Tomorrow is the big day and I’ve yet to meet anyone waiting for their results who isn’t anxious. For young people this is an especially critical time because so much depends on it. Whether or not you get into the university that you want to. Whether or not you leave home. How you’ll compare to your peers.
The hours up to 8am tomorrow can feel unbearable but there are a few simple things you can do to manage your stress.
Most importantly, move around. It doesn’t matter if the movement is housework, going to the gym, taking the dog for a walk whatever it takes to get the air moving in your lungs and to build up a bit of a sweat. Stress releases adrenaline and the purpose of adrenaline is to make your muscles more efficient for escaping or fighting. If adrenaline just hangs around in your body you will become irritable and restless. If it comes to it, just jump up and down on the spot until you get breathless. If any of that breathlessness is because you’re laughing at yourself jumping up and down on the spot, so much the better.
From now on any time you feel anxious, use the adrenaline that is produced by your anxiety.
The next most useful thing you can do is have a drink of water. Just water. Not juice or coke or alcohol. There’s a link between even very slight levels of dehydration and anxiety, so rule that out. And have a glass of water every hour or so.
Now, spend 30 seconds breathing properly.
Stand up. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Imagine a thread pulling you gently upright from the crown of your head.
Breathe in through your nose and imagine that you’re filling your lungs from your belly button upwards. Your tummy should move, then your chest, but not your shoulders.
Let the air move into your body and then gently let it flow out again. Again, your tummy should move then your chest, and your shoulders shouldn’t move. The in and the out breath should take about 12 to 15 seconds.
That breath is how you should be aiming to breathe all the time. From your belly button up as your breathe in. From the belly button up as you breathe out. Simply breathing like that will ensure that you’re not breathing shallowly and too quickly, in a way that can actually bring on a panic attack. If you’re breathing effectively your voice should become a little deeper. If you hear your voice getting high pitched you know that you’re not breathing effectively.
Slow down. Plant your feet flat on the floor. Breathe.
This kind of breathing will slow your thoughts down and help you get things in perspective.
The only admin you can do between now and then is to get the email address and phone numbers of the universities you want to go to, and those of your insurance choices
The UKAS Track website will freeze from 6pm today. For what it’s worth, I’d leave it alone now. You’ve already changed everything you need to. It doesn’t update at midnight and won’t be open until 8am tomorrow.
UCAS’ social media team will be around from 6am and the contact centre opens at 7.30am for enquiries. There’s no point in spending any more time with the website until then.
So get some things in place from now until you pick up your results.
Try not to make alcohol one of them.
Timetable in a couple of exercise sessions – yes, a couple! - and if you can do them with a friend so much the better. Go swimming, go for a run or a long walk. Do some sit ups, press-ups or planks. Do the washing up, cook dinner, clean the windows, walk the dog, try to make the expenditure of energy meaningful. If you can’t find anyone to do exercise with just do it by yourself. Exercise will help you sleep better tonight, so put your heart into it.
Plan a good evening meal, something that has a decent amount of protein in it. Tryptophan is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein, that aids sleep and combats anxiety. You’ll find good levels of tryptophan in nuts, tofu, meat – especially turkey – eggs, cheese, beans, lentils and oats. Plan your breakfast around this list too.
Set an alarm, right now, to remind you to breathe properly for 1 minute every waking hour. That’s a total of about 12 minutes. About 50 good breaths.
Find a good distraction and immerse yourself in it. If it’s an outdoor distraction that’s great. If it’s outdoors with friends, even better. If it’s gaming, well so be it, just don’t turn into a slob. Drink water. Get away from the screen to eat a good meal. Run up and down some stairs once in a while. And stop around 10pm at the latest.
Be kind to yourself.
There may be some very critical voices in your head telling you that your life will come to an end if you don’t get the results you need, that you didn’t work hard enough, that you’re a disappointment to your family and to yourself.
Perhaps you didn’t work hard enough. There’s nothing you can do about that now. You can determine to work harder from now on. That’s all anyone can do.
When I did my A levels a friends mother wouldn’t talk to him for 3 days because he didn’t get the results she wanted him to get. We all thought she was cruel and wrong. 30+ years on, knowing all about the causes of punishing behaviours I still think she was cruel and wrong.
If your family or anyone else punishes you for not getting the grades you need they too are cruel and wrong. There’s no point in punishing you. Punishment – including passive aggressive sighing “It’s OK. I know you did your best,” ie "I know you're not very clever," – is not going to alter your grades.
Some families look to their children to lift them out of poverty. In countries where that is a matter of survival pressures are different but in the UK getting good grades is not a matter of life and death. Your parents may well have made sacrifices to get you through education. That’s what parents are meant to do.
What people who take A levels are supposed to do is to work hard enough to get the best grades they can without driving themselves mad. Anorexia, bulimia, depression and anxiety have exploded in young people. That’s a price that’s just not worth paying for A grades. For anything at all.
Breathe in and out properly twice RIGHT NOW!
Then go and get a drink of water.
There comes a point when you have to take stock and say, “Things are bad.”
The beginning of the economic downturn saw a tedious increase in ‘experts’ telling us that positivity would make everything better. Thinking about what is good rather than bad and focusing on the good stuff really can build new neural pathways and change your attitude for the better. But it won't help if you want to walk across the road with your eyes shut.
Very quickly the suggestion that positivity can be helpful has turned into a demand. We live in a country where therapists are working with the DWP to make unemployed people go back to paid employment and where paid employment is suddenly perceived as a ‘positive health outcome.’ If you think that’s wonderful then you don’t care about evidence.
It is unethical, counterproductive and has no basis in fact. It speaks volumes about the desperation that many therapists are feeling.
Because you’re reading this it’s probable that you’re all too aware that things have been falling apart for some time. Many businesses can’t afford the materials and staff they need and so existing staff are working at the edges of their ability and capacity. Public services - the services we all use when we travel, get ill, expect an educated population or want our elderly relatives to have some kind of dignity – have been amputated. Things are falling apart. The most vulnerable amongst us have been telling us this for years. And now ordinary people who are not vulnerable are feeling it.
Cognitive dissonance is
“the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; when performing an action that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, or values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, and values.”
We all experience it from time to time but many of us are finding a home in this unbearable environment.
Demands for positivity have become authoritarian, insisting that we cut a smile into our face and do little dances of joy to demonstrate team spirit or something. Anyone saying, “My life is hard” is a shirker. Anyone suggesting that motivational speeches don’t put food on the table is dismissed as unenthusiastic. People who want to care for a sick child are told that they must ‘arrange alternative childcare.’
How do you discern whether positivity indicates confidence or stupidity? Intelligence, good business strategy and the ability to avoid danger involves knowing when to cut our losses. The alternative is to continue staring at the sun, borrow unsustainable amounts of money, time and good will and crash disastrously.
Things are bad for most of us right now and, as adults, we need to look at facts rather than allow our prejudices and desires to rule us. Sterling is falling and the trend is downward. A 60-hour week is no longer unusual. (If you don’t work a 60 hour week that’s a good thing not an indication that you’re lazy.) Anxiety is twice as prevalent as depression. Our children are becoming more and more distressed.
If you’ve read my blog for a while you know I don’t like inspirational quotes and the pretence that everything will improve if we all just pull together and think happy thoughts. Now I’m saying that if you’re an ordinary person and you’re not feeling a bit crap that it’s likely that you’re ignoring something.
I loathe this kind of Inspirational Quote. The cliché of a Wise Exotic Person, in this case that acme of wisdom, a Native American; the shrewd observation of nature; the comparison between something ordinary and ubiquitous against something noble and clever; and the requirement to change your attitude, you weak, stupid fool.
Clearly, this person has never seen a raptor in the rain. This kind of ‘inspiration’ is too often built on fantasy, ignorance and the desire not to encourage but to load blame on to vulnerable people. It has the added benefit that it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Viktor Frankl and his selectively quoted book, "Man's Search For Meaning" is often used to punish people: "When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves." "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Can we be clear? Frankl was writing about his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Although he hypothesised about what signs individuals gave of despair as a prelude to their death these are not research results, they are the desperate observations of a dying man. Using Frankl’s words in this way suggests that if only those spineless failures in concentration camps who gave up had just changed their attitude a lot more of them would have survived. Frankl turned the memory of his wife into a kind of religious mania, an act he credited with keeping him alive, but I’m not aware of any inspirational quotes suggesting we all do the same.
There’s a great deal to be said about altering our attitude towards events. It’s absolutely true that if we can gather ourselves after a failure, loss or catastrophe and keep moving forward then we are more likely to achieve more and perhaps be happier. This can be very important for people who’ve experienced bereavement, at some point they need to drag themselves away from misery and shock if they’re not to remain out of the world. But some people will remain in that state. Do they have terrible attitude? Are they stupidly refusing to be helped?
Or has no one offered them the kind of help that they can accept?
There’s always a reason for a ‘bad attitude.’ Sometimes it’s a personality habit and it’s no use saying that this can be dealt with by snapping out of it: in every situation people do what they believe is best. When we say they should just try harder or be nicer their perception of the world as a place full of cruel people who have no empathy is compounded.
Happily, an increasing number of people are beginning to speak out about their failures and anxieties, their inability to buzz through the world like a chainsaw, the mental illness that floors them and the shock and humiliation of collapse. Less dramatically, we’re recognising the existence of introverts who make up around half of the population and who are quickly exhausted by having to do things that extroverts are energised by. Like go to meetings. Or talk to people.
By the time that most people come to therapy they’ve moved past the possibility of changing their attitude into miserable paralysis. Thank goodness. That’s the place where change happens, not in denial of reality.
Let’s look at another Viktor Frankl quote – one that’s longer, more complex, requiring more reflection than those chosen by other people who want us to get a grip:
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he could become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
When we tell people to change their attitude we shut them down. When we acknowledge the reality of their situation - that they are unique, that they are not us - when we give each other compassionate space, then genuine, individual growth becomes possible. Not growth to satisfy anyone else’s idea of success but growth that leads to their own concept of accomplishment.
I had to stagger in to work today, feeling like hell and dosed up on Lemsip. If you’re self employed, as I am, you’ll be aware of the pressure to choose between staying in bed and paying some bills, and today I just had to get on with it.
That said, I was also able to come home two hours later and sleep, then continue to do a little bit of work from the comfort of my sofa. That’s a blessing. For the previous two days I’ve done nothing at all even though there’s a never ending ‘must do’ list. There always is. A few days away from it won’t kill anyone.
One of the questions I ask most of my clients is, “What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t go in to work?” Their response is usually to smile, look sheepish and say something along the lines of “Nothing much.” The pressure to keep attending work is astonishing. Just having your body in the office seems to be the single most important aspect of employment, rather than any work you might do. One of my clients* left his employer after a review where he was told his work was, ‘Exceptional, we can’t fault it,’ but he mustn’t listen to the radio on headphones. Why? Because his employers need for control was poisonous.
For this client, after finally realising that he was being bullied every day handing in his notice a couple of days later was the right thing to do. He had the backing of his family and enough savings to see him through 6 weeks of job seeking. For him, it was worth visiting his GP to get signed off, taking a week or so to rest and recover from an absurd work environment, and then get on with finding a new job.
The ideal way of dealing with a job you hate is to find a new one while letting your current employer pay your wage. What makes that difficult for many people is that they won’t admit that their employer is toxic. We tend to bitch and moan about work without doing anything about it, whether that’s looking for new employment or talking to a Union, and wait until something so preposterous happens that things begin to spiral out of control. I’ve had a number of clients who’ve denied anything was wrong until they’ve been assaulted at work. Denial is not just a river in Africa.
*Identifying details have been changed.
This is a great description of the process of accepting and submitting to emotional pain in order to address it. Go and visit Bethany Webster's page to see more about her work.
Posted on September 13, 2014
Sitting with our pain is such a simple act and yet it can be one of the hardest things to do.
Feeling our pain and not rushing in to fix it, numb it, avoid it, or cover it up takes enormous courage. This is where surrender comes in. We reach a point in our healing where we’ve read all the books, consulted all the gurus or tried all the fancy techniques and all that is left is the last thing we want to do: Feel our painful feelings. Ironically, sitting with our pain is precisely what will eventually bring us all the things we were looking for through avoiding it.
A major key to healing emotional wounding is the willingness to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. This willingness is essential to truly coming out the other side of childhood wounds.
Discomfort can come in many forms:
To an unhealed inner child, the only way it knows how to soothe itself is to act in accordance with the patterns that were imprinted by the family of origin, but usually those are precisely the patterns that are causing the pain. This keeps us trapped in a loop. The answer is to cultivate the skill of mothering and soothing our inner child while we make new choices that better reflect our true desires and needs. This inner bond is what helps us to effectively separate from family and cultural patterns that cause suffering.
For most of us, growing up involved a series of self-betrayals in which we had no choice but to create an inner split in order to survive. The split usually involves some form of numbing our feelings and rejecting ourselves in order to be accepted by our families. Healing involves the recovery of our ability to fully our feelings and thus, to feel and express the truth of who we are without shame.
While we are surrounded with messages to avoid our pain, both externally in the culture and internally through early coping mechanisms, it is through being present with our own pain and allowing our feelings to flow that healing really happens.
Truth is found outside our comfort zone. Outside the comfort zone is the space in which we separate from dysfunctional patterns that have been ingrained in us by our culture and families.
There are two main phases of learning to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. Each phase may overlap at times, but generally we move from resistance to surrender.
Here we usually have a great deal of aversion and avoidance of looking at the painful feelings we experience. We may seek various ways to numb out or repress the truth of what we are feeling. Resistance can take the forms of self-sabotage, forgetfulness, overwhelm and addictions. Sometimes resistance can be helpful as an inner boundary of slowing things down until we are ready to fully see something. And sometimes it can be avoidance of what we know we must face. It takes careful self- examination to see which form of resistance is operating. We may experience some resistance at each new level of healing, but as we grow, we can better recognize resistance and more easily move through it.
Most of us surrender simply because the pain of resistance becomes too great. We eventually cross a threshold where we’ve learned to trust that embracing pain rather than running from it is what provides relief. We fully taste the joy and freedom that come from being in contact with the REAL within oneself. There is nothing like having moved through the pain and into the joy of feeling ONE within yourself. The peace of inner alignment: feeling and expressing your authentic feelings without the need to defend them.
There dawns a harmony between your personal imperfections and your irreplaceable part in the greater perfection of life.
Eventually the longing and hunger for living your truth overshadows all other desires, including the desire to be free of pain. It is seen that this hunger for truth is trustworthy and will lead you to what you need in each moment. And sometimes what you need is to embrace is yet another level of inner pain. The moments of relief and bliss that open up through having embraced your pain makes it all worth it. Over and over we learn that the act of embracing and being present with our pain is what connects us with the larger truth of who we are.
I think that one of the reasons why the crucifixion is such a powerful, pervasive symbol in the western world is because it symbolizes precisely what can be profoundly difficult: the willingness to accept and be present with our painful feelings.
A new inner space is created where you have permission to live from the REAL.
As we do the inner work, eventually a conviction arises; a quickening, a hunger and fierce commitment to living one’s truth. A desire develops to live from each moment from within the fire of your original self. Each moment begins to represent a new, fresh opportunity to live from simple, open, awareness of what is.
We see that awareness itself is an embrace.
We start on the painful periphery and as we become increasingly skilled in enduring discomfort and the uncertainty of the unknown, there lies the potential to merge with the holy presence that lives at the center of our pain and realize that is the truth of who we are.
Many of us have a feeling of homesickness deep within. A nameless longing and aching grief. Many of us experienced this as children in relation to our mothers, a feeling of being groundless and adrift. Embracing the homesick feeling within the mother wound leads us to eventually come to a place where we realize that we can never be truly abandoned. This becomes possible by becoming a loving inner mother to our inner child as we embrace her deepest despair.
In that despair is a door; a door to our source, the unified consciousness in which we are one with all.
In this way, our pain is a messenger. A messenger telling us it’s time to come home; to the primordial home within, which is the realization of our true identity as consciousness, the knowing that we are spirit and can never be truly harmed or abandoned because we are one with all. I recall moments in my own healing process when I would process layers of grief within the mother wound; the sense of worthlessness and wanting to die. And in that willingness to simply feel the full scope of that incredible despair and grief, I knew that this was the bottom. There was no pain deeper than that. That pain was the ground. And by standing on that ground and being present with my deepest pain, I was free.
Feeling our pain frees us from it.
By sitting with our pain, we begin to recognize that the pain we have felt is not the truth of who we really are. We begin to see that the open, loving presence that we embody as we embrace our own pain is who we are, our true identity underneath all our other identities.
The culmination of living as a “self” is to live as the “no-self”; the vast, loving space that lovingly witnesses our pain and embraces it completely. This is what a healthy mother does for her child. Author Rupert Spira has said that awareness is like the space in a room, it unconditionally accepts what happens in it. Likewise, in order to develop optimally, a child needs a mother who is unconditionally present and accepting of her. However, mothers are human beings with flaws who make mistakes. All of us receive some degree of wounding from our mothers.
Through that primary, holy wound, we are called to become that loving mother to ourselves…and to all life.
As we embody the unconditional love of the inner mother, we become re-connected to life itself. We become re-connected to the birth-less and death-less center that is constantly born and dies in countless forms. This is the evolutionary step that lies within the pain of the mother wound.
As women, we grow up believing that a holy power lies outside of ourselves and in the healing process, we start to realize that what we most desire, that which is most holy, eternal and pure is inside of us and has always been there. In fact, it is us. Not just in one or some of us, but it lives equally in all of us, in all of life.
Because we are all connected, each time you lovingly embrace your own pain, you activate the power of oneness in all.
© Bethany Webster 2014
If you google 'Carnival' endless pictures of women catching a cold turn up. You won't see pictures like this one on the news, but for me this is one of the most fascinating parts of Carnival - Jouvert (a contraction of jour ouvert or 'daybreak') sees a small number of people walking Carnival route the wrong way round at dawn, throwing flour and paint at each other and along the route. I find this magical and inspiring, a real demonstration of the subversive and chaotic, a kind of secret ritual that allows and boundaries the following two days.
Carnival is The World Turned Upside down, a time when some people pretend to be what they're not, things that are illegal at other times are now permitted, and feasting and revelry are indulged. Carnival is not, despite what it may seem, an advert for Top Shop or an opportunity for a politician to make a terrible arse of himself, it's a reminder that racism still exists and that magic remains possible. In the UK it's a farewell to Summer and a blowout before Autumn. Go out and have a ball.
Depression has been under the spotlight this week after Robin Williams’ suicide. It’s great that despair – lets call it what it is rather than a medicalised euphemism - and mental ill-health are finally coming out of the dingy little spare room closet for an airing and wonderful that people who are suffering depression are having their voices heard. Talking about how mental ill-health can feel shameful, that there is little parity of esteem (a nice, tight, catchphrase) between the care offered to people with physical illness and people with mental illness is temporarily refreshing. Politicians and policy makers are saying worthy things about how dreadful this and that are and how they’ll make things better.
They're being economical with the truth.
People with chronic illnesses, physical and emotional, are being driven to suicide by the same ministers now saying how awful depression is, something that was recognised by the DWP back in 2012. It's only going to get worse.
It’s not just people at the end of their financial tether that are killing themselves. Successful men, you are killing yourselves at a catastrophic rate.
“We have a series of assumptions about suicide that are explicit and implicit, and they make a toxic mix,” Powell says. “One is that suicide is undertaken by failures: people who have no friends, who spend all their time in their room, who have something wrong with them. Are you going to talk about people close to you who might have taken their own lives if that is what others are thinking? If you say your son has taken his own life, then that means saying he’s a failure too. But when you look at the people who do this it’s quite the reverse - it’s often true that they are admired, well-loved and talented - though they might push themselves extremely hard.”
Take a look at this article:
"The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree." Lewis Mumford, 1951
Unhappy women generally medicate and endure, unhappy men kill themselves.
I’m no fan of the Good Old Days when we all lived in each others pockets and did our socialising at the communal launderette or men-only club, but when as a nation we took the decision to vote for personal prosperity people began getting more sad. Now we're reaping that whirlwind. People who bought their council houses find their adult children have nowhere to live. When we all demanded cheap washing machines it was inevitable that manufacturing was going to go abroad. When we decided to treat each other as economic units it can’t come as too much of a surprise when we are also treated not as individual people but as things that make other things function. Like a widget.
Counselling falls into this trap too. Far too many counsellors join in the scroungers and strivers nonsense. Too many believe that success is a client returning to work, even in the face of a foundational belief that our job is to support the client in discovering their own meaning for their own life.
For a great many people depression is a sign that your life has lost any meaning. A lot of people believe that having a high status job title, two posh cars, a big house and garden owned by the bank, and some nice clothes will mean their life is complete, but if they ever attain all that life remains just as hollow and meaningless as ever.
Look to the US which is 5 or so years ahead of us. If you want that life then do nothing, it’s on its way. You may be interested to learn that the American Dream has been totally debunked: if it were true then immigrant women would be sipping champagne in a swimming pool on a Learjet.
If you’re depressed take yourself seriously. As well as going to the GP and doing all the stuff you already know helps depression, think about what you want to do with your life. It may be that you want to spend more or less time with your children. You might want to spend more time awake, relaxed and communicating with your partner or you might want to get far away from them. You might regret having got on your bike like you were told to at 18, to move far away from your family, who are getting old. You may have to sell your house and move somewhere smaller (If you move out of London this won't be a problem.) you may have to take a significant wage cut. But you really are more than your job title and bank balance.
You don’t need to come to counselling to discover this – though it can be helpful to get some support as you explore your fears, desires and options. But you do need to recognise that something is wrong, understand that you don’t have to do what’s expected of you – even if it’s just you who’s putting you under pressure – and then dare to think of what you genuinely want to do with the rest of your life.
Campaign Against Living Miserably is a charity specifically for men under pressure.
If you live in London the start of the working day can be absolutely dismal. There is another way! And as long as employers don't subvert this life-enhancing concept by making staff wrap their ties round their head and jump up and down, this kind of event could alter the way we approach work.
"The [wildly successful] nerds who run IT businesses are much less interested in the "suit and tie" approach to business and much more willing to experiment with any idea which they think will keep their staff enthusiastic and creative."
Watch the Channel 4 News report here. Watching this 3 minute video will set you up for the day!
Mindfulness works. Its venerable parent, meditation, works. Exercise works and most of us find dancing a damn site more enjoyable than running in the rain. Add human connection, no matter how fleeting, and you've got a recipe for joy.
Let me know if you go to one!
The Sales are on and every year the news shows us scampering masses plunging into Selfridges to buy a handbag.
There’s nothing wrong with getting something you’ve always wanted but couldn’t usually afford, especially if it’s something you need. But our reasons for buying are often less rational.
Private therapy can be expensive, but it’s more of an investment than buying things that make you feel elated and then make you feel guilty. Corporate employers recognise the value of counselling to their profits by offering free, confidential therapy to their employees via Employee Assistance Programmes.
Normally, I charge £80 to £120 per session (find out more about why I have a sliding scale here) but in the spirit of the times, I’m having a sale of my own. Rather than you paying £480 to £720 I’m charging £360 for 6 pre-paid sessions. This offer is open until the end of January. To offer professional care I limit how many hours I work per week, and if those hours are filled when you call to take advantage of this offer I can put you on my waiting list.
If you’re not sure how counselling can help have a look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.
Feel free to phone to ask any questions and have a great 2014.
The majority of my clients come to me with very similar stories: “I have too much work, my boss is either very nice but doesn’t support me or is unpleasant and doesn’t support me. I’m working way over my contracted hours and achieving very little of actual value, but as long as all the boxes are ticked that’s all that matters. I like my work but the kind of stuff I’m expected to do now has really worn me down. I don’t see my family. Secretly, my children have become a burden, they get in the way of my work.”
In some cases coaching helps the client to break down what looks like an enormous pile of never ending demands into smaller, more manageable tasks and attention to relationships, and whilst this can be very valuable it is not the whole answer.
Whether we like it or not the UK is now in the grip of a fantasy approach to life where a lack of hard work is the only thing keeping you from success and the unemployed are all workshy scroungers. I read an article in Forbes yesterday that partly drove me to write this blog entry: “Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid.” What really chilled me were the comments, 65 pages of “Thank you so much, this really made my day, this is so amazing and I can see where I need to do more work on myself.”
So many clients are being told that they have ‘the wrong attitude’. Almost always what this means is “You’re not doing what you’re told to do fast enough and you ask too many questions.”
Our concept of success makes us all feel like failures. It may be that a person has to be single-minded to increase their income but the actual facts show us, again and again, that being male, remaining in full time employment and the income of the family you're born into are better determinants of not living in poverty than either hard work or ‘attitude’.
While some of the points in the first article are valid and good advice, for a moment let's turn the rhetoric on its head. Emotionally Damaged People: 5 ways to understand them.
1. Emotionally Damaged People don’t seek insight. They have learned that their feelings – and the feelings of others – are unimportant and they're disinterested in concepts of fairness or integrity. They have been trained to ignore their feelings and to treat harsh life lessons as something to be grateful for, as a matter of personal survival in an incredibly brutal environment. When a situation turns out badly they cannot bear to examine why, or who may have been affected.
2. Emotionally Damaged People don’t care about people who are less powerful than them. They couldn’t care less about criticism or advice from people they perceive to be beneath them. If the criticism comes from people they believe to be more important than them they are trained to be grateful, even if that criticism is persecutory. They can only function in a hierarchy. And they strive to be as high up as possible in that hierarchy, whatever the cost to their family or to themselves.
3. Emotionally Damaged People ignore the costs that instability have on them and on others. Emotionally Damaged people are not interested in how bereavement, low pay, illness, children, elderly parents or anything else affects anyone. They perceive themselves and especially other people as things.
4. Emotionally Damaged People are not interested in the causes of problems or how to alter anything for the better, other than the manner in which their betters perceive them.
5. Emotionally Damaged people are desperately lonely. They've been told from childhood that they are entirely alone in the world. They know that they will not be supported by anyone and they’re not interested in supporting anyone else. If their culture includes being seen to be supporting others via charity or mentoring they will become involved in these activities in order to be seen to be compliant. They have learned that human nature punishes failure and non-compliance, even if that’s the failure to be born in a prosperous family, and the emotionally damaged person is resigned to this situation. They have learned that it is better to stand on other people than to be trodden on.
Genuinely successful people know that relationships are what matter, not status or income. Having enough money to remain healthy, pay the bills, eat and sleep well, spend time outdoors for pleasure and relaxation and with people who contribute positively to their wellbeing is important – having more is nice but not necessary.
Here’s another piece of research: 1 in 5 British workers have taken time off due to stress.
“According to the study difficult deadlines, management pressure and a lack of support are the main reasons for workplace stress and 6% and 3% of stressed workers resort to unhealthy practices to cope, smoking and drinking alcohol respectively.”
Look at your attitude. See who you're trying to please, and why, and what you genuinely want from life.
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