Stress Archives - Embodied Living

How many of us at this point during the pandemic are not feeling right? If you’re not feeling like yourself, it can be a strange feeling. But whilst each of us will be experiencing things differently, the common thread may be that we are acting in ways that are not typical.


How we might be feeling

We usually think that our sense of self is a constant unified thing. That there should be harmony and unification. But the reality for each of us, to some extent or other, is that of conflict. Who has not had the experience of being in conflict? Perhaps about a decision we have to make, perhaps about a relationship? It’s like a part of us wants something and another part wants the opposite.


Parts in conflict

This sense of parts of ourself in conflict is playing out in the world at large. Look at the extremes operating publicly in a liberal country like the US. Whilst Joe Biden calls for calm and civility, that is a big ask for human beings. We are ruled by difference, by polarity. And this plays out in those inner conflicts where we have polarised parts driven to behave in opposite extremes. Part of us wants to ask our friend out for a walk, but another part is being incredibly stubborn about something. We might have all the best intentions to eat better, or lose weight, yet part of us just keeps heading for the couch or reaching for the chocolate.


When opposites don’t attract

It’s a well-known aphorism isn’t it: opposites attract. Well, they do until they don’t and mostly they don’t. As human beings we really have a problem with difference. And when that difference is in us we can protect ourselves by becoming blind to it. Of course, our inner critic or internalised bad object may protest quite loudly, but we do our best to silence or ignore it.


Reasons for not feeling like yourself

This lack of inner alignment or balance can manifest in well-observed ways in all of us. We may be intellectual not sporty – or vice versa. We may be good at doing, keeping busy, but crumble when we need to sit still. We may be very rational and lack intuition or creativity, or perhaps we are arty and creative and people see us as a little flaky. It may be that we are seen as passive and easy going or we may come across as bossy or domineering. As a man we may be overly masculine and lack a more feminine side and a woman may have overly developed her femininity and deny herself the power of her own masculine side. And then there is the tendency to activity or receptivity. Perhaps we are great at putting others first or helping them, but poor at asking for help ourselves?


Polarities within families

We can categorise the polarities in our being into four broad types. Firstly, we are born out of difference. We are the product of a mother and a father. Two different people, two different genders. And then there is the whole realm of difference in the families of our mother and of our father. If both of our parents are balanced and well-integrated as people, in a loving family environment we have a chance, as children, that all parts our self will be seen, accepted and validated.

If you are not feeling like yourself, perhaps you have lost your temper or have been overly critical of your kids. ‘Oh god, I am becoming just like my mother/father’ is not uncommonly heard amongst some of us! Yet, if our parents stay together (or split amicably) and love each other, we can more easily integrate and balance those parts of our parents and our families with which we identify. This means that if we behave in ways that we are not so proud of, we are kinder to ourselves.


Family divides

But if our parents hate each other, or parts of each other’s families, we will be in conflict with those aspects of any of them which we recognise in ourselves. This may mean that we feel shame or disgust at our self, or to protect our self from shame, we may project onto others and see those qualities in people around us.

Either way we become split. This can result in a self-propagating cycle of shame where we either withdraw from relationships and have increasing feelings of unworthiness. Or we may become angry or hateful of others.


How to begin to feel better

Whilst our culture pretends that difference is not an issue, it also likes to have quick fixes and bulleted lists for self-help! Making deep changes within our self is not easy and neither are self-help suggestions, because we are all different. No two of us will be doing a ‘problem’ in the same way, nor would we have constructed or developed the problem for the same reason.

But here are some considerations for when you are not feeling like yourself.

  1. Awareness matters

The first step is perhaps to begin to develop awareness of these polarities that exist within us, but with a healthy dose of self-compassion. True change only comes from a place of acceptance. Once we accept something within us, that we may well not like, we have a chance of changing it.


