Although self-care matters all year long, the start of a new year can be a consistent time for us to check in and see how well we're taking care of ourselves. If you're a woman, you may have been specifically trained to put everyone else's needs first. And if you're constantly on the run...Read More
Blog - Essays, Articles, Videos, and Tips
When I was an undergraduate at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, I did a thesis project in Sociology. My study topic was the portrayal of women's bodies in the media and the impact this has on young women as consumers. That was 21 years ago, and I'm still critiquing media and advertising messages.
For the month of April, though, I was given the opportunity to be a part of *positive* media--advertising that makes us feel better about ourselves, not worse. Positive media brings us closer together, instead of creating wedges through insecurity or fear.
I would like to know how you think we're all united? What helps you remember to be compassionate to others? Please tweet, post a photo, make a video, and tag @drjennsden, so I can see what you're creating in #PositiveMedia!
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexual Health Speaker, Sexologist, Intimacy Sociologist
Have you heard of “positive” media? Probably not. But I’m sure you’ve experienced negative media, which we’re bombarded with every day, and makes us passive, distrustful, and anxious. Most media and advertising defines our reality with narrow versions of beauty, success, and happiness. And things like violence and sex appeal are used to grab our attentions, while stereotypes help maintain the status quo.
Positive media is media that promotes well-being and empowerment, and builds respect.1 It is media or advertising that encourages you to feel good about yourself or to feel compassion for others. The term positive media makes sense when you consider that the purpose of a lot of media and advertising is to evoke your fears or insecurities so you’ll consume the product being sold.
I recently attended the 5th annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. This conference drew progressive individuals from around the world to explore mindfulness and awareness in the digital age, and consider how we can all cultivate greater compassion. Inspiration Campaign, a non-profit that inspires people to create people-powered advertising, was promoting their work and taking photos of attendees posing with signs touting their own personal positive media messages.
I love things like that! Immediately I knew the message I would pose with: We are ALL in this TOGETHER. That was the vibe I felt and loved about the conference, as well as the mantra that keeps me on track daily with my values. I also happened to be wearing my “Inspire Love” tshirt I had made several years ago, and I appreciated the coincidental double messaging around love, awareness, and compassion!
“We are all in this together” refers to my belief that as humans, we all want the same basic things: to be seen, heard, respected, and loved. Wanting to be acknowledged in such ways, though, makes us vulnerable. And feeling vulnerable can be a scary feeling, so we put up all sorts of facades to pretend we’re not vulnerable and defensive reactions to not feel the pain. This makes us hide from what we really want. It can also make us less compassionate to the needs of others, who just want to be seen, heard, respected, and loved too. I prominently see this is the news regarding race relations, gay rights, or reproductive rights. However, there are many more places this is relevant that might not make it to our radars, such as discussions around people with disabilities, homeless people, or trans-identified individuals.
When I remember that we are all in this together, it helps me get my head out of my own ass. It helps me shift from fear, defensiveness, anger, or disconnect, to a place of open-mindedness and compassion. And that helps me inspire love.
What does the “THIS” mean to you, in “We are all in this together”? How do you think we're all linked, or what helps you be more compassionate to others? What are your ideas about how we could do things differently? Please tweet, take a photo, or make a video, and let me know! (And tag me @drjennsden and/or use the hashtags #THISMeans #AllTogether #PositiveMedia.)
1 Definition from Meghan B. Keener’s work: http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=mapp_capstone
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sexual Health Speaker, Sociologist
Have you read this book yet? The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown? I can't recommend it enough if you have any struggles around vulnerability, worthiness, authenticity, shame, doubt, or "shoulds" in life. Her approach is a beautiful mix of academic research, personal insights, and humor. Here are some of my favorite inspiring quotes from her book:
“Courage sounds great, but we need to talk about how it requires us to let go of what other people think, and for most of us, that’s scary.” (5)
“Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story.” (10)
“I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness.” (23)
“The majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the differences between 'I am bad' and 'I did something bad.'” (41)
“It reminds me that our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.” (61)
“But this work has forced me to see that it’s our fear of the unknown and our fear of being wrong that create most of our conflict and anxiety.” (90)
“We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up.” (108)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexologist, Sexuality & Mindfulness Speaker
Does it matter to you if you’re a good person? If so, you’ve probably noticed how good it feels to cultivate such compassion. Nonetheless, in our me-centered society, I think folks struggle with understanding what compassion means in their interactions with others and with themselves. If you’d like to increase the role of compassion in your life, I have a handy suggestion below!
