Living with Gender Dysphoria: Tips for Transgender People’s Friends, Allies, and Partners

A quick note: This blog post uses some terms that might be unfamiliar. We’ve used links to define them in parentheses.

What is dysphoria?

Many, but not all, transgender people  experience dysphoria. Here is a formal definition of dysphoria from the UK’s National Health Service: “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It is not a mental illness.” In that definition, treatment commonly refers to transition that can change the body, such as hormones and surgery, which are supervised by a medical professional. Because everyone experiences dysphoria differently, medical transition may not be right for some trans people, and it’s important that all trans people take transition at their own pace. This comic discusses how one trans person found the right pace for their transition. Gender dysphoria is not something that is necessarily “fixed” or “cured” by medical interventions. Additionally, medical interventions for dysphoria are not considered necessary by many health insurance providers. So, due to their high costs, these options are financially out-of-reach for many trans people who need them.

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“Clothing Dolls,” by Mi Mitrika. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Some trans people don’t experience dysphoria at all, and for some trans people, dysphoria is more about the discrepancy between their identities and other’s perceptions.  Here is one trans person’s account of what dysphoria is like: “Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel e this.like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. (Click here for the definition of cisgender.) Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt.”   Dysphoria can create disparate health and wellness outcomes, and therefore personal and academic outcomes for those who experience it. 

How do trans people cope with dysphoria?

Although dysphoria can be challenging and painful, there are many ways trans people have learned to cope. Some trans people with dysphoria seek medical treatment to make their bodies match their identities, some seek mental health services to help cope with dysphoria, and some use coping skills they’ve learned. One recent study found that transmen’s mental health was improved by chest-binding, which helps transmen’s chests appear flatter and more masculine. Here are 25 ways that the author of the quote above copes. For a lot of trans folks, one of the most valuable tools to cope with challenges like dysphoria is friendship. In one survey of MTF trans youth, ninety-eight percent of respondents stated that friends were “somewhat” or a “great deal” helpful for emotional support. (Here is the definition of MTF.)

…Support from people like you!

You’ve probably heard a lot about trans people’s struggles with mental health. What we don’t talk about enough is that support from family, friends, and partners can greatly reduce the risk of trans people’s poor health outcomes. For example, among trans people, “social support has been linked with lower levels of both depression and anxiety and fewer suicidal behaviors.” It’s also been positively associated with self-esteem and quality of life. That’s because social rejection is the cause of a lot of trans people’s poor health outcomes in the first place.  Creating a campus atmosphere of understanding, inclusion and acceptance can go a long way in supporting our trans peers.

So how do you support a trans person dealing with dysphoria?

anole-2Because dysphoria is about the discrepancy between someone’s sense of self and their body or other people’s perception of their gender, the best way to support your transgender friend or partner through dysphoria is by (1) seeing their gender the same way they do, and (2) communicating that (as well as your communicating overall care for them, of course!)

Sometimes, cisgender people have to challenge their own assumptions, thoughts, and unconscious beliefs about bodies and identities. For example, we are all socially conditioned to associate certain physical characteristics with maleness and/or femaleness, and these associations are deeply ingrained. However, being supportive to a trans person (particularly one you are intimate with) means actively working to undo those associations. Instead affirm that your friend or partner truly IS the gender they identify as regardless of their voice, mannerisms, or body shape.

That core belief, and your willingness to challenge the thoughts you have that are in conflict with it, is the foundation of supporting any trans person in your life through dysphoria.

Tips to communicate respect for trans folks and help alleviate dysphoria:

  • Use the name and pronoun the trans person prefers.
  • Don’t disclose someone’s trans identity to others without their consent.
  • Respect trans people’s decisions about if, when, and how to transition.
  • When you’re with others who know the trans person’s identity, correct them if they get names and pronouns wrong.
  • If you’re dating someone, ask what words they want to use to talk about their bodies (for example, chest vs. breasts).
  • Use compliments and descriptors that reflect your friend’s or partner’s gender identity. For example, if your partner identifies as a masculine person, they might prefer to be called  “handsome” rather than “pretty.” Luckily, “fabulous” and “smart” are gender-neutral.  
  • When you are struggling to see your friend or partner the way they want to be seen, it can be best to process this with a cisgender ally rather than the trans person. But be sure to do this in a way that respects the trans person’s privacy. For example, check in with them first about who to process with.
  • If dating a trans person (or anyone really,) practice consent consistently and carefully. Consent is important in all relationships, but it’s especially important in trans relationships because, as we’ve discussed here, trans people’s relationships with their bodies can be complicated.

More resources

Here’s more information on how to support trans folks.

For more content on healthy relationships in the LGBTQ community, check out this online course offered here at UNC.

If you are transgender and are struggling with dysphoria, social support, or anything else, contact the LGBT Center here on-campus or Trans Lifeline.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Crisis Plans or “Mad Maps”: Creating Your Own Path Through Mental Health Crisis

In 2015, 18% of UNC students surveyed reported that anxiety had interfered with their school performance in the past year and 13% said depression had affected school in the same period. People with depression and anxiety are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health crisis, which is “any situation in which a person is not able to resolve the situation with the skills and resources available” (source). Crisis can feel like being so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to accomplish daily tasks, being suicidal, or being out-of-touch with reality, in the case of psychosis. Because UNC students experience depression and anxiety, we need to take care of our own and our friends’ mental health so that we all stay healthy, safe, and out of crisis. This post will help you learn about crisis-planning, which is one tool you can use to keep you and your community safe.

What is a Crisis Plan?

A crisis plan is a plan you create that guides you and the people around you to prevent mental health crisis, and respond to crisis effectively if it happens. Think of a crisis plan as a letter from your calm, reflective self to your future, struggling self, and the people who will support you then. Crisis plans are often documents that include information about what triggers you to feel emotional distress, what helps you feel better, and who to reach out to for support.  Your crisis plan uses your wisdom and knowledge of your own needs to guide your future self through hard times and back to stability.

How do I Make a Crisis Plan?

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“Subway Style Mind Map,” by Sharon Brogan. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Your crisis plan can be as simple or complex as you like, and it can include any information you think would be relevant to your future self and your support people–everything from when your friends should feed your cats to what metal songs you like to cry to.

This is one great crisis plan template you can use.

The Icarus Project, the radical mental health collective, refers to its crisis planning tool, available here, as Mad Maps. The Icarus Project’s mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation,” so its Mad Maps guide includes questions like “what does oppression feel like to you?”

Crisis plans can also be in the form of:

  • A psychiatric advanced directive, a legal document you can complete that will inform healthcare professionals how to best support you in the event that you are hospitalized for mental health reasons. Advance directives are intended for healthcare providers to read, so they include information like what medications you should and shouldn’t be given, and which of your support people doctors should communicate with about your care.
  • self-care boxes with actual stuff in them that helps you feel better
  • lists of activities you can do to perk up
  • this website , which is an interactive guide to navigating hard times . Bookmark it for exam week!
  • Safety Plan, a crisis plan app (available for free on Android and Iphone) that keeps your personalized crisis plan in your back pocket.

Why Make A Crisis Plan?

Here are some reasons folks create their own crisis plans, if you’re still not convinced.

  • Crisis planning keeps you in control of what happens to you. Crisis can be a time that other folks step in and take control to make sure you’re safe. By documenting your wishes for when you’re in crisis, you can stay both empowered AND safe during hard times.
  • Crisis planning helps you learn more about yourself. The questions you need to ask yourself in the process of developing a crisis plan prompt you to develop a richer understanding of yourself, your mind, and your unique strengths.
  • Crisis planning is tool to communicate with your  support people. Emailing your crisis plan to your friends and family can start (or continue) a conversation about mental illness–a difficult topic–on your own terms. Crisis planning also demonstrates to those around you that you are taking care of yourself, and so it could help your mom worry less about you. (But no promises on that one!)
  • Crisis planning builds more self-reliant communities. Communities with disproportionately high rates of mental health crisis, like LGBTQ  folks, also have too many negative experiences with mental health professionals and histories of oppression in mental health fields. Crisis plans encourage conversation and collaboration about mental health support within marginalized communities, so that when folks from these communities reach out to professionals, they are also grounded in networks of  friends who understand their struggles and can advocate for them.
  • Finally, a crisis plan prepares you for scary times, and that makes them less scary! Knowing that you are ready for the worst times reminds you of your inner strength. A crisis plan serves as a reminder that you always have a path out of even the darkest spots.