  1. Practise self-compassion when you’re not feeling like yourself

self-compassion when you're not feeling like yourself

Once we become more aware of conflicting parts within our self, it is important to learn to be kind to our self. Otherwise, greater awareness can simply bring more self-loathing or criticism. For instance, remind yourself that just because your behaviour sometimes reminds you of your mother or father, it does not mean that you are globally like them. You are more than your behaviour. Learn to see the positives in the aspect of yourself that you don’t like. For instance, a tendency to be critical of self or others often has a positive intention of wanting them to be better.

This self-hypnosis on ‘Loving Yourself’ might be nice to practise.



  1. Talk to someone who loves you

The best antidote for shame, an emotion often at the heart of difference, is to be seen by someone we love. Truly seen. If you can be brave enough to talk about aspects of your behaviour or thoughts that you don’t like, with someone you know believes in you, it can be transformative. To be seen in our shame or disgust, and accepted, helps to discharge it. Loving others may also see things differently – we are usually our own worst judge.


  1. Work on your HRV and coherence

Heart rate variability (HRV) is an important measure of coherence. If we can train our system into coherence we are integrating neurological imbalances such as sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and increasing vagal tone.  The neurological and psychological state that this achieves means that we are more resilient to stress and more able to make the changes we want in our life.


  1. Integrate your polarities

I believe we are driven to achieve balance and integrate all parts of our self so that we can become whole. All of us, regardless of the difficulties and traumas we have faced in our life, are able to become who we truly are. It is through achieving alignment on all levels of our being that we can move forward in life and be more able to face life’s inevitable challenges. A good psychotherapist can help you on this journey.


More reading when you are not feeling like yourself:

More articles on low self-esteem

When I sit back and think over the last 10 months since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. And when I think about myself and my client base. I can see that many of us have faced, or are facing, an epiphany. If we listen to this, we can begin to face our worst fears and develop resilience and a more complete sense of self.


We all have difficulties in the pandemic

Covid has affected all of us. With the chronic uncertainty, our anxiety has shot up. For many, three lockdowns later, a certain kind of depression is starting to kick in. The lack of social contact and inability to pursue things that once gave us pleasure, is taking its toll.

Our basic needs are not being met

Many are angry. Our basic human needs are not being met. We have an innate drive for meaning, satisfaction, pleasure and connection. And the pandemic is stealing many of the means for meeting these. Yet when we cannot change the things around us, the only thing we have left to change is our self.


Covid is helping us to face our worst fears

And for those that have realised this, I am seeing that the coronavirus crisis is helping us to face our worst fears and complexes. When our normal defence mechanisms and coping strategies are stripped away, anxiety ensues. However if we listen to that, as a symptom of something deeper that needs listening to, we can begin an important and vital journey.


We need help

Those brave enough to do this, seek help. For we cannot do this alone. Our problem is operating at a deeply unconscious level and we need another to see into that particular window of our psyche.


I’m not feeling like myself

So many have come to me, saying “I am not feeling like myself, at all”. Do any of us. We might be getting more angry. Or lack motivation for our work, despite feeling grateful that we still have work. Perhaps we are having trouble sleeping, or are drinking too much. We might be getting more obsessive in our behaviour or habits. Whatever it is that we notice that is not normal. This is our system calling for help.



For those that have listened and decided to do something about it. They have noticed that they overcome old phobias or maybe increased their tolerance of others who are different to them. They have put things in perspective and been able to find more balance at work and in life. Or they have addressed traumas from their past that they buried and tried to forget a long time ago.

They feel more at peace than ever.


More information

Read more about Coping with Covid.

Access our free online course – Coping with Covid.

Contact me about one to one work.

What do you do to be less stressed? Before Covid-19, I used to sit around in coffee shops as regularly as possible. I would sit and watch life pass by, think and daydream – and sometimes write. Having thought about why was drawn to do this, I realised it is part of what I call the broad ‘margin’ that I like in my life. To steal a pinch from Thoreau. At its heart, I think it is all about ‘being’. Certainly being less stressed.

Creating margin

So, I ask myself, what do I do now instead to create this kind of margin in my life where I be less stressed? Two things came to mind. During lockdown I found a new hobby. Carving wood. I carve mostly pendants for jewellery and I find it beautifully consuming in a non-thinking way. I have this piece of wood, which I have found (responsibly) storm-fallen in local woods, which I know somewhat intimately. And out of which emerges something miraculous: perhaps an animal, or a symbol.

When I carve, my mind is quiet. Yes, at times the odd difficult thought emerges, but I let it go. The process of being with the natural element, takes me right back to the wood in which I found it. I can smell the trees, hear the sounds of nature and silence around me. Feel engulfed by the wood. I am not stressed in the this place. In walking with no aim in mind in that wood, I sometimes find interesting pieces to work with. In carving, I kind of have an aim, but the carving emerges, and I am not always in control. I enjoy the whole process because I puts me more into a ‘being’ mode than a ‘doing’ mode. This is a less stressful mode.

Too much time doing

I think we spend too much time ‘doing’. In this mode we are active, starting things, under pressure and a bit wired. We are more likely to be stressed. With this in mind, I watched people when I was out and about today. Coming and going, hurrying and queueing. And as I watched them I thought about the yogic concept of the gunas.  I started to notice which guna was predominant in each person. In the West certainly, we have a culture that encourages, rewards, and shapes us for doing. People often have a posture that mirrors a forward moving. go getting, achieving culture: sway back, knees hyperextended, a tense lateral myofascial line that throws the pelvis out of alignment and head hanging forward off the neck.

Existing or being?

People often simply don’t know how to ‘just be’. And their reactions to feeling stressed or overwhelmed is to do more, to keep themselves busy. Almost like if they stopped, they wouldn’t exist anymore. Of course, when they come to therapy, their body and/or their mind have already begun to ‘breakdown’ in some way. So, as I noticed the older lady behind me, who’s impatience I could feel even before she began trying to push in front of me. Or the stressed looks on shoppers faces busily scanning catalogues, or the harassed mum who quickly gulped down her takeaway coffee and was quickly on to the next task at hand. I could see ‘doing’ was written on the somatic structure of peoples’ faces, posture, body.

How can you ‘be’ more?

So I realise that margin and space is so important to me in my life.I can just ‘be’ in that space. So how can you create this type of margin in your own life? Thoreau himself went into the woods. What will you find that works? Let us know by posting in the comments below so that we can all be inspired!

For me this margin IS life. I have space to ‘be’. Of the gunas, Sattvic is light, space, lucidity, harmony. You can’t buy it or earn it by doing more or trying harder. You have to learn to be and let go of some doing and having. Perhaps this is the hardest lesson of all. Animals can be great teachers in this respect. Spend time with a cat, or a dog, or any animal and they will soon start to teach you!


Enjoyed reading this? Read more about stress here and happiness here.

When we are in the throes of our problem, whether that be anxiety or depression or some other disturbance, it can be difficult to see it as something other than a terrible crisis that is afflicting us.

A ‘right brain’ way of seeing

In this respect our very way of seeing the problem perpetuates the problem. Being in the midst of the problem, consumed by it, overwhelmed by the right brain’s subjective negative experience, makes us blind to the real nature of things. This ‘veil’ prevents us from seeing reality. It is what yoga calls ‘maya’; the illusion that there is an objective reality.

Reality is projection

Maya is projection, it leads to partial understanding and wrong or false notions about our self, our identity and our reality.

In the Indian tantric myth of the rishi couple, Shiva and Parvati, who lived in a mountain village, the play of reality and illusion is brought out beautifully when Parvati asks: “the minds of people are full of tension and strife, suffering, pain, anxiety, difficulty … Why is there so much desire and craving in human beings … They constantly desire to acquire something which leads to more agitation and anxiety … Why do human beings get entangled in this vicious cycle?”

Inner disturbance is an expression of energy

According to tantra, this disturbance within each individual is an expression of the state of their energy and their consciousness. In this respect, disturbed mental states are projections of energy and consciousness. There is no reality, each of us lives in our own version of reality, which is largely a projection of our unconscious mind.

The end of an illusion

By understanding this we can begin to see our problems as simply the end of an illusion: a chance to expand consciousness to another level. But, as Jung said; “man will do almost anything to avoid facing his own soul”. When we ignore, deny or repress our spirit (our soul), in our obsessive over-identification with our body and/or our mind, the spirit only breaks through in the form of neuroses and mental disturbance.

Changing your problem

So how can you start to change your ‘problem’?

  1. Firstly, accept that your problem is a ‘gift’, a chance to overcome another level of illusion, an opportunity to learn and grow. Welcome your problem in as a cry from your soul to be heard and understood.
  2. Then recognise that you don’t ‘have’ a problem: you are the problem. This will move you from being at ‘effect’ (blame, victim, martyrdom) to ’cause’ (taking the responsibility to change the only thing you can: you!)
  3. Be brave, authentic and tender in exploring the unchartered territory of your spirit because this journey will only bring you to bliss.

In this respect, psychotherapy is ‘spiritual’ and yoga is psychotherapy, ‘all roads lead to Rome’ so to speak.

This piece was first published on Psychologies Life Labs

Before COVID-19 struck, burnout was on the increase. Carers and people in positions of responsibility are more at risk. A friend of mine recently went on holiday and had to spend 48 hours in A&E because he collapsed with exhaustion. He recently told me, ‘as the MD I am the lifeblood of the business, if I stop, it all stops.’ Do you know anyone like this who needs some help with burnout?

Burnout on the increase

Half a million people in the UK suffer work-related stress and there is a worryingly high number of cases of burnout. Anyone can get it. A stay-at-home mum, a busy business owner, students, middle managers. It is particularly prevalent in the  caring professions. During the coronavirus crisis, it does not have to be inevitable that our frontline carers suffer from burnout. We can be under even extreme pressure and not be at risk.

The first step in getting help with burnout is to be aware of the symptoms of burnout so that you can do something about it before it affects your physical and mental health.


There are three core categories of symptoms in burnout: emotional exhaustion; depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment. How do you spot them?

  • Do you feel empty? Like the life has been drained out of you? Are you unmotivated and perk up only when you think about leaving work?
  • Another insidious symptom of burnout is depersonalisation. Perhaps you are finding yourself increasingly cynical or using sarcasm more. Are you experiencing more and more feelings of bitterness or resentment? Perhaps you have just stopped caring?
  • The final symptom that hits the often high-achieving sufferers of burnout hard is reduced personal accomplishment. If the warning signs are left unheeded, burnout will inevitably start to have an adverse effect on your work performance.

The causes of burnout

On the surface these symptoms are similar to depression, but being specific to the context of work is what makes the difference. The causes of burnout can include:

  • Having to work very hard for little or no payoff
  • Pressure to achieve
  • Pessimism (those of a more pessimistic nature (glass half full) can be more prone to burnout in certain circumstances
  • Isolation (think of the pressures of being the boss, or the stay-at-home mum, or the student away from home)
  • Mindless social media consumption. The keyword here is mindless. Have you ever found yourself on social media because you are bored, or out of a compulsion or habit? However, using social media mindfully, with purpose can reverse burnout (things are never black and white!)

What you can do about burnout

Importantly, perhaps it is worth knowing about what you can do to handle burnout symptoms before you collapse from exhaustion:

  • Listen to your body and give it what it loves: exercise, good food, relaxation (avoid alcohol etc)
  • Identify areas in your life that are contributing to burnout. Perhaps it is your workload? Perhaps you have ‘issues’ around control? Do you have enough community and support around you?
  • How good are you at delegating? Rather than talking about giving the less onerous tasks to the nearest ready hand, I am talking here about working on your pattern of ‘I’m the only one who can handle it.’
  • Finally, find ways to actively antidote burnout: take your annual leave and build in time for fun.


If you can relate to this article, you might need some help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. And seeking the help of a professional can often be the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and your loved ones!

Resources to help with burnout

Here are some resources to help.

A simple self test if you are worried about yourself or someone you know.

Read more about stress on our blog.

