We all love a powerful personal story. There are many incredibly inspirational people out there who share some of the hardest and traumatic times of their lives, to help understand the lessons they got from those experiences. And it is true that it can be really valuable to see that others have got through adversity – it can give you hope that your current situation is not impossible to navigate.
But there is a down side to this as well. It is really common for you to dismiss your own suffering, your own feelings of lack of worth or opportunity, by stating that “my problems aren’t as bad as theirs – what have I really got to complain about?”
While it may be true that seeing others going through a harsh experience can help out yours into perspective, it is really dangerous to downplay your own suffering because it doesn’t sound or look as hard as others. Pain is pain. Discomfort is discomfort. Emotional distress is emotional distress. And it is an entirely personal experience – nobody can know the grade or severity of your pain except you. And it doesn’t matter if you compare it to others and think that you don’t have the right to complain – yes you do!
The reason it is so important for you to acknowledge that your own pain and suffering is real and deserves validation , is because without doing so, it is nearly impossible to move past it. It stands in your way, blocking your path until you admit it is there. Only then would you be able to look at someone else’s situation and see whether you can learn lessons from them. But don’t let the only lesson you learn is that you are not suffering enough – there is no such thing.
Yesterday I saw people taking photos of these adverts on the London Underground and I was interested in why they would do it. I understand that the previous time such a campaign was launched there was a huge backlash saying that it was fat shaming and subsequently they took them down.
I think it is dangerous to make everything that feels uncomfortable be classed as a guilt trip or shaming – because it is easy to fall instead into asserting that anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, that makes you feel guilty is automatically bad. Remember, there is good and bad guilt – good guilt can spur us into action to change our behaviour and so when guilt gets triggered it is important to first check which kind it is. With body management, it tends to be a bit of both and that is why it is confusing. Guilt around body management is very difficult to navigate – if Guilt is triggered then everything said whether factual or opinion will be interpreted as an attack. I believe that everyone is fully responsible for their bodies and should be left to manage them however they see fit – what works for them. But they should also have access to the facts and information that allows them to make an informed choice. Taking personal responsibility for your body has been slowly eroded away by decades of marketing aimed at telling you that someone else knows what the perfect You looks like, and in order to break free from that we have take personal ownership of our bodies both in how they look and our health. But we have to realise that for many people being made to feel guilty is still very raw. Everyone can treat their bodies however they like – if they are not harming anyone else, then it really shouldn’t matter. However, part of taking that kind of ownership is to understand the consequences of your decisions – without judgement from others. Find out the facts of what you plan to do, do the risk assessment and then decide whether to carry on or makes changes. But don’t stay ignorant of facts just because they are uncomfortable or trigger the guilt that forces you to look more closely.
Domestic violence affected around 2 million people in the UK in 2018 (according to the ONS) and this number does not include all of those who are experiencing it but not reporting it.
The fastest way for attackers to discharge the guilt they feel over their actions is to blame the victim, to paint a picture that they ‘deserved’ it or they put them in a position where they ‘had to’. From the outside, their position looks indefensible, but when you are in the middle of that moment, you struggle so much with understanding why someone who you believe cares for you would hurt you in such a way that you grab at anything they give you – even the blame. It is the ultimate guilt trip designed solely to make you behave in a way that meets their needs and completely denies your own.
I have spoken to a lot of people about the guilt associated with domestic violence and many of those contacting me regarding the book are doing so because they recognise the cycle they are in, of knowing that the relationship has gone beyond what is safe, but also feeling that in some way they have brought it on themselves. One of the proudest moments for me is when these people (of all genders) begin the baby steps of living guilt free, and have that moment where they see the violence for what it is – an attack on them, with no justifiable provocation.
Living guilt free is much more powerful than you can possibly imagine. it can give you the strength to recognise a situation, seek out help, do what is safe and healthy for you.
If you have been subjected to domestic violence or you are starting to feel fearful around your partner or loved one, then please believe that you are worth so much more than this. Organisations such as Domestic Violence UK can provide support and details of ways to get yourself out of danger and with people who understand your position.
Social media tells us that we need to be more social by telling the world our every thought. Scrolling through newsfeeds you are given insights and glimpses into the minutiae of people’s lives, so they become familiar, friendly faces and you become invested in every moment of their lives – which they will happily share with you every moment they can. For those who fear disconnection with others, this type of connection with others is priceless and shows very clearly how connected we all can and should be. It’s wonderful.