If you’d like help planning for–or navigating–crisis, contact the Counseling Center.  If you’re having trouble keeping up with school work because of mental health issues, contact the office of the Dean of Students for support.  If you are  experiencing mental health crisis after-hours, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline at 741741.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Trich or Treat!

Nope – that’s not a typo. Trich–or trichomoniasis–is the most common curable STI in the country, and 8 million people in the U.S. will be infected each year. But, according to recent research from the American Sexual Health Association, only 1 in 5 women have ever heard of it. Our very own Needs Assessment for Sexual Health, conducted annually by Student Wellness, reflected that as well – in 2015, only about 1 in 3 UNC students had heard of this STI. So, what’s the deal?

7070_1151267044902470_8892073206618450531_nWhat is trich?

Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, is an STI caused by a single celled parasite called a trichomona. It passes from person to person through unprotected sexual activity. Most of the time, the disease is spread from a penis to a vagina (and vice versa) or from vagina to vagina through fingering and oral sex. It’s really rare for the parasite to infect other areas of the body – like the hands, mouth, or anus.

How do I know if I have it?

Here’s the real kicker – about 70% of people infected won’t have any symptoms, and on top of that, female bodied people are more likely to experience symptoms than male bodied people. When symptoms do occur for female bodied people, they can look like anything from vaginal discharge with a strong odor, itching and swelling around the vulva and vagina, and frequent, painful urination. For male bodied people, symptoms are less severe – usually, they will experience discharge from the urethra and painful urination. Symptoms can take anywhere from 3 – 28 days to occur, so it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in your reproductive health if you are having unprotected sex!

How do I get tested and treated?

Campus Health Services can help you get tested for trich if you’ve had unprotected sex or are experiencing any symptoms. Testing can be done through a simple vaginal swab and pelvic exam for female bodied people or a urethral swab for male bodied people. The provider will then look under a microscope for signs of the parasite and will usually be able to give you results that very same day. In the case that you do have trich, treatment is really simple! It usually takes only one dose of prescription antibiotics to cure a case of trich. However, you should always make sure that your partner gets tested and treated as well – it is possible to get re-infected through unprotected sex! 

How to Make Healthy Choices Concerning Alcohol and Other Drugs

Know the Facts
Know the Facts

Enjoying alcohol responsibly can be a healthy part of your college life. When it comes to alcohol and other drugs, the first step in making healthy choices is to understand what you’re putting into your body, what the substance’s effect on your body will be and the potential risks involved. These guides can help you. The second step is to recognize how you personally react to specific substances in various doses. According to the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, most of the harmful effects of alcohol come from drinking too much. For example, it may be important to know that you should avoid tequila because things get out of control when you start taking shots. The third step is to recognize the situations in which you find it difficult to control yourself or in which you make decisions that you later regret. Do you always end up drinking more than you originally planned when you go out with certain friends? Have you not remembered a single Halloween since you started college except through embarrassing Facebook photos the next day?

The following tips may be helpful if you want to pay more attention to your drinking habits.

Before going out. Let your friends know how much you’re planning to drink before you go out. You can watch out for each other and step in before a friend has had too much. This also requires that you count the number of drinks that you have over the course of an evening, which is always a good thing. You count how many tacos you eat at the food truck, don’t you? Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence, people seem to draw the line at 4 tacos in one sitting.

When you’re out. Don’t accept alcohol or other drugs unless you know what’s in it. Are you really going to drink whatever is in that red cup from that sketchy guy that’s been hitting on you all night? If you don’t know what kind of alcohol, how much alcohol, and what else might be in your drink, politely decline and ask for a Zima. That way they’ll know you’re a person of impeccable taste.

