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.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr

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.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr

The destructive power of boredom

 Seeing the truth, Self-defeating behaviour  Comments Off on The destructive power of boredom
Jun 182013

I’ve noticed over the years that boredom is both a symptom and cause of malaise and, although it can do no end of damage, it tends not to be taken very seriously as a problem and little, if any, sympathy is offered to sufferers. The usual reaction to a complaint of boredom seems to be a dismissive comment about it being the person’s own fault and that if you’re bored you’re boring. Which is not very helpful.

What I’m talking about here is not the fleeting pangs we all experience from time to time of wishing something more interesting was going on and looking hopefully around for distraction. This is a normal part of life and nothing to worry about. We don’t need to be stimulated and entertained on a constant basis – in fact, creativity usually thrives best in empty hours when nothing much is happening.

When I say boredom is a symptom of malaise, I mean people who feel stuck in an unfulfilling long-term situation may experience their frustration and gloom as boredom. Their lives may be full of activities that would absorb and uplift someone different but, because something vital is missing or wrong, their senses are deadened and they feel bored. Certainly this was my experience. The years I spent suppressing my own needs and desires in order to do what I thought was expected of me were covered in a thick, grey, suffocating blanket of boredom.

When I say boredom is a cause of malaise, I mean it can lead us to behave in ways we know are destructive to ourselves and often to others – eating, drinking, taking drugs, picking fights, having affairs, committing crimes, just for something to do.

And the danger is that this can become a vicious circle. I’m unfulfilled, so I indulge in behaviour I hope will stimulate me. Instead, it makes me feel even more stuck and hopeless. I feel worse… even more bored… so I return to the behaviour I dislike but which gives me temporary relief from my boredom.

How can we best confront this? It’s a tricky one because we need to tread the fine line between keeping ourselves busy in a positive way and not keeping ourselves busy in a negative way. The negative way is to fill up our time and our mind with activities that keep us from ever having the opportunity to think deeply about what the real problem is and to find a solution to it. No amount of thrill-seeking is going to compensate for a failed career or a bad relationship; this is using sticking plasters when you need antibiotics.

The first and main priority, if you’re experiencing persistent boredom, is to allow yourself to examine your feelings and work out what’s really wrong, and then take radical action to solve the problem. I know this is easy to say but, as one who has done it, I can tell you the feeling of reengaging with life and being able to enjoy it and be at peace with it is worth every ounce of stress it takes to get there.

Alongside this, there are ways we can deflect ourselves from sliding into behaviours we wish we wouldn’t keep doing. Often, I find, a shake-up of routine is enough to stop me eating too much junk or drinking too much alcohol – when I’m stimulated in other ways I simply forget to yearn for pizza and a glass of wine. This is not a long-term solution but it helps me to remember that I don’t actually need these things, I just want them, and how strong an influence habit is.

Destructive behaviour is an attempt to meet a need, so the most effective way of changing it is to identify the need it’s meeting in you and then find healthy alternatives that will do the same job.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr

How do you see yourself?

 Seeing the truth, Sense of self  Comments Off on How do you see yourself?
May 212013

We all have a mental image of ourselves, though we may not all be aware of it. When you picture yourself in your mind’s eye, what do you see?

How accurate would you say your vision of yourself is? How closely does it correspond with how you feel? If your image is positive and you’re happy, that’s a match and things are authentically good. However, if your image and feelings are out of synch, you will probably find it helpful to examine this picture of yourself and bring it up to date.

In my early twenties, I went a bit wild (delayed teenage rebellion) and my mental self-portrait was of someone energetic, reasonably athletic, attractive, slightly manic but the life and soul of the party. I suppose this was more or less who I was for a few years but it’s strange how long this view persisted after I had slumped into depression and ceased to be any of those things. Having a self-image that’s more positive than reality invites all sorts of trouble and I have no doubt that my depression was worsened by the fact that I was so slow on the uptake as far as my image was concerned. My fantasy was diverging further and further from actuality, without my even realising it was a fantasy. This led to a lot of disappointing and upsetting reactions and some bewildering cognitive dissonance.

Finally, my self-image caught up with reality and I developed a vision of a stout, frumpy wallflower. This is who I was for many years but it’s equally strange how long I retained this view of myself after I had made all sorts of progress on the road to autonomy, health and happiness. Again, the delay in updating my self-image was bad for me, this time impeding my recovery by endlessly reflecting back to me the incarnation of my depression. Below the level of conscious thought, I decided I couldn’t be making the progress I thought I was.

Now that I have finally succeeded in creating a mental picture that represents the happy, confident me I usually am these days, image and reality are aligned, each reinforcing the other.

If you’re not living up to your positive self-image, it’s time to have a long, hard look at the truth. You have to face up to reality before you can change it. On the other hand, if your self-image is negative, working on it can lead the way to improvements in your actual wellbeing. Continually visualising yourself as you want to be is a crucial factor in genuinely becoming the you you want to be.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr
Apr 232013

Robert Burns’s poem To A Louse is a cautionary tale, describing the sort of mortifying situation I dread. The poor girl thinks people are admiring her but actually they’re pointing and staring because she’s got a louse on her bonnet.

On the other hand, we have the new advertisement for Dove, a video that’s gone viral round the internet recently, whose message is: you are more beautiful than you think. I have a variety of misgivings about this experiment and its conclusion but, in the end, it’s designed to sell products, not win any award for psychological breakthrough. I don’t think anyone can argue with the overall point that the way we perceive ourselves (both what we look like, as illustrated, and what we are like) can differ – and sometimes differ wildly – from the way other people perceive us.

So, what can we learn from the Scottish poet and the American advertisers? How can we find that middle way, to be aware of our literal and metaphorical lice, while maintaining a healthy level of self-esteem and not being excessively introspective?

On the Louse side, I think the lesson is to stay grounded and not allow ourselves to get carried away in the heat of a moment’s attention by the idea the world must suddenly have discovered how fabulous we are. From the outside, modesty and self-deprecation are attractive traits; from the inside, they are protective. If we always err on the side of humility, we should be safe from Jenny’s fate.

But of course there is an extremely fine line between self-deprecation and self-doubt. The point of staying grounded is to be able to make a calm assessment and see reality as clearly as it’s possible to do, given the absence of objective truth. We’ll never see the absolute truth about ourselves because we’re always looking through the prism of our history – and nobody else can see the absolute truth about us either, because they’re looking at us through their own prisms. It’s important to know ourselves as well as we can, to hold ourselves to account and also to give ourselves credit when it’s due. And it’s important to remember we have control over what we’re like and the impression we make on the world.

On the Dove side, I think it’s useful to be reminded how widely perceptions can diverge and I think the lesson is to use this to encourage ourselves to play up to the top end of the tolerance window in the way we present ourselves. What I mean by this is that, to a great extent, people take us at our own valuation. To a great extent but not completely – although more on the negative side than the positive. Basically, if I demonstrate low self-esteem, the opinion you form of me is virtually guaranteed to be low. Even if you can see I have more to offer than I believe I have, low self-esteem tends to elicit negative responses, as I was saying a couple of weeks ago.

If I demonstrate high self-esteem, you are likely not entirely to take my word for it but to probe a bit, so you can form an opinion based on evidence of my characteristics and abilities as well as the vibes I’m giving you. If you judge my self-esteem to be inflated, I will go down in your estimation, probably past what one might think of as the objectively fair level. This is why it’s important to know ourselves and also to be humble. But to return to the tolerance window thing, it’s good to present ourselves as confidently as we can get away with.

To quote from another literary source, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Everybody is an actor. Let’s make sure the character we’re portraying is the person we want to be.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr