Dear Satya: How do you ghost someone nicely?

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From Goop's Snapchat magazine

Larissa,

I’m sorry to say it, but…you can’t. As you well know, to “ghost” someone is to disappear on them without explanation, to leave someone wondering what happened to your correspondence or friendship. To do so is to leave them with a void that they are left to fill. There is no nice way to leave someone with question marks, forced to explain your absence with their own self-hatred (was it because I said that thing, or because I didn’t pay?), or with concern for your well-being (did she get in an accident? Should I keep trying to see if she’s okay?). The anxiety you cause by ghosting is avoidable and, if you’re concerned about such things, worth avoiding.

Just because there is not a nice way to ghost, does not mean there are no easy ways to end a relationship, or to set boundaries. Often times, doing so will cause the other person to feel hurt, but at least they will have clarity. This takes courage, which the act of ghosting is actively seeking to avoid. Setting a simple boundary and offering some clarity on why you won’t be in touch any longer is, while maybe a little more scary at first, ultimately much more likely to cease communication without the long-term drama that ghosting typically evokes. Sometimes, the best way to end communication, if you need to do so without a dialogue with the other person, is to send a bit of “meta communication”: communicate that you’re no longer going to communicate. This can be brief, but doing so removes all question marks and allows both of you to close the loop. It’s direct, and it can be compassionate, even in its finality. You can write something as simple as: “Hey, I’m not going to text anymore. At least for a while. I have too much going on, but I didn’t want to just ghost.”

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If you’re inclined to ghost, assess for yourself if you’re trying to disappear because you don’t have the courage to deal with the vulnerability of confrontation, or to set healthy boundaries. Learning to set healthy boundaries, without guilt, creates the space in your life that you will need to live fully, and without hiding. You have every right to define the space you need to live your life, but doing it with clarity versus a variety of excuses and disappearing-acts will make the space you need to actually thrive, rather than compartmentalize your world into safe zones and drama-prone land-mines.

Finally, if you’re ghosting because you’re scared of someone or because they hurt you, talk with people you trust about how to handle this to make sure you stay safe. No, you don’t always have to communicate before disappearing. Sometimes, the safest thing to do may be to quickly, and simply, disengage. But as a general rule, some communication is the more compassionate approach. Develop the courage to face ending the relationships you start. Whether you like them or not, most people on earth are doing their best. They deserve the information they need to move on.

Satya

Mel Magazine: Why Millennial Men Don’t Go to Therapy

Excerpted from a Mel Magazine article by Eddie Kim:

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A major social debate among millennials about gender, including the idea that it isn’t a binary decided solely by our sex birth, is changing the way we define what a man is, and what, if any, traits are “masculine.” But “manhood” remains an elusive goal that men feel pressure to achieve, however they define it, with research suggesting that the inability to capture it leads to aggressive and stress-ridden responses.

Satya Doyle Byock, a Portland, Ore.-based psychotherapist who exclusively treats millennials at her practice Quarter-Life Counseling, has seen a heavy current of disillusionment in her patients, including men who feel lost in their careers and personal lives. Some may seek help after feeling suicidal thoughts or a panic attack, but many more choose to co-exist with a simmering unease they can’t ignore.

“The mid-life crisis, what used to happen in the late 30s or 40s, is happening earlier for young people today,” she explains. “The breakdown often has to do with the question of one’s ‘unlived life,’ and young people are coming to the conclusion that something about society doesn’t work. The problems might be in dating, binge drinking, anxiety or depression, but those things usually have a larger question underneath them.”

One of Byock’s theories is that while older generations often used religious services or intimate community gatherings to reflect on their lives, many of those meditative spaces have been removed from modern life. “Even churches are more like mega-churches now, not for quiet thought,” she says. “It’s created a gaping hole where young people need something to find nourishment.”

They’re not finding it at the office either. Specifically, work-life balance has become harder for a cohort of millennials who matured into the workforce during the dregs of the Great Recession, with shiny college degrees in hand but few employers to court them. More than 50 percent of college students graduated with a job offer in hand in 2007. That number fell to less than 20 percent two years later. And those who did get jobs saw lower starting salaries, with a 2010 study showing that a 1 percent increase in unemployment in a given year meant a 6 to 8 percent drop in starting salary for a college graduate, impacting lifetime savings and benefits. “This cohort of millennials that graduated amid the recession, in the worst of the job market, we’ve got this idea to work so much harder to make up all that was lost,” says Muellerleile.