Throughout the night. Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. Alcohol causes dehydration because it’s a diuretic and effects the balance of vitamins and minerals in the body. The liver also requires water to process alcohol, leading to further dehydration. Drinking lots of water throughout the night slows down your drinking, gives your body a chance to process the alcohol, and prevents next-day hangovers.

When school gets stressful. Some students may turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with stress, which may gradually turn into dependence – and that’s a high price to pay for the temporary respite you might gain. If you are concerned about your alcohol or drug habits, check out the Student Wellness website for resources or write us an email to set up a one on one appointment with a trained staff member. We are here to help.

This blog was originally posted on August 31, 2011. It has been edited for clarity. 

Consent FAQ

These days, we talk a lot about sexual consent. If you’re not quite sure what it’s all about, this post can help you find the words to communicate consent. The following are some frequently asked questions about consent.

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“Love.” by SummerRain812. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

1) What if I am not sure what I want or I feel conflicted?

When your partner asks you about what you want, you may realize you don’t know. You also may find that one part of you is thinking “heck no!” and another is more like, “let’s go!” For example, sometimes your body is sexually aroused but your mind has some misgivings, or you like the idea of having sex, but just aren’t fully present in-the-moment.  It can be confusing to you and your sexual partner if you’re feeling conflicted.

Tips:

  • In the moment, stop and take space to identify what you’re feeling.
  • Reflect what might be coming up for you. Sexual activities outside your comfort zone can make you feel vulnerable in a way that’s positive and exciting or scary and threatening. How can you tell the difference between these two forms of vulnerability? What feelings, thoughts, and body sensations are associated with each of these experiences?
  • Outside the heat of the moment, talk with your partner about what you were feeling and the need to stop. A respectful partner should appreciate your honesty and your needs.

2) What if my partner’s words don’t match their actions or I’m getting mixed messages?

Sometimes you may be perceive your partner’s communications as confusing. For example…

  1. Your partner says yes, but their tone of voice and/or body language don’t reflect an enthusiastic yes.
  2. Your partner says no, but then they go along with sexual acts that you initiate. They may seem to be enjoying these things when they are happening.
  3. Your partner says they don’t want certain things to happen, but then initiate those things.
  4. When you ask your partner what they want, they say they don’t know.

In example B, you need to take your partner at their word. Initiating sexual activity after your partner clearly states no is sexual assault. There are many reasons someone might seem “into it” that do not indicate consent. Physical arousal and response are involuntary and not necessarily linked to consent or desire. Someone also may go along with a situation because they are afraid of the person violating their boundaries and trying to appease that person in order to stay safe.

In examples A, C, and D, there are a number of reasons you may feel confused by your partner’s communication. Remember, they aren’t trying to confuse you or “lead you on.” Instead:

-Your partner may be internally conflicted and unsure of what they want. (See number 1, above.)

-Your partner may feel pressure to go along with things they aren’t fully comfortable with.

Tips:

  • When you feel confused, it is your responsibility to stop and check in with your partner about where they are and what they’re feeling. For example, “Hey, let’s stop for a minute. You said you just wanted to make out, but now you’re taking off clothes, so I feel confused. I want to make sure we’re both comfortable with where this is going.”
  • In non-sexual situations, talk more about communication. Make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable setting boundaries with you, and ask how you can help create an environment where they kind of communication is possible. If your partner is not personally sure of what they want, ask them what kind of space and support they need from you to figure this out.
  • Consistently affirm your respect for your partner and their needs, desires, and boundaries.

3) What do I do when my partner says no?

  • Respect their no. Let them know you’re glad they felt comfortable telling you how they felt. Appreciate the honesty and safety you’ve fostered with your partner.
  • Do something else! You might want to get out of bed or whatever romantic or sexually charged situation you’re in, or your partner may let you know what they DO want to do.

4) What if no is hard for me to hear?

