Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes (1)

 Relationships  Comments Off on Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes (1)
Aug 062013

How to relate to each other successfully is arguably the biggest challenge faced by human beings all over the planet. Sometimes I get the impression some individuals give so little thought to others that they appear not even to realise other people are people.

The old native-American adage that you can’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes is wise advice. Truly understanding another person is a virtually unachievable task but the first step, as it were, to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, is to put yourself in their position and see how you would feel in those shoes, before you begin to consider their journey.

Although it’s possible the other person will have completely different attitudes and reactions from yours (the subject of next week’s post), thinking how you would feel in their situation is a good start, the first staging post on the road to empathy.

Failure to ask the basic question, “How would I feel?” underlies millions of instances like these every day:

A rings B. B is eating and says he can’t talk now, so A terminates the call. On another occasion, B rings A. A says he’s eating and can’t talk now but B just talks anyway.

C has a headache and complains loudly and persistently, demanding sympathy from all sides. Later, when D gets a headache, C is impatient and can’t see what D is making such a fuss about.

These are mild examples but they are symptomatic of an inability to grasp the concept that if you don’t like whatever it is, there’s a good chance the other person won’t like it either and you owe them the courtesy of treating them in the manner you like them to treat you. Otherwise, you’re behaving as if the other person’s needs and preferences are subordinate to yours – and that is not the way to build healthy, happy relationships.

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Does housework matter?

 Keeping perspective  Comments Off on Does housework matter?
Jul 302013

For me, how I feel about housework is a good barometer for how I’m feeling in general. If I can’t cope with it, keep putting it off and would rather live on takeaway than have to confront the kitchen, I know there’s something wrong. When I was depressed, my inability to tidy, clean or cook lasted for months at a time and caused me a whole layer of additional problems. These days, if I’ve got time to wash up, iron or put stuff away but find myself resisting, it generally just signals exhaustion, and once I’ve caught up on my sleep I get on with the chores perfectly cheerfully.

Success depends on finding the happy medium in one’s attitude to housework. Obsessing about it is a waste of life: it is by its nature never-ending and there’s no point in worrying about it. Housework is a background activity that supports a happy lifestyle; it is not an end or a lifestyle in itself. It’s an area in which, particularly if you have a lot of visitors, it can be easy to feel a lot of pressure to be perfect, but don’t be sucked into this. You have other priorities and it really doesn’t matter if there’s a bit of dust around and everything is not in apple-pie order.

On the other hand, it is important that your home be kept in a state that everyone who lives there is comfortable with. Once it descends beyond a certain point and you find yourself constantly tripping over things and unable to locate stuff you want because it’s all such a muddle, when things start going mouldy and getting disgusting, you’ve let it slide too far. Living like this is not only potentially dangerous for the body, it’s degrading and depressing for the soul. If you live alone, you owe yourself the respect and love to look after yourself properly and live in a decent environment. If you share your home, you need to work out how to maintain a healthy living space that you can both/all enjoy.

Where we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable in terms of mess, dirt and falling behind with the admin is a matter of individual preference, influenced by our upbringing, life experience and (let’s face it) gender. There is no right or wrong answer to this but it’s important to thrash out an agreement amongst all members of the household as to where the line will be drawn in this abode. And the line must not be breached unless in exceptional circumstances.

The issue of division of labour is a huge and thorny one and not the subject of this post. The point I’m trying to make here is a slightly different one and that is how valuable it can be to give some serious thought to how much housework matters. If you feel it matters more than it merits, work on loosening up a bit. If you feel it doesn’t matter at all, think about how much better life might be if your home was clean and tidy, everything broken was fixed or replaced, you were up to date with your paperwork. Whichever side you’re approaching from, finding the right perspective on housework saves a great deal of stress.

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What’s in a status?

 Sense of self  Comments Off on What’s in a status?
Jul 232013

Some years ago, a friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend. They had been together a matter of months and, to him anyway, it clearly wasn’t working out. When he told her it was over, what seemed to upset her most was that she had only that week changed her Facebook status to In a Relationship and now she would have to change it back to Single. While at the time I was quick to ridicule her superficiality and emphasise how firmly her reaction underlined how right he was to finish with her, thinking about it now I can definitely sympathise with how she felt.

Obviously, being in a relationship is about rather more than a Facebook status and if one’s boyfriend is more a trophy, a symbol, a way to define oneself, than a soulmate, then the relationship will never be a deep and fulfilling one – but in many ways that is beside the point. What was at stake for this girl was not so much love and companionship as the integrity of her self-image. She had invested in having a boyfriend, rather than in the reality of the man, and when he took that away from her it shook her because suddenly she was no longer what she thought she was, a girl with a boyfriend.

I’ve talked about self-image on this blog before but I thought it was worth mentioning again because sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between what we genuinely believe others think of us and what, in fact, is what we think of ourselves. Unless we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves, our self-image is no doubt heavily influenced by our early parent figures but it is nonetheless how we see ourselves rather than how someone else might see us. The reason it’s important to draw this fine distinction is that we have the power to assess and change our own view of ourselves.

