and really narcissistic parents, abusive on all levels, except sexual abuse.

Darkest thoughts. I have OCD and I get these persistent unwanted thoughts that are really intrusive. Like, I was at a bus stop in the rain the other day and this crackhead girl started a fight with me and these thoughts come from threats and I imagined her attacking me.

This type of thing always triggers a back and forth in my mind, a move, countermove, where it becomes extremely violent and bloody and I always die.

I imagined her kicking me out into the street and being hit by a car. Then I think of catching her foot and throwing her down and kicking her neck, but then I realize I wouldn't see her foot coming, but maybe could grab her jacket as I fell and we'd both end up in the street. Maybe the drag of her weight would make us fall on the sidewalk, but she would be on top of me, punching, ripping and scratching as I try to gouge out her eyes, but she manages to maul my face and strangle me, both of us a bloody mess, I'd die in the street.

Then I shake my head and come back to reality and walk around the side of the overhang and stand in the rain as she calls me a faggot and gloats about her victory.

Wow. Thank you for sharing that. That, the onslaught that people in the trans community experience every day is so much worse than you could ever imagine.

Darkest secrets. When I was a kid, I used to masturbate by fingering my butt. I was also obsessed with the difference in genitals between my cousin and I. It wasn't sexual, really, just that it was different. I remember pressing my face against her underwear to smell her vagina when we were little, not aware of how I was violating her.

My aunt set me straight and I feel horrible about it to this day. I pretend that she doesn't remember, but I do and we are the same age. When I hear people write in to this show about similar experiences and hearing their reactions, it breaks my heart. Maybe it's not the end of the world, but it's not nothing.

Thankfully, after my recent suicide attempt, she has been one of three family members to be supportive and not guilt me. She calls me a few times a week to just check in and we laugh about stuff, which is rare since my attempt.

Side note. Don't guilt people who have attempted suicide or suggest that they are manipulative. Fuck you, Dad.

It sounds like you have a beautiful relationship with your cousin, and you were children. You were children. You know, I would file what happened there under experimentation. That was not abusive. That was not abusive. And if it's still bothering you, bring it up with your cousin and clear the air, but let your cousin love you. You are denying your, the best way to love your cousin is to let her love you. That's what I was trying to say.

Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. It used to be that I wanted to be dominated and humiliated by a well-endowed trans woman, but since being on hormones, I just dream of being a woman with a loving partner, with a healthy sexual relationship. Ha-ha. It might sound really normal, but after two years of gradual abandonment by friends, family and my ex, I feel like I'll be alone forever. It makes me happy to not dwell on humiliation, but sad at how much of a fantasy a healthy relationship seems anymore.

You know, I couldn't help but think as I was reading this that, if you transpose this back X number of years, those would be the words coming out of somebody's mouth about being gay. And while there's still a tremendous mountain to climb for people who are gay or lesbian, or anywhere on the queer spectrum, I couldn't help but think of the progress society has made in accepting them and hope that that is in store and that you don't give up hope. Because you sound like a really, really sweet soul, and we need sweet souls. We need sweet souls.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by [chuckles] a guy who calls himself Big Red Meat, and he writes, years ago my brother had moved to Seattle without mentioning it to me and, when he was traveling through our city I lived in he didn't stop in to say good-bye. I was rather hurt by this, mentioned it to him and damaged our relationship.

This spring, he was traveling through and stopped by on his way back to Seattle. I thought he was staying a few days since he had been driving all night and taking a nap. I was in my room masturbating. He barged in without knocking, which my family seems to do, and informed me he was leaving to go back.

He went in to give me a hug, and instead of stopping, I looked him in the eyes and kept stroking. We didn't speak for a few months. Awfulsome.

Ah, I will, I would not be surprised to have your brother fill out a survey and, what would he call it, I really should have knocked but what the fuck? I'm curious as to know what your intent was, because I don't know, there's part of me wants to find that funny and part of me doesn't find that funny, finds it like really aggressive, but I don't know your relationship with your brother. And I don't know why I'm adding all this, but I hope it doesn't feel like I'm judging you. I’m not judging you. I'm just trying to file it away in my head.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by an agender person who calls themselves Vomit in the Street, and their Happy Moment, crying in bed with my eyes closed. After a while, I feel my cat press her snout to my eye and hold it there for a few seconds. I thought, this is what support and love feel like. Why can't people do this?