Sharing a thought that is not fully formed, or giving a glimpse to others of the beginnings or stirrings of thoughts that will later form into your potential goals, dreams or aspirations can come with hidden dangers. Once something is shared with others, it loses something. It loses the wonderful moment when something is truly yours and yours alone. I remember this moment from when I found out I was pregnant – although the majority of my brain was immediately picturing what my husband’s reaction would be when I told him and the rest of the world, there was a moment where it was something known only to me. I realised that those moments are extremely precious. You know that your life will never be the same, and it is a moment you will never get back. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle once that first person gets told. But for those few minutes or hours, you get to fully embrace its beauty.
You lose that full ownership of something the second someone else knows. Now with some pieces of information, that’s a blessing. At the moment I was told I had breast cancer, having that news shared with my husband was a relief because it felt too heavy a burden for me alone to bear. Telling others helped eased the weight of having to cope with it. When we need people’s support and – crucially – they know how best to support us, it is a powerful connection and one to be cherished.
But not everyone knows the right way to respond, or the right thing to do and in some cases, there is a painful realisation that this is so. When I fell pregnant, everyone around me was excited, ecstatic and ready to congratulate – it was wonderful. When I had to tell them about the cancer, there was awkwardness, a mixture of sympathy and compassion and I realised that this was new territory for all of us and we all didn’t know what to do.
Once people know your news, your secret, they try the respond in the ‘best’ way but instead, usually end up responding in their best way. So when I announced my pregnancy, they wanted to be happy about it so that is what I got given. This to me was bittersweet because I had suffered a miscarriage only months earlier, which many of them knew. But they looked at the pregnancy through their lens, not mine and so forgot the painful times and focused on the good. Good, happy news is comfortable and safe – pain and loss are not. When I spoke to people about the cancer, again they saw it through their perspective – many had other people in their lives who had suffered similar or worse conditions, many had had scares of their own. The response they gave wasn’t to me or for me, it was for them and what it meant to them.
I learnt from these experiences that when you give information to others, you are also giving them permission to react in their own way to it and in many cases this comes back to you as opinion, analysis or judgement. In situations as above there are some fairly typical responses that I got and so nothing was particularly unusual or startling.
But the same thing applies when you share information that is not so typical or not what they are expecting. and that is where you can feel that what you have to say must be wrong because the reaction you get from people is so untypical as well.
If you can see that people respond within their context, and not yours, some of what you share may come as a shock or feel to them as if it from someone they barely recognise. The shock then leads them to react in a way that is more visceral and unguarded – and that might hurt.
But it doesn’t make what you shared wrong. Only that you shared it with the wrong people.
It’s Pride month and there are so many truly incredible inspirational stories of people embracing who they are after years of suppressing it to please others, and allies who will be there when others fall be the wayside.
Unfortunately, there is also an increase in those who see it as their role to condemn and judge those individuals, so stuck in their own interpretation of the world they simply cannot accept anything that goes outside those lines.
Why do you feel able to dictate how others live? What harm can be done to you directly by someone else living their truth? Them being themselves cannot possibly hurt you. I get that you don’t necessarily agree or don’t feel tempted to join in with the celebrations, but what is it about that level of freedom that scares you so much?
Living true to yourself takes a huge amount of courage, not just because you will potentially change your most meaningful relationships (and in some cases, lose them completely through rejection) but you also have to deal with complete strangers trying to tell you that they won’t accept you unless you confirm to who they want you to be. Why do they feel like their opinion matters so much?
I’ve been living guilt free for a while now and the biggest struggle is to maintain who I am in the face of those who want me to conform or change who I am so that it makes them feel more comfortable. When I see those celebrating their freedom to express themselves during Pride month, I celebrate with them – because to truly be yourself is the greatest challenge you ever face in a society where keeping within the carefully drawn lines is the difference between inclusion and exclusion. For those celebrating Pride, it is also the difference between living your life with or without the risk of physical and psychological harm.
This week, radio presenter Danny Baker has been fired by the BBC for tweeting a picture in response to the news of the Royal baby that has been considered by many as racist. (The BBC article is here). Given that this is the first multi-racial child born within the Royal Family, it was clear that such a picture (of a chimpanzee dressed up as a child) was found to be offensive and so the action was taken. In the interests of keeping this post on topic, I’m not going to discuss whether it was right or wrong (for what its worth, I think it was wrong) but instead I want to focus attention on how he handled the situation and what it tells us about guilt. This is important because it shows how it can make a difficult situation far more inflamed than it needs to be and can stop us making any real progress.