It’s useful to remember that different people see the world in remarkably different ways from how we may see it ourselves and that, to a huge extent, other people take us at our own valuation. The newly single girl may have imagined her friends would sneer at her failure to hold on to a relationship (is this what true friends do?); she felt shamed and expected those around her to be as hard on her as she was on herself. I may be projecting here but it’s a common enough phenomenon. I also suspect her need to be seen to have a boyfriend may have been more about meeting social expectation than genuinely wanting a man in her life, or anyway that man.

Never mind the labels, the pigeon holes, the cultural norms. Be the you you really want to be. If someone doesn’t like it, they might not like any other face you present either and, in the end, it’s your life, not theirs. But most people will respond favourably to the positive, authentic you. We can’t expect others to respect and love us unless and until we respect and love ourselves.

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It’s not fair! (2)

 Seeing the truth  Comments Off on It’s not fair! (2)
Jul 162013

Another aspect of “It’s not fair”-ness is the sense of entitlement so many people seem to have. Their idea of life being ‘fair’ is when they get what they want – and it’s ‘fairer’ still if they don’t have to make much effort to get it. These are the individuals who, when calamity strikes, ask “Why me?”. Well, if not you, then who?

Focusing on the perceived unfairness of how life treats us is a negative, damaging philosophy. Believing somebody else deserves bad luck more or doesn’t deserve good luck as much as we do is tantamount to saying we are inherently better and more important than the other person and that is a very dangerous belief to hold. It’s a position that in Transactional Analysis is known as I’m OK, You’re Not OK and, if you have a tendency to think this way, I urge you to examine where it comes from and to balance it up so that you can embrace the healthy ideal of I’m OK, You’re OK. (You can read more about all this here.)

Worrying about life being unfair is, if nothing else, a waste of energy – energy we could be using to improve our lot. If we put as much effort into making things happen as we do into complaining about how difficult it is and that fact that Bob and Tina were given it for free, we’d make a great deal more progress. To consider life should be fairer and our ride should be easier is to deny our own power to overcome adversity. It’s putting the locus of control outside ourselves (see Do we make our own luck?)

Accepting that life can be hard, frustrating and, yes, unfair liberates us for more productive and uplifting thinking. What other people have and achieve is actually pretty irrelevant to what we ourselves have and achieve. As I said last week, good luck and happiness are not finite, we are not competing for them; our effort is directed towards what we want and we’ll get it more quickly if we’re not distracted by what others are doing. Let them enjoy their success, as we will ours.

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It’s not fair! (1)

 Seeing the truth  Comments Off on It’s not fair! (1)
Jul 092013

A few years ago I went through a terrible phase where everyone around me seemed to be getting and achieving exactly what I wanted to have and to do, while life was just passing me by. I got so sick of having to congratulate people and be pleased for them, when it felt as if my nose were being rubbed in my failure and the pointlessness of my existence and I wished they would all shut up and leave me alone. Instead, they went on and on about how happy they were – or, worse still, they complained about how difficult it was to have whatever it was I longed for and expected me to sympathise! I railed against the unfairness of life, not that my friends and relations were succeeding but that it was my destiny always to be shut out of the party, watching through glass as they all enjoyed themselves but unable ever to join in.

I believed my fate was to be always the bridesmaid, never the bride; always the stage-manager, never the lead actor. Nothing was ever about me, yet so much seemed to be expected of me in terms of support and making things happen for other people. I was thoroughly fed up.

As it gradually dawned on me that I didn’t have to accept this state of affairs, that in fact my fate was not mapped out, that I could take control and shape my own destiny, I also began to realise some other things:

1. I don’t necessarily want what everyone else has got, what society thinks I should want. Why be upset about not having children, your own home (mortgage), a snazzy car, when actually your interests and desires lie elsewhere? You don’t have to conform.

2. I don’t have to support other people. In fact, if I take my arm away, they very often don’t even notice. Making myself indispensable to other people was what gave my life purpose and meaning and I held on to this long, long after I had come to feel resentful about the amount I used to do for other people relative to what I got back. This is bad, both for me and for them, and I’m so much happier now I’ve (almost) eradicated my compulsive, unhealthy need to give.

3. Luck and happiness are not finite. Just because he, she and they have got a lot of them, it doesn’t mean there is any less out there for me – or you.

If we get stuck in negative thought patterns, believing we’re never going to have or be what we want, it becomes self-fulfilling. But we can break down the psychological barriers and change what we once thought was our destiny. It can be done, it can happen to you, and a shining testament to this is the new men’s Wimbledon champion, Andy Murray.

Perhaps the moral here is that life is often fairer than we might think it is; it’s just that we’re so busy looking at what other people are doing that we fail to notice or enjoy the benefits we have.

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