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Archive for March, 2012

Loneliness: the very word inspires dread in most of us. After all, who amongst us does not fear, hate or try to escape from loneliness? It has to be a feeling or experience that grips most of us at some point or other, some more than others. In some ways, it seems almost inescapable; I would be surprised to encounter anyone really claiming to have “lived” life without having experienced what we term as loneliness. It is also one of those experiences or feeling, that can come disguised in a variety of guises – it can manifest itself as anger, pain, aggression, repression – a full plethora of negativity that moulds itself to your spirit and then blights you, your relationships, and seemingly your whole existence, no matter how transitory the experience is.

The generally accepted or recognised definition of loneliness is the state of being alone in solitary isolation or some variant of depression or sadness from being alone. No wonder then that we feel petrified of being alone. “Alone” to most of us signifies a state of unwanted isolation, implies we are unloved and therefore not “with” someone. Not that I think there is anything wrong with wanting to be with loved ones; life is for the sharing of all experiences after all, and sharing of course requires someone, or various someones, to share with. We are all taught to value companionship and togetherness. A total absence of such interaction almost always leads to a negative influence on oneself and tales abound of people severely, sometimes fatally, impacted by loneliness and resulting depression. We are advised to shun loneliness and to actively seek ways to end this state, should we be unfortunate enough to fall prey to it. There are myriad ways, we are told, we can do this – friends, family and numerous other organisations can be called upon, we can immerse ourselves in a multitude of social or other activities subject to our preferences, we can even interact on the internet or phone with virtual strangers – anything but being by yourself is preferable.

However, we come into this world alone (well, we do, even in the case of twins, as the exact moment of birth will still differ!) and we depart from it solitary too. Perhaps that is why death is so fearful – it is not only a journey into the total unknown but it is a path we must travel alone too; we cannot be sure there will be society available to us there so we dread it? In any event, almost as soon as we can understand, we are taught to crave comradeship. And who can deny that fellowship is wonderful?

However, how many of us then end up losing ourselves in the melee we constantly surround ourselves with? It seems difficult to tell when the quest to avoid genuine, soul-destroying loneliness that comes from having no real love or affection (including for yourself), becomes an addiction to constantly do something which involves others. I refer to the state that results from fearing loneliness so much that you equate the word alone to loneliness automatically, whereas I think that a lack of “knowing” yourself is the true cause of loneliness in most cases. I mean by this that you can surround yourself with others almost constantly, but if all you do is focus on them, at the expense of investing some time to “soul-search” or learn about yourself too, you may still find yourself lonely.

I can vouch that you can sometimes feel the most helpless form of loneliness in the midst of others. And no – it is not necessary that if that happened, it must be because the  “crowd” is hostile. They may not be, but even it they are, that is immaterial –  to use a slightly modified cliché – it is not them, it is you! I used to run from being alone. I  subconsciously probably subscribed to the theory that being alone was for “losers”. Surrounding yourself with people and a state of constant activity was the solution. School, university, work all help, you then supplement this with all sorts of activities, social events and the eventual fail-safe of “family time”. After all, if you were constantly busy and doing things with others, or even if you were reading, working and so on, you were still in the vicinity of others or at least doing so without delving too deep into your own inner being, so feeling isolated was out of the question.

What seemed like a very hard blow dealt by life at the time it happened, changed that for me. I was thrust into solitary confinement and it was the sort of solitude that arises not just from physical separation, but from a life-changing event that forces you to take stock of yourself. Oh, I did not succumb easily, I went to my punishment kicking and screaming. I denied I was lonely, flung myself in to endless activities, made a million phone calls to people, went to parties I had no desire to go to, sat amongst crowds wanting to bawl my eyes out and put on my stoic face for a long time, pretending I was fine. Finally, one day, I woke up to the cold, hard truth – I needed to look in to that mirror I could not bear to stand in front of. I had to convince myself that I was not in some parodic version of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and finally looking at my reflection would not destroy the aestheticism of my life.

I was forced (by myself and whatever higher power has always guided me I suppose) to sit back and learn to get to know myself. Loneliness washed over me in the initial stages, crushing and suffocating with its weight but when I actually gave in to it and let that pass, its weight suddenly eased up. You could say I almost befriended the lonesomeness and it proved a friend by teaching me to really “know” myself – something I had not really done for a long time before then, or perhaps ever, as I was too occupied by trying to keep up with others and events. This self introspection was not an easy process but it did get easier, in fact so much so, that I now consciously often crave solitude.

Oh – I do not mean that I am some form of recluse who is always by herself (whatever the excessive blogging suggests!); nothing could be further from the truth. I am generally known as a social butterfly, which seems quite amusing to me, if not outright ironic. However, I have learnt that no matter who I am with, and whatever I do, unless praying or meditating and thus communicating with God, I can retain a sense of self and “alone” then becomes a mere word – it loses any negative impact,it certainly almost never causes depression or extreme grief due to perceived loneliness. If I get any time by myself, I have learnt to treasure it – this is when I can think without limiting myself, I can write, read, dance or just (very occasionally) do nothing but absorb various feelings, emotions or thoughts and give them the time they need to shift through my psyche. I suppose I am trying to say that I found loneliness, but that helped me find myself again, so it is possible to turn loneliness in to a tool to discover that part, or parts, of yourself you never had the time or courage, to seek or explore previously.

I feel compelled to conclude with this profound quote by Brendan Francis Behan (poet, playwright and author), who of course says it so much better in one line, what I have laboured (not very successfully I think), to express above:

“At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self”.

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The capacity of people to be judgemental never ceases to amaze me. I appreciate the irony of a lawyer disapproving of judging but really, how can we have the right to judge that which we are so often guilty of ourselves? Even if we can claim never to have succumbed to certain behaviour we denounce in others, can we claim total immunity from any failing, fault or vice? If not, perhaps a little less judging others for their perceived failings and more introspection with a view to self-improvement, may be a more productive use of our time?

I am not referring to a wide-ranging condemnation of genuinely reprehensible or criminal behaviour or acts such as murder, cruelty etc but of the more commonly seen petty vituperation where we are so quick to point out alleged moral and other failings in those around us. This ranges from criticisms on someone’s lifestyle choices to outright hate being unleashed on those we have adjudged to be lacking in some quality or doing something we would ourselves never do (we claim) in a million years. The pundits of this sanctimonious and often patronising attitude love to preach, they appoint themselves the moral and “value” champions of society; it is their mission in life to decry behaviour that threatens any values they have determined as crucial to preserve.

What are these values? Oh, there is a multitude of them, their importance of course changes depending on the attitude of their robust defender(s); the most common examples I see are people criticising others for they way they treat someone else, the way they behave, talk or generally just live their life. However, many of these self-appointed guardians of the moral and social code can be seen to be perpetuating the very behaviour they loudly protest against in others. I also notice a lot of hatred and division being sown on the basis of promoting a totally mis-quoted or misunderstood version of religion or faith. No religion or faith system asks us to hate or dislike anyone else or even sit in judgment of others – that is what the role of God (in whatever form, manifestation or ideology) you subscribe to should be, if indeed it should be anyone’s remit at all.

Who could have described it better than Jesus Christ, the epitome of love and forgiveness, when he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, when rescuing the woman accused of adultery, who a whole host of self-appointed judges wanted to stone to death. Yet, how quick we are to condemn. We do not like someone because they lied, we think someone is tainted because we disapprove of their drinking, fidelity, attitude or various other choices they make, or do not make. How many times do we remember the times we made mistakes, knowingly or otherwise, either through intent or negligance? Not often, is what I observe. No – it is far easier to simply project any embarrassment, or even shame, we should feel, to others and accuse them, becoming their harsh critics, as that saves us looking within and perhaps finding something we may not like to encounter.

I do not mean to suggest we should stand by and not help friends or family we see doing something that may harm them, neither do I mean that we should watch someone’s descent in to self-destruction without lifting a finger. All I say is, offer help, not condemnation, try to do something positive with and for them, resist making them a topic of gossip and controversy, you may inadvertently be contributing to a further decline and remember, we all do things we are not proud of at some point or other. Do unto others as you would like done to you, and if you would like to believe in a world where people should be there for each other to offer unstinting support, take the step yourself and turn yourself first in to one of those people. The world does not magically change – we have to bring that change about and adopting a less judicious approach does not seem like a bad place to start.

I end with the caution that remember when flinging your stones at ohers – if any are thrown at you, your glass house or even palace, may at least significantly crack, even it is does not crash to come tumbling down, your own invective becoming the shards from it which prick, or stab you.

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What is the cause of most of the sadness, disappointment and even pain, that we tend to experience in varying degrees in our daily life? Of course the obvious answer to this is that it must depend on the hurt in question, its intensity, the circumstances surrounding it and most importantly, the person who felt it. But, to me, the real answer lies more connected to that last factor- the person experiencing the emotion, and their individual reaction to it, which in turn will be coloured by a multitude of factors. Little wonder then, that it seems almost impossible to identify a common theme that could in turn lead to some form of universal “solution” being opined or determined.

However, there is a common denominator, and it was identified centuries ago by various spiritual and scriptural teachings and writings. The most famous of these (well, it is for me, and I suspect for most Hindus at least), is enshrined in the teachings of the Bhagvat Gita, the holy text of the Hindus, which if one interprets correctly, arguably condenses all the teachings of “life” and maybe even beyond, in one wonderful tome. It’s narrator was none other than Krishna- the human reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of all creation and a third of the triumvirate which is responsible for creation (Brahma) and destruction (Shiva) as well.

What is this factor? Why, it is expectation – that somewhat elusive concept which defines our “wants”, desires and generally what we would expect from any given action, or situation. Expectation, which usually becomes the motivation for doing anything, or in fact not doing something, as the case may be. It is this same expectation, which then leads to attachment, a concept even more difficult to accurately encompass the full impact of. I shall not deal with attachment here, it deserves its own detailed exploration but let me turn again to expectation.

You may rightly ask, how it is possible to accuse expectation of being in any way a negative element, as without expectation, would we simply not lapse in to inaction or even inertia, having to reason to do anything? Well, the real answer to that is simply, no- action without desiring a specific outcome, action for the sake of action but not senseless or indifferent in any way, described so aptly in the Gita as “nishkaam karma” or selfless/ desire-less action, forms a key cornerstone of the Hindu “karmic” philosophy. It is differentiated from mindless and robotic performance as it is driven by inspiration and real motivation, but not driven by self gain or any form of selfishness, which in turn enables the performer to remain balanced at all times, in all situations, without becoming obsessed by the eventual results of their acts, as those are often not controllable in any event.

I appreciate the whole concept is difficult to grasp, and very prone to misunderstanding. If you think philosophy is more a farce than a science, this is probably not a post you want to read. For me, as with any difficult or complex subject, I find it easy to digest by breaking it down to the basics and simplifying it in any way I can. Hence, I work out that by having a very set and often inflexible expectation of what I want to (generally confused with, must) achieve through a certain action, I am getting so mired in the result I have decided has to follow from my action, I firstly lose all pleasure from performing the action, as the pressure of the outcome outweighs any intrinsic motivation I feel or should feel towards it. Then, if the outcome is not what I expect, and it often is not, as well, such is life, I am then immediately plunged in to an abyss of despair, which not only prevents motivation or desire to repeat that action which caused the disappointment again, but also consequently impacts on other actions that I need to perform as part of everyday living and to have a balanced life.

A very simplistic example- I love to write, it helps me on various levels and I sincerely hope, it affords some enjoyment to anyone who might read what I write. However, by having an expectation that a lot of people must read and enjoy it, can very easily cause an unhealthy focus on the result (i.e. reader statistics and enjoyment), soon overtaking any benefit or pleasure I get.  This can happen for instance, if I find that no-one is reading what I write as the topics are for example too disparate to appeal to any audience. If my reason for writing is motivated solely by wanting a huge number of people to read and expecting their (only) positive feedback, the non-materialisation of that result could have a genuinely damaging effect on the very act of writing. However, by approaching my writing as an act done for enjoyment, to express views I feel strongly about and in that process, hoping someone enjoys it or finds it in any way helpful or relaxing, removes any expectation on my part of a specific reaction, thus detaching me from the pointless exercise of trying to control an extrinsic factor, which will never be within my remit.

This approach is beautiful in its very simplicity but experience tells me that grasping its theory is a lot simpler than achieving its successful implementation. It is easy to think of performing an action totally selflessly but it is an inescapable truth that a lot of what we do is results driven and often the “default” programme within us kicks in to raise an expectation, without us even realising it has taken root, until the result we have built up in our (often) sub-conscious does not materialise, throwing us within the vicious cycle described above. How can you break out of the rigmarole?

Well, as with much of what I write- the solution does not magically present itself, and is mostly never one-dimensional or simple. Developing a deeper and fuller understanding of karmic and Yogic principles really helps me, actively training yourself and your mind to be conscious about not consistently reverting to set expectations from various things you do or want to do, and trying to look for the positives feelings generated by your actions, and not overtly focusing on the fruits of your labour, are all also other techniques. Finally, turn to the Gita (or any other text that may contain the same inspiring message), to “keep you on track” in your constant mission to achieve this difficult state. After all, as said in the Gita:

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction”.

I will separately address attachment as a topic in its own right at some point. I hope at least some of you enjoy this piece. It comes about due to an earlier discussion with some very dear friends on twitter and hopefully they will read this and know who they are! Thank you to them for motivating me to write this, I am not sure I have done this very challenging topic justice, but I have thoroughly enjoyed trying.

 

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I had to write this, so that I can hopefully rid myself of the annoyance I felt and yes, also the disappointment experienced, at seeing/ hearing what I am about to write about.

It frustrates me that in the same weekend I watch the Sports Relief programme and feel so overwhelmed by stories like that of John Bishop and consequently feel proud to be British(part British but still), I watch an episode of Britain’s Got Talent and watch a significant proportion of the audience loudly boo a contestant when he simply announces that he is from Germany!

Seriously people? Do we live in a society so ignorant that we would do something like this? Beyond pathetic,is what I call it. Before anyone jumps down my throat with the excuse that not everyone would have done that, please take note that it was still enough of a number that enabled the jeering to be so loud that it was clearly audible. Simon Cowell, from the judge’s panel, had to actually intervene with his comment about we are all past that and it was all a long time ago (or words to that effect). To me, that audience arguably consists of a representative sample of the British public, and that reaction is simply unpardonable.

I also give no quarter to the excuse that it may have been tongue in cheek and possibly intended to be funny. Well, it is not funny, I do not buy that for a second and people need to understand the difference between a joke and discrimination. I will have to curb myself from expressing detailed views on the institutional racism/discrimination prevalent in this “modern”, “advanced” world we live in as I fear this post will go of for too many pages, so I shall have to revisit that issue another day. For now, as I cannot unfortunately round up those ignorant people myself and tell them how ridiculous they sound, I need to be content with writing it here.

I know a lot of people are not ignorant or discriminatory but this is aimed at those who are. It is a shame to know that there are people who only have to look a relatively short while back in their own history to remind themselves that their nation arbitrarily ruled over various countries under the guise of trade and colonisation, who do not think there is anything wrong in mocking someone for simply being German! Wake up Britain- let us leave aside the fact that the talent often depicted in that show is often questionable, you need to practise more of your preaching on tolerance and multi-cultural living. Look to fix what is wrong in your own backyard first My experience of Germany ironically suggests that they have, whereas after that offensive display during that show, I somehow suspect we have not, and that there may be some work to do on this front.

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Thanks to my lovely fiancé, I just watched a repeat of the BBC documentary on John Bishop and his recent indescribably inspiring effort for Sports Relief UK, which managed to raise more than 3 million pounds for charity. I say thanks to my fiancé as when the actual programme was on, I was sat listening to talks on departmental budgets and case law, followed by a team networking dinner- far from inspiring when you think about the achievements of John and many others, who are using their careers not just to make money, but to make a difference to literally millions. My other half told me about the original broadcast today (which garnered viewership of over 5 million!) and then sat down to watch the repeat, pointing it out to me too. I then caught the beginning bit I still managed to miss (running errands you see- again, not really very inspiring), on the Internet.

I cannot really say anymore than has probably already been said by others about what Bishop has managed to achieve during his “Week of Hell” triathlon, which included cycling, rowing and running from Paris to London. Even if I tried to say much, it would most likely sound quite trite and inadequate, and possibly (God forbid!) patronising. After all, words like- “Well done” or “John Bishop is a hero”, do not really do justice to the sheer scale of the achievement (although both statements are true, as are the other thousands I have since seen in the press and on social networking sites).

I must admit that my initial reaction (after I actually shed tears, watching him cross the finish line, fractured leg and all) was to feel hopelessly inadequate and wonder how one really did something that made such a difference when most of life seems to be taken up with trying to cram work, home, and just “usual” life in to days, weeks, months and even years that are past you before you know it. I then listened to John’s own words, uttered whilst clearly reeling from pain and exhaustion, overwhelmed when told of the total he had raised, and yet still managing to be humble enough to credit all those who voted with their purses and donated the millions raised.

This effectively reminded me of those who made those calls and sent those tweets that made the staggering total collection possible. I feel somewhat reassured that there must be others out there, like me, who cannot help but feel intimidated and think that whatever efforts they make must seem puny in comparison to such Herculean feats. Oh, I do not refer to those amazing achievers amongst us who manage to run marathons at the drop of a hat and can squeeze in training and eventual performance for supreme endurance tests like climbing Everest, despite trying to hold down demanding jobs, raise kids, manage a household and just generally cope with the innumerable tasks that seem to plague daily living for most of us. I am in that category who struggles to make her weekly yoga class and write her blog so please exempt yourself if you belong to the former category. I hugely admire you, but suspect you might find it difficult to relate to the sense of inadequacy I describe!

All I can do is thank John Bishop for being a true hero- not only did he do what he did which will affect so many lives in Africa and here at home too, but he included all of us in his struggle and was generous enough to share the credit, which to be honest, truly only belongs to him. I say that, not because I do not agree that the actual donations made the real success of the mammoth undertaking he underwent, but because unless he had done it and touched our hearts with his struggle, not as many of us would perhaps have felt compelled to part with the money they have. It was obvious, watching John in the programme, to see how much he valued the support from everyone. I was so moved when he constantly acknowledged the supporters turning up at various stages and surely because of his humility and being the genuinely nice human being that he clearly is, a lot more of us felt compelled to think about his cause.

Oh, I know a lot of people are too quick to dismiss efforts by celebrities on the basis that they inspire people because they are famous, but that is too simplistic and in response to that (in my opinion) ridiculous argument- “So what?”! They may command a lot of media and therefore public attention due to their celebrity status but please remember- they make a huge difference, they do not have to use their profile in this way. They could sit there earning money and leading a luxurious life, without putting themselves (for example) through an endurance test that could actually cause them lasting physical damage. I am a lawyer, and I can tell you that not all of us do pro-bono work, and if any of us do, it should not be any less appreciated simply because it involves using our existing skills. A celebrity has access to more publicity but because they use that to raise millions, undergoing immense hardship in the process, that cannot be held against them! Sorry, that last rant was not really planned but just sort of happened!

Anyway, to finally cut short my ramblings, all I wanted to say was, I feel that there is precious little true humility and selflessness visible nowadays and it was therefore amazing to watch John Bishop during his sojourn. He may have had to undergo a “Week of Hell”, but his hell had paved the way for a brighter tomorrow for so many, the least we can do is bow down to him and ask him to, well, simply take a(nother) bow!

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For all that it consists of a mere three words, it has to be one of the most difficult sentences to utter with any degree of sincerity. The phrase I’m thinking of is simply,”I am sorry”.

Why do we find those three short words so hard to say? When we do something we know full well we shouldn’t have, and if we are called out on it (or even if we are not), we seem to be able to respond with lies, evasion, aggression or the final failsafe of silence.  However, try to mitigate the harmful effect of whatever it is you have done with a straightforward apology, and the words stick in your throat, you get defensive and then come up with a million reasons to justify why you were never wrong in the first place- it is usually someone else’s actions or lack of, that caused whatever behaviour it was that now demands an apology.

Is it because we view apologising as admitting some form of debilitating weakness? Do we think it unmans us and makes us the weaker party in whatever conflict we have landed ourselves in? If so, that is supremely ironic, as the weakness is surely not being able to own up and take responsibility. They say that to err is human and to forgive is divine but it seems to me to be harder to seek forgiveness, rather than to actually forgive someone who has (or feels they have) wronged us. This is because once someone tells you they are sorry about something, they have effectively shifted the focus of whatever tableau is being played out. 

How is that? Well, once the hypothetical “wrong” has been committed or mistake made by the “offender”, it tends to take a monstrous shape unless addressed quickly and with some degree of finality. Otherwise, the “wrong” starts to fester, it turns to a wound, and both parties then dance around in some macabre fencing match, generally inflicting more pain on each other. Instead, if the “wrong-doer” or perceived offender, simply owns up to whatever has caused the situation, and offers a simple but heartfelt apology, it will generally put an almost immediate end to the whole saga.

Even if it does not work that way- say for example the issue was so serious that the apology offered is viewed as ineffective or, as perhaps too little too late, it is still better to make the apology than not. The making of the apology is both literally and symbolically cleansing. It signifies that the person has not only taken charge of their actions and is owning the responsibility for them, they have also dealt with the consequences. It then depends on the recipient whether they accept graciously or whether they are so caught up in the whole conflict, that they wish to continue with the pointless conflict. If the latter, the apology can still possibly do its work in the form of those medicines that do not immediately bring relief but work themselves through your system slowly. The cure does work- it just needs some time and yes, possibly (depending on the original circumstances), further dosage(s) to “top up” the original one. Someone may not be in a state to forgive at present but they may find as time wears on, that they remember your apology and accept it at some later stage.

Regardless of its welcome, what the apology has done, is that it has freed the person who had originally made the mistake of at least some of its burden. I acknowledge that this is a generalisation and there are some mistakes you can correct through an apology but that does not mean you do not try? I personally find an almost instant relief from guilt and acrimony if I accept a fault and say sorry for it. I also do not suggest that by doing so, you divorce yourself for any further responsibility or that you should use apologising as a fall back mechanism in each situation so that you are then free to be a repeat “offender”. I simply refer to those genuine mistakes we all make, that may be out of thoughtlessness or carelessness, which have an unforseen but painful effect on someone else. You should apologise for them and do so unreservedly, as by doing so, you take a proactive step to correct what should not have been done, or happened, in the first place.

Take my personal most recent example – a day ago, I had an argument with my mother. It was about nothing significant (it seldom is!) but a combination of work pressure, a to-do-list as long as my arm and lack of food (common culprits for causing aggression) probably contributed to it. After a few minutes I couldn’t even recall what we were quibbling over but I got agitated and then ended the conversation fairly abruptly. Once the initial rush of adrenaline was over, the guilt set in. My mum sounded so tired, she does so much for me, perhaps she did have a point…… I arrested myself before the next obvious stage of this endless soul-searching could occur – the point at which you justify yourself and vilify the other party. Instead, I picked up the phone again, called and spoke to my dad (my mum having gone straight to bed, possibly as upset as I was) and left an apology for my mum. She left me a lovely message the next morning and all was right with the world, for both of us I believe.

In the past, I would have stewed in part anger, part self recrimination, for days. In turn, it would make me upset or agitated with others and like some form of chronic infection, petty squabbles or confrontational exchanges would spread. By contrast, putting an argument in its perspective and not losing yours in the process and offering an apology, often acts like a healing balm and defuses a situation before its fire spreads.

I do not advocate going around offering meaningless and insincere “sorrys” to all and sundry, but all I suggest is that, rather than turning a situation into an endless battle of wills, try some humility and feel no shame in offering the olive branch. You may find it does wonders. Even if your apology is not accepted, you have the comfort at least that you have addressed the situation and did something to put it right (that may also be with actions accompanying your verbal apology) and it then becomes more the other party’s issue to put to bed, rather than yours. Do be live to the possibility that just because you can be an adult, someone else may not be able to, and do not always expect immediate acceptance to be the outcome. Regardless, try it sometimes, if you do not already, and turn a sorry into an act of redemption in itself.

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This is a lesson I learnt the hard way and to be honest, I am not sure I have still perfected it- it is one I need to constantly revise. It strikes me that we spend so much time trying to make others love us, be that in relation to our work, our appearance, any particular feature or quality or any contribution we make. However, how often do we stand back and take a good, long look at ourselves to decide whether we like ourselves?

Speaking for myself- I don’t think I used to, and even today, I have to work hard at going back to the basic premise that you need to like or indeed, love yourself, to ever obtain a sense of genuine self-worth or achievement. I struggle with this concept as I am my own worst critic and see innumerable faults in myself. I used to see so many sometimes that I often failed to understand how anyone else could like, let alone love me.  This excluded my parents and siblings as I didn’t credit them with much choice in the matter- they were stuck with me after all, and I am sure I had my moments where I doubted that even they admired or really liked me, as opposed to loved me due to the unbreakable family bond. 

As is often the case with me, one of my friends set me straight on this. She is a trained counsellor and clearly knows what she is talking about. She certainly had to work hard to try to undo the damage done by years of accumulated put-downs and subtle but effective criticism. It is amazing how, if you let it, a few years of such abuse (and I do think it abusive to consistently erode someone’s self-confidence and spirit) can undo years of positive fostering and care by your own family and true friends. However, the rot spreads fast once it catches.

The difficulty is identifying how deeply it has spread and then setting about cutting it off. Also, like most malignant cancers, it can strike again and again, and one must try and guard against it all the time or if it sets in again, viciously rip it away as many times as needed.

My friend suggested that you need to stand in front of the mirror everyday and tell yourself that you are fabulous and how much you love yourself (the words may have been different but this is how I interpreted them). You might think it sounds silly and you will look foolish doing so, but frankly, who cares how silly you look to yourself. It cannot be worse than never giving yourself a chance to like or love yourself? There are other methods- if you are the list making type, write down what you see in yourself as your own sterling qualities but be honest. My initial impulse whenever I tried to think of what was good about me was met with a mental brick wall of my own making. This wall still surfaces from time to time and I have to do my best Lara Croft impersonation (in my mind- I am not a magician!) to break it down.

Even simpler, speak to a really good friend or a loved one- ask them what they see in you that they admire or love. This is not meant to be an exercise in fishing for meaningless compliments and you can explain that you need real and honest answers. Also, don’t dismiss things you may view as somewhat menial “You have a nice smile” may sound fairly shallow in the context of exploring your inner beauty, but a smiling person brightens not just their own, but the day of others too. Therefore, having a nice smile is better than looking like you are constantly sucking on a lemon!

Why am I doing this today? It is one of those days that I feel just that little bit insecure; not sure if the seeming endless spiral of thankless tasks and stress-inducing situations that make you doubt yourself and think about whether you ever really achieve or do anything truly worthwhile, can be negated. Writing this all out has reminded me of the “dark days”, ones I promised would never visit me again so this is stage 1 of saving the situation. Stage 2 will be reminding myself of all the reasons (they immediately escape me!) as to why I am not too bad- sorry, scrap that- why I am a nice person and deserving of love, both from others and myself. Hopefully, this will do the trick. If it doesn’t I shall be looking through my “SOS” list- the people I can always count on, no matter what, and I know they will succeed should I fail. In any case, I am determined I will keep trying to like and love myself, the love of others is then just an automatic consequence.

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