123.jpgI don’t care what you think.

Well, I do really, but I care a lot less about what people think than I used to and it’s been life changing. People-pleasing is like being on a hamster wheel and not being able to hop off when you’re knackered. No amount of ‘thank you’s, or compliments will ever satisfy an insatiable people-pleasing hunger, but provide only momentary relief.

It’s tricky because what will please one person may irritate another. What might be graciously received by one person, might be misunderstood by another.

We are hardwired, culturally, to seek to please others. I mean, it’s not all bad because it gives us a moral compass and encourages us to be aware of the impact of our actions and words.  But allowing yourself to consider what is pleasing to others, is different to being utterly ruled by it. How other people perceive us is so damn subjective that it’s like trying to accurately interpret someone else’s dream. In the process of attempting to please everyone, you swerve from, deny and twist your own wants, needs and opinions. You might please someone but in the process you’ve chipped away at your authenticity by saying and doing things that you know aren’t ‘you’. Respect for ourselves ebbs away a little at a time and we become less and less sensitive to the little nuances, dreams and needs that make us who we are.

I remember going shopping with friends as a young teen, expressing like at everything that they did – the clothes, music, makeup. I probably even spent pocket money on things I didn’t like in order to ‘fit in’ with what I thought was acceptable to them. I thought that the way to please others was to validate their own choices, but in the process I totally denied my own. This has continued into adulthood where I’d go to bed with that dropped-stomach fear that I’d annoyed or hurt someone, replaying scenarios over in my mind, wondering how I could have been different, been somehow less.

What’s the worse case scenario of doing something that is authentic to you but might not please someone? They might not like me. They might not ‘get’ me, I might irritate/hurt/annoy’. Yes, these feelings are uncomfortable, but the thing is, we’re going to do that anyway even if we bend ourselves into pretzel knots to fit our idea of what people want of us. Not everyone will like or understand me despite my best and continuous efforts.

It’s far better to input my energy into being kind and authentic without needing to deny my character and opinions. They might be different, but they still have value.

Difference is enriching. Debating, arguing and disagreeing doesn’t necessarily break a relationship, it adds dynamic and perspective. I might do something that doesn’t please my husband, but it doesn’t necessarily break us. I might unintentionally hurt a friend, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unforgivable, and that our friendship can’t be deepened by talking it through. I might have differing music tastes, fashion choices, opinions to someone else, but it doesn’t mean that the void of difference is too big for there to be any level of connection.

We see people through our own lenses of experience, history, assumption, and there is nothing we can do to change other people’s lenses. Characters clash, people make immovable snap judgements, they may be irritable and angry, but it’s less about you and more about them. You have a responsibility only to your behaviour and response towards others. Trying to win everyone over is a bloody knackering, relentless pursuit that will take you to your grave unsatisfied.

You are you. Be authentic to you. Care enough to be kind, but not enough to deny the beauty of your individuality and your uniqueness of character. Be giving within your resources, but without giving yourself totally away.

How the heck do we begin this? Especially for those of us who’s people pleasing boundaries are so far from where they should be that we can’t even see them anymore? This is how…Work on accepting yourself and loving yourself, because then the hunger for other people to affirm, love and accept you becomes softer, and you’re less likely to look to others to tell you what you’re worth. Loving yourself well helps you step off the rollercoaster of other people’s supposed value of who you are, and gives you the confidence that many love you, many like you, but not everyone does and not everyone will. And that’s okay!

Just because someone doesn’t like you doesn’t mean you’re unlikable.

Just because someone doesn’t understand you, doesn’t mean you’re entirely misunderstood.

Just because someone is annoyed by you, doesn’t mean you are annoying.

Just because someone doesn’t accept you, doesn’t mean you’re unacceptable,

Test it out. Take risks in expressing yourself in ways that you’ve held back on before. Start small. Play music that you like, speak out an opinion that differs from another, wear something you’ve been desperate but afraid to wear. Every time you do this, you’re disproving your theory that you are not acceptable in and of yourself. Every time you do something authentic, and people don’t run for the hills, you’re taking the power and life away from this people pleasing drive.

And the more the power ebbs away the easier it becomes. And the more you realise that not being liked by everyone, and not pleasing everyone isn’t as devastating as you might imagine, the more confidence you’ll develop. And the more confidence you have in yourself and who you are, the more authentic you’ll be.

And you know what’s funny?? Authenticity is such a gloriously, accidentally, magnetic characteristic! So often, by addressing our desperation to please people, we end up being more authentically ourselves. And your authentic self is often far more attractive to others than the you who bends and twists yourself away to suit them.

Don’t let a look, an utterance, a misunderstanding tell you what you’re worth to the world. You’re worth far more than that. I assure you.

How do you KNOW you’re loveable, acceptable, likeable?? Because you dare to love, accept and like yourself. Everyone else’s feelings are just an affirmation of that truth, not a dictator of it.

Ax

img_1668One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.

Self-care isn’t as simple as taking a long bath or booking in a manicure. It’s about value, self-worth and believing you deserve treating yourself with care and respect. It’s about recognising the difference in what one day may be self-care, can be self-destructive procrastination the next. It can be a fine line.
It’s about how putting the to-do list aside one day can be an act of kindness to yourself, whereas the next day it can be an act of self-sabotage. Self-care can be working out, or it can be giving yourself a day off the gym when you actually want to go. Self-care can be a large glass of wine in the sunshine, or it can be forgoing the alcohol altogether. Self-care can be taking a day of solitude away from the world, or it might be encouraging yourself out the door to interact.

Self-care is about knowing what your needs are (this can be a challenge in itself for many), and how it is wisest to fulfil them. We need to know ourself to know the difference, and we need to love ourselves to act. The good thing is that one feeds into the other. Self-care fuels self-love. Self-love fuels self-care. You just need to take some challenging first steps to start a new cycle. A new way.

Today, I’m wearing bight, red lipstick and I’m not even dressed. Self-care for me at the moment is about not hiding from the world, not apologising for myself. It’s about daring to believe that I can use my passions and skills to encourage others to be more open about mental health, and start to engage in some new behaviours that I believe can change their world as they know it. It’s about indulging in the simple things that make me smile and give me joy. Today, it’s a rich, red, eye catching pigment on my lips, to remind myself how far I’ve come from the days I used to hide.

Self-care cultivates self-love. The best investment you can ever make. For the love you have for yourself is the gateway of all other loves.