A PTSD Recover’s Guide To Dating Online

Online dating is high on my vulnerability list. I haven’t dated in just over a year and the last time I did it was with a guy who was passive aggressive and scared me enough to recluse back into the hole I’d crawled out of. Now I’m venturing out into the new territory of online dating, and my my, what a minefield it is.

From a woman’s point of view we get inundated with messages, some creepy, some lovely but lots of them, often. From a guys point of view I’ve heard they get ghosted, preyed upon (hello cougars) and viscously demonised from women who’ve been hurt in the past (ouch, sorry dudes). Some of the online dating world seems to be a full on fight until the death. But some of us are ducking the bullets and waving the white flag as we search for authentic beings who are acting from their heart and not their ego.

Once out of the battle, things get even more confusing as we move into whirlwind of what seems like a dating world on speed. As one of my friends explains she’d gone from being in a relationship, to being dumped, to having a date, breaking up and then having a tentative date cancel and spring her back into the heartache of singledom all over again. And this was just one week. I don’t know what this is doing to our dopamine and cortisol levels but I can imagine that such fast paced highs and lows are unhealthy. Surely there has to be a better way to find love in these technological times? After much discussion and trying out various tactics we’ve come up with some guidelines to help create authentic dating experiences in what seems like an incredibly falsified arena.

  1. Slow things down

In the world of instant gratification that we now live in, it can be difficult to take things slow. Especially when we have that buzz of excitement when we find out someone who we like, is also interested in us. Suddenly we can race away with thoughts of our first date, and what they’re like and before we know it we’ve created a whole world based on a few pictures and some black and white text. An imaginary illusion created by our own expectations of someone who we’ve never even met before. Even when we do meet them, we can continue to race into the fantasy of what we’ve created without even knowing whether they’re on board. When we find out they’re not, our hopes crash and burn leaving us feeling dropped from heaven in a sad little mess. And over what? Someone who don’t actually know that well, but who we heavily invested in the illusion of. To escape the rollercoaster of these intense ups and downs the trick is to slow things down. This allows us to see the reality and take every message and meeting for what it is – an opportunity to get to know someone. It takes quite a while to get to know who someone really is and when it comes to dating it more important than ever to take the time to get to know a person, especially if we are looking for someone to share marriage and having children with. These big life decisions take a lot of time and energy investment so doesn’t it make sense to spend time collecting the knowledge to make an educated decision? Keep checking in with your feelings regularly to figure out if you genuinely like the person or if you genuinely like the idea of them.

You will only truly know someone if you take the time to get to know them truly.

  1. Don’t present an image of yourself, let them find out who you are

This is a tricky one because all the dating sites have an ‘about me’ section and this can leave a lot of temptation to describe who we think we are. Try to avoid presenting an image of who you think you are and instead let that person find out who you are. You know, like back in the day when we all used to meet up a few times over a long period and let each other’s personality unravel naturally. There was none of this ‘I’m this kind of person, and I do x, y and z’. Instead we just used to have conversations about stuff and hope that we had something common to chat about (given that we’d probably like the look of each other if we’d already been drawn to conversing). Stick to talking about the things you do in your life and what you like. The person on the other end will start to figure out who you are based on your attitude and your actions. If they like what they hear/see they’ll stay, if not let them go and move on to the next. If anything that’s the beauty of online dating – lots of variety right at your finger tips.

  1. Focus on the experience, not the results

Online dating is not a transaction. It’s not like we’re at a cattle market measuring up the animals against our never ending check list of what we’re looking for. As a western society we need to step away from this idea that there is this perfect result at the end of the game for us, whether that is the house, car and 2.4 children or any result in fact. Online dating, like all of life’s lessons is about enjoying the experience regardless of the result. Have a laugh with it and take it for what it is – a place to meet, converse and potentially find a person to enjoy new experiences with. If someone doesn’t message you back, try not to get upset over it. If someone messages you who you’re not into, tell them ‘thanks but I’m not interested’. Yes it’s a shame when we hope to find love instantaneously and it seems like we’re not getting anywhere fast but focus on enjoying the experience and the journey will seem shorter.

  1. Have fun and show your playful side

Imagine this, you’re in a bar and there are some sexy people who you like the look of at the opposite end of the room. Some have stern faces and seem to make snide comments at people who approach them. Some are smiling and laughing, generally having fun and looking approachable. Some are staring right at you with needy looks on their faces, longing for you to approach them. Who would you go and speak to first?

Personally I’m going to approach the smiling, laughing fun group, because they look like fun to hangout with. Well, online dating works on the same principles – people will approach you based on how approachable you seem to be. Obviously this is subjective to each person but for me this starts with a smile, because to me that shows that the person is enjoying life, because if I’m going to spend my time with someone then I want to do it with someone who would add to my life not take away from it. I also like messages from people who sound fun and approachable too because it makes me want to converse with them, rather than questions that make me feel like I’m being measured up against a check list. I think like this with my own profile too, fun pics of me doing things I enjoy and light hearted conversations that are usually full of banter. You’ll always attract what you put out, so if you’re not getting the type of responses you want, start with looking at what you’re sending.