That one touched me so much, and I think especially because that's what Herbert would do. Herbert would come up on the bed, or if you were sitting in a chair and he wanted to be petted, or when you were on the ground with him, he would, he loved to be, we had a word for it [chuckles], we would call it bridging, because he would, like if you were on all fours on the ground, he would pass underneath you like you were a bridge and he loved to then take his head and just kind of hold it against parts of your body, or if you were kissing him, against your face, and that was like one of my favorite, favorite things about Herbert.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself The Slightly Less Fucked-up Twin, and she writes, my sister and I grew up in, or my sisters and I grew up in a war zone, mentally, physically, sexually abused and neglected. Because of that we have a connection and bond that's virtually indestructible.

My identical twin struggles with heroin addiction and has burned every bridge but ours, hers and mine. Even our big sister had to step away to save herself. I don't blame her. I stayed because the, quote, twin thing wouldn't let me save myself. Imagine empathy magnifying to the point of codependency and then multiply that by a fuck ton.

Fast forward through years of absolute hell, crippling fear and anxiety on my part, countless abscesses, infections, overdoses and Section 36's on hers. Today I visited my twin and had not seen her for months. She is in recovery. Her eyes were beautiful and bright. Her skin was glowing. She put on a few healthy pounds and she smiled, genuine smiles.

Just the other day, my big sister answered the phone and talked with my twin again. They hadn't spoken in months. Today, Big Sis and I reminisced about the time my twin's fingers were swollen from a new med and she couldn't get her ring off. We had spent an hour on the floor laughing to the point of tears, covered in every kind of oily or slippery liquid we could get our hands on, trying to pull this damn ring off. That moment was so organic and innocent. I love my sisters. I love them so much.

That's a beautiful thing. People who have good relationships with family members, do not take it for granted. Do not take that love and closeness and laughter for granted.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by Laila, or Laila, L-a-i-l-a. She's bisexual, in her 30s, raised in a stable and safe environment, never been sexually abused, never been physically or emotionally abused, and you're thinking, well, why is she filling this out? I'm not, but maybe you are.

Darkest thoughts. Sometimes when my husband doesn't answer my texts or calls for a long period of time, I have this fantasy that maybe he was involved in an awful accident and was killed. Sometimes this brings me relief because it would set me free of being burdened down by his depression and the constant struggle to try to, quote, fix him.

I would encourage you, if you are listening to this, to try to not fix him and to just listen to him and hug him, remind him you love him. Ask him if there's anything to do. And if you need breaks from it, say, you know, I just need a little break, I love you, I'm not leaving, but I just need some time to recharge my battery. That might help. In fact, you just heard an entire episode about it [chuckles].

Darkest secrets. I'm a 30-year-old female identifying as, quote, straight to most people except my husband and a few close friends. I feel so guilty about watching drunk-college-girl porn, but it turns me on so much. I work at a child advocacy center and it is my day job to advocate against rape culture, which drunk-girl-videotaped sex, in parentheses, think Girls Gone Wild, definitely falls into.

I imagine that these girls are likely straight but have their inhibitions lowered by alcohol, and it makes me angered that I get so turned on despite knowing that these girls have been taken advantage of. However, this is a situation that I fantasize inserting myself into over and over. I think it's because I also consider myself, quote, relationship straight but sexually bi, and so I sort of identify with these girls.

You know, my thought is what we have shared many times on this podcast, which is, if you're not hurting somebody in real life or contributing to some type of, I don't know what you want to call it, if you are not harming society by what you're doing, if it is just you and your vagina, forgive yourself. Embrace what turns you on, or, you know, talk to somebody about it, a therapist, but I personally don't think anything is wrong with you. There are tons of people who identify as feminists that have fantasies about rape, etc., and none of it means that they want it to happen in real life.

And as we've shared many times on the podcast, there's a book by Jack Morin called, oh, it's, what the fuck is the name of it? Anyways, he studied people's fantasies and he came up with this theory that it's actually because you're morally opposed to it that it becomes a turn-on. So, in reality, it's proof that you're not bullshitting about this, which isn't to say that every person who is morally opposed to something is turned on by it, but it is a thing that happens. It is a thing that happens, and it has nothing to do with your character.

What, if anything, do you wish for? I wish to be in a relationship that brings me joy, happiness and love. I'm only 30 and just can't stand being in a loveless marriage for the rest of my life, but I'm also too much of a wimp to leave and start over.

Have you shared these things with others? I've shared this with my husband on multiple occasions, but then we ended up doing nothing about it and continuing our lives as they stand. How do you feel after writing these things down? I'm crying.

