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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

 

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?

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo Credit Michael Ramey

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Daryn Stumbaugh on Unsplash

 

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo credit: Kelly Searle

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

 

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

 

Back En Route

Hi, how are you? I’m Shereen, I used to live here, and after much deliberation I’ve decided to come back to and write from here.

It’s been a turbulent three years since all the interesting incidents happened in my life. Turbulent in terms of ups and downs, confusion and clarity, and every time I thought I turned a corner I found myself, somehow back at the start again. Or at least that’s what it sometimes felt like. In fact, that’s the reason that I decided to step away from this blog in the first place. I was done with having myself associated with the word trauma, being connected to it like we were conjoined twins who couldn’t escape each other no matter how much we pulled apart. By blogging on this site it served as a constant reminder that I wasn’t able to let go and move past what had happened. Thus wasn’t able to heal.

So I decided to leave it in January this year and set up a new blog straight from my name – shereensoliman.com. It helped, a bit. But I still found myself still analysing human behaviour, reading self help books and attracting new people in my life who had either just been through something traumatic or were in some stage of trauma recovery process. It’s not these actions were wrong in any way, it’s just that there became a time when all this exploration into trauma recovery had served its purpose for me. I’d simply learnt and processed as much as I needed to for this time, and for as long as I continued to swim around in these murky waters, I wasn’t going to get to where I wanted to be in life with my business, my romantic endeavours or my lifestyle. What I discovered was that although my decision to step away from the ‘trauma on tour’ title was of good intention, I hadn’t really done the work that I needed to in order to steer my life in the direction I wanted. In fact moving away from the blog didn’t really make that much of a difference for me at all, and even though I wasn’t writing from it I was still getting lots of daily hits and people reaching out to me through it. I’ve since figured that I may as well start to write from here again, if only to demonstrate that such challenging times can be overcome, and clarity of mind can be reached – without pills.

While moving away from the blog didn’t loosen the anchor of trauma that I felt weighed down by, the work that I continued to do on myself did. After having more therapy sessions this summer – this time in Creative Kinesiology, and also a soft psychology session with a good friend of mine. Things started to become much clearer in my life, I decided that there was work to be done and that I was ready to do it.

First things first – I decided that I don’t want to make a career out of this emotional intelligence stuff. I might be good at coaching some people and I know that I talk in an authentic (and blunt) voice that is sometimes rare in our modern times, but in terms of actually coaching people, I just don’t enjoy it. So I just stopped and decided that this was no longer to be a part of my relationships.  I’ve since felt a hell of a lot lighter.

Second of all, I decided to clear out my life. Coincidentally we’re renovating my childhood room back home, so my stuff is all over the place – a great opportunity to go through and get rid. After reading a book called Spark Joy (thanks to my brother who bought me this for my birthday), I’m literally in the process of chucking out every single physical thing in my life that doesn’t bring me a deep sense of joy to own it. I now walk around wearing only elegant clothes… because that’s how I want to feel. I also cut out those relationships in my life which weren’t right for me. The ones which sucked my energy or involved me having to defend myself. All of the ones where I felt a hint of negativity when I thought about them, because I want people in my life who spark joy in my and who I spark joy in too, why would I have it any other way?

Thirdly, I went back to what my dreams and passions were before all of this craziness started – to build my own Eco Spa. Sustainability and wellbeing are two things that I’m extremely passionate about; it’s why I have such random qualifications from Beauty Therapist to MSc in Sustainable Architecture, and regardless of all this trauma stuff, it’s the goal of my life to create this building. So I started making headway in this area too – contacting people, talking to anyone who will listen about my concept and making sure that any work that I do is in the general direction of this goal (my workshops combine sustainability and beauty and my remote work is for a sustainability charity).

I’m not sure how many corners there are left to turn, in fact it’s probably a never ending maze that we’re all in called life. However, I do know that if I at least have the courage to head towards my dreams then I’ll feel good no matter if I succeed or not. At least I’ll know I’ve tried. And after coming through what I managed to process over the last 3 years, surely building an Eco Spa should be a doddle in comparison right? At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I hope you enjoy my writing, there’s more to come.

