Surviving to thriving: Becoming master of your own well-being
Brene Brown, American Researcher and author on topics such as shame and vulnerability, suggests that ours is a culture of shame and blame. Anything that is a ‘should’, is an indicator that comparison is at the heart of how we weigh things up – it suggests there is a right or wrong way to be – which is unhelpful in so far as it’s too simplistic. Human beings, by their very nature, are complex, nuanced, unique individuals. Generalisations are too narrow and restrictive, to be effective in how we define ourselves.
Interestingly, Dr Brown’s research has shown that the most common reason for shame amongst women is their appearance, and for men, it is being seen as weak. So, even the gender differences are significant. She is a passionate advocate of working towards developing a society and culture that is more inclusive and embraces vulnerability – reducing the need for shaming, blaming and judgement. This is the way to create more authenticity – and less pretending to be something/ someone we are not.
Humans are biological cells, just like your common-or-garden houseplant. Most of us have had a houseplant at some point in our lives and have learnt that they need certain resources in order to thrive; water, light, nourishment, the right temperature and often, a good dose of TLC! Where we position the plant can make a big difference too – not too much light/heat or too little. We humans are much the same – but how much energy do we put into considering the right conditions for us to be our ‘optimal self’ i.e. to thrive?
In his YouTube video How to Reprogram your Mind, Dr Bruce Lipton – Biologist and Epigenetics expert – describes how by the time a child reaches the age of seven years old, their brain has been effectively ‘programmed’ for survival.
The child is learning about the rules of their family (“If I am a good girl, I get praised and if I am naughty, I get told off or ignored”); the rules of society (“If I cry, I may be seen as weak and it’s bad to be seen as weak”); rules of culture (“If I am not slim/pretty/strong/wealthy/successful, then I have failed”); rules of the education system (“Maths and English are the most important subjects for future success, not art, music or dance”); rules of religion (“If I prioritise my needs above others’ needs, this makes me selfish/bad”). You get the idea.
So, what if being a good girl means we are not allowed to express our anger? What if not wanting to be seen as weak, means we don’t express our sadness? What if our passion is art or music?
The expression of our emotions and passions is essentially what makes us human. If we suppress them, we will not be fully authentic. Instead, we will be pretending to be someone we are not – to fit in. And those emotions don’t just disappear, they remain in the body and in the psyche. They get stuck without an outlet; get pushed down into unconsciousness and create lots of trouble for us.
I have come to think of anxiety as a strategy for pushing difficult feelings away and depression as a strategy for pushing difficult feelings down – both, essentially, avoidance tactics. Substances, unhelpful behaviours and choices can all help to facilitate this avoidance strategy. If we are living in survival, we are living in a state of fear.
In the famous words of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech(written by American author Marianne Williamson):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?.... As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- American author Marianne Williamson
Left to their own devices, children are creatures of the moment – their world is centred around play, creativity, imagination, and curiosity. They exist in the flow of life, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. Their perception of reality is what is happening right now – if they see a mere stick as a mighty sword to fend off their evil enemy – then that is exactly what it is! I spend a lot of time in therapy with adults helping them to reconnect with these forgotten aspects of themselves – the ability to be present, creative and playful – and most importantly of all – the ability to feel.
So, underneath all this conditioning – who are you? How can you be more comfortable in your own skin? Keep in mind that lowly houseplant and be curious about the ideal environment for you to thrive in. Balance is the key. For me, well-being is the harmony between our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.
I invite you to explore your beliefs, your values, your passions and how you want to show up in the world:
- How do you want to look, dress, and present yourself?
- How do you want to nourish and take care of your body?
- How do you want to express your emotional self?
- How could you develop aspects of your life that allow you to connect with your values and passions, so that you have more meaning and purpose?
Be creative, be brave, try things out, and make some mistakes (they are merely opportunities to learn). Play. Empower yourself – nobody else can do this for you. And finally, trust that you have all the answers within you. It takes courage, tenacity and diligence to access them, but it is a most wondrous adventure.