  1. Don’t take things personally

People will always bring their own shit and most of the time they won’t be aware of it. We all have our own shit. Them, you and me too. The trick is to try and be aware of it so we don’t bring it to the dating table and to also not take it personally when it heads our way. That’s not to say that we should accept maltreatment or not call people out when they treat us bad (if you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know that I’m the first to call out low moral standards). What I’m saying is that it doesn’t do us justice to attach our own self worth on the opinion of others, especially someone who we barely know. We live in a culture that judges quickly based on little information and on the battlefield of online dating there are some twisty daggers at play. Negativity and resentment can build up pretty quickly if we take every little thing personally, so don’t take it on board and move on to someone who sends you the kind of messages you do want. Eventually you’ll attract the person you want with the positivity you shine out.

To really step into authentic online dating, it helps to take it out of online realm as soon as possible because you will only start to really know someone when you know how you feel about them. You know when you get that subconscious inkling of ‘it just feels right’ or ‘something is a bit off here’. This doesn’t mean violating rule number one and running into a dating scenario fast. It means gathering more information in a face to face situation so that your subconscious can pick up on things that your conscious might not, then you can be more true to yourself.

This isn’t the easiest guide to follow in the world, and as with all my blogs it requires a great deal of self awareness and mindfulness. It is achievable though and there are authentic and conscious people using online dating platforms,with this guide I hope you find them. Happy searching.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com



3 Habits To Drop In The Quest For More Meaningful Relationships

I often get funny looks when I talk about personal development, human behaviour or emotional intelligence. As though these subjects are some kind of taboo, when really it’s the study of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and most importantly, how we can do better. In fact, it boggles my mind that so many people go about their lives with a lack of awareness of their behaviour and how they can improve it. I mean discussing these are the things actually help us engage in more authentic and meaningful relationships. Why wouldn’t we discuss them? Craziness. Well, it’s probably because acknowledging these subjects would highlight the amount of work each of us needs to do on ourselves, which in an instant gratification society isn’t the most pleasing scenario. In fact, we’ve run away from it for so long that now that there are some common bad habits that stop us engaging in meaningful relationships all together. Here are 3 habits to become aware of (and limit) if you want to move towards engaging with more meaningful relationships.

  1. Watching TV for the sake of watching TV

Personally I’m not much of a TV watcher, in fact it’s very rare for me to sit in front of the TV unless I intentionally want to watch something. I mean, of course I get watching TV for inspirational films, or documentaries, or even just to chill out for an evening every once in a while. But to watch it unnecessary every evening, just to flick through the channels rather than engage in conversation or go out and do something meaningful is eventually destructive to our social skills. TV itself isn’t bad, but the overuse of it has lead to a lack of engagement between people to the point where we are losing the skills to communication. Skills that are necessary for us to successfully progress in our personal and professional life. Aside from that, I think the whole concept of mindlessly watching TV is kind of bizarre. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But I can’t help wonder why would I pay to sit inside and watch people pretend to be other people in fictional situations when I can go into a crowded place and watch real life unfold for free? Or when I can talk at length and in depth to people and reflect with them about our own crazy-ass situations. Analysing, debriefing and picking up the lessons we learn from our own lives. Mind-boggling.

  1. Getting drunk into the abyss, frequently.

I realise that this is predominantly an English, American and Australian trait as I’ve found that many European and Asian cultures drink for taste rather than effect. It may be relevant to other cultures too – I haven’t travelled everywhere so I wouldn’t know. My question is – why do we do this? Could it be to escape the mind? To numb the mind from particular thoughts? Negative thoughts, inquisitive thoughts or just an overload of pecking thoughts. I think drinking is often used as a subconscious coping strategy to escape ourselves, under the rouse of excuses such as ‘I just drink to have fun’ or ‘but everyone else does’. When people tell me that they don’t drink to escape themselves and that they could stop at any moment, I ask them to challenge themselves to stop drinking for a month, cold-turkey. I mean stopping anything for a month is surely a personal challenge worth taking to watch our progress in life isn’t it? At least to make sure that we’re not being controlled by the mental addiction to a substance that’s messing up the body in the meantime. The thing is that the thoughts we avoid talking about are the thoughts that many of us have, and admitting them is what can help create the connections between us. These thoughts can be what bridge together our vulnerabilities which is where deep and meaningful relationships are connected. Avoiding them literally builds barriers between us, but you don’t have to take this from me Brené Brown did 13 years of PhD research on this very subject which is pretty credible evidence in my opinion.

  1. Not saying exactly what we mean.

What is this about? When did talking so honestly become so offensive? I get told all the time that I’m too direct – really? Or is it that I’m just pointing out the obvious which no one else wants to because they’re cloaked in subconscious fear of not getting validation from the people they’re talking to? I find it really strange that people are so scared of speaking the truth, their truth. Sometimes it even gets to the point where families, friendships and whole organisations can swim around in so much bullsh*t that everyone sees yet no one points out. Then when an honest person does come about everyone gets offended when they’re told the truth. This is a hilarious observation that I make often and it makes me feel like I’m watching a sitcom from the 80’s – with the overacting facial expressions from the audience because it seems that obscene to me. The thing is that when the truth is spoken, it provides feedback. This feedback causes a reflection on the current situation, the opportunity to view problems, talk about solutions and allows for a discussion of how things can be done better. It’s necessary for our human progression and, yes, you guessed it, meaningful relationships because the truth often lies within our vulnerabilities. Or we can keep swimming in the bullsh*t, never actually saying anything meaningful and looking clueless when something goes wrong. Strange human behaviour if you ask me.