Happy Exploring.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Compassion for the Christmas Monster

Every house has a monster at Christmas. You know, the one who gets stressed out and is basically a nightmare to be around. Full of tension and trying-so-hard-to-be-happy that they couldn’t spot authentic happiness if it slapped them in the face? Well, this year that’s me.

Who am I kidding? It’s me most years!

Last year I somehow managed to escape the fate of the Christmas monster, probably because we glided through the holiday in a drunken stupor in my Dad’s absence. The first Christmas is always the hardest apparently and especially as my Dad was a Muslim and didn’t drink it seemed only right to go through a painful Christmas period the only way us Brit’s knew how – with an abundance of alcohol. It’s funny how the emotions play on the brain, as though they zap energy from painful times so that the memories don’t stay fixed, a kind of protective mechanism from enduring suffering maybe. It only became apparent today when we were asked what we did for last years celebrations – my Mum and I looked at each other cluelessly. We didn’t know. I later discussed this with my brother – he didn’t know either. None of us knew what we ate, if there had been a tree or if we had even exchanged presents. Come to think of it, the only thing I do remember is doing the Christmas shop… Wine, Whisky, Amaretto – could this be the reason why we don’t remember?

The fact of the matter is that I don’t remember being a monster last year, which is refreshing because when I am in the guilt ridden state of not-being-able-to-step-out-of- being-a-monster it seems like I have spent my life that way and that I will always be that way, but thankfully, that’s not reality. This very example of what we can all remember from last year demonstrates how these are all just tricks on the mind – that we can think that we will be in our current state for ever and that our life will be shaped this way, but in reality this isn’t true. I remember managing to pull myself out of a dark depression with this thought when my Dad had died, but I also remember how difficult it was to believe it, against the odds of how I felt at the time.

The thing is that sometimes we are monsters. With emotions running high and the pressure to enjoy family holidays it can be so challenging to not turn into a monster and today I just didn’t have the strength in me to keep it calm.

I’m lucky to come from a forgiving and compassionate family though. With a brother who takes me out for a gin and tells me to not worry because tomorrow is another day, and a mother who comes to tell me she loves me, hugs me and tells me that I’m forgiven for the way I’ve behaved lately –even though I have not earned either of these actions. These things made me melt. Knowing that I didn’t deserve to be treated so nice after being so horrible and knowing that I was still loved for all my worst traits. It’s this compassion that melts the hearts of monsters and brings them back into the love of life.

If you have a monster this year, show them some compassion.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Three Life Lessons From Growing Out of Trauma

  1. Life is precious.

One day you are going to die.

I am going to die.

It could be tomorrow by getting hit by a bus, it could be in 20 years time with a horrible illness but the truth of the matter is that one day I will be a lifeless, cold, corpse and everything will be over.

Yes, this is pretty morbid, especially as most of my posts are bringing messages of ‘yes you can conquer anything, love life to the full etc’ but that joyful message doesn’t hit home as hard as the realisation that we are all going to die someday, life is short. Embrace it.

While thinking about that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you dropped dead right now would you be happy with how you’ve spent your life?
  2. Did you chase your dreams?
  3. Did you tell the people you love often enough?
  4. Were you happy with what you achieved?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then I seriously insist that you explore these questions more and ask yourself what the hell are you doing with your life?

We can often get wrapped up in the nitty gritty of life, and I get it, we’ve all got our things to do, got to pay the bills right? When you’ve come through a life threatening situation though, you see things a little differently and it’s as though you really see what matters.

I remember when I experienced this mindset change quite vividly. There was a poignant moment during the attack that I seriously thought “I am going to be raped, murdered and then left here to rot”. This was the exact moment that I seemed to spring into life. As though something inside me said “No fucking way”. It was the moment that I pulled out all the stops to get out of that situation, and I did get out of it. I survived and I’m here writing about it today. That situation was the scariest thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has brought me a whole load of uninvited emotions that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. They weren’t pleasant and I would never wish for someone to go through something as horrific as having to literally fight for their survival or to experience the rickershay of emotions that pop up at every trigger in the aftermath – the panic, the fear, the depression, the shame, the guilt, I could go on. However, without this experience I wouldn’t have the perspective I do now, so I’m passing this message on to you. We only have one life, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Fear is a signpost for growth

Fear is a funny thing, sometimes I know it’s there and I can really feel the terror, the butterflies, the anxiety – like I’m going to physically vomit  because of it, and then sometimes I can’t feel it at all but it’s there lingering in the background controlling my thoughts and actions behind my subconscious state. The second type of fear is the most debilitating, it’s the unconscious state of fear that causes us to disengage in a relationship, cause arguments to create distance and generally provoke negative actions in a way to protect ourselves.

What I’ve come to realise as I unpick the triggers in my post trauma state is that every negative reaction we have usually comes from fear. That means any judgment or blame towards others, the avoidance of a particular subject/person, numbness, suppression or outright anger – all of these deflection techniques are the ego’s way of protecting us when we’re in a state of fear. When we become aware of this and we can see the ego’s behaviour it becomes easier to question it and find out why the fear is there in the first place and from my own experience I’ve found that underneath fear are almost always signposts for growth.

In a recent situation where I was starting to become vulnerable with a man I found myself judging, blaming and becoming angry with him, I didn’t even realise that I was doing it until a friend pointed this out to me. So I decided to address it like all my other triggers. When I did this, at first I found myself in tears. I was terrified. I was scared that if I let someone into that vulnerable emotional space that something awful was going to happen to me and that I would experience all the emotions from heartbreak, attempted rape and the death of someone close all over again. I desperately did not want to feel all those emotions in that intensity again and I was terrified that this situation was headed that way. Having got to know my triggers very well, I know that they create a whole world of illogical scenarios in my head based on a couple of situations in my life and during those moments of fear I remember what those scenarios feel like which causes me to back out fast. The reality though, is very different because the past doesn’t determine the future and the trick is to remind myself of this reality when I’m experiencing what feel like very real occurrences. Practising that continuously is what has allowed me to grow out of trauma in to a more authentic and stronger person than I was before. The next time you find yourself bearing way from something, as yourself why? If it comes down to fear then it could be an opportunity for growth too.

  1. Communicating that we don’t know how to feel is the first step to connecting

Anyone who knows about Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability will already know that vulnerability is where human connections thrive. I’ve watched her TED talks, I’d read the books but what I hadn’t done is really practiced what she preached when it came to vulnerability and to be honest it’s because I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. To be completely honest, I thought I knew all about vulnerability before I experienced my traumas but in reality I was running away from all negative feelings in my very privileged and somewhat entitled life, without the awareness that I was running. So when I was faced with so many difficult situations I got to experience first-hand what she meant in The Power of Vulnerability, especially when she explains about those vulnerable moments:

  • Making that phone call to the relative who just lost someone, even though you have no idea what to say
  • Telling someone you love them, without knowing if they feel the same
  • Admitting to someone you care about that you did something wrong and that you’re sorry

What all these situations do is communicate our feelings at the times when it’s the hardest because those are the times when it matters the most. When I was on the receiving end of these situations I appreciated the friends who called me and said “I don’t know what to say”, over those who just avoided me altogether because we could at least converse over the fact that neither of us knew how to deal with the situation which meant we were in it together. I also did this with the vulnerable situation where I acted reactively with the guy I previously mentioned, after I had become vulnerable. I explained that I was terrified and that I didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that I had pushed him away. In both these situations I found that communicating the very observation of the feeling led to me becoming a lot closer with these people and that is the start of practicing vulnerability.

All our life experiences give us a choice. The choice to deal with them, learn and grow from them or the choice to shut off, avoid and live in a life of safe guards. For me, the latter meant that I would give up the nomadic lifestyle which was the very thing that made me feel alive, so I had to find away to grow out of it or I knew that I faced a life locked in silent misery, clouded by apathy and an inability to connect with other people. Urgh, no thanks.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Are Empowered Women Empowering Men? Or Are we Suppressing Them? 

I originally wrote this piece for the Good Men Project but I think it has a lot of relevance to trauma emotions like fear, vulnerability and compassion, so I’m sharing it here too. It also broaches the subject of masculinity and femininity in the changing times of these roles. Enjoy…

I grew up as a Tom boy. I was the only girl in the Boy Scouts, spent my days climbing trees and wore jeans and baseball caps. I grew up feeling empowered to do anything that my heart desired and I did just that, especially when it meant beating the guys at their own game. In fact, I took pride in beating the guys. Whether it was swimming in the Scouts, showing my boyfriend how to build a campfire after watching him fail miserably or outsmarting boys on tests. Anything they could do, I could do better and I was sure to let them know.

As I grew older I did start to dabble in some more feminine activities but when I found myself working in the construction industry for my first graduate job, I fell back into my old patterns of showing the guys that I was better than them at everything. In that industry, I felt it was the only way to become successful and sometimes the only way to survive. The thing is that I actually loved being in this environment and I took pride in the fact that these guys got shown up when they got outsmarted by a girl. It was as though I was fighting some kind of war for all the women who had been suppressed throughout history and I was taking no prisoners.

When this approach starting to seep into other areas of my life, especially in my relationships it turned out to be more toxic than successful. I started to notice this when my boyfriend of three years started to experience depression. I didn’t really understand it and after becoming so estranged from any kind of vulnerability within myself I simply didn’t know how to handle this situation. For the next year and a half, I stayed with him out of loyalty but couldn’t help getting frustrated with his situation and watching all his family and friends pander to him when my response was much less sympathetic. As much as I feel ashamed to write this, at the time I saw his depression as a weakness.

I didn’t know at the time but the reality was that I was scared. Scared of admitting those vulnerabilities within myself and scared that I might be the problem. When I couldn’t take it any longer I took an opportunity to do an internship abroad for a few months to give both of us some space. Those months away allowed him to empower himself and work on his depression, without me there to take his empowerment away he managed to pull himself out of that negative space. Needless to say, this lead to us breaking up as I was part of the problem.

At the time I didn’t learn from this experience and spent the next couple of years travelling, running away from any deep connection and any other opportunity to be vulnerable. That was until I fell in love again.

This time, however, I fell in love with a guy who wouldn’t open up because he was so vulnerable after experiencing a variety of traumas in his childhood and adult life. He was like a closed nut with a magical light shining from the inside and I desperately wanted to see more.

My response? To try and prize the nut open.

Back then this was my response to most things. Fight with determination and win, after all, I was empowered. I was strong and vulnerability (weakness as I saw it) wasn’t something that existed in my world. Despite all my efforts, this strategy backfired.

We broke up and the following year I learnt what real vulnerability was, through experiencing my own series of traumas that invited intensely vulnerable emotions into my consciousness from depths that I never knew existed inside me. I learnt that my ’empowerment’ had silenced the men in my life and highlighted them as weak against my own strength of will. I had shamed them for having vulnerable emotions, and my “being soft is weakness” attitude didn’t allow them to show vulnerability in my presence, so instead they suppressed it. For the guys that stuck around, family, friends and romantic partners, these suppressions slowly crept towards depression as these men were frequently rejected by the empowered women in their lives who paraded the same message as me.

What I’ve come to realise since is that as an empowered woman I can suppress men if I don’t show my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths. As women, it’s socially acceptable for us to be emotional as much as it is now for us to fight our corner and as empowered women, it is important that we do this to break down the shame that surrounds vulnerabilities. If we don’t acknowledge those vulnerable emotions then we don’t create the safe emotional space for men to do so either. That’s when our empowerment silences men, rather than empowers them.

In order to help empower the men in my life, I’ve taken it upon myself to make the first move and show them my vulnerability. It’s not easy and there is a lot of work to do, especially after the way I’ve acted for such a long time. Sometimes it leaves me feeling quite exposed and awkward but mostly it leads to an emotionally safe space where we can both talk about how we feel and release the silent loads that have weighed us down.

Since I’ve started this approach I’ve seen the men in my life grow and build closer connections in their own relationships and friendships. I’ve seen them become more confident, dynamic and authentic in their way of addressing life. I’ve watched them become more empowered with me, rather than opposed to me. The only thing that needed to change, was my attitude.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x