So, the perspective from Danny yesterday was tweeted as this:
“Here we go. Opened door, grinning Mail hack. “Do you think black people look like monkeys?” Any other time you’d knock someone right on their arse for saying that. No mate. Gag pic. Posh baby chimp. Alerted to circs. Appalled. Deleted. Apologised. (via Twitter)
“Now Sky at the door. Would have used same stupid pic for any other Royal birth or Boris Johnson kid or even one of my own. It’s a funny image. (Though not of course in that context.) Enormous mistake, for sure. Grotesque. Anyway, here’s to ya Archie, Sorry mate.” (via Twitter)
What I see here is someone who realises they have messed up and because they feel guilty and embarrassed, they take the tone that we all try to take – that of “oh well, it’s a bit embarrassing but ultimately what can you do?” rather than allowing the enormity of what had happened hit. We all do this – we all try to make something big feel small so that it doesn’t affect our mental state. However, with such a big and public error of judgement, there was never going to be one journalist, or one conversation, but multiple, all trying to get him to say something in the heat of the moment to inflame the situation further.
The challenge with these situations is that in reality, no apology can ever truly make up for the act, and without the completion of the apology being accepted, he is left to feel guilty without a way of getting out of it. When we feel that something has lost an exit route, there are limited options. From Danny’s tweets today (copied below), it seems he has gone down the healthier route of trying to once again explain and apologise for the action, and may be willing to continue to do this as many times as it takes for it to be heard and accepted (although never truly forgotten). What can happen (and remains to be seen if Danny’s patience will hold out) is that without forgiveness, you go the other way and come to the conclusion that if the apology is never going to be accepted then you will stop saying sorry and – more harmfully – may even double down more on it not being wrong in the first place.
Public humiliation and anger has this habit of magnifying a situation that is already incredibly sensitive and holding it under such scrutiny that it leaves the person few choices to be able to do something about it. Even if the Royal couple accept the apology the rest of the public will continue to be enraged on their behalf. And as such, it can result in the perpetrator feeling more like the victim and less like the culprit. This isn’t healthy for them and it is not healthy for us as a society.
For those trying to defend his actions, they may be supporting someone who they feel (because they know him) is not the type of person to have done this with malicious intent. But interestingly there have been several I have seen that have gone down the route of “well, any one of us could have done this”, to which many have responded, “er no, we wouldn’t!” What I see here is guilt from others – they are looking at the situation and thinking that there is a risk that they may say something in the spur of the moment which will have the same reaction with no malice at all, but that would get the same type of anger targeted at them and so it unnerves them. If we know that sometimes we say things that are controversial or challenging, then there is a greater risk that something we say will offend – indeed, many commentators will tell us political correctness has ‘gone mad’ and you can’t say anything these days (which is not true). But it is an important aspect to bring to mind – sometimes we come to the defence of others not to benefit them but to benefit us in case we find ourselves in a similar position.
We want to know there is redemption. We want to know there is forgiveness – otherwise, how do we get past moments of misinterpretation or miscalculation? We all make mistakes and some will indeed be extremely difficult to back away from. But as a society we have to find a better way to continue this conversation so we don’t accidentally create a villain out of a misfortunate situation.
There are times when I have a lot of internal self talk. It keeps telling me that I’m not pushing hard enough, that I’m dragging my heels, that I just can’t ‘want it’ badly enough.
I’ve tried using the techniques in my book – because if they don’t work for me, how can I possibly expect other people to trust them?!?!
And even though this might sound total BS – it really did work.
Briefly, here’s what I did: 1. Looked at the list I had written for myself 2. Got real with the things that were on there that was to impress other people, or because I saw other people do it (for example, I had written that I would write talks I wanted to present yet I have done nothing to publicise those talks, so why write it before it is needed?!?) 3. After I took a bunch of things off, I went down the list asking myself why? Why did I want to do it, and why wasn’t I? This is the hard one, because you have to be brutally honest with yourself.
I talk about internal and external guilt – and the fact that you do not feel compelled to act if the pressure is coming from external, however ingrained it might feel. One of the Aha moments for me this week was distinguishing between the things I genuinely had placed no value in, and those things that I wasn’t doing because I was SCARED TO TRY. This is life changing because the second I admitted that some of these things made me feel really vulnerable, my core just fired up and I realised how badly I wanted to do them. I set a structure in my day to make sure they got done, and managed to actually break the back of some of them.
I want you to read the book because I know that it is already starting to help so many people. I want you to read it because the tips in there work – truly work. Putting yourself out into the world in this way has been far more exposing than I imagined, and I know that is also contributing to my sense of procrastination – everything feels so personal. But I also know that when one of you (or whoever has read the book) write to me to let me know the impact it is having on them – wow, I feel amazing.
So if you are procrastinating, then try some of these tips or – for the full effect – make sure you get a copy of the book :-).