Personally I believe that something deeper lies beneath these actions and the clues are in our subconscious emotions. We need to ask why are we escaping through the TV rather than engaging with each other? Why are we choosing to drink ourselves into the abyss so regularly? And why do we avoid speaking the truth, even when we know it’s right? The sooner we start finding out the better, because in the meantime our meaningful relationships are at stake.

The real knack is being able to catch out your own behaviour in your emotion and have the awareness to choose your reaction in a mindful way.  Kind of sounds like something out of the matrix right? Apart from it’s not, it’s just awareness and emotional intelligence. The very tools that help us take control of the steering wheel of our life, surely isn’t that motivation enough to at least question our habits?

Photo Credit Michael Ramey

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

A Call To Re-Brand ‘Mental Health’

I’m all up for ‘frazzled cafes’, talking openly about our emotions and any intervention available to help people process their emotions in an open, authentic and non-judgemental fashion. However, this is when the marketing personality inside me intervenes and points out an obvious flaw that a lot of support groups (with great intentions) seems to overlook: the words ‘mental health’ are so shameful in our western society that many of these support services don’t reach the people who need their services the most.

To talk openly about mental health means first acknowledging that we need help and in our society this is one of the most shameful things you can admit.

The term ‘mental health’ holds a strong association with being weak, broken or out right crazy. So with all that predetermined stigma are you really going to admit that you have a ‘mental health’ issue? I mean, are you freaking crazy?!??!? Of course you’re not.

The most common belief is that asking for help means admitting failure or a weakness – because through mass marketing we’ve been sold the idea that in order to be a ‘successful’ member of society we should be able to deal with everything life throws at us independently. Also, for any little problem we have, we are told we can buy a solution for it.

Thanks consumerism, big Pharma, and all the top dogs in corporations who are creaming the profits off this dysfunctional belief. I hope the Superyachts and sports cars fill the gaping void of thriving emotional connections. 

However, we’re starting to realise that this idea we were sold was an illusion. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix for emotional situations. We can take a pill to lessen the blow temporarily. We can avoid through substance abuse, temporarily. We can even project our pain out in ways to deflect attention from ourselves, until we are eventually held responsible for this. But the truth is that to resolve these emotional whirlwinds and be authentically happy we must validate, own and process our emotions. And guess what the real beauty in all this is – it’s a fundamental part of the beautiful human experience that we are all living. If this kind of personal development and emotional intelligence was marketed this way then we might not have the mental health, depression and suicide rates that we do.

If I’ve not yet won you over with my argument then let me give you some examples. Any one who is familiar with the work of Brene Brown, her TED talks and audio book will understand the concepts I’ve explained above but I wonder if you know why this knowledge reached you?

Brene Brown’s TED talk exploded over the internet (currently more than 6.5 million you tube hits). While her research is ground breaking, I believe much of the success was the way it was branded – authentically, vulnerable and in a way that aspires people to jump on board. Brene Brown’s work is all about emotions, specifically the emotion of shame, how we avoid it and that by doing so stifles our abilities to connect as humans. Brene Brown didn’t call her first talk ‘Shame – the emotion stifling our wholeheartedness’, instead she framed it in a way us marketeers are told to market: Sell the benefits, not the features. Instead her flagship talk was titled ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, and her whole approach draws you in and inspires you to live more openly and vulnerably, like she does.

Another brand that does this very well is motivational life coach Tony Robbins.

‘Want to be more successful in your personal and business life?‘ -Tony Robbins.

Well, yeah of course. Who doesn’t want that?

‘Want to come on a 5 day immersive course and face the demons you hide inside and expose them in a safe and none judgemental environment to overcome and develop as a fully authentic human being?’ – My interpretation of what happens from watching the Netflix documentary and lots of his YouTube videos (I haven’t yet gone to one of his workshops but will soon, I hope).

Urgh, no thank you. I’ll stay put pretending like I’m fine and everything in my life is as perfect as I’m led to believe it should be while I slowly crack under the pressure of this illusion.

The difference between this marketing and that of mental health awareness charities is that one lifts it’s market out of the shame and fear cloud without them realising, while the other one points it out for all to see. Not cool if you’re the person underneath it. This is why I believe so many mental health charities fall short of reaching their audience. I mean, they’re literally selling the opportunity to admit failure and weakness openly in a society which will judge and shame a person for ‘coming out’ and admitting that they have these normal human emotions. Or at least that’s how many of the market might see it. (If you don’t believe me, try suggesting counselling or therapy to any British person and see how you offering fairs – I’ve heard it’s different in the States but I’m writing from and for the UK so my observation is from here).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be talking openly about difficult life situations or that help shouldn’t be advertised. I am however saying that there is a call for marketing these services in the language of the market listens to, and that is one of aspiration. The marketing these services needs to be done with the same psychological marketing approaches that many corporate companies have been using for years. In fact, it’s about time that we used these tools for good intentions, rather than solely that of quick fix consumerism. Maybe it’s time to start selling the authentic human experience rather than an illusion which only a few people benefit from. I don’t know, they’re my thoughts. I’ll leave the the conclusion for you to decide.

If you like it, please share it. Share the emotional intelligence!