Read more about breathing techniques to help you relax.

Find more resources here.

Many of us realise we worry too much. In fact nine out of 10 of us describe ourselves as worriers. And we spend nearly 2 hours a day worrying. It goes without saying that we want to stop worrying.

Yet we often don’t realise how important attitude is in determining our success and happiness in life. We may also realise that, with the wrong attitude, we can spend a lot of energy worrying. But when we say ‘he or she has a great attitiude’, what do we mean? How does that stop worrying? What is our evidence of this ‘attitude’?


The components of existence


Our attitude comprises of three components (or the TEA model of existence):


  1. thoughts (T) – what we think or believe about things
  2. emotions (E) – the feelings or emotions we experience (most often in our body)
  3. actions (A) – our behaviour and how we act


Thoughts, emotions and behaviour do influence each other in an interchangable, mutually dependable relationship. If I am nervous and anxious about an exam tomorrow, and stay up all night worrying about it, this is unlikely to change my view that ‘I always do crap at exams’.

“Attitude is very consequential stuff. It determines everything one does, from falling in love to voting for one candidate rather than another” Anthony Grayling, philosopher

Thoughts are powerful, but you can change them


However, it is Thoughts which are the master regulator of this interdependent system. When it comes to attitude the emphasis is on thinking as thinking powerfully influences how we feel and behave. Nevertheless, what we think and how we think can be changed; we can learn new strategies to literally ‘change our minds’ and stop worrying!


Sharing an example case study


I had an interesting coaching session on this the other day that reminded me of the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behaviour and how, sometimes, people can find it almost impossible to separate them out. It is only when you can see them as separate components within a system that you can start to take control of them to work to your advantage.


My coachee had a particular issue with clients who were dissatisfied and called her to make last minute changes to deadlines or tasks. She told me it made her worry and feel anxious and agitated. In this particular context, like any situation of ‘adversity’, it is the meaning that put on the event that is the root cause of any problem!

Stalking the issue


We ‘stalked’ the issue (the negative feeling) and got her to connect to that and fully realise what that meant in her body (tight stomach, raised temperature, busy head). And then we worked on what she wanted instead (to feel calm, relaxed).


Then we went through the TEA model, looking at the adverse event (phone call from a dissatisfied client) and the thoughts and beliefs, and emotions she experienced. It took a couple of attempts to successfully separate the thoughts from the feelings; but when we did it was a real ‘ah ah’ moment for her. It was like she had been blinded by being so associated into the emotional experience that she could see the real culprits: her thoughts!


Alternative ways to think


Then we worked on the thoughts. What would be alternative ways to think about that? What would so-and-so think in this situation? etc. She needed a lot of help with this: not surprising, when someone is learning something about their map of the world that they didn’t know existed!


Then, I got her to read these alternative thought streams out and ‘voila’. She told me ‘now all I feel is calm and relaxed, but with a sense of challenge’, ‘I can rise to this’. And we had it!

Something to take away


“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.”


It can be difficult, in a triggered moment, to separate thoughts from feelings and emotions. But if we learn how to slow down and observe these processes we can be in a more powerful place in any situation.


My online course ‘Emotional Wellbeing’ talks more about TEA model and the ABC of thoughts and actions.


Download the ABC model here to practice in real time.

“Everybody’s better off for a bit of psychotherapy”, says Henry Marsh, leading British neurosurgeon, who is 68 this year.

Recent statistics drawn from the UK population shows that older people experience more mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Yet many people over 60 never seek psychotherapeutic help and it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

Ageing Population

Over the last 40 years or so, the number and proportion of older people in the UK population (aged 65 and older) has grown by 47%, now making up nearly 20% of the total population. Given that we have an ageing population, why don’t more older people make it to the psychotherapist’s proverbial couch?

One reason is clear. People of a certain generation were brought up to ‘just get on with it’. After all their parents survived the war and other traumas. This means that they can have a kind of in built prejudice to seeking help: they might see it as ‘navel gazing’ or ‘thinking too much’ about things. Or in the very least they see counselling or therapy as self-indulgent.

Limiting Beliefs

However these beliefs, sadly, can often result in a serious impairment of their life. They may be too anxious sometimes to leave the house, they may experience fatigue and loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy that comes with depression. They might be experiencing anger and irritability.

But nevertheless they remain trapped by a belief that to seek help is somehow weak. This is the ego defences at work: if we have been through trauma and hardship and, because of familial or cultural expectations, we ‘just got on with it’, that becomes our ongoing strategy. However, when it comes to the unconscious processes of the psyche, we often cannot fix it our self. We need an experienced other, to help see into the windows that we haven’t yet been able to see into for ourselves and help us to facilitate our own change from this new perspective. We are simply too close to our own unconscious processes to see through them, without someone to help us (otherwise we would have done so a long time ago).

We were made to be able to be happy in an imperfect world. It is not a sign of weakness to seek (the right) psychotherapeutic help, it is a sign of strength that we are overcoming our own ego defences.


The stats from this article were sourced at The Mental Health Foundation

For help with mental health problems contact us.

Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) this year runs from 14-20 May and the focus is on stress and how we are coping with it.

Coping with stress begins with understanding. We often get stress mixed up with pressure and use the terms interchangeably. However, they are two quite different things.

Understanding stress vs pressure

It might be helpful to think of pressure as something that is external and stress as something that is more internal. We can have pressure without experiencing stress and actually we need pressure to perform and even to enjoy life. But with too much pressure, we can tip into overwhelm.

Symptoms of stress

We know the symptoms of stress: mood swings, irritability, worry, anxiety, concentration or memory problems, foggy thinking, and fatigue. If the stress continues we may also have trouble switching off, trouble sleeping, and stomach or bowel problems. Stress is something that our body or our nervous system does.

Hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released to kick us into fight or flight mode and shut down other systems such as our digestive system and our prefrontal cortex (rational mind). If stress is short-term, all soon returns to balance, but if the stress is prolonged things can start to become problematic. We may even get depressed.

Our ability to cope with stress

Stress is all about our perceived ability to cope with stressors and the internal resources we have available to help. Stressors are those internal or external things that tip us into stress and overwhelm. In order to combat stress in our lives we need to take a realistic look at what is causing it.

Causes of stress

External stressors may include:

  • moving house,
  • a death of a loved one,
  • a change of or loss of a job,
  • a break-up or divorce,
  • or financial worries
  • even positive events such as a birth, marriage or new job can be a source of stress.

It is important to take a pragmatic look at the stressors in our lives and put them into three categories:

  1. things that have a practical solution to them (such as sorting your finances out, or prioritising tasks);
  2. things that will get better over time;
  3. and things that you cannot do anything about (remember, we live in an imperfect world).

Internal stressors

Internal stressors are a little different. If we have lifelong patterns such as perfectionism or taking on too much responsibility, we may need a little help to change them. Indeed, an excessive need for control, or high expectations of self or others can contribute to stress.

Likewise, trauma and post-traumatic stress will increase our internal stressors and mean that we more easily experience stress and overwhelm. And if we have low self-esteem or insecure attachment, relationships will be a big source of stress for us.

Learning to cope with stress

“We were born to be able to be happy in an imperfect world that is endlessly unfolding.” Al Pesso

We can all learn to cope with stress better by learning how to relax properly (remember, it is our body or our nervous system that needs this). In addition, exercise is known to help stress levels because it will release hormones such as endorphins or dopamine that counteract the effects of the stress hormones. Of course, a healthy diet, good sleep and even learning mindfulness techniques will all help.

Psychotherapy can help in coping with stress

Nevertheless, long-term stress will have a lasting effect on our levels of stress hormone. Moreover, early life traumas such as divorce, loss of a parent, bullying, emotional neglect or abuse will impinge on our innate ability to produce the feel-good hormones such as dopamine.

This is where we need psychotherapeutic help, which serves to work on a deep level and rewire our brain and body chemistry so that we are able to be happy in this imperfect world.

Sue Tupling is a registered clinical psychotherapist at Embodied Counselling in Stafford.

It’s not hard to imagine that acting is an inherently rewarding profession. It gives the performer a chance to perfect their art, they receive recognition and adulation and are loved by us all after all their performances keep millions of us entertained and offers escapism from stressful lives. However have you ever thought about the strain that acting might put on performers?

Actors are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as the general population and they report high levels of stress, bullying and sexual harassment as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The Australia Actors’ Wellbeing Study reports that a third to a quarter of actors are likely to be on some form of medication for their symptoms.This is not just about the stressors that inevitably go with the actor’s life: low pay (often); long hours; uncertainty of where the next job will come from. But it has more to do with the psychology behind how actors get into roles or, more importantly, how they derole.

Read my article on Acting out: the psychological risks and rewards of acting on Psychologies Magazine LifeLabs Channel.

Most of us are uncomfortable with conflict. How to handle conflict is vital in all our relationships. Yet when someone does not like confrontation or conflict it can be a sign of a weak ego self.

Conflict needs a strong ego

When we are secure in our self, we are less bothered about what others think, or less preoccupied with others liking us. Paradoxically this takes a strong ego, so we need to build the scaffolding of the ego self (false self) so that it is strong enough to take criticism, dislike and confrontation. But any strength becomes a weakness if it is over used. So at some point we begin the journey of shedding ego to find the authentic self inside.

Being less bothered about being liked

I have noticed myself saying, these days, ‘I’m not that bothered whether or not someone likes me or not, or what they think of me: if they do, great, if they don’t, so be it.’ I am more comfortable being authentic. Sometimes that means that I upset others; and here I need to tread carefully.

The five freedoms

This reminds me of Virginia Satir when she talks about the ‘5 Freedoms of becoming more fully human’:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what “should” be, was, or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
  3. The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
  4. The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks on you own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure”and not rocking the boat.

How to handle conflict

I rocked the boat recently. When I was teaching a local group, an attendee made a complaint against me. The complaint was about something that they insisted that I ‘said’ – though I never said it, it was certainly a of twisting of my words- yet, if I really second positioned this person and where they were coming from, I could understand their perspective. So, I had to look inside at what motivates us to be kind to or understanding of others.

Unenlightened self-interest

Many of us act out of self interest: we are kind to others to please them or keep them happy, or we are motivated by a need to have others like us. So in the act of kindness or consideration or helping others, the motivation is actually self-interest. What might be termed ‘unenlightened self interest’. Of course, it does seem to benefit the other; they are happier perhaps because of our kindness. But when we look deeper, we are acting in this way, somehow, to make ourselves feel better. It is a kind of manipulation, we are playing the politician or the actor, and seek approval or reputation management. We fear others’ judgement, anger or disapproval.

Making a stand

Ok up to a point, perhaps. But what about when that leads to us to pay for this in the cause of our own self interest? After the complaint, I apologised for how the member took it and said that this learning would teach me to be even more sensitive in future. I could have left it at this and everyone would have been happy. Yes? I may have well had an easier life – and not lost an income stream!

But I noticed that this organisation treated other teachers/trainers in a way that did not seem to honour their rights; they put the members rights as priority. And I felt it important to make a stand and ask for some closure, some mediation on this complaint (which was verging on slander in some respects). I asked for my voice to be heard. When they refused and just insisted they were passing on some ‘feedback from a member’ , I gently stated my case and resigned. The process was confrontational and had some conflict. But if overall, it helps the club to think about their process for fairness, it might contribute to making other teachers and instructors happier in the long run.

Enlightened self-interest

So what’s my point? It’s about Enlightened self interest. I am not talking about acts of altruism (I’m certainly no saint), where we personally suffer through acts of kindness but that by acting to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), we ultimately serve our own self-interest. In a way, we will “do well by doing good”. Our motivation comes in part by self-interest—not selfishness but enlightened, generous, self-interest. In this way we contribute to the happiness or wellbeing of the majority rather than the minority.