Well, I want to send you some love and a hug and encourage you to keep advocating for yourself and think about your needs and what it is that you want, and wanting to, being in a relationship that doesn't bring you joy, happiness or love, but being afraid to leave and start over, that's a very fruitful topic to head to therapy or back to couples counseling for.

I personally think individual therapy, it sounds like you did group, or couples therapy with your husband, but it might be really good for you to find a place to just let loose on your own and start to unpack all those layers in your head that tell you, oh, you can't do that, you can't think this, you're a bad person if you want that.

I am going to venture a guess that there was some type, that it was not safe for you to have certain opinions or feelings in your family growing up, that it wasn't encouraged.

This is filled out by Smiley Face. It's a Happy Moment. And she's 15, and she writes, today my therapist said I've made enough progress that I don't need to see her over the summer, exclamation point. I'm really glad that I've made steps in coping with my mental issues and I'm proud of the work I have done and the shit that I have conquered. That, I can't even tell you how much that fires me up.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a guy who calls himself Lost in Seattle, and he is bisexual, in his 20s, was raised in a totally chaotic environment, one mom, seven kids in a mobile home. That sounds like the title of a really awful viral video.

Ever been the victim of sexual abuse. Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts. When I was seven years old, a friend of my brother took me into the woods and had me give him head. He was 13. Yes, that is sexual abuse. While it's true that that guy was also a kid, what you experienced is straight-up sexual abuse, and what was going on with that kid is a separate issue.

Anyway, continuing. At the time, I didn't really know what was happening. I didn't know that someone could get pleasure from their genitals. I just did what he said because I wasn't in a position to deny him. Part of me feels angry about the incident. This smug teenage kid created sexual confusion in me that would mutate into deeper trauma as I grow older. The other part of me is way too tired to give a fuck.

I would probably bet, too, that the part of you that is tired is actually depressed, because it's so much easier to just keep this pushed down than to be battling that anger every day.

He's been physically and emotionally abused. When I was five, I was present for the fight that led to my parents' divorce. They fought right in the other room, yelling at the top of their lungs. When it was all over, I screamed for my father to come back as he jumped in his car and abandoned me for the next year.

My borderline personality disorder starts here. My brother took steroids and got big in high school. I was the fifth-grader he took his rage out on, bruises the size of NFL footballs, Paul. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

Any positive experiences with the abusers? My brother is my brother. Darkest thoughts. My sister deals with heroin addiction and is constantly off and on it. I think all the time about how much I want to shoot up with her.

Darkest secrets. Craigslist casual encounters. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I like being dominated by women. When I was two, my cute blond neighbor, who was three, pushed me down onto the cement while we were playing on the speed bump between our houses. It is my fantasy to locate her and be dominated for the final time. I imagine she will end up killing me.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? I would tell my first love how sorry I was for taking advantage of our relationship.

What, if anything, do you wish for? Homework. It sounds stupid, but I miss having to do homework since I dropped out of college. It filled so much of my time and now I struggle to find things to fill my time.

Have you shared these things with others? Not really, tidbits here and there. I've never felt very comfortable sharing my personal problems with others, even my parents.

How do you feel after writing these things down? A little better, a little worse, definitely more tired. Is there anything you'd like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? Just fill your time with something constructive. I can't seem to do it, though. Sorry.

Your survey moved me so, so much, and as I was reading it, I was thinking, it would be so great for you to connect to people who can relate to your experience, and there are tons of people who can relate to your experience. But you're not going to probably bump into them crossing the street or riding the bus.

It's probably going to take group therapy or a support group, but I think it could really, really help you, and the people who do really well in support groups are the ones that make it a pillar in their life and do the work involved in it, work like journaling, you know, self-reflection writing, helping mentor other people in the program. And the reason I mention this is you miss doing homework. You can kill two birds with one stone.

You could tap in to your love of doing assignments and the benefit of being in a support group, and you would experience the full benefit of support groups, because support groups are best utilized when you go to them consistently, you let people in there get to know you, you get vulnerable.

Some people you'll find you don't want to let them get too close to you, so there's certain things that you'll only share with people that you've gotten to know and trust in the group. Some friendships will come and go. But in there, you will feel understood and you deserve that.

And I would maybe consider contacting the Rape and Incest National Network, because what you experienced when you were seven is trauma. That's sexual trauma. Not to mention all the shit that happened in your family, and your dad peeling out, oh, that's so heartbreaking.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a guy who calls himself Stranger in a Strange Land. And he writes, my brother and his fiancée were planning their wedding. My sister-in-law especially, let's call her Ruby, had seen how my mother had effectively taken over the wedding planning for my wife and I when we got married. Every issue turned into a fight. Every good idea had to be hers. And it even escalated to the point that my mother called our seven-year-old flower girl a bitch for her dress.

Well, our wedding has since passed, and now that Ruby and my brother are planning their wedding, Ruby had gotten wise to my mother's tricks. She shut down my mom whenever she tried to butt into the planning. This was causing no end of drama.

One time, my brother had to field a call from my mom. She was trying to do an end-run around Ruby. Fortunately, they had a unified front and he politely shut her suggestions down one at a time. When my mother started dissolving into histrionics, my brother fired right back, Mom, what are you hoping to do here? You are not planning the wedding. This is our special day, not yours, and is this what you did to such-and-such and his wife, is that why they don't talk to you anymore? You don't have to come to the wedding, and if you keep this shit up, you won't.

When I heard that story, I was grinning from ear to ear. Not only had my brother developed his spine, in spite of our upbringing, he stood by Ruby, pointed out my mother's unacceptable behavior, and validated all that my wife and I had been through with my mom.

I love the man that my brother has become, but it was a tough battle for both of us to fight. Side note, my mother views each of the two couples in opposite ways. In my marriage, my wife is the good one, and everything that goes wrong with us is my fault. In my brother's marriage, he is the good one and everything that goes wrong is Ruby's fault. It is awful to have a mother who so clearly plays favorites and has to control everything, but awesome to see her called out on her manipulative ways by her golden child. That was a great one. Thank you for that.

And that, that, you know, that to me is like the, you know, the one I read of the 15-year-old girl whose therapist told her how well she was doing. It's like this is, you know, I wouldn't, I wouldn't put all the effort that I do into support groups and doing this show and going to therapy and talking on the phone with friends, if this shit didn't work. Because deep down, I don't like to waste my time [chuckles].

If I think I'm going to fail at something or it might not work out, my instinct is to just go play Civilization for seven hours and not think about it. My point being, there's no doubt in my mind this stuff works. Unfortunately, it's never immediate, it's never linear, and it's a lot of two steps forward, one step back. But the journey is fucking beautiful. It's fucking beautiful.

I'm going to end with this one. It's an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Dribble Without a Cause. And she writes, I was at the bus stop, running late for a mental health evaluation that had been set up the day before, after a series of events involving me scream threatening suicide so loud that it echoed up and down our block, the police being called, and methamphetamine.

Now, it was a very sunny day and I tried my best to enjoy the moment as I waited for the bus. I noticed a homeless man on a bench feeding a duck, and my delight quickly turned to worry as I remembered that ducks mate for life and this adult female would surely have a male in tow.

I turned to look across the busy, I looked across the busy two-lane street to see a cautious male duck stepping out into the road. I ran into the street. He was across one lane, so I knew I could alert the driver barreling towards me without getting hurt, and hey, I tried to kill myself yesterday so what's one bro in a BMW?

The car stopped and I waved thank you, but ducks are small and slow, so the driver assumed I was a crazy person and honked. I loudly said, it's a duck. I was trying to help him cross the road. I turned to see the duck hop over the curb to safety and the annoyed driver apparently not sharing my overwhelmed sense of relief and joy honked his horn a second time.

Maybe it was the meth withdrawal, the trauma of having strangers come to my home to make me go have another stranger tell me if I'm crazy or not, or I just really love ducks. But my rage overflowed onto the bro in the BMW. I put both middle fingers up and approached his car, screaming it's a fucking duck, asshole. You would murder innocent animals just to get to work on time, you piece of shit.

The driver honked more and drove around me. I walked back to the bus stop, where 20 or so people were now staring at me. Even the bum who was still feeding the now-happily reunited duck couple was giving me a look.

I noticed that he was feeding them doughnut holes. I said, that car didn't kill them, but diabetes might. No one laughed at my joke [chuckles]. Oh, that makes me so happy. There is something, especially to comedians, so glorious about a joke falling flat, a good joke falling flat, because that was a good joke.

And thank you, guys, for your surveys. Thank you for your support. I hope you heard something in our episode that helped you, inspired you, comforted you, put you to sleep. Some people do listen to this to help fall asleep. I guess it comforts them.

 

[Closing music swells]

 

[Whispering] You are getting very sleepy. But I hope you got something out of it. And never forget that you are not alone. And thanks for listening.

 

[Closing music]

 

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