Photo Credit Edu Lauton

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com


When Not To Judge Someone’s Character

One of the things I find really interesting these days is how easy we are to judge each other without any internal pre-vetting. It’s as though we lost some kind of conscious filter that used to be delicately balanced in our throats. A filter that would create a necessary lodge if we were about to say something particularly judgemental. A lodge that when we’d feel it, would require us to flick on the ‘reflection and question’ switch in our brains and vet the words before they flowed out. I’m not entirely sure if this did exist but if it did, I wonder if it got removed in the free reeling speech that this new technological era spun us into?

While we scramble for new social rules and how to treat each other respectfully in these new and challenging times I thought I’d start with the instructions below. Feel free to add, share and question – I’m only human too remember. We make mistakes, oversights and we need feedback to improve, me included!

Things you cannot judge someone’s character by:



Skin colour

Sexual orientation

Sexual preference




Family heritage

Their appearance

You can only really judge someone’s character by their actions. And even when you do that, remember that you might not know what they’ve been through, what their story is, or what they’re trying to cope with right now. If you did, you might not judge them at all.

That is all.

Photo Credit: Jose Moreno

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

Some Valentines Day Positivity For Singletons

Oh Valentine’s Day. The one day of the year where singletons are cast out of the societal structure as we know it, even though for  the other 364 days we relish in our freedom while most of the couples complain about their other half and the downsides to being in a relationship. Well it doesn’t have to be all misery around this time of year and hopefully by moving through these next few questions you can come to some authentic happiness with your singledom, and own it like the awesome human you truly are.

Let’s start with some honest truths:

  1. Why are you single on Valentine’s Day?

Yes, it’s a toughie and probably something you wouldn’t willingly ask yourself but let’s put all those self deflating beliefs to one side and just extract the information. Why is it? Have you not met someone who you like enough to commit to a relationship yet? Maybe you broke up with someone because they weren’t treating you how you wanted to be? Maybe someone broke up with you? Or maybe, like me you have a massive fear of vulnerability because of some crazy life situation so you removed yourself from the dating scene altogether and now here we are in singletown on Valentine’s Day? Find the real reason and admit it to yourself. Whether it’s your fault or not, just get the reason, come to terms with it and move on to question number two.

  1. How do you feel about this?

If you’re reading this article you’re probably not feeling too positive about it, but what is the actual feeling there? FYI – ‘shitty’ and ‘bad’ are not actual feelings, and if you’re struggling to identify them, check out the Non-violent communication feeling directory to distinguish what it really is. Our feeling are there to give us information so we can learn from life situations and make an effort not to re-create them. Don’t get wrapped up in the unhappiness, guilt, shame or fear, just acknowledge it, feel it and release it.

  1. Why do you feel like this?

Let’s get straight on this one – we are each responsible for our own emotions. No one made you feel a certain way and only you are responsible for your happiness – the sooner you admit this the better. I mean, it’s up to you, you can spin around in circles blaming Tom, Dick and Harry for how he/she/they made you feel, but ultimately you put yourself in that situation and you are responsible for your emotional attachment to the situation. So let’s dig deep with this one and without blaming anyone else answer why you feel like this. Maybe you’re upset that you let someone cross your boundaries without stopping them? Maybe you feel guilty for pushing someone away or self sabotaging a relationship? Maybe you’re fearful of getting hurt because of something that happened in the past? The answer might not come straight away but ask those questions and eventually it’ll come to you.

  1. What could have you done differently to prevent this situation?

This is where you need to get your pen and paper out and write down all the options. There are always a tonne of different options but we seem to get tunnel vision with our behaviour and convince ourselves that we could have only done what we did to get here when that isn’t the case at all. For example, I’m single on Valentine’s Day because I haven’t quite come to terms with something scary in my past so I’ve avoided putting myself back on the dating scene. I didn’t have to do that, I could’ve gone out and met guys on online dating, or tinder. I could have gone out on the weekend and chatted up men until I bagged a date. I could have asked women out on dates. I could have asked my male friends if they wanted to go on a valentines date and see what blossomed. I could have sold the opportunity to date me on ebay (like James Blunt kind of did for his sister). I could’ve settled dating someone who I didn’t like just so I wouldn’t be single on Valentine ’s Day. I literally could have done a thousand things to not end up in this situation, however I didn’t choose to and there is often a reason for that (personally I’d rather be single and honest to myself on any day of the year, rather than compromising my values or being in some bullshit situation that I’m not 100% authentically happy with while me and my respective other comply to the obligation of a day which only corporations cash in on). Either way I chose to be here, and my actions of choice got me here.

  1. Can you accept that you made the best decisions you did with the resources you had at the time?

Ok, so maybe you’re still not completely content with the idea that you’re on your tod on Valentine’s Day but can you at least accept that you made the best decisions that you could have at the time that resulted in you being here? They might not have been the most logical, clear minded or even favourable decision but can you give yourself the compassion and love that you need to accept them? We all have egos and we all make regrettable decisions but that’s because we’re human and it’s our prerogative to make mistakes and learn from them. Cast that self blame, judgement and guilt aside and accept that you are what you are for good and bad, and that because of that you are fully human. You’re real, own it!

  1. What can you do to give yourself love today?

If you haven’t got a date, that doesn’t mean that you have to go without love. It also doesn’t mean that you have to scowl at all the happy couples roaming around all snugly in each other’s arms – in fact you definitely shouldn’t do this because the Law of Attraction states that by resenting what you want, you only push it away anyway and the future you doesn’t want that! So what can you do to give yourself love and make yourself happy on Valentine’s day? Let’s start with what you enjoy and what would make you feel good right now? For me that’s usually going out for a walk around my favourite lake and listening to an audio book, taking myself out somewhere nice for a coffee or hanging out with a friend and talking about silly little things. Whatever it is, fill your day with it so you can spend the majority of your day in positivity, that way you’re more than likely to attract next year’s date. I mean, who doesn’t want to be around a positive beam of singledom on the one day of the year that it’s not allowed? Rebel and let your happiness shine through you beautiful authentic being.

Photo credit: Shereen Soliman

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

How To Use PTSD As A Platform For Growth

First things first, let’s bust a few myths on PTSD:

Post traumatic stress disorder is not something permanent.

It is not an identity (seriously #Iamnotashamed – let’s not create identities out of emotional experiences that pass)

It does not affect a person for the rest of their life

and it certainly doesn’t mean that someone has to live in a life full of safeguards which keep them away from any potential triggers (urgh, what a boring life that sounds like!).

At least, not if you let it.

Post traumatic stress is the reaction of the brain to a situation where it has had to go into survival mode. If you want the science, it’s where the emotional response has been so strong that the brain has created new and stronger neuro-pathways that were previously there. It’s like speed-building a motorway over a whole network of roads which took years to intricately build. However with the motorway, all the cars now speed across it to get from A to B, regardless of whether B is where the car wanted to go. It means that every possible sense trigger (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch) that could remind a person of the initial event takes their subconscious brain back there and automatically they react in the same reaction that they did at the time. For me that’s revisiting the night a man violently tried to rape me where I had to psychically fight for my life. Can you see how this might cause a potential hiccup in my dating life? (Although in reflection it’s actually quite funny and there’s definitely a book there… ‘How to date a PTSD nightmare…?’ Stay tuned for updates on that one!)

The trick with PTSD is to re-train the brain one trigger at a time. So for me, rather than avoid triggers and live a life of hiding because I’m scared of my own response, I created a safe environment around me (physically and mentally) to face every trigger and bring myself out of it, until I created the new neuro-pathways that allow me to feel safe in the world again. Think, deconstructing the motorway, brick by brick, and using it to create new roads back to the road network that was originally there. Here are my three top tips on how to turn a PTSD experience in to a gift of growth and exploration.

  1. Drive your own recovery

To anyone who is currently suffering from PTSD and is listening to Doctors, ‘survivors’ and people who just want to offer their inexperienced opinion- listen up! I had so many people tell me ‘you’ll never recover from this’, or ‘it’ll take years’ or ‘this will affect you for the rest of your life’. If you have people like this in your life – STOP LISTENING TO THEM RIGHT NOW because their opinions are total Bullshit! Even if it is your Doctor, your Psychologist or a family member. Don’t let their judgement stump your recovery time because the fact is that you will start recovering from your PTSD as soon as you start unpicking the triggers. The faster and more thorough you do this, the faster you’ll recover. Think of it like a pile of work on your desk. If you do one piece every month, yeah it’ll take forever to get through. If, like me, you want to get on living your life you might race through the work as fast as your physical form allows. If I listened to half the people who gave me their opinion on my recovery I wouldn’t be anywhere near as clear minded and emotionally resilient as I am today. When I think of what advice to take on I remember listening to a friend of a friend who had published a book about taking advice off people about publishing a book.

He said, ‘What are people telling you about publishing your book?’

I replied honestly ‘To not bother because it probably won’t make any money’.

Then he asked ‘And how many of them have even written a book?’

‘None’ I replied.

‘So why are you listening to them?’ He asked.

‘Fair point’ I laughed.

From that point on I never took advice from people who were not in a position I aspired to be in after going through something similar to what I’d been through. Advice from people about my PTSD and my recovery? I tell them to mind their own business – especially nosey opinionated onlookers who can’t even talk openly about their own emotions. The only expert on your recovery is you – so make sure you drive it, not anyone else.

  1. Create your winning support team

Lucky for me I have a best friend who is a psychologist for high performance teams who helped steer me through my recovery. Not everyone has this kind of resource to draw upon, however I can offer you the advice that Dr Jenn gave me and this is a golden one – create your winning support team. When you’re in a PTSD trigger, you’re living in a parallel reality where everything looks and smells the same but your reaction is as though you’re under attack. So it might be completely rational for you to defend to the death – because in your mind you’re under attack remember. However, to everyone outside of your head (and perspective) it will be obvious that you’re acting completely irrational to the situation in question That’s why it’s imperative that these people are part of the winning support team and know how to approach you when you’re experiencing a trigger and compassionately make you aware of it.

This takes a little organisation and some very honest conversations to work out a team plan of how to manage this but it is totally worth it in the long run. If you read my original blog Trauma on Tour you’ll know that I introduced the BS card which was a simple gesture – placing a business card in front of me so it reminded me to sense check and reflect upon my behaviour… and question whether I was bullshitting myself and acting from a place of fear, rather than a place of authenticity. As well as calling me out of my patterns, I also asked my friends to call me out if they thought I was being destructive to myself, or if I was doing anything in fact, that wasn’t serving me. It was like we had a team plan to get Shereen back and everyone had a part to play. It was extremely vulnerable for me to give this kind of authority over to other people and it required a great deal of trust, authenticity and open conversations to get there. In fact, it meant that to stay part of the team, each friend was required to face some hard truths within themselves as well as some difficult emotional training, but they all stepped up and grew along with me (thank you guys). Now I’m part of lots of winning support team as I root for every one of my friend’s successes; telling them when they’re off course and helping them strive to be the best version of themself.

  1. Start training with Mindfulness and CBT

Before you sign off on this third point, I’m not talking about barefoot meditating with hippies in a field, or lying on a leather couch while someone unpicks your darkest dreams so drop your judgements right now and read on.

There is a reason why this winning combination is in the spotlight at the moment and it’s because it works. What happens is that it allows your mind to unpick patterns, while observing the unpicking of the patterns in a way that is outside of the intense emotional feeling. That means, rather than re-feeling the feelings that you experienced in the incident that gave you PTSD, you instead observe the emotions, which means that you are much more equipped to deal with the unravelling of the event. If we go back to the motorway analogy it means that rather than painstaking remove every brick by hand, it’s like you’re watching someone else do it. Or if you’re impatient like me, you’ve hired a construction team with heavy machinery to get the job done efficiently. There’s no secret to mindfulness and CBT, it’s just re-training the brain and getting a bit of perspective on the training. It’s the same approach that top athletes use to train their psychical form – train it, analyse and measure the training and keep checking in to tweak it. The effect is extremely quick – within one week I went from unconsciously attacking a guy who triggered me (FYI – he groped my ass in a bar) to being able to acknowledge and control an intense feeling of fear inside me. The best thing is that it teaches you how to reflect, self manage emotions, explore your true passions and ultimately work to being the best version of yourself.

In fact, once you’ve come through the first few triggers and you get attuned to your new training regime, it’s really insightful process and it becomes exciting to work through the triggers and explore the mind. It’s a type of exploration that I wouldn’t have gone on, had I not been attacked. That’s why to me, it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Photo by Daryn Stumbaugh on Unsplash

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

Emotional Intelligence is Nothing Without Awareness

I’m always chirping on about emotional intelligence. How understanding our emotions can be used as an opportunity to grow through life’s challenges. How it can help us better understand each other. How it can bring us together through compassion and help us lead more fulfilling lives. But something that I see often as this term gets tossed around is the lack of awareness in the people who are talking about it, and without personal awareness, it’s nothing.

If someone had spoken to me about emotional intelligence a few years back I probably would have nodded and said I’d got it, because I would have thought I had got it. I would have logically processed it in my mind and thought ‘yeah, I know how I feel most of the time, I’m in tune with my body and my emotions’, but in reality I wasn’t. In fact I didn’t even know what I didn’t know back then, and this is something which I see around me often these days. That so many of us think how we feel, rather than feel how we feel. In fact, some of us have made an art out of it to the point where we’ve even convinced ourselves that we are actually feeling, when the truth is that we’ve completely blocked off our senses all together. It’s no one’s fault that we’re doing this, we’re simply doing the best we can with the knowledge that we have, and unfortunately the majority of us in the west have been taught through social conditioning that this is how we find out how we feel.

This could be due to many factors such as the post war generation children learning to lock down emotions from their parents who would have experienced horrific traumas. This then being passed on to future generations as ‘the norm’. The introduction of industry and the desire to maximise production through robotic behaviour, slowly omitting any kind of emotional expression within the work place. The Victorian school system favouring science and maths over arts and music (mind over heart, or logic over feeling), seen as creativity is physically expressive form of emotion. The reinforced perceptions that this is the norm, seen as to question it might risk the consequence to be ousted from the community. I could go in to many more theories of how and why I think we’ve arrived at this point in the western society but I’ll reserve that for another time.

So what does it mean to become aware? To me, it means to gain an understanding of what our body, mind and heart are trying to tell us through signs.

It means to check in with our physical senses – touch, taste, sound, sight and smell, and understand what each sense is experiencing in the present moment.

It’s understanding what our mind is telling us through our judgements, commentary and instructions on how to behave.

It’s noticing what our emotions are telling us through our creative outputs and expressive behaviour.

At first, when we start paying attention to our body, mind and emotions it can be overwhelming, especially if we’ve been living a life which is in-congruent (with conflict between the head and the heart). For me, inner conflict was something that I’d lived with for a long time, especially as I strove more towards what I thought society wanted of me, rather than what I wanted for me. It was like opening my eyes in a room which had a whole load of mess in that needed clearing up. I felt exhausted just knowing about the mess, a mess which I had unconsciously been adding to for years. Part of me wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend that I hadn’t seen it, but the problem was that I couldn’t un-see it and deep down I knew that the only way to feel better about the situation was to start clearing up the mess that I had created. That’s when I made a conscious effort to increase my awareness, learn the best techniques on how to tune into to my mind, body and emotions, and ultimately start to live a life that was true to me, no matter how ‘emotional’ or messy it seems on the outside. It’s the moment when I finally embodied the words my Mum had told me all my life and thought ‘Fuck what people think, I’m doing this my way’.

