by Rhea St. Julien
Let’s have a chat about reciprocal relationships. Cyberpunk author William Gibson once said, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” A huge part of self-care is resourcing yourself with a generous support system. For this column, we’re going to focus on identifying the people in your life you can lean on, and the ones you need more boundaries with.
Take a piece of paper. In the center, draw a circle. Then, leaving some space around it, draw another circle, creating a bulls-eye. Entitle the paper “My Circle of Trust.” Of course, I don’t mean this in a Meet The Fockers way, but I do want you to channel a bit of Robert DeNiro’s IDGAF attitude when you make this diagram. Be very honest with yourself about who you put where. In the center of the inner circle, write the names of people you truly trust. These are folks you trust with your secrets, people who work through conflicts with you instead of cutting you out when you make mistakes. Write down the names of people who you feel no obligation to trust, yet you do. These are the relationships you are going to draw upon to keep you going through this administration.
In the ring just outside the inner circle, write the names of people in your life who are important to you, but with whom you need an extra layer of boundary. Poet Laureate and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou wrote, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” The folks in this middle ring most likely have given you reason to have pause with them. Listen to this and trust your judgment. It’s okay if people in this second layer are folks you are “supposed” to trust the most -- family members, spouses, mentors. They can always be moved to the inner circle when they prove themselves worthy. The Circle of Trust is a moving target, a flowing diagram.
In the outer area, on the edges of the paper, write the names of people or groups of people you simply do not want to fuck with right now. These can be internet trolls, toxic exes, chronic abusers, and/or Sean Spicer. You have a movement for liberation to participate in; you don’t need to be spending time with an aunt who comments on your waist size every time she sees you. Make a plan to see her in four years, or at least after the midterm elections.
Take a look at your diagram. Is there anyone in the middle ring who you’d really like to be closer to? Draw an arrow from their name to the inner circle. Are there steps you can take this week to spend time with them? Can you invite them to attend an action with you, and bring homemade granola bars to sweeten the deal and sustain their body? In dire times, we learn who our real friends are. Maybe a deeper friendship with someone you admire will be a takeaway of this terrible time.
Conversely, is there someone in the inner circle or the middle ring with whom you need more boundaries? If you are a person of color and there is someone in your life whose whiteness is unexamined, despite your attempts to bring it to their attention, do you need to have some space from them? If you are a member of the queer community, are you seeing enough LGBTQ folks to counter the rabid heteronormativity of this administration? Women, unapologetically seek out non-TERF-y women’s spaces. Artists, create together. Witches, link up! We’re in this together, and specificity is a vital part of diversity. Don’t spend precious free time with anyone who makes you leave behind an important part of yourself.
As for the people listed in the outer edges -- how can you take a further break from them? Are you still Facebook friends with any of them? Are you forcing yourself to engage with them out of duty? Let it go. Listen to Big Sean’s “IDFWU” and get back to the million-trillion things you’d be rather fucking do. Like fighting a fascist takeover of our country.
Let’s return to that inner circle. That’s where I want you to focus your self-care time this week. Reach out to each person on that list. Tell them what you appreciate about them. Make a plan for the next time you can see them, even if it’s weeks from now. Set up a video chat in the meantime. If they are local, ask if you can do something restorative with them this week. For you, restorative action may be political action, but don’t feel guilty about taking in some radical art in the midst of political engagement. Show up for your friends, too, especially that inner circle you must tend to give you fire. Stop seeing yourself as such an individual, and let your connections really matter to you. Self care is often communal care.
Rhea St. Julien, LMFT, is an arts-based psychotherapist living and working in San Francisco. Her restorative action this week was going to see the Films of Ana Mendieta exhibit at the BAMPFA, with one of the people in her Circle of Trust.