Read time: 4 spicy, cantankerous minutes, so buckle up
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I’m gonna cut right to the chase about something that’s been on my mind.
I see many therapist-influencers get really popular by spoon-feeding us exactly what we want to hear: things that make us feel better about ourselves and our (sometimes bad) behaviors without challenging us in any way.
I recently opened Insta and saw, back-to-back, these three reels from HUGE therapist-influencers at the top of my feed:
Influencer #1: Are you really apologizing because you’ve done something wrong? Or are you just always the bigger person in your relationship?
Influencer #2: Are you really ghosting? Or are you just finally taking care of your needs?
Influencer #3: Are you being avoidant? Or are you just a person who protects her nervous system in all situations?
Listen, we all want to give ourselves credit for being smarter, more psychologically astute, and less emotionally reactive than we truly are.
These qualities are ego-syntonic for everyone: we love to see ourselves as champions of personal growth, and pillars of self-understanding.
The truth is we’re usually still a mess (ahem…work in progress) in a few areas, at least.
If that thought is hard to take in, I get it. It is for me, too.
But honestly, we all have life domains where our current results are not what we want them to be. Those are our personal messy areas. Relationships? Work? Finances? Spirituality? Health? We’ve all got our stuff.
So, back to the influencers.
I worry that fancy psychological terms are being twisted to excuse bad–or at least immature–behavior.
Influencers get THOUSANDS more likes on the posts/ messages like the ones above than on posts that say, for example, “If you’re ghosting someone, that might be an immature reaction to a normal emotion, like conflict or jealousy or discomfort. Maybe it’s time for some self-reflection and self-responsibility….”
After all, I’m not ghosting! I’m just taking care of my needs. That other guy told me so in his Reel yesterday!
The problem with advice like this is that we can use it to justify almost any behavior.
Before we get lost in the weeds of the 10% of the time where being avoidant, ghosting, etc. might truly be a justified choice (Abuse, capital-T trauma, etc…yes, of course, there are always exceptions that make sense.), let’s focus instead on the millions of people using influencer advice as their main psychological education.
The more we as a culture let ourselves be spoon-fed the feedback that our approach to the world is just spiffy, the less we work to change and improve all the deep dissatisfactions in our lives.
If I decide it’s fine to ghost every time I don’t like what someone said to me, soon I’ll be looking around wondering why I’m so damn lonely and I hate everyone.
If I never challenge my own avoidant patterns because I think I’m protecting my nervous system, I’ll soon realize that I’m lost and disconnected because I’ve never done the deeper, scarier work of expressing my needs.
So what’s the antidote?
In many cases, good therapy. (Or, depending on the issue, possibly coaching with a coach who was a therapist first.)
But even therapy is highly imperfect. We, therapists, are human, too. We have blind spots and we want to be liked. Challenging you is nerve-wracking for us, too. (I’ve apparently been beating this drum for a while. Several years ago I published this article about the need to find an ass-kicking therapist: not an ass-kissing one.)
There’s also a need for personal discernment–and this work digs deeper.
If, for example, you’ve treated someone in your life in a way that makes you uncomfortable (you ghosted them, said something cruel, whatever) and an influencer’s reframe makes you feel self-righteous and justified, look deeper.
- Remember that the influencer doesn’t know you or your situation. If they were your actual therapist, they would probably offer a great deal more challenge in person than they ever could on social media.
- Remember that the influencer is motivated to continue to grow their following and that posts that appeal to our inherent human need to feel good about ourselves will always perform well. This doesn’t make them a bad person. Therapists with large followings can do a LOT of good in the world, and they have every right to keep growing.
- Remember that your internal gut feeling about a situation is far more important than any simple explanation on a reel or post.
- Remember that hearing an explanation for our behavior that immediately makes us feel better/ more justified is a lot like pouring that wine on a Wednesday when you swore you wouldn’t drink this week. You might get a sense of relief at the moment, but the unwanted results will continue to play out in your life, in your next relationship, and in you not fully evolving into the person you want to be.
Remember too, that the vast majority of influencers are wonderful, well-meaning people! I have zero grudges against any of these therapists, and I’m grateful so many stand-out people are normalizing mental health topics in everyday life.
None of these people are sitting home, cackling over their witches’ cauldrons about how to dupe you next. Instead, it’s the unfortunate by-product of cultural and social media oversimplification.
So what can you do to combat this and take care of yourself with a good balance of self-kindness and compassion?
- In areas of your life where you ARE getting the results you want, keep it up! Your combination of boundaries, self-challenge, and self-responsibility is working well.
- In areas where you’re NOT getting the results you want, look deeper. Chances are you need more self-challenge, less placating or excuse-making. Get in with a good therapist who can help you look with clearer eyes on why this life-arena is harder for you (and yes, the answers might have to do with trauma, addiction, or other deep work where a great deal of support is needed).
- Follow influencers who challenge you. Yes, their words might feel a little sting-y at times, but that’s the whole point. Things that hit a nerve help us grow.
A few of my favorite influencers who nicely balance self-compassion with kicking you in the butt are Mel Robbins (constant focus on self-responsibility and action-taking), Todd Barantz (a therapist who is over your misguided relationship drama on every level), and, strangely enough, The Daily Stoic (SO much insight and wisdom on personal responsibility and mind-management).
I’d love to hear from you: who are your favorite mental health influencers who offer a nice balance of compassion and challenge? Let me know! I’ll add them to my follow list as well.
As always, Readers…thanks for being here!
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