Heartfelt Advice: When a Client Makes You Feel Like Crap

Sex work is customer service to the max, and some days it sucks. Getting stiffed or stood up. Getting ogled or groped or ignored. Enduring shitty comments, cluelessness, mind games, bad breath, funky toenails. As sex professionals, no matter what, we’re expected to look good and smile, even while we’re dying inside.

Given that our work is centered in our sexual selves, it often feels easier to just ignore bad feelings and hope they go away. But few of us truly have the ability to shake off negative encounters like they never happened. Instead, hurt and insult fester, poisoning our self-esteem, rattling our minds while shutting our bodies down. Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a neurologist who studies the neurobiology of stress, wrote in his essay, “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” social stressors suppress our immune systems, leading to indigestion, insomnia, addiction, eating disorders, eczema, migraines, and so much more. Left unaddressed, these accumulated grievances and ailments lead directly to burnout. So when that crap day comes, recognize it for what it can be: a gift in disguise, a prime opportunity to be good to yourself. So let’s get down to it.

First: Take care of your body. When we’re humiliated, that hurt has to move through our bodies somatically@. Very few of us learn this as children. Instead, we’re taught to rely on our intellect to process bad emotions. But our minds can’t move what’s stored in our muscles and joints and voice boxes and bones. So, as soon as you can:

  • Get right in the shower.  Wash the day away.
  • Eat moderately and mindfully, but only if you’re hungry.  Don’t starve yourself as punishment or stuff yourself in an attempt to dull the pain.
  • Unless the gym is your happiest place on earth, don’t force yourself through your regular routine.  That's like piling on extra homework when you’re already failing class. You’ll either spend that time zoning out, or counting the seconds until your workout is over—neither is good. The best self-care is to be fully present, addressing your feelings directly.
  • Scream into a pillow, kick a punching bag, take a long walk or bike ride.  Play loud music, dance like you don’t care, sing at the top of your lungs. Move hard and fast and long enough so that you’re breathing hard. Wear yourself out with it
  • While moving, say what you’re feeling out loud:  “Scared, scared, scared, scared.” “Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.” “Pissed, pissed, pissed, pissed.” This lets you fully feel your emotions in your body, throat, and mind, allowing that energy to move through you.
  • Call a buddy, if you can—get yourself some sympathy, by all means.  For some perspective, it can help to ask the question: Am I going to still be mad about this a year from now?

This next step isn’t easy, but it’s part of the work we all need to do to make this world the place we want to live in. You know that moment of true inspiration—we hear someone righteous speak, or we read about an act of breathtaking kindness? That feeling that swells up in our chest, that poignant blend of awe and tenderness and gratitude, when we think, Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me? Here’s your chance.

I know—it’s not fair. Why do we have to be the ones to turn the other cheek when we’re depleted and aggravated and insulted? But as the Buddha said, “You will not be punished for your anger, but by your anger.” When we fight fire with fire, the whole world turns to ash. Instead, we fight fire with water.

That client who stood you up? Maybe they were in the middle of a shit day far worse than anything you can imagine. Maybe they just lost their job or their grandmother or their dog—send them a blast of unconditional love. That handsy fan with no manners? See them for what they are, someone lost in their neediness, stunted by desire for what feels just out of reach. That stupid, mouthy sub? Muster what compassion you can manage—people with happy lives don’t act like fucktards. Picture your tormentor’s face in front of you, and breathe into a simple prayer of forgiveness and acceptance.

This doesn’t mean you have to be friends—take whatever steps you need to protect yourself in the future. But you are so much bigger and better than how they made you feel today.

While you’re doing this, remember exactly who the hell you are—a gorgeous creature of delight, the breath of life. You bring sexual healing and inspiration and excitement into this world. Truly, it’s too bad some people can’t appreciate all your hard work and accept what you offer graciously. But you know who you are. Nobody can take that from you.

That’s enough for one day—time for video games. Tomorrow will be a better day.

~~~Our job in life is to heal ourselves. As we do, we heal the world. We achieve this by first tending to our own needs, then turning our intention to others. It’s never easy to extend unconditional compassion to those who have harmed us, but as Socrates said:

“Those who are the hardest to love need it the most.”~~~