Hearing no may be hard for a number of reasons. It’s different for every person, and you may want to identify why, and exactly what you’re feeling, like sadness, resentment, hurt, etc. In the moment, you still have to respect your partner’s “no,” though you can say something like “Hey. I appreciate you being honest with me, and I respect that. Thanks! I’m also having some hard feelings about this I’m going to sort out on my own. I can get back to you about them when I’ve thought them through more.”

Here are some more tips about handling no and dealing with hard feelings around that. If you’d like to learn more about healthy communication, see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationships Online Curriculum. If someone has violated your consent or that of a friend, see safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Creating a Sleep Sanctuary

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“Sleeping” by Shannon Kokoska. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Sleep. Wonderful, elusive sleep. Sleep provides us time to rest and restore our bodies after the wear and tear of everyday life. People who get 8-10 hours of sleep a night have been found to run faster, have lower stress levels, avoid accidents, and live an overall happier life. But what happens when our commitments interfere with our sleep schedule?

Being in school can–unfortunately for many–mean sacrificing getting a proper night’s sleep in order to balance academics, extracurriculars, and a fulfilling social life. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are well documented, and can range from impaired memory and critical thinking skills, weight gain, and even severe health problems like heart disease over time. Paying special attention to your sleep hygiene is one way to combat that.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene, contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, is not about making sure that your body and bed is clean and nicely made every day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is simply a “variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” One fun way to enhance your sleep hygiene is to create a “sleep sanctuary” for yourself to promote healthy sleep habits and a soothing sleep environment.

How can I make my own “sleep sanctuary”?

One simple step to start with is to be conscious of the light in your bedroom. Blue light from phones, computers, TVs, and even LED lights can disrupt the body’s sleep cycle and interrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep patterns. Sometimes, though, late night homework and phone usage happens. Apps like f.lux can help minimize the amount of blue light coming from your screen, so late night study sessions (or Netflix) won’t impact your sleep quite as much.

Reducing your anxiety and stress is also key to getting a good night’s sleep. Although exercise during the day can help reduce anxiety and stress, intense exercise soon before bedtime can actually provide a boost of energy that will keep you up longer, so try and focus on yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to help you bring down your stress and anxiety in a sleep friendly way. Alarm clocks can also be a serious detriment to sleep. Looking at the clock while trying to fall asleep can increase anxiety, making it harder for people to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Researchers suggest even turning your clock away from you or keeping it far enough away so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the middle of the night.

And last, but certainly not least, make your bed a sacred space. Sitting in bed watching TV, working on your laptop, or playing video games is both comfy and convenient, but it could be putting a good night’s sleep at risk. Try to use your bed only for sleep and self-care, like stretching and reading – if you start to bring stressful things into your bed, you may start to associate those feelings with sleep!

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“Empty Bed” by Lillie Kate. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

What are some things you’d want in your sleep sanctuary? Let us know in the comments!

Kristan is a Program Assistant for Health & Wellness at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.

Sorting Hat Quiz: Is your Relationship Healthy?

Unfortunately, determining if your relationship is healthy isn’t as easy as finding out if you’re a Gryffindor. If only!  After all, relationships, whether romantic or any other kind of sexual connection, are complex interplays between people, and it can be hard to gain clarity on people and situations closest to us. This is why it’s important to regularly reflect on how your relationship is going and check in with yourself and your partner. Nonetheless, Loveisrespect.org has some great resources including quizzes on whether your relationship is healthy, unhealthy, or abusive that can help you identify  your own behaviors as well as those of your partner(s).

After you check out the quizzes, consider:

  • People in all relationships (healthy, unhealthy, or abusive) can feel love, care, and affection for each other, and enjoy each other’s company.
  • But people in abusive relationships, or what UNC refers to as interpersonal violence, also use a wide range of abusive behaviors against their partner, including physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that cause the partner to feel intimidated, frightened, terrorized or threatened.
  • This abuse may happen during the relationship or after the relationship is over.  
  • These abusive behaviors are rooted in a need to maintain power and control.
  • Often, one partner has and seeks to maintain power and control.  It may also be possible that all partners may be engaged in a power struggle, with the person who has the power changing over time.  Researchers are still arguing about this.
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Photo “Devious Question” by Zita, Flickr Creative Commons

What we do know is that, since abusive behaviors are about exerting power and control, they can be practiced both by those who are granted privilege in society and by those who have been made to feel out-of-control in their lives for some other reason—such as past trauma or oppression—and are seeking to regain a sense of power. Nothing—including past trauma—justifies abusive behavior.  But knowing more about who practices abuse can prompt us to be vigilant about our own behavior in relationships and ensure they’re healthy.
To learn more about how to develop healthy relationships, please see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationship curriculum, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity.  If you think you are in an abusive relationship, or are wondering if you are, please see the resources at safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Supporting Friends Who Experience Interpersonal Violence

Most of us know someone who has experienced interpersonal violence (sexual assault, abusive relationships, stalking, or harassment), and supporting that person can be difficult work.  Watching people who we love and care about suffer is never easy, and we often want to do anything that we can to help them feel better.  This is a wonderful impulse!  It can give us energy to provide lasting and meaningful support to others.  However, it can also encourage us to set up unhealthy boundaries as friends and allies.

The most powerful and generous gestures we can make to individuals who have experienced interpersonal violence are to

1) Listen to the experiences and emotions that they are sharing

2) Validate and Believe what they share and

3) Connect them to reporting and support resources that they feel comfortable seeking

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“Talk” by Matus Laslofi, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Folks often underestimate how meaningful these seemingly simple actions can be.  They worry that being “just a friend” or “just an ally” isn’t enough and sometimes take it upon themselves to “save” their friend and “fix” their problems for them.

When we feel this impulse to fix or solve, it can be helpful to think about how we are reacting to what is being shared with us.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, sad, anxious, afraid, angry or disheartened when our friends talk with us about their experiences with interpersonal violence.  We want to be cautious that we are not taking control of someone else’s experience because we feel out of control in the face of it.

When we take charge of other people’s experiences of interpersonal violence we:

1) Remove their power and control

2) Compromise their healing process

3) Make the situation about us and not about them

4) Force them to rely on us for support we cannot give

Listening, believing, and, sometimes, saying “I may not be the best person to help you with this, but I know someone else who can,” are often the most effective ways to empower our friends as they heal.

Being a helpful friend and ally means setting boundaries with our friends even when they ask us to support them in ways that make us feel uncomfortable or that seem unhealthy.  We cannot support others if we feel exhausted, anxious, angry or resentful.  We simply burn out.  When we are aware of our emotions, acknowledge our limitations, seek support for ourselves, and set boundaries, we ensure that the care that we offer to others is more meaningful and sustainable.  Being an ally doesn’t mean stopping our lives to “save” someone. It means guiding and supporting a friend to the resources they want in order to heal.

For more information about how to respond to and support folks who have experienced interpersonal violence sign up for a HAVEN training or visit the safe.unc.edu website.

This post was originally published October 2013. It has been edited for clarity. 

What is RVAM, and what does my roommate have to do with it?

Ya’ll may have heard (and if you haven’t, scroll on down to the next post) that October is RVAM! Also known as DVAM, RVAM celebrates RV/ DV/ IPV/ FV Awareness Month… basically all of the letters all the time. So what’s going on with this alphabet soup?

  • Relationship Violence: between people in relationships—friends, coworkers, acquaintances, students, professors, roommates, intimate-partners, family members, etc.
  • Domestic Violence: between family members or intimate-partners
  • InterPersonal Violence: between people/ communities
  • Intimate-Partner Violence: between intimate-partners
  • Family Violence: between family members

Here at UNC, we choose to use the term “relationship violence” because it best describes the people between whom violence exists at UNC. However, when you go to the Safe at UNC website to check out the incredible list of RVAM events occurring on and off campus this month, you may notice that our dearly beloved (and sometimes not so beloved) roomies aren’t being discussed in this slew of events. So what’s the deal?

Roommates: an Important Part of the “R” in RVAM

RVAM is motivated by the idea that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship- and roommates are an important part of that!

Now, we’ve all had that roommate who did some uncool bad-roommatethings and made our life miserable for a semester or two.

But at the same time, roommates can also be kinda great. In any roommate relationship, like in all relationships, there will be conflict.How you choose to handle that conflict is what will make the roommate relationship healthy or unhealthy.

So, how do you handle roommate conflict in a healthy way? Well, remember that long awkward roommate agreement you had to do at the beginning of the year in university housing? Turns out they had a smart thing going there. Communication and setting expectations is key to resolving good-roommateconflict in a healthy way. There are tons of resources available online to help improve you communication skills – even though some might be focused on romantic relationships, those same skills can be used in any setting!

It’s also important to remember that conflict is a normal and natural part of any relationship. However, if you’re constantly fighting with your roommate, and you feel that they have power and control over you, you might be experiencing relationship abuse. It’s never ok for someone to put you down, call you names, humiliate you, threaten you, coerce you, minimize you, or treat you disrespectfully.

Not sure what’s going on in your relationship with your roommate? There are quizzes online, like this one from loveisrespect.org, that can give you some insight. While these tests are geared towards romantic relationships and should only be used as a starting point, they’re a good way to help you get a better picture of what’s going on and start a conversation.

Want to learn more about healthy relationships? Take Sustaining Healthy Relationships, a free online module created by the UNC LGTBQ Center and Student Wellness!

Looking for help/ support on or off campus? Check out safe.unc.edu.

Linda C is a Program Assistant for Violence Prevention at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.

 

Where Do You Draw the Digital Line in Your Relationship?

When you’re dating someone or generally boo’d up, it’s natural to want to share things with your partner. Whether you share a lot of personal things about your past or you’re that couple who eats off of each other’s plates at dinner, sharing things with your boo can be a way to show your partner you care about them and is often a positive sign of comfort in a relationship.

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“Dating Online” by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons

There is such a thing as too much sharing however, especially when it comes to your digital privacy. Sharing your Facebook or email password with your partner may be tempting, especially if they are someone you really trust, but that information is not as simple as letting them have a fry off of your plate at dinner. Sharing your password to private accounts gives the person access not only to information you send other people, but also information they share with you. This puts your privacy, as well as the privacy of your friends and family that communicate with you online, at risk. If a partner or hook up buddy pressures you to email or text them super-hot pictures of yourself, take a minute to think about what may happen down the line and how much control that person will have by owning private pictures of you. If your boo is constantly texting you wanting to know where you are or who you’re with, or gets unnecessarily frustrated if you don’t respond to a text or IM within .15 seconds, it may be time to have a real in the flesh talk about digital boundaries.

A healthy relationship allows all people involved to retain some space and independence outside of the relationship. Authentic trust between people does not necessitate constantly checking up on someone or having access to all their digital interactions with others. Even if these kinds of requests come off as concern, trust your instincts if the vibe you’re getting is more one of control than affection. Be clear with your boo about what you are and are not comfortable with when it comes to digital privacy, and hopefully you’ll be able to have an honest discussion about their true concerns and move to a healthy place of resolution.

The bottom line is, if someone is pressuring you to give up your digital privacy in a way that you’re uncomfortable with, you have a right to stand your ground and retain whatever boundaries you’re comfortable with. Your online and mobile accounts are all a part of you, and if a partner is controlling, pressuring, or disrespecting you in those spaces, you have a right to feel violated.

If you’d like to explore issues of digital privacy more in order to assess your relationship, check out www.thatsnotcool.com. If you or a friend is experiencing digital pressure from their partner and you’re worried it may a sign of an abusive relationship, the Compass Center for Women and Families has an anonymous hotline available 24/7 where you can chat with a trained advocate at 919-929-7122. You can also use your digital communication skills to get more information by checking out www.loveisrespect.organd chatting online with a trained representative from 5pm-1am EST.

 

This post was originally published June 2012. It has been edited for clarity.