Read the full article here...

CNBC.com: finding a 'quarter-life crisis' instead of dream jobs

An excerpt from a CNBC.com article for which I was interviewed:

'The APA reports that on average, millennials experience the highest level of stress than any other generation, suggesting a need for more conversation surrounding mental health and the pressures facing recent graduates.

The situation also creates room for unhealthy comparisons to other recent graduates, many of whom post seemingly high-achieving photos of their lives on Facebook and Instagram. Recent studies suggest social media feeds feelings of envy and anxiety.

"Having external validation as our only validation is damaging. So I think it's really critical for all individuals, in particular, young adults to have time for introspection and self-love and self-knowledge," said Byock.'

Read the full article here

Caught in the In-Between: Making Sense of Post-College Life

originally published on goop.com

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Like clockwork, for better or worse, the back-to-school craze takes over our lives every year—and it’s not just the parents among us who catch the spirit of the season. But the excitement of September can be alienating: For recent grads (and anyone nostalgic for the structure that came with the first day of school for two decades of life), it feels less like a time of new beginnings and more like a reminder of what isn’t anymore—of the uncertainty of what’s to come ahead. It’s a period of transition that psychotherapist Satya Byock finds young adults are largely unprepared for. In her Portland, Oregon practice (aptly named Quarter-Life Counseling), she counsels twenty- and thirty-something clients on meeting the liminal stages of life—when, as Byock describes it, “You’re saying goodbye to one identity and starting to create the next.” While particularly relevant on the eve of September, Byock’s advice for making peace with the unknowns of life applies well beyond back-to-school season and the millennial cohort. (For more from Byock, see her goop piece, Why Millennials Can’t Just “Grow Up.”)


School is soon to be back in session. As if with one coordinated snap of the head, focus has turned from vacation mode back to class and work. But some people are left feeling out of sync. For people no longer in school, but not yet adjusted to life without its structure and ready-made purpose, the back-to-school season can stir up anguish. Suddenly it feels like you’ve missed all the rehearsals on how to be a confident, happy adult. Summer may have brought relief from uncertainty as everyone frolicked on the beach, read novels, and wasted time, but now the burning questions return with vengeance: What’s next? Who am I?

With school, there were always clearly defined goals. Within each class, there were guidelines and deadlines, and each grade led onto the next. Often, graduation day is about as far as life’s plans reach. There is not much time for planning, nor guidance for how actual life out of school will look.

As a psychotherapist working with people in their twenties and thirties, I see regularly how navigating life after high school, college, and graduate school can take its toll. Where purpose and goals were once pre-defined, there are now often years and years in which each person needs to define those goals for him or herself. When life is no longer segmented strictly according to nine months on, three months off, goals can take a long time to sort out.

Other cultures before us understood these in-between periods of life. They named them and had gods and complex rituals to aid in the transition from one identity to another. The Tibetans call these times bardo states. The Greeks had the god Hermes. The Romans had Janus.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to teach us that the course of life is like the bar graph of a Ponzi scheme: Only growth! Success! Meanwhile, we receive implicit messages through social media that can serve as public shaming of anyone who doesn’t appear joyful, gorgeous, and woke at all times—as if from a belittling coach, high on steroids: Do it! Keep going! Failure is not an option! Be perfect in every way!

But, just like the reality of the stock market or the limits of physical form, a healthy life—not one built entirely on façade—includes periods of uncertainty, depression and confusion, and even mini-deaths of identity in which one’s sense of purpose feels distant, or nonexistent.

Our culture needs a good education in these realities of life. We need to practice honoring periods of transitions, and the long periods when identity and purpose feel distant or invisible. For the most part, this notion doesn’t even have a place in our vocabulary.

The best word we have remains largely unused and comes from the 20th century anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, who coined the term “liminal”—from the Latin limel: threshold. A liminal phase is the period in ritual initiations—primarily those rites that defined the entrance into adulthood—when the identity as a dependent child has died, but before the identity as a full adult has taken form. It was once well known that such a shift of identity is a passage, a journey, a transition. It is an in-between stage like crossing a bridge, or traveling through a dark, mountain tunnel. You’re no longer on one side but not yet on the other.

Despite the level of attention paid to the apparent aberration called the Milennial Generation, the modern epidemic of confusion/grief/anxiety/self-hatred in early adulthood is not new (though anguish and anxiety are certainly heightened by social media and other modern inventions).

In the mid-’60s, J.D. Salinger rendered the malaise of modern twenty-somethings with prescient accuracy in his novelette Franny & Zooey. Franny Glass is a beautiful college student with a handsome Ivy League boyfriend, her own high-priced education, a set of devoted older brothers, and a seemingly well-paved future. Yet she’s absolutely miserable. In the throes of a wrenching emotional crisis and wracked with self-loathing, Franny tells her brother about the torment she feels for her meaningless life and her compulsive cruelty to the people she feels are oblivious to their own meaningless lives: “I knew how I was depressing people, or even hurting their feelings—but I couldn’t stop! I just could not stop picking.”

Franny gives voice to some of the self-hatred and social lamentations I hear regularly in my practice: “I actually reached a point where I said to myself, right out loud, like a lunatic, if I hear just one more picky, caviling, unconstructive word out of you, Franny Glass, you and I are finished.”

It is a glimpse into the inner world of the twenty-something crisis, beyond the symptoms of anxiety and self-harm, of addiction and depression. Ultimately the deepest questions are existential ones: Why am I so miserable? What is the point, and what am I doing here?

Preceding Frances Glass, another Frances had insights into the inner struggle of highly educated youth. In her 1927 book, The Inner World of Childhood, Jungian analyst Frances Wickes depicted a prototypical young man of the era and suggested that the singular pursuit of education is the very root of his widespread sense of disorientation and angst:

“Consciously he is grateful for the opportunities which may include college, a professional training, long apprenticeship; unconsciously he feels the urge to prove himself, to know that he is a man. Scholastic things, in which he may take a genuine interest, fail to satisfy…intellectual training, social conventions have crowded out the other issues which are, after all, the essential ones… Growth comes through individual experience and the understanding of experience. This must be gained by each one for himself.”

(Or herself.)

The current social script that calls for extending academic work into one’s twenties (and beyond) amplifies emotional anguish for young adults. At the moment when instinct should take over to guide a young person along the age-old journey into life—depicted throughout fairy tales and the Hero’s Journey cycle of mythology—they are instead listening to lectures, studying, reading, and taking tests. Amidst all that education and accumulation of knowledge, the experience of embodied life, curiosity, excitement, and failure has gone missing, or underground into unsettling symptoms of anxiety, depression, and self-hatred.

I can’t help but see the questions of adults in their twenties and thirties as being similar to the silent question of young wives that Betty Friedan so eloquently illuminated in her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique: “Is this all?”

Similarly, Simone de Beauvoir’s description of narcissism and neurosis within housewives in the feminist classic, The Second Sex, helps to reframe the judgment of narcissism lobbed at many young people today: “She is forbidden virile activities. She is busy, but she does not do anything…not being able to accomplish herself in projects and aims.”

“It is a painful condition,” de Beauvoir writes, “to know one is passive and dependent at the age of hope and ambition, at the age when the will to live and to take a place in the world intensifies.”

The picture de Beauvoir paints is not unlike that of caged animals: Unable to fulfill their instinctual and biological drives, it is no surprise that many women and men in young adulthood today develop tendencies toward self-aggrandizement, self-harm, refusal to eat, or erratic behavior. They want to move, but they cannot: They are stuck by prescribed academic expectations, cultural norms, constant comparison with others, traumatic experiences, meaningless jobs they are told they are supposed to love, or an utter lack of opportunity altogether—trapped by economics and social expectation as they were once trapped in the home.

If we replace the man-catching preparation for marriage with the years of prescriptive, yet often inapplicable, liberal arts education, the end results are about the same: relative isolation and the cultural prescription to pretend that you are happy and carry on, no matter what. What other choice do you have? Meanwhile, the desire to become oneself, even if the urge to do so is vague, remains unsettling and unmet.

For these reasons, life after school is typically disorienting. Where there was once structure and goals, there are only loose expectations and financial needs. Where there was emphasis on typically “impractical” knowledge, there is now need for tremendously practical skill sets. Where there was once community in abundance, there are now thousands of miles between friends. Where there were once demands that you follow the prescribed goals for life, there is now an expectation that you define your own, with no guidance or support.

So, here’s the part where I offer advice for how to handle these years ahead, this liminal time between your identity as a student and your identity as a person with individual purpose and interests, and goals that make your heart sing:

Before you worry too much about the future, acknowledge that this is both a beginning of something new, and an ending. Look at where you’ve been before you try to sort through where you’re going. Slow down. This is a time to take stock, to sort through your past, just as it is a time to look ahead with courage and excitement. It is both a time of conclusions and new beginnings. The death of your past needs to be honored in order to truly step into the next phase. The god Janus had two faces for just this purpose—to look towards the future and towards the past.

Your identity, like your daily routine and your housing situation, may be in flux. You are no longer a student. You are, according to all cultural expectations, no longer a child. And yet, like most of your peers, you may not be quite sure what you are yet either.

Take time to honor what has ended. Give yourself space to grieve and relax. Allow yourself to sleep and play and get into your creative self. Embrace the fears that may be tapping you on the shoulder, or the anxiety that may bug you in your stomach. Look it all in the eye and acknowledge that it is there.

Because this period of in-between tends to be all about the unknown, the unseen, the not-yet understood, try not to hide from the uncertainty. To pretend that all is well when you are scared or sad will only cause greater disorientation. You can celebrate this time, to be sure, but if you don’t feel like celebrating, don’t fake it. Faking joy around others (or on social media) is a quick path to unrelenting depression (and it doesn’t help others’ mental health either). If you are struggling with your sense of life’s purpose, know that you are not the only one.

Instead, embrace the unknown as if you could, in fact, wrap your body around the darkness and let yourself sink down. Let it devour you and devour it back as if you are lovers, or adversaries who must tangle in order to fight. Tangle with this death of old things, so that you can more swiftly and truly find your way through to your new identity on the other side.

Practically speaking, when people ask you what you’re doing next with your life, tell them that you’re not entirely sure. Tell them with a calm heart that you are in a liminal period, a state of transition, that you’re saying goodbye to one identity and starting to create the next.

Then, you can sleep. Rest. Gain perspective of what you’ve been doing in school for the last two-odd decades. Read excellent novels that wake up your heart and make time disappear. Spend time in nature. Listen to music. Swim in fresh waters. Make art. Journal. Cry. Dance. If you’re like most modern people, your left brain has just had a lifelong workout. Let it rest. Give your right brain—your artistic, curious, imaginative self—some attention for a change. Give your body attention for the sake of love, not sculpting or photos.

Remember how to play. (Without the assistance of alcohol or drugs.)

When you embrace the uncertainty and allow your identity to be in flux, you will slowly begin to re-collect yourself. You will remember in bits and pieces who you are at your roots and who you want to be. Notice the humans who are further along in life who make your heart light up. Learn about their journeys. Make notes on what it is about them that gives you hope. This will all help you to clarify who you want to be, and who you already are.

Look into the world and see what social issues pull at your heartstrings. Then take time to notice what truly brings you joy, with no pressure or expectations. See where these things might overlap. Do not rush this process.

The feminist poet Audre Lorde begins her essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” with this exquisite insight: “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”

Be it through psychotherapy, devoted journaling, or a regular art practice, the exploration of oneself, one’s personality, past, likes and dislikes, dreams and hopes, sexuality and physicality, ancestry, and goals for the future, one begins to discover structure for the otherwise uncharted path for coming into adulthood.

Do not shy away from alone time, without your devices or company. As the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”

Rediscover your joy by staring deeply into the unknown, without guilt or shame or expectation. It is the greatest thing you can do for yourself. And, if you are truly going to help the rest of us get through this messy world, it is the greatest thing you can do for us now too.

originally published on goop.com

Fall Seminar on "The Banality of Evil"

Please join me at Literary Arts in downtown Portland for a seminar on Hannah Arendt's important post-WWII work: Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil.

Sundays, September 17-October 8, 2017
5:30-7:30 p.m. (four meetings) Tuition: $140

In 1961, Jewish political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt traveled to Jerusalem to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the mass deportation and extermination of Jews in World War II. Commissioned by The New Yorker, Arendt’s report was originally published in the magazine in three parts. Highly controversial at the time, her writing on the trial challenged the world to wrestle with the concept of evil and the possibility that evil is far more banal than we would like to think. In this seminar, we’ll read the subsequently published book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil. In rich story-telling journalism, Arendt will guide us through an exploration of human psychology to ponder the inevitability, or probability, of violence–sometimes in the form of bureaucrats who believe they are doing nothing more than following orders. Like Orwell’s fictional work, Arendt’s non-fiction and philosophy is currently experiencing renewed collective curiosity and interest.

Reading List: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt (1963, Penguin Classics)

Register for the Seminar