First, what exactly are we talking about here…what's a good definition of compassion? I like this definition of compassion from free dictionary: “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” So it’s not sympathy, nor pity. It’s empathy and wanting to be of service. Self-compassion is a bit trickier to define. Consider your inner thoughts and how they become focused at times on your perceived failures or flaws. Self-compassion is making a choice to give yourself a break, accept you’re human, and focus on positive feelings towards yourself. Whether towards yourself or others, choosing compassion is a gift to the world.
Would you like to be more compassionate? Check out the bracelet reminder in the photo here. Start your day with your bracelet turned to the dark side. When you specifically do a compassionate act that day, you flip your bracelet to the white side. This is designed to raise awareness around being more compassionate to others. But with the amount of mental berating I see with my clients and friends, I think using it for self-compassion may be important too. The creators of Compassion It thought of that too, and there is now a red/white version of the bracelet specifically as a reminder for self-compassion!
I started wearing my Compassion It bracelet about three weeks ago (and by the way, if you haven’t said “Compassion It” out loud yet, you might not get how clever that name is!). I like to think of myself as a kind, caring person as I move through my day, from clients to loved ones. However, I found it harder than expected to find an opportunity to go out of my way or do something I wouldn’t normally do. This little bracelet has already changed the way I move through my day, and how I can stretch my awareness to be empathetic and kind in new ways. Imagine if everyone took this on?
The cool thing too is that when you purchase a bracelet, it comes with a second one. The intention is that your first compassionate act is already built in when you gift your second bracelet to someone else. Clever! Actually, I think everything about Compassion It is damn clever, and I’m excited that the founder, compassion teacher Sara Schairer, lives here in San Diego. We’re lucky to have this creative mind and teacher here. :)
For yourself, a friend, a stranger, or fundraising for your cause, you can join the social movement for compassion here:
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality & Mindfulness Speaker
Jokes about fast cars and busty women aside, a midlife crisis can be a very real thing for many men and women. The cause of said “crisis” is the realization that life isn’t going the way you expected. You worked hard and followed the rules, yet you feel unsatisfied, disconnected, and unhappy. Here are 4 rules to get you back on track, or avoid the crisis in the first place:
Rule 1. Don’t follow the rules. I say this tongue in cheek, as this blog posting is about following rules! What I mean is to follow new rules that don’t involve “shoulds.” You should be married by a certain age. You should have children. You should live in a certain neighborhood. You should sacrifice all your needs for your children. You should stay at a job you hate because at least you have a job. While some of these “shoulds” may be important to you, ask yourself where you learned them and then question whether they are attached to your personal purpose and mission in life. While you don’t want to dismiss your existing commitments in one fell swoop, you can start taking little steps to make your own rules so you can design your life, instead of your life designing you.
Rule 2. Find your passions. Explore what you’re passionate about, and in particular something that lights you up and involves helping others. Many people feel passionate about activities like golf, video games, or shopping, but I’m encouraging you to find passions that have an altruistic bent to them. Research shows that the benefits of activities that bring pleasure to us while helping others, versus purely hedonist pleasure for ourselves, last longer. If you connect this built in feel-good wiring with something that you are also passionate about, you have a recipe for deeper fulfillment and satisfaction.
Rule 3. Practice mindfulness. Cultivating regular mindfulness practices helps you stay in touch with what really makes you happy, content, and satisfied, versus what you think “should” make you happy. Developing mindfulness helps you stay present in the moment, even if that present moment involves uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, or sensations. When you learn to stay present, instead of running, distracting, or numbing yourself, you can access authenticity and vulnerability. These are paramount to deeply knowing yourself and knowing others.
Rule 4. Cultivate gratitude. The science of happiness repeatedly points to the importance of gratitude and appreciation as a key to happiness. It may seem counterintuitive to appreciate what you have, when you’re feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. But gratitude is foundational to building your optimism, which then leads to greater creativity, connection, and resilience. An attitude of gratitude will also help you identify what is working for you in life, and help you focus on cultivating more of that.
A mid-life crisis is not inevitable. If you’re in crisis it is likely because you let your life go on automatic pilot. The above 4 rules help you take the reins of your life and be responsible for your choices and path. Enjoy the ride—it is the only one you’ve got.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker