If You Wouldn’t Say It To Her Face, Don’t Type It

I get it, Sex sells. At least that’s what we’re told right? And if you want to go anywhere in life, you’d better make sure you’re damn sexy otherwise you won’t be getting far! At least, that’s the message we’re given as women, and from a very young age too.

I remember this attitude back when I used to work in the Construction industry. When the pretty girls would get sent to the important sales meetings if we weren’t hitting our customers KPI’s (Key performance indicators) so we could at least distract our male customers from the fact that our company was performing poorly. It always worked, but it got tiring after a while, having to work in a community of men who never saw me as an equal. Regardless of the projects that I completed or the targets that I met, my value within the company was mostly determined by how I looked. I was 23 at the time, young, bright eyed and apparently pleasing on the eye. So the sales men would invite me to meetings to soften customer deals and the women of power in my company disliked me and would make sure I knew it. It was quite an eye opener to go into my first graduate job in an industry that based all my competencies on my aesthetics and I was reminded of that kind of treatment recently when I saw a motivational post by an inspirational women on my Linked in news feed.

The post read like this:

“Do you know the power of appreciation? 85% of people are unhappy with their career. We all have goals and we are always trying to keep up with the Jones’. Goals are great to have but don’t let life pass you by without enjoying the journey you are on. Count your blessings not your problems. Don’t regret not appreciating what you had when you had it including the people in your life. We get so focused on where we are headed we forget where we’re at and what we have now. The purpose of life is to find your purpose and to value those who supported you on the way up. Life is not a race, pump the brakes and slow down.”

It’s such a great message and in my opinion perfectly placed as a post about the workplace, on a social media platform for the workplace. It could have been written by the likes of Tony Robbins, or Richard Branson but this one was written by Shannon Bunn. A marine veteran turned legal assistant, who is a young, intelligent and attractive. She posted this statement with a picture of herself in the front seat of a car (see pic) and the popularity of the post, and the comments that followed interested me. I’m glad to reveal that most of them were about the insightful and motivational statement she made, but some highlighted the attitude that the modern workplace still refuses to outgrow. One that values people by their appearance, not their work.

There were sleazy comments that made reference to how she looked:

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Comments from people saying that they would have ‘loved one night with her’:

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There were negative comments, mostly from women such as ‘Trite BS’

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One that pointed out that it was not the appropriate platform for ‘beauty selfies’ and one comment that actually calls out the post as ‘passive-aggressive sexualisation’. I found these statements interesting because almost every motivational post I see from Richard Branson has a picture of him attached but I never see any comments like this on his posts…

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It goes without saying that we live in a visual world and because of this aesthetics seem important, but are we missing the point when it comes to the workplace?

The fact is that the very popularity of the post and the comments below it show that we are still not appreciating people for who they are and what they do in the workplace. Instead some of us still objectify and then judge each other based on looks, especially when it comes to women. Isn’t it about time we started to see each other as human beings, and respect each other as such? I mean regardless of how Shannon looks and the endless judgements that could be made about her appearance it’s her words and what she stands for that should be remembered.

I could write about the state of our society, and how unaware we are of our emotions that are ruling our thoughts and behaviour, especially when it comes to making judgements about others etc etc… but I figured that these three pre-comment posting questions would be more helpful:

  1. Would you say that to their face?

It’s so easy in the realm of the ‘behind the screen’ society to forget that there is a human being on the other side of the screen, receiving the words so easily typed onto the keyboard. A real person, just like you. A person with feelings, fears, aspirations and insecurities. Have a think about the words you’re typing to another human being and ask yourself – if he or she was here, in front of you right now, would you say that to their face? Would you say it in the tone you mean it and face the consequences of your comments? I think most of the leery men and snipey women probably wouldn’t say some of the things that they typed if they were in a face to face conversation with Shannon.

  1. How would you feel if someone said that to your sister/brother/daughter/son/mother/father?

We often forget that these ‘beautiful’ women and ‘hot’ guys are people’s family members. They are real people, not objects for our desire or attack just because we can’t control our egos. Before you write, stop and imagine how you would feel if someone said what you are about to write to your sister, brother, daughter, son, mother or father. Does it arise a feeling of anger inside you? Are you outraged that someone would act in such a disrespectful way to one of your family members? If so, don’t write it. Remember that the person who you are firing your words at is a human begin too, just like your family, and just like you.

  1. Why do you feel the need to comment at all?

When it comes to commenting on a post, how many of us stop and question why we are commenting and what we hope to achieve out of it? We can start with asking ourselves if our comment is positive, negative or neutral. If it’s negative, think twice about spreading that negativity across a visual platform that thousands of people are going to see because, frankly, the world could do with less negativity in it.

Then, ask yourself this: ‘What is it about this post that rustles up negativity inside me?’

It’s times like this that we should remember that we are responsible for our own emotions and that we have a choice of how we react upon them. If something from the outside brings up a judgement of negativity within you, then there’s something inside you that you need to investigate.

Hopefully if we start asking ourselves these questions more often then we can start becoming more conscious, compassionate and respectful in the workplace, whether it’s in the online community or the office. Now doesn’t that sound like a more pleasant world to work in?

Photo Credit: Shannon Bunn on Linked In.

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

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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:

Gender

Age

Skin colour

Sexual orientation

Sexual preference

Nationality

Religion

Profession

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

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

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

 

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.

Physical Abuse – Could Lack of Emotional Validation Be The Cause?

I know the news isn’t the most unbiased picture of what’s going on in the World (especially not in the UK at least). However, the most recent headlines are ones causing me to wonder why certain events seem to be happening on mass. One if of wide spread sexual abuse in the UK Football Association and the other is the rise in self harm cases in children and young adults in the UK. Both abusive acts on the body, either towards the self or another person’s body. Both violent, abusive and harmful acts against the body. When I take a step back and look at these acts, I wonder if they’re both physical expressions of pent-up negative emotional energy? Possibly committed because of inner turmoil that hasn’t been addressed for whatever reason.

I can relate to inner turmoil because of my own challenging life events. When I was in my most destroyed state, I was pretty toxic to those around me. Angry, reactive, sometimes out of control as I spun around firing out a whirlpool of negativity. Blaming and shaming anyone who came in the vicinity of my pain. I’ve also been on the receiving end of this toxic behaviour because life has a tendency to offer us mirrors of our state, so when I was in my most destructive state I happened to meet people who treated me very negatively. And in true irony of the Universe, I’ve also been on the listening end of this behaviour as many people have sought counsel from me as they confess to their own pain and how they express it. (I mean what did I expect when I named my blog ‘Trauma on Tour’).

Through expressing, receiving and witnessing these emotional expressions of inner pain I’ve come to wonder if our lack of basic emotional expression in the Western society could be the cause of this abuse. That due to the lack of expressing the lightest of emotion that we’re now starting to witness a pressure cooker effect? That what might have been a little bit of pain from shame or blame, has been held on to, suppressed and refuelled in the mind as it churns over again and again and again.

With the fear and the shame that cloaks our society it’s difficult for someone to come forward with any emotional expression. God forbid someone might be overly happy in the office. Or that they might cry in public. Or get passionate about a project they’re working on. I don’t know about you but I’ve spent most of my life trying to find acceptance in the fact that I’m naturally very emotionally expressive. It’s difficult because it means that I get attacked or rejected often, regardless of the emotion. From “what are you so happy about?” to awkwardness from friends when I spent a few days in bed depressively grieving my Dad’s death. For some it was such a shock to see such depth of emotion that our friendship never got over it. Could it be that some of us have got into the habit of naturally suppressing daily emotions that the build up is now starting to splurge out? That the level of toxicity in the physical act reflects the darkness of the wound inside? Could the epidemic of male on male abuse in the 80’s be the result of suppressed pain that was experienced in the earlier years of these men – as women’s empowerment took hold of the mothers of those abusers – omitting them of the love or attention they required as children? Could the self harm in young adults be the result of emotional vents which aren’t getting validated in a world of technology? Could this lack of validation be causing a pressure cooker effect on a conservative culture that’s on the brink of exploding?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I think it’s about time that we got over the shock of emotional expression and instead started asking why. Otherwise we’re never even going to get close to the answers and we’re never going to figure out how to proactively avoid such behaviour. We can start today by checking in with how we feel right now. For me, that’s scared. I’m scared about publishing this article because I’m worried it will rustle features, causing people who also feel scared to attack out at me for opening up this subject. The thing is that I know that those attacks are just opinions that come from other people’s pain, not mine, and besides words don’t hurt me. Emotional acknowledged and  validated, lesson understood, reflection made and compassion developed. But what happens when we suppress that emotional energy? Where does the pain go if we don’t let it out?

Photo Credit – Buzz Andersen

Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Abuse When We ‘Should’ Have

As a Brit watching the media coverage of the US presidential debate, I’ve found myself quite shocked at the allegations and accusations. But nothing has surprised me more than the lack of compassion towards the women who have come forward to report claims of sexual abuse from Donald Trump. The most outrageous thing I’ve witnessed over and over again is the questions fired towards these women demanding why they didn’t report the abuse sooner, or why they didn’t report it to the police.

From someone who has been assaulted in a violent attempted rape, I know firsthand why victims don’t report the abuse when they should or could have and I’d like to give those who haven’t been in such a situation some insider information.

  1. When you’re emotionally charged, you don’t act rationally

It’s so simple for someone on the outside of the situation to tell someone what they should’ve done, during or following a traumatic event. However, the thing that is constantly overlooked here is that when we are emotionally charged, our brains function differently. The emotions literally take control and rational thinking goes out of the window. It’s easy for a rational thinker to think ‘how can I get justice in this situation?’ or ‘what is the appropriate method of reporting this?’ But once someone is threatened, they are no longer in a rational mindset.

They feel vulnerable, scared and most likely have some form of survivor guilt. These overwhelming emotions often lead to one main response: Get away from the situation. That means getting away physically, mentally and emotionally. It means not revisiting it, not talking about it and sometimes not even acknowledging it for years. So when these women are asked why they didn’t report the abuse in the wake of a traumatic situation it’s because that would have required the rational thinking part of the brain that they didn’t have access to.

  1. You Will Be Shamed

I remember watching the reactions of the people who I confessed to – that I had been attacked. Amongst the huge disengagement and avoidance I received, I also had the following questions:

‘What were you wearing?’

‘Were you drunk?’

‘What were you doing? ’

All these questions focused on my actions of the evening, as though I must have done something to invite such an aggravated response from a man. It was as though people thought I was walking into a lion’s den waving around a large steak to provoke him to pounce on me. The thing is that men aren’t lions, they are conscious humans who have the ability to control their behaviour based on their judgement of what they think is right or wrong. Even if women did go about waving their bodies around as provocateurs, are we responsible for the men who can’t control their animalistic advances? Personally, I think that in a conscious and civilised society men should be able to control their urges, and I think that we should expect this collectively too.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case. As the Trump campaign has demonstrated if someone comes out about this kind of mal-treatment they can expect to be publicly shamed and ridiculed. Is it any wonder that no one came out until one person had the courage to take this one? Then once one person had spoken, everyone came out of the shadows to tell their own stories. It’ been the same for all public sexual abuse stories – Bill Crosby, Jimmy Savile (UK), everyone was silent until one spoke. Then, everyone came out even though it was sometimes decades after the event.

In order to encourage change of this kind of predatory behaviour, our culture needs to approach these kinds of claims without judgement. So if someone tells you a story of abuse, stop and think about the situation before you ask questions that could infer it’s their fault. No one deserves to be abused and they shouldn’t be shamed for being a victim of it either.

  1. You’re out on your own

Most victims go internal after being abused, convincing themselves it was their fault and that they brought it on themselves. This is because we live in a culture where the acknowledgement of abuse means that difficult emotions will have to be aired. There will be shame, guilt, blame, upset and fear that are horrible to experience and as a society we avoid these emotions at all costs. However, this avoidance in-avertedly advocates this rape culture, allowing it to continue unchallenged. I don’t believe that this is done maliciously, instead, I think it’s the fear driven subconscious trying to evade difficult emotions. However, for a victim who is already experiencing their own traumatic emotions, the last thing they want to feel is avoided by others. That makes the decision to tell someone extremely difficult because by doing so they are risking community isolation. Maybe if we lived in a society where abuse victims were treated the same as victims of ill health then this might be an easier decision, but that’s not the case. Until this changes, victims of abuse may stay silent for years in fear of being outcast from their community.

  1. There are repercussions

To be any kind of whistleblower takes a tremendous amount of courage, especially when blowing it on someone who has fame, power or is a person of influence. Victims of abuse are going out there on their own to report shameful behaviour against someone who probably doesn’t want to admit wrongdoing. That means they’re probably going to deny it viscously at all costs – by attacking back at the victim. A vulnerable, shaken and abused person doesn’t want to create more drama, especially not if it means it will destroy their career, family status or personal reputation. When they’re going up against someone who has a louder voice and bigger audience than themselves they have to consider whether or not speaking out is worth it at all. This decision can be toyed around with for years until victims finally get the courage to voice the event. Sometimes it can take a trigger or their abuser gloating, or taking it a step too far. Sometimes it can take someone else to speak out first and acknowledge that they’re not the only one. Sometimes it’s when they’ve conjured up the courage to face the pain, shame, isolation and repercussions that speaking out will incur.

To change this culture we need to create a supportive environment so that reports can be aired without judgement of the victim. We need to connect with our own emotions and feel what it must have been like to be abused in that situation before we comment. We need to stop this ‘them vs us’ perspective and instead see each other compassionately as human beings.

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.

An Open Letter to All Therapists

I originally wrote this article for the Good Men Project, but I wanted to post it on my blog because I think it highlights a few important issues that my generation face when it comes to therapy – that some of the most ‘experienced’ aren’t always the most connected, and in fast moving times like these that is a real hindrance to clients.

Dear Therapist,

The World is different these days. I am in an abundance of information and I have instant access to it at the drop of the hat. I am constantly bombarded with messages, day and night that drown out my inner voice. I’m in a state of emotional hypersensitivity and I am terrified about it. At best I am coping. Safeguarding, by locking out all depth of emotion so as not to show my true self, because I am different, I am the problem. Or so I believe.

But I am different. Inside me is my authentic voice which is stifled underneath the messages of marketing material, rules from outdated religions, and educational systems that consistently tell me that what I feel is wrong. For decades, they have told me that I am not good enough. That I’m a failure. That I should fit in the boxes and be perfect. It’s what they told my parents generation and some of them believed it. Some took the pills and numbed out. Some locked away their inner voice and the ‘crazy’ emotions that went with it. Some of them believed that they were the problem.

But I am different. Whilst there is the voice inside me that tells me I’m not good enough,. There is another voice inside me that is fighting to be heard. Fighting against the messages of the American dream and the scared egos of those who are killing themselves in the belief of it. The ones who shut down my voice, in fear of having their own exposed. The older generation that tell me I should take some anti-depressants, not wallow and not be so openly vulnerable. The younger generation that freeze in fear when I talk so openly, hoping that I don’t see the scars on their arms that expose the evidence that they’re fighting the same battle. My peer group when they become awkward, deciding whether or not they will confess that they too have these feelings and thoughts of injustice. That there is the faint light of an internal revolution ready to fire up and fight out against this gorilla warfare.

When I confess these ideas, thoughts and analyses to you, they may sound different. They may come from a source of information that wasn’t around during your studies of Psychology. They may be the silent voices that went unspoken in your peer group.  They may be the same words that you once heard but denied and now sit in the pit of your stomach, defeated.

Our World is different from when you studied Psychology. It’s different from 10 years ago. It’s different from 10 minutes ago and I am moving at the fast pace that it is changing. I am fighting the pull to numb out. I am fighting the temptation to lock away, but today I am tired of fighting and I am coming to you for sanction. I am coming to be heard and it is your job to listen. To hear my own voice through your fears and accept that you too, are different. That in this difference we stand together, but at difference paces because of the cultural times that have birthed us. Please accept that my journey may be moving faster than yours because of the access and speed of the propelling information that I am fighting against. That I may have sourced tools from toolboxes that weren’t readily available to you. I am different because the world is different and the tools that have worked so efficiently for other generations might not work for me, because trust me, I’ve already tried them. What I need is for you to help me find new tools and to join me on this path of discovery because I am exhausted from fighting alone.

I am in your chair today asking not to be judged by the differences that my path presents you. Or to be criticised when I fall down the hills that I am trying to climb. I am just asking that you accompany me on my journey and acknowledge that it exists. That it exists in a world of people that constantly tell me that it doesn’t, just because it rises so steep into the clouds that to simply acknowledge it, scares them. I need you accompany me on it, because I know that at the end of it, there is a reward and that the reward will be worth the journey, no matter how hard it gets. That is why I am in your chair today.

Regards,

The new generation of thinkers.

Check out my 3 Step Guide to Finding the Right Therapist and my article on When to Call it a Day With Your Therapist if you’re interested in finding the right person to help you growth through a life situation.