There are plenty of tools you can use to start becoming more aware. Mindfulness is one of the most spoken about tools to practice, but questioning ourselves and reflecting on our behaviour are also important too. I also find that journaling, and talking things through with friends is an important process to practice because sometimes I’m still not sure how I feel and it helps to have a little feedback.

The truth is that without inquiring into these areas of ourselves and really becoming a-tuned to what is going on inside us, emotional intelligence just becomes another subject matter to give lip service to. We may as well be talking about the weather, and it’s this disconnection to ourselves that is stopping us connect with others, with our inspiration and with greater fulfilment.

Photo credit: Kelly Searle

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

Lead By Your Actions, Not Your Words

It’s quite often that when we meet someone new that we choose to see what we want them to be rather than what they present us with. More often than not, it’s what they want themselves to be too, however the reality is that they might not be willing to put the work in to actually get there. This message seems to be reeling around my universe at the moment, in my own relationships and those of my friends as we meet new people though personal and professional encounters.

It’s so easy to get carried away with the vision of what can be, as we listen to self proclaimed virtues, even though what is staring us in the face is sometimes contradicting evidence. It’s something that seems so ingrained in our self obsessed culture, as though the marketing of something takes over the reality of what it is, leading to illusions and false pretences as the norm. It’s not that I want to be sceptical of the people I meet, or that I think this is something that people do maliciously. It’s just so easy to claim things which haven’t yet been earned, and we are in a society that celebrates it. We literally live in a world that values word higher than action, and condemns any honesty which might blow away the smoke screen.

Another fact to note in this situation is the sense of urgency that comes with it – a tell tale sign of an illusion at play. A trick used by sales people, to try trick potential customers into parting with their money for something whether they need it or not. To create the fear which directs the need for the solution which can be bought at a price so urgently agreed upon that the value and necessity isn’t even considered.

But how many of us fall play to this in our personal relationships too? When we are pressured to commit to loving someone on the premise of who they are? And I don’t just mean romantic love either. I mean the friendships that hold unspoken truths. The families who’s conversations consist of ‘everything’s fine’ when the writing is on the wall that all is not.

The thing is that this lack of honesty stops us from being the best version of ourselves. In fact, it’s the difficult feedback which we so often hide away from that holds the valuable information we need to take action and grow. The question that we need to ask ourselves is why do we hide away from the truths that are sometimes so obvious? What is it that we’ll lose if we acknowledge and even voice these truths? And if there are things that are being exchanged under dishonest words, is it serving us to believe them?

In recent times I’ve annoyed some friends by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. In fact, I haven’t restricted this to personal relationships either; I’ve rustled the same feathers in my family and in organisations that I work with. It hasn’t been an easy ride, especially when the commitment to the illusion is so ingrained, but it’s something which is a necessity to voice if we aim to grow, as a person or a business.

So as I sit here this morning, writing this post with my coffee I wonder to myself what dishonesty lies in my life? What relationships have I created which tell me what I want to hear rather than what is? What evidence is there in my life that I’m ignoring this? And most importantly what work do I need to put in to get me to the version of myself that I want to be? It’s only by looking for these answers and being honest that I can direct myself towards the best, and authentic version of myself.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

The Value of Creating Space

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve written at all. It’s due to a combination of factors, mainly working full time for the summer which hasn’t allowed me the time to sink into my writing space. Instead I’ve resided in my marketing space and focused on doing the best job I can. It’s not such a bad thing, seen as now I have some money in my bank account and the feeling of some financial security while I constantly try to create balance on the scales of my creative pursuits and actually earning living. I also recognise that I’ve gained some confidence credits as our department hits our extremely ambitious targets and I can see the fruits of my labour – a combination of many marketing campaigns that were produced on minimal budget without many resource,s but instead achieved because of team that works well together and has an abundance of passion steered in the right direction – this is the reality of working for independent charities. Still, it’s a life choice that I wouldn’t sell out on for money because deep down I know that my efforts in work reflect my values, and that means that I’m true to myself.
The thing I’ve come to miss, is the vacant space that I once would have done anything to avoid. The old Shereen would have filled this space instantaneously, and sometimes I still try to, forgetting the value that each breather holds. At my most emotional state I made sure that I was filling the smallest of gaps and sometimes it’s a fight to change this pattern. To resist trying to tidy up, calling a friend or turn on an audio book (I don’t own a TV and film has never been my go-to-escapism-vice), anything to not sit in this space and deal with whatever arises. A common pattern of mine was to try and plan out the future, in an effort to control what might happen next, rather than letting things arise naturally. This a common fear trigger that I’ve noticed when I come to the end of my work contracts, as though I think I’ll never find work again, strange.
It’s not often that we have the space to sit back and reflect, especially not when we’re working full time jobs and managing personal commitments. Let alone, write, which is what I discovered this summer. But to me, these gold nuggets of time are the most important throughout life. The time when projects end or relationships break up and we’re left with a gap to breathe, reflect and take stock of where we are.
The reality is that without taking the time to stop and sink into the vacant space, we can’t gain the perspective needed to clearly direct our next move going forward. We also can’t open our eyes wide enough to see opportunities that are approaching us that might be bigger and better than anything in our current direction. We can’t listen in to ourselves and separate our thoughts from the constancy influx of external messages. Thoughts that often hold the key to the dilemmas we allow ourselves to stress over. Without this space, we’re simply not available to creativity, opportunity or connection.
As I sit back and write this, I’m at another cross roads in my life. My rent period is coming to an end, my work contract tying up and there is a blank canvas in front of me. I could frantically worry, plan and scramble to control what happens next but instead I’ve decided to spend a month creating the space. A month to revive, reflect, and take stock of where I am now, because I know that doing so will create its own opportunities that’ll take me to where I need to go.
Photo Credit – Shoot ‘n’ Design
Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

When Saying No Has Consequences

The topic of consent has been popping up in my life quite recently. It’s been sparked off by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which is all over the media and even though I don’t follow mainstream media the story somehow infiltrated my life. This, in turn, ignited the #metoo social media campaign which has then sparked off a lot more conversation, around sexual abuse, consent and a certain kind of negative sexual behaviour which is so often dismissed that it’s unfortunately it’s become a normality in our culture.

Firstly – it’s about time we started talking about this because it’s been underground for far too long. In fact, it’s so underground that a lot of people can’t actually believe it’s a thing at all. It’s not their fault that they don’t believe it at first, in reality most of us go through life viewing our personal perception as the general experience of all. To someone who would never dream of sexually abusing someone else, they may therefore assume that none of his friends would either, thus deeming that the reality of this happening is relatively small. Unfortunately this perception isn’t reflective of the experience of a lot of people, and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse will know about the shame and guilt that comes with telling the story. They’ll also have probably experienced firsthand the judgement that comes when they tell people, the questions that automatically assume that the victim is at fault: “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drunk?” were two common questions that I was often asked when I first told people that a man had voilently attacked me to try and rape me. So is it a surprise that we don’t feel comfortable to offer our stories at the dinner table, let alone reporting it? Because of this, these stories aren’t shared as common knowledge, they’re kept inside and suffered in silence because most people don’t feel safe enough to even voice them with their closest friends and family. If you’re reading this and still think that it’s not an issue, then start listening to the conversations of those around you and in a non judgmental manner* start asking people for their stories, what comes back might just widen your perception.

As this story has unravelled, and in the conversations I’ve had especially, I’ve found myself explaining the concept of consent frequently and it’s seems to be something quite misunderstood. There’s some really great public campaigns creating awareness about how important consent is, one great one in the UK which explained it in a metaphor of offering someone a cup of tea and that you wouldn’t force someone to drink a cup of tea against their will if they’d already said ‘no’ – you can imagine the humour in this with a nation that is so polite with the treasured ritual of the famous ‘cuppa’. What it seems to miss out though, is the issue of consent when one person is in a position of power, which they could use against the person with less power if they don’t get what they want. Quite often in situations where sexual abuse takes places there is a power dynamic which is being abused, be it physically or like in the Harvey Weinstein case – the power of one person’s career prospects. To me, consent isn’t just about saying no. It’s about having the opportunity to say ‘no’ without consequences.

Consequences such as the other person reacting negatively like becoming dismissive, moody, even ending the relationship and all that has been built to create it so far.

Consequences like losing out on something external of the situation that a person has worked so hard to achieve, like a career, an opportunity or their reputation.

Consequences like personal safety, that if the person with less power doesn’t just give in and give the person with power what they want that things might just turn that little bit nasty.

I’m not saying that we need to have sit down discussions at length prior to having any sexual encounter because I know how these things arise and nobody what’s to spoil the mood. But what I am saying is that the vulnerable person in the sexual dynamic (the one that has the least power) has to feel safe enough to say no if they choose to and that it’s up to the person with the power to create that safe environment. The only way we can do that is by having this conversation about sex, safety and what consent actually means to us as individuals. And I don’t mean “What do you think about this Weinstein scandal” conversation starter in the office. I mean talking in depth, to those people close to us about the vulnerable details of our own experiences and what makes each of us feel comfortable and safe. Talking to those who we know would have had different sexual experiences from ourselves. If you’re a man, talk to a woman. If you’re straight, talk to someone who has had homosexual or bisexual relationships. If you’re monogamous, why not talk to someone who’s polyamorous? It’s only by widening our perception that we can learn more about the world and other’s experiences, and it’s only through sitting through the discomfort of others painful stories that we’ll start building up compassion within ourselves.

We need to start reflecting about our experiences too. Think about those times that you’ve had sex and it didn’t quite feel right – why was that? Did you not actually want it to happen? Or maybe you pushed yourself on someone and they gave in because of that? If you’re unsure can you open that conversation with that person and get some home truths aired? Don’t beat yourself up for something you weren’t aware of at the time though, because it’s not product to wallow in guilt. Just use this awareness to apologise and rectify the situation if you need to and change your behaviour going forward.

Without this kind of open awareness, reflection and compassion we’re not going to be able to create the respectful and safe world that we all deserve. So keep talking, keep challenging your own opinion and most of all listen, compassionately.

*A non-judgmental manner means to react neutrally to the answer that is given, regardless of how you feel. It means to allow space to listen, receive and for that moment sit in the awkward discomfort with the other person and feel what they are actually feeling. I write discomfort because that’s what it is at best, at worst it can be shameful, upsetting or deeply crushing. It is your obligation as the receiver to listen, without comment as someone expresses what is probably extremely difficult for them. And if you still don’t understand what that means then you obviously need to do some more reading.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash