New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.


In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.


You can download or read the zine here.


Purpose and integrity

Existential psychotherapist and blogger Emma Wilkinson recently very kindly asked me to be part of her ‘people of integrity’ project. She’s interviewing people whose work she regards as having integrity and I was deeply flattered to be thought of that way!

I’ve included her first couple of questions – and my answers – below, and you can read the rest if you follow the ‘read more’ at the end to her blog. You might also be interested in the other interview she’s conducted so far with Prof. Emmy Van Deurzen, foremost existential psychotherapist in Europe.

Briefly tell me your story (who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?)

I’m Meg-John Barker (MJ for short). I grew up in Bradford in the 1970s and 80s. I studied psychology at university, did a PhD in that area, and stumbled into working as a lecturer. But my passion for exploring and writing about people’s relationships with themselves and others didn’t really develop until I was around 30. It’s been a gradual process of allowing myself – more and more – to study what really fascinates me, drawing on the ideas and approaches that make most sense to me, and writing in the ways that I feel I’m best at and find most fulfilling.

In the last few years I’ve been writing more about more self-help style books – and other materials – for general audiences rather than for academics. I see myself going increasingly in that direction, weaving together my therapeutic work with my writing, and producing the kind of creative and critical self-help that I think would be useful for people. I’m particularly excited about projects involving comics and animations, for example, or mashing up self-help with other genres such as ghost stories, or memoir.

What do you see as your true purpose in life?

I see my purpose as being somebody who brings together and synthesises a lot of information and ideas about the topics that I’m passionate about, and then finds ways of putting that across which will be accessible and engaging for folks. It’s all about connection for me: connecting with the people who I learn from through reading, conversations with colleagues, and my therapy work; and connecting with the people I’m talking to through my writing, workshops, mentoring and counselling.

Another important element for me is that my work locates individual experiences in wider culture, and encourages people to engage critically with the messages around them, rather than getting caught in a spiral of blaming themselves – as individuals – for their struggles.

How did you discover this purpose? Read more…


Inside Out: Getting in Touch with Our Emotions

This weekend I saw the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. I’m a big fan of Pixar already, particularly because their previous films have explored huge existential themes like death and the meaning of life, and because they often celebrate friendship and chosen families rather than the romantic relationships and biological families that so much mainstream media focuses on. That’s a big deal in a set of films that are also massively accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike.

When I saw that the main characters in Inside Out were a person’s emotions I knew that I absolutely had to go see it. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact several times I was moved to tears by how familiar the experiences were, and by this hugely important, complex, and rarely-expressed message being communicated so simply and profoundly in a ‘kid’s film’.

If you’d rather not be spoilered for the movie then please do go see it before reading the rest of this post. Also do be aware that it may well tap into lots of different emotions as you’re watching it – if you’re anything like me – not just the joyful ones. As we’ll go on to see that may not be a bad thing!

The rest of this post is divided into three sections:

  • Experiencing all of our emotions
  • Shutting down our emotions
  • How to sit with our emotions: A practical guide

Read more of this post

New Zine! Social suffering and social mindfulness

I’ve made my first attempt at a zine!

For the last few months I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the social side of mental distress. It feels really important to me to recognise how our suffering is embedded within our relationship dynamics; our workplaces, communities and other institutional systems; and our wider society.

I often notice what a relief it is for me – and my friends and clients – when we realise this social element to our suffering: particularly how the self-criticism that we do so constantly is something that everybody else does as well, because we’re all in this self-critical culture. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with us. It’s understandable.

This week I’m speaking at a few conferences which touch on themes of inequalities, individualising and intersectionality, and on mental health and mindfulness. So I thought – instead of the usual stand-up presentation – I’d make a zine that captures my experiences of these things, and makes some suggestions about how we might creatively engage with them.

It was also a good opportunity – for me – to get back into making comics: something I’d love to do more of, especially now I’m working on a comic introduction to queer theory with a professional artist. Here’s one of the comics I made for the zine. You can download the whole zine at the end of this post if you’d like to read it more clearly.


For my zine, the comics really helped me to understand how intertwined all these social levels are – as are the inequalities that we suffer from, and benefit from, and the ways in which we are individualised and individualise others.

You can download the zine as a pdf by clicking on the link below. I’d suggest printing it out as a booklet to get the full zine experience – or just reading it online. There’s also a whole book on mindful therapy by me here (including more comics!) if you’re interested in reading further on the topic.


Embrace your inner mutant superpower

This might seem a bit of a departure from the usual stuff that I write about here, but stay with me and hopefully you’ll see the connections. It’s also the first thing I’ve written towards one of my long term projects, Everyday Horrors. This aims to bring together two popular genres of book which not many people have previously thought to combine: spooky story collection and self-help guide.

First I need to come out. Coming out is something I’ve done perhaps more than most people do in one lifetime. However this time it’s a bit different. After much reflection I need to let you know that I am a shape-shifter. Transmogrifier, lycanthrope, trickster, chameleon: call it what you will. I have the mutant superpower of magically transforming to fit my surroundings.

In the rest of this post I’ll use my own example to illustrate how you might come to identify, explore, and embrace your own inner mutant superpower.

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Self-help on the radio!

Yesterday I was included in the Radio 4 programme talking about self-help in general and Rewriting the Rules in particular. You can catch the episode on the Thinking Allowed website here.

Such a great way to end 2014.




Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one I did on self-help.

When did self-help books became bestsellers in the US? Why? What were the first self-help authors who made their way to the top?

The term ‘self-help’ was first used by Samuel Smiles in Scotland in 1859, but it was in the US that the idea of self-help books really took off in the twentieth century. Perhaps the first major self-help authors were Dale Carnegie in the 1940s (How to Make Friends and Influence People), Norman Vincent Peale in the 1950s (The Power of Positive Thinking) and and Thomas A. Harris in the 1960s (I’m OK, You’re OK).

What have been the preferred topics of self-help books?

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Happy new year

Happy new year all!

Soon into the new year I will be linking to a great article where a bunch of people give their suggested alternatives to making standard new years resolutions.

Meanwhile enjoy this excellent post on the topic by BishUK:

‘Should I Make New Year Resolutions?’

You really don’t have to make New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s some advice about how to make them work if you do.

JustinYou Don’t Have to Make Changes

There’s a lot of hype about New Year’s Resolutions but that doesn’t mean you have to do them. Instead of thinking ‘this is s**t, I’m going to change it’ maybe think about what is good for you right now – what do you enjoy about yourself and those around you? Maybe your New Year’s Resolution could be to stop making resolutions and to chill and enjoy what is happening (just like I give up giving up for Lent). Read more…

You might also enjoy this post that I wrote on new year resolutions this time last year.

Happy holidays – TED talk

Happy holidays from Rewriting the Rules. A great present for me was that my TEDx talk from the Brighton 2013 event has now been edited and gone live. I hope you enjoy it.

Porn again

After my last post about the debates around the new Porn Studies journal I wanted to add a further comment on the subject. Writing that post got me thinking about why I consider pornography to be an interesting and useful arena of study.

Studying Sex Advice

Personally I haven’t conducted much research directly on pornography, other than a study on slash fiction some years back. However, I am currently involved in a project with Rosalind Gill and Laura Harvey analysing various forms of sex advice (TV shows, problem pages, self-help books, sex education websites, and the like).

The reason that I am particularly interested in this genre is because the advice that is given tells us a great deal about people’s understandings and assumptions about sex. If we look at the most mainstream sex advice – the self-help books that publishers are happy to take on, or the particularly common kinds of magazine articles that we see again and again – we find out what is considered to be sex in the current time and place in which we are living: who is assumed to be involved, what practices they engage in, what is seen as desirable or ‘good’ sex and what is not, and so on. Also, if we look across the diversity of sex advice – including self-help books aimed at various sexual communities, and websites designed to be particularly ethical, feminist, or ‘sex-positive’ – we see what other possibilities are available, and also what the limits seem to be on possible understandings, and where the boundaries are